We can build good will toward each other during the holidays and beyond

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Especially during the holiday season, many of us enjoy coming together with family and friends over home-cooked meals.  These occasions often involve extensive food preparation with major cleanup afterwards.  And, particularly in more recent times, they include concern about challenging conversations among participants who have strongly held opinions on different sides of the political spectrum.  With this in mind, I’m offering a concept that might be useful in addressing both of these challenges, and not just during the holidays.

In one of the segments on her PBS series Cooking with Master Chefs, Julia Child recommends practicing the “clean as you go” rule, as chefs do in professional kitchens.  Julia says, this practice:

“prevents unsightly messes from building to unmanageable levels and removes clutter…”

To me, what Julia states about cleaning as you go in the kitchen connects to the challenges we face, whether at home, in school or at work, as to how to communicate with people when we are confronted by offending speech or behavior, so that we can address what has happened and remain connected, rather than resort to angry verbal attacks and distancing from each other.  Recent conversations I’ve been part of, particularly with our Rite of Passage class participants, help illustrate this.

Image of illustration of child with Instagram logo on face with arrows sticking in the logoAt a November 2019 Rite of Passage class we discussed the New York Times article Tales From the Teenage Cancel Culture/ What’s cancel culture really like? Ask a teenager. They know. This discussion was related to the students noting during a prior class, that they often felt at risk to experiencing their right to freedom of expression, as spelled out in UDHR Article 19. They said that expressing opinions in or out of class that were different from what the larger number of students expressed, caused them to be criticized, made fun of, ostracized, or “cancelled.” This type of experience caused a high degree of stress and anxiety, while also jeopardizing their right to an education.

During the discussion on the “Cancel Culture,” while seeking to discuss the complexities of this issue by referring to a past year’s student presentation, I used terminology that offended several of the students.  Thanks to the lead teacher bringing this to my attention right away and guiding a class discussion, we were able to carry out the tough and emotional communication needed to not only address the issue at hand, but also to forge closer and better connections afterwards.  I raised the point that had I not had this opportunity to immediately resolve the concerns raised, I could have been “cancelled,” a horrifying thought!

Teaching Tolerance's article Speaking Up Without Tearing Down

Teaching Tolerance’s article Speaking Up Without Tearing Down

This interaction also helped demonstrate the “Call In rather than Call Out” approach that Teaching Tolerance recommends in their article Speaking Up Without Tearing Down, so that we can communicate with more connectivity about difficult situations, rather than causing people to feel shame.  Being able to clear up the issues that cause us to feel hurt, shame or any sense of offense by others, as quickly as possible, and in a way that opens communication rather than shutting it out, can help bridge our differences and forge much-needed connections.

November 22, 2019 PBS Nova segment The Violence Paradox, 1h5m

November 22, 2019 PBS Nova segment The Violence Paradox, 1h5m

The November 22, 2019 PBS Nova segment The Violence Paradox presents the compelling history of violence in the world.  Thankfully, according to the research presented, since the 1900’s we have experienced greater success in positive change through non-violent movements.  Noted as a major contributor to less aggression and violence is the ability to exercise self-control, a function of the frontal cortex of our brains.  Empathy, that can be built up from such activities as learning about the experiences of others, from reading newspapers to novels, can strengthen this cognitive functioning.  And, it was noted that awareness of human rights, hallmarked by the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, has helped spur momentum for further positive change.  One of the speakers pointed out that once you declare the existence of human rights, there is greater movement toward their achievement, and this compels recognition of even more rights to be experienced.  Here is a link to our curriculum write-up on Social Emotional Learning competencies, that include empathy and self-control, along with how this Learning helps further human rights.

Human Rights Discussion AgreementsThe holiday season offers us an opportunity to spread good will and foster the positive spirit of all that our humanness can contribute to each other and our communities.  We can keep the momentum of non-violent, peace-based positive change going, while also recognizing this takes continual effort, practice and commitment, as does anything worthwhile.  We at TWAICB have put together resources you can draw upon to support your positive engagement with others, even across differences, to help bring meaning of the UDHR close to home.

Best wishes to you and yours for a very happy holiday season and welcoming of the new year.  We hope you enjoy delicious meals and spirited time with family, friends and colleagues, free of clutter, and full of meaningful connections.

With appreciation and best regards,

Sandy Sohcot, Director

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