By: Mr. Lu
Beyond What You Could Imagine
I was hectoring Paige about handing in her assignments. She looked at me zen-like and calm, and said, “I’ll do them.” I pointed accusingly at her, raised my voice, and lectured about responsibility and lateness. With doleful, unrolling eyes and a shrug, she said evenly, “That’s just who I am.”
Who are we really? Can we ever change ourselves?
Outside my room is a board which usually features a question and student answers. Recently, it featured baby and kid pics which set off a round of guess who. Those cute and funny kids on the board are now semi-autonomous adults. Physically, they are no longer the kids they once were. Personality-wise, they may have changed. Their identities however, have most certainly evolved.
Identities like the kid who liked that toy or that show or the kid who hated baths have slowly receded. New labels seem to quickly pop up through the teenage years. Smart and nerdy kid. Smart-aleck kid who won’t shut up. Lazy kid who is always up to no good. Nice, quiet, no personality kid who never says anything. You can’t do anything about it, students have told me. Ignore what people think, don’t worry about it, and be who you are. Taylor Swift sung it succinctly, “Haters gonna hate. Just shake it off.” Is it that easy and simple?
During advisory, Fortune one week, and Emie the next, both bravely shared about significant, meaningful, and life-altering things that happened well beyond their control when they were young. These things could have identified them, marked them, hung over them. Instead, they navigated their own narrative, set their own paths, and built upon their early childhood challenges. So sure, it is possible through willpower and support to shake labels and be who you are.
But it’s hard.
The greater onus, I think, is on the ones who cast the stereotype, who think someone is just a certain type of person, who don’t want to explore someone on a real and meaningful level. Ms. Boland was considered a bad kid when she was young, and now she’s a teacher with a PhD. Think about who you think is a bad kid. Now picture that person with a PhD. It’s not as preposterous as you think. Those pictures on my board have become someone else. These kids in our school can become someone else too.
Let’s try to look at people in a different, more hopeful, way. Let’s try talking more often, seeing what makes a person tick inside, asking more, listening more, and assuming less. Let’s get out of our comfort zone, sit with people we don’t want to know, sit with people we think are completely different than us. Let’s be outrageous in our kindness thinking, in our unlabelling, in choosing complexity in people over simplicity in people. Yeah, we’ll be wrong sometimes when we give the benefit of doubt; we’ll be burned sometimes. But once in a while, it will be worth it.
So Paige, I believe you could be someone beyond what I imagine you could be. But you still have to hand in those assignments.