Monday, January 02, 2017

It Pays To Be Gentle

I know a lot of young adults who are earnestly exploring our traditional ideas of gender, making the case that it's not an either-or thing, but rather something that exists on a continuum. When meeting someone new, for instance, they ask about one another's preferred pronouns: he, she, they or something else entirely. I cringed at first, had an urge to mock, and even felt a flash of anger.

I continue to allow myself to be educated by these young people, but I find myself frequently thinking back to that initial reaction. Why the urge to mock and the feeling of anger? At bottom, I suppose it's because these young people were teaching me something that I figured was a settled matter: there are boys and girls, men and women, he's and she's, and now they're telling me that not only is everything I know wrong, but that if I am going to absorb this new knowledge, I'm going to have to make a conscious effort to change myself.

If you make people think they're thinking, they'll love you; but if you really make them think they'll hate you. ~Don Marquis

I recall feeling similarly the first time I was in the company of two men kissing one another. I was a guest in their home, I was eating their food, I knew they were gay, but in the moment their lips touched, something that in those days never happened on the street or on television, I experienced an urge to mock and a flash of anger. Up to that moment, my thoughts on the subject had been easy superficialities, but with that kiss I was made to really think, and while I'm not going to say I felt hate, some of the emotions it evoked are part and parcel with hate. Deep down I recognized that this new knowledge to which they had exposed me through their kiss meant that I would have to change.

And change is frightening: that's why so many of us fight it, at least at first. As individuals who value knowledge, it's incumbent upon us to find ways to overcome "hatred" in our quest for truth. As a man who's lived for more than half a century, I've gone through this process hundreds if not thousands of times, and more often than not I come out on the other side prone to evangelizing, and few things match the zealousness of the newly converted. I see it in many of those young people who are working to redefine gender, even as they are being mocked quite roundly in the media and elsewhere.

The student becomes the teacher and good teachers, ones who really make other people think, invite mockery and anger, even hatred, but that's no reason to stop teaching. It should, however, cause us to take a moment to understand that when we are speaking our "new" truths, no matter how beautiful we find them, what we are teaching is frightening, so if we really want others to think, it pays to be gentle.

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Enna said...

Many years ago a young adult student of mine asked me if I would accompany her to her abortion. She was estranged from her family and wanted a support person with her. She knew my stance was pro-choice.

At the abortion clinic I had to suppress the strongest urge to beg her to reconsider. I did ask if she was comfortable with her decision, and she said she was.

But I felt this huge desire to have her walk away from that decision. I realised that my pro-choice stance was largely intellectual and that in reality there was some cognitive dissonance between what I thought I believed and what was my gut reaction.

This experience was revealing for me in so many ways, and has been a guide for other such internal conflicts over the years.

(She did have the abortion, and she and I both coped with that choice.)

Anonymous said...

Very valid blog. Thank you. I likened it to an occursnce I have had with teaching colleagues to understand and respect tikanga. While they exhibit notions of learning and sayin gheynundersatand to actually take on some of the kawa - ways of being or doing that evoked what felt like personal hatred and bullying.

Unknown said...

My goodness how this strikes home... Yes indeed it pays to be gentle, and in fact is probably the only way that any lesson can be internalized. Thank you for this wonderful post and well, all your posts.