Wait a second…HOW big did you say?

I have not yet had the opportunity to watch the new version of Cosmos that Fox put together this year, but earlier this week I saw that it is now on Netflix, so I have added it to “my list” for viewing in the near future.

Pale Blue Dot

Source: Wikipedia “Seen from about 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles, 40 astronomical units), Earth appears as a tiny dot (the blueish-white speck approximately halfway down the brown band to the right) within the darkness of deep space.[1]“

Upon first hearing that Cosmos was going to have new episodes, I thought about the famous “Pale Blue Dot” photograph. I don’t recall the exact time, but at some point in my youth I was made aware of the existence of this photograph and how it had been taken as the request of Cosmos’ original host, Carl Sagan.

Now, this is not meant to be a discussion over Sagan’s particular viewpoints, although I do find it amazing that given the exact same evidence two groups of people could be so absolutely sure of two polar opposite possibilities (deists and atheists). Perhaps that is another discussion for another day.

This post is about our place in creation.

As much as the “Pale Blue Dot” photograph and Carl Sagan’s famous speech from his audiobook of the same name puts all of human existence in a small place, this video, which I came across just this week, makes us seem even smaller in the grand scheme of things:

The above video takes the idea of the “Pale Blue Dot” and literally multiplies it infinitely.

Why bring this up?

Last week I wrote that Alan Huesing, myself, and everyone else that has experienced God’s influence should make a point to “write it down” as a testament to future generations. Well, in KINE 1301 Intro to Kinesiology (mostly freshmen), I try to get the students to think about how many books their total life’s story would actually entail. That part is easy for most of them…they realize that such a collection would, even at 18 or 19 years-old, be so expansive that no library could contain it. Then, I literally ask them to look at everyone else in the room, emphasizing that each of THOSE individuals also has a life’s story that is already near-infinite in nature.

To Kill a Mockingbird” taught me that to understand people you have to walk a mile in their shoes. To foster any positive change, regardless of occupation or God’s calling for your life, understanding people is a bare minimum requirement. That said, to walk a mile in others’ shoes you have to realize that the complexity of all of the factors in someone else’s life is just as complicated as your own.

Beyond the person next to you in class or working with you at your job, there are over 7 Billion people currently on the Earth with untold others before, and each of THOSE people also has or had a story that would fill entire libraries.

Here is the point: We have no concept of the expanse of God’s creation.

When made aware that they live on “a fraction of a pixel”, some people might feel overwhelmed or worthless. However, while we may be only a teensy-tiny part of creation, we are not insignificant.

Students must understand that regardless of their stature (relative to the rest of creation) they are important cogs in God’s creation. “The body is not made up of one part but of many.” If I can help students reach that state of mind and accept it, I have succeeded in part of God’s purpose for my life.

WW

What Not to Say to Your Professor

One of the things that we talk about a lot in leadership is trying to be empathetic and understand the perspective of those you lead.  I normally have a pretty easy time putting myself in other people’s shoes and I really value diversity, so this is typically a fairly easy exercise for me.  In fact, sometimes I think I make concessions that I shouldn’t make because I feel for the other person.

But today is not one of those days!

Today, I’m tired and busy.  And one too many student has said one of those things that really, really frustrate me.  So, since this is supposed to be a reflective blog…I’m going to reflect aloud to the world in an attempt to gain some empathic perspective.

Here are the things I’ve heard today that have just nearly sent me over the edge (along with my personal interpretation & my attempt at an empathic hearing):

1.  Did I miss anything in class on Monday?

  • What I hear: I couldn’t be bothered to come to class on Monday, but now I’d like you to do double the work by teaching all of it to me again.
  • What you probably mean: I’m trying to make sure I haven’t missed anything and would like to double-check that with you.

2.  I’m not going to be in your class because I’ve got to prepare for another class.

  • What I hear: Your class is not as important as this other class I have.
  • What you probably mean: I’m making the effort to tell you that I’m not going to be there because your class is important to me and I’m hoping you’ll be understanding.

3.  What do I have to do to pass this class?

  • What I hear: I’m looking to do the bare minimum in your class, but want to make sure that I come out okay in the end and I need you to make sure that happens.
  • What you probably mean: I’m just trying to survive!

4.  Is there extra credit?

  • What I hear: I can’t be bothered to do my work, but I’d like you to do extra work to create some way for me to get the grade I want.
  • What you probably mean: Ouch! That test was harder than I expected it to be and I just didn’t prepare adequately.

The reality is that as a teacher or a leader, I often do understand where you are coming from…but I have feelings too.  And sometimes the things that are inadvertently conveyed to me begin to pile up and take their toll.  I think there’s a lesson for all of us here as both leaders and followers:

Think twice about what you’re saying and how it might be received. (Tweet This)

-ep

P.S. And for any students reading this who want to ask the questions above, I’d suggest the following instead:

1.  “I’m going to miss class on Monday (meaning you’ve contacted your professor several days ahead of time), I see in the syllabus that we are covering ___________, how can I best make sure that I learn the material you’ll cover in class?”

2.  Please, just don’t say this.  Prepare early enough for your other classes that you don’t have to tell me that my class is insignificant and unimportant!  Professors do understand what it’s like to balance multiple classes and that everyone has a crazy day, but because we too go to multiple classes & have to be prepared for each of them every day, it’s really hard to hear this from you.

3.  “I have struggled up to this point in the semester and would like to see this through and really learn the material.  How might I adapt the way I’m studying/writing/preparing? And do you think it’s possible for me to get out of the hole I’ve dug for myself?”

4.  Okay, so I can’t think of any other way to say this, so maybe go ahead and ask.  Maybe just don’t count on extra credit all of the time. :)

 

When Empathy Backfires

I almost never get angry in the classroom.Bashaw

I place a high value on empathy and understanding, so in most stress-inducing situations involving students, I make myself stop and consider perspective of the student. For example, if a student has forgotten to do his journal assignment three classes in a row, I tell myself, “Perhaps this was a difficult week for him.” Or if someone makes a belligerent comment towards me in class, I reassure myself, saying, “Perhaps her family environment has developed this trait in her but she means no harm.”

But yesterday, the classroom empathy that I take great pride in, finally (and with finality!) failed me. I experienced a boiling fury—the kind that starts as bubbling acid in your belly, spreads like poison through your shaking limbs, and results in a red-faced, hyperventilating eruption—and I almost spewed fire and sulfur (of the Sodom and Gomorrah type) all over my Biblical Interpretation students.

she-hulk08pic2Roughly two-thirds of my class had not done their reading OR their homework!!! The reading schedule was on the syllabus and I had even reminded them of the details of the assignment during our previous class meeting. And yet, thirteen of my (Religion!) students showed up completely unprepared for class. I was shocked and hurt and angry and I wondered, “What went wrong?”

It was then the great spirit of empathy I had patiently practiced, which usually resulted in a renewal of hope and optimism in my heart, showed me that last thing I thought it would…reality.

As I stared into the eyes of my slacking students, I felt what they felt. They did not do their work because they knew, from their former experience with me, that I would allow them to turn in their work late, even very late, with only a 10-point penalty. And they had decided that the lack of preparation was worth the penalty.

I realized in that moment that empathy in the classroom is not always a good thing.

I went to sleep that night with a clawing feeling in my stomach. I had always thought that mercy and empathy were the twin pillars that made me who I was as a person and a teacher. And I liked those characteristics in me. Those were pillars I constructed to emulate Jesus’ life and characteristics. But it seemed that those pillars were crumbling at the cracks and I did not understand why.

Then today God showed up to spackle and buttress my pillars.

As is often the case, God encouraged me in a mundane, unexpected moment. In preparation for another class, I watched a short video by Daniel Goleman about leadership and the three kinds of empathy. A good leader, he explains, practices all three kinds of empathy:

1) cognitive empathy—the ability to see things from another person’s perspective

2) emotional empathy—the ability to feel another person’s feelings

3) empathic concern—the ability to help another person to do better and be better

And it became clear what was wrong with my empathy.

I  had been passionately practicing the first two kinds of empathy, seeing the perspectives of my students and feeling what they felt, but I had not begun to help them to be better or do better in my class. I was not showing the third kind of empathy, empathic concern. My “merciful” policy about late work and my deep “understanding” of extenuating circumstances had worked to my students’ detriment.

So what God taught me this week was that being an truly empathetic teacher means being an abler for my students…not an enabler. May God give me the strength to do just that.