When I was in university, I took a course called Theatre Arts 101. What amazed me about the professor was that he knew why. He told us we were there to construct knowledge. He wanted us to experience what it was like to be in the audience. And I don’t mean watching a performance, I mean the feeling of sitting together on the other side. Every single week of the semester we would go on the bus to Toronto to see a play in every type of theatre from back street to big time and with every type of performance from classic stories to abstract interpretation. We were given an assignment where we had to go and be in a different kind of audience – not a play or a movie but a stadium, a sports arena, a church, an air show, a town hall. We went and we noticed the way that people in audiences instantly adhere to one another. They become a team simply because they have something in common.
Where there is “us”, there is “them.” We would be quick to assume that anyone not living in our residence, nicknamed “East”, would far better than anyone living in “South”. Gryffindor vs Slytherin.
I wonder how this assignment would have gone in the year 2019, when audiences are created by algorithms and when taking sides couldn’t be more instantaneous. Lately, living without the nod, I’m noticing how we navigate difference with something quick, easy, accessible and familiar. I have witnessed rooms of 20 people or more fall into what I know they don’t actually believe. Agree, connect, comply, like and share.
I’m also noticing the master plan. The ways in which we create the conditions, ask the right questions, filter the data to control outcomes, or confirm our biases – all to pull others toward our side and have them adhere to one another.
Think of all the education books that have been written about this by someone who knows better, is paid more, and has the expertise to tell us what side we should all be on.
Now think of Nathan Phillips and the humanity of that moment when he decides to protect people from themselves.
Think of my 9 year old son who will literally drop everything to help another. He will run toward someone with spilled groceries or only one snow shovel without batting an eyelash. He won’t ever, ever walk past.
Think of the people you know that will do the same for you. “What do you need?” “I’m here for you.” “I’m not leaving your side.”
This past Monday, Kelly and I and a room of 80 adults were changed by Niigaan Sinclair. He said that our stories of us vs them are really stories of superiority vs inferiority. They divide us. And rather than building relationships with one another, we compete and compare in our arenas, in our lesson plans, and even in dentistry.
If we truly embrace diversity – not uniform, average or complacent, then we might represent, participate, collaborate, take action, co-produce, and make change… together. There’s far more listening, understanding, truth, empathy and connectedness in togetherness. Like family, one family. As Niigaan put it, “WE can be something else.”
K: The words above – “sitting on the other.” To feel what that feels like… empathy? I wonder if we really understand what that is, what it feels like – how generous it is or do we sit and watch and judge? When Niigaan says “we” it feels different than when I hear we in the realm of education… us and them are hard to shake…we are standing after all, on the other side.
A: The side itself is constructed. It’s habitually constructed. Empathy, family and sticking by someone is hard. I think diversity is hard and we prefer that “we all just get along” which really means – get with the program and be the same as us.
K: Two weeks ago, Troy said that to educators, “you don’t how many times we have heard the words, why don’t you just get over it.” An educator, after some back forth said “why can’t we all just get along.” I reach way back to Chris Cluff and that itchy tag. The way opposing or different sides feel. I have been in several rooms where the question is asked “what do they want?” Three years ago I would have broken out in a sweat and danced around and tried to figure out how to change that person’s mind and to bring them over to a different side – to see a new perspective. Andrea, blurring the sides – finding the circle – sitting and listening to the truth is very very hard work. Play nice, share and get along is lovely when you are the one making the rules. The truth is hard when someone points and says not fair and perhaps we need to rethink. Our place in the world shifts. Do WE really want to listen? Do WE really care enough to consider another perspective? Why does US and THEM feel more comfortable?
A: It’s worth it I think. The other side was just following the rules and pretending to learn anyway. And I was waiting for them to comply. Or like you said, working really hard to change their mind. It’s worth it to not know. Or maybe we already do but it’s not in our heads, it’s in our hearts. We are all already in relationship.
K: We are all already in relationship. Perhaps the hardest to fathom. This does not mean you are giving something of yourself up. Maybe our understanding of relationship and “we” is based on our understanding of history. Someone, a side, always loses. Writing a new narrative, a new history, will push against everything we know about being in relationship. We did not listen nor learn at first contact, we simply overtook. Niigaan showed us video and stated simply that Canada always fires first. Sides are taken and lines are drawn…someone is losing something. Who I am… felt contingent on place and where I feel safe. I have thought about this a lot… but I have changed. You changed me, Troy changed me, Colinda and The Beast changed me. I cannot know. Relationship means not knowing. Knowing is the opposite to listening and empathy. Who I am…my safe place is in that space. But… I still want to scream from the rooftop… that is my heart.
A: You are making me think about place. You are in a new building but still here in this place. I’m thinking about how small I am in this place. Snowmagedden and mother earth and the trees have perspective that brings us back to relationship.
K: Small. Incredibly small. But the idea that we are teeny tiny and the least important is incredibly warm and wise. It feels like the pressure to know, to be in charge, to rule the world is off. We are here to learn. I have a friend that uses the hashtag #bettertogether. To look beside and feel the pull and wonder of what we actually cannot know alone. I stood in a school yard two days ago. Deep snow and children in different states of place in the snow. They did it without thinking. I have a picture of a student and the principal making snow angels as a snow squall whipped around us. That place, perspective… basic and fundamental…relationship in that form. Beside. Small. How do we step off of our side and into place?
A: I don’t know. Lol. I like the blur and the circle. Place feels like a giant reminder to stay there. I want to put that reminder in front of everything. Everything in me everyday is go and do and schlepp and answer. I don’t know. I really don’t. So for now, maybe not everything. My children remind me.
K: They only remind you because you are listening. The shlepping and the doing for the sake of doing more and faster is a place destroyer. I think about Heather (Leads Heather), “you really have to decide who to #sitbeside.” It just occurred to me this very second as I typed her words – the person who needs you to #sitbeside you the most is you. The blur and the circle begin with our own uncertainty and we have to be listening for it. If we are not open to our own, how in the world could we have empathy for someone else’s not knowing or knowing for that matter.
I wanted to hear Isaac in the car when you left Niigaan on Monday night. My mom called me when she got home and the next morning. “I feel something in my stomach I have never felt before Kel. Do you feel it?”
A: That is magic. He said “I can do that. I want to do that.” He doesn’t know the damage and wants to help and lead. I know that he will make change in the world, in his relationships. He was instantly connected to Niigaan. The most incredible moment was during the talk. Niigaan was telling us about the spontaneity of experience, the way we change every time we look toward the other side of the tree, and are in a constant state of becoming. Isaac leaned over to me and said, “That’s learning.”