Wednesday, January 25, 2012

More Tales from School - Compassion


I just spent half an hour talking on and off with a really angry guy. There aren't a lot of kids here this week as most of the schools are doing state testing and only a few of our folks don't have to go back and take them. I had a couple of kids working on the computer, typing drafts of their stories, and then I had one guy--I'll call him Frank even though it's a different kid than the last time I wrote about a Frank--who was just too pissed off to function.

We talked about it. He tends to punch walls when he's angry. Throws his phone too. He showed me where it was all cracked and hanging by a thread. I mentioned that, although I could tell he was pissed, he wasn't making a big show of it. He seemed calmly angry, strange as that sounds.

He talked with me a little about what was bugging him, keeping it vague enough so that I wouldn't know the details but would get a general picture. "It's just the way that people are today, you know?" I said that I know how it is for me and I imagine how it is for him, but no, I really don't know what it's like to be him, the things he has to go through. He looked at me weird when I said it. I told him, "your life is complicated in ways that my life isn't. Mine's complicated in ways that yours isn't. I don't know the ins and outs of what you're living through, but I know what it's like to be mad, sad, tired, and wondering what it's all for."

I could have talked to him then about compassion, explained the word and gone all lecture on him, but I tend to stay away from teaching things I don't know how to do very well yet. I'm learning compassion and, had I been able to understand the power of it years ago, I think I would have thrown most everything else aside and worked on nothing else. As it is, I'm seeing how it threads though everything I do, or at least I'm understanding how much better my life is when compassion permeates my whole life.

As for Frank, he's not without compassion. He gets it more than I think he would like to think. Behind the things he says ("That guy is dead when I catch him," "I hate this fucking place and everybody in it," "I'll walk out whenever I fucking feel like it") there are questions. "Why is my girl interested in that guy more than me?" "Why doesn't everyone in this school hate me?" "How come I stay in this school when I could just walk right out?" The way he looks at me when we talk shows me that he's trying to figure the world out just like any other kid. It's just that Frank is a whole lot more edgy than most kids in most schools.

In a lot of ways, he's Holden Caulfield. Go figure.

Frank's sense of compassion is dulled because he doesn't experience compassion very often in his life. I know some of the back story and I'll keep it to myself, but it's enough to say that his life has sucked. No kid should live the way that he lives. No kid should have experienced things he has. So, he's not exactly used to thinking about things from another's point of view. When he experiences that with me, it's a bit shocking for him. He has to think twice.

And that's what education is about for me: getting people to think again.

Speaking of which, I watched the State of the Union last night, after writing that I won't vote for President Obama again. A friend chided me: "Really? Who are you going to vote for then? Ron Paul? Newt? Mitt? Are you kidding?"

I have had some time to think again. I'm still so disappointed in Obama the President. I feel better about having voted for him last time because last night I saw again Obama the Candidate and he is an awesome sight to behold. Like Frank, I'm disillusioned with how the world works. I wanted things to be better. I wanted Obama to change the world. My friend says that he needs more than four years to do that. I suspect she's right but I also know that eight years won't do it either.

Someday someone is going to come along who is going to speak to me the way that I spoke to Frank. He or she is going to know what I need and do their best to provide it. He or she is going to be a whole lot less focused on the way things have to work, the way the system grinds on, and they will step away from all that and create something new. That's all I was trying to do today with Frank. I told him a little about how I use writing to change my world by changing myself. I'm waiting for Barack Obama to change the world too. Maybe I should show him a little compassion. It's got to be a tough job. Tougher than what I have to do which is simply to write on.