Though I am still a paramedic and, from time to time, still get out and do some “paramedic-izing” my full time job is a college teacher.
This semester, I am teaching several lecture classes. One of them is a seminar for freshman who have declared my department's major as their own. It's one of those, “introduction-to-college-life-this-is-you-in-the-big-bad-world” kind of things. Each week we meet for an hour and talk about things that impact them as students and as emerging adults. We've done group problem solving exercises, we've discussed campus life and where each student is from. We've done icebreakers and “getting to know your neighbor” exercises. All in all, these kids are a really neat group of people.
Today, My assigned topic was “diversity.” On the face of it, it's a tricky and possibly onerous subject. Many have tried to teach it and have done it poorly. I did my best. I worked up a nice presentation with minimal powerpoint bullets. I referred to campus resources for student culture organizations, built in time for the students to discuss their perceptions of people and even fit in a homework assignment having to do with dissecting your own bias or prejudice (everybody has one).
Well, I walked out to the lobby and saw my students lounging around. Through the window streamed pure sunlight, dappled by the green leaves of a Bradford pear tree. Two of my students are Muslim and were pretty weak after about 5 days of fasting during Ramadan. I looked at my students, I looked at the classroom (two small windows) and I looked out the sunny lobby window again.
“Hold on.” I dashed out, printed up my lecture notes. Tossed my laptop into my office and returned to the lobby.
“Follow Me!” We all traipsed out to the sunny courtyard. I took the class outside!
I went through my notes. I delivered my lecture well. My students responded well and we had a pretty good time. I tackled some tricky issues (race, religion and sexual orientation) but a lot of discussion came out of it and it was good.
Somewhere in there, we wandered off the lesson plan. We were talking about respect. Respecting people's basic human rights, their humanity and their individuality. During our discussion, I realized that a core principle of accepting and appreciating the lovely diversity of people around us is respect.
“What is the golden rule?” I asked the students in a moment of inspiration.
“Treat others the way you wanna be treated” replied a bright-eyed enthusiastic freshman.
“Exactly! 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.'” I replied. Something was happening, I felt this idea coming up my brainstem into my cognitive lobes. Sparks were flying!
I looked at another student in the eye. “Do you wish to be treated with respect?”
“And you?” to another student
More nodding, and on and on.
“Well, how do you pay for that?”
“How do you ensure that you are treated with respect?”
The bright eyed student piped up, “Treat them that way!”
“YES! That is the thing!” (The idea was really boiling now!)
“We MUST treat others the way we want to be treated! And the only way to be sure we do that is to look at that person and say to yourself:”
I paused. I looked right at a student in front of me.
“You are me.”
She looked a little confused.
I waited. I knew this was a doozy.
Her eyes did that: “get wider because I suddenly get it” thing! It was awesome!!
“That's right! Each person I encounter is NO different from me in the ways that really matter. Each person I meet is another one of me and I will treat them and accept them as if they were myself!”
“This is the most important thing for you to realize. If you get this, I mean really get it, then you can have compassion, acceptance and all the other fancy words. Most of all, you start to enjoy the amazing and wonderful range of people that move through our lives. Skin color, nationality, religion, physical shape, sexual orientation or politics cannot change the fact that, fundamentally, we are reflections of each other. We are alike in the ways that really, really matter! It's so GREAT! It really is!”
“When you become medical providers, you will start to look at each patient and see them as yourself. You will start to develop compassion because you can feel how you'd want to be cared for in their place. You'll treat your older patients as your aunts, uncles, grandparents, and your younger patients as your own brothers and sisters. Once you find a way to recognize yourself in the face of everyone else, regardless of where they're from and what they look like, you will find the key to all of this. You'll find it a natural thing to respect people, accept people and take joy in the broad range of people that move through your life!”
I find myself really worked up!! I was really onto something (and I still think so!)! This is really, really it!!!
Each one of my students' faces are shining at me! I mean it they're really shining like they get it too!!!
Then they start looking past me into the rest of the courtyard. Eyes shoot off to the side to the nearby lecture hall entrance.
I turn around.
My class of 15 students has suddenly grown to about 40!
Their faces are shining too!
Posted by --maddog at 04:31