resolutions and condolences

I’ve been guilting myself over the past 10 days to write a blog post about my New Year’s resolutions. I was going to poke fun at myself for genuinely resolving to eat more vegetables, exercise more, stop smoking and spend less money; especially since I broke nearly all of them only 4 days in. I made a list in my journal of my mild vices (coca cola, beer, frequently occasional cigarettes, and TV) and my hobbies, which I define as the things I do, but don’t do: play guitar, speak German, read interesting things, and (most recently) blog. I thought I could draw some interesting, maybe even witty, conclusions about how all of these things make me American.

But none of that is what has finally gotten me sitting upright and thinking, reading and writing about America. I am hesitant to add more words to the pool of perpetual opinion in the wake of the horrifying shooting in Tuscon this weekend, but like the rest of this reality-television-obsessed nation, I cannot get it off my mind.

Nothing I have to say is novel or long, but I would like to express my disappointment in the predictability of the responses to this event. Maybe that’s unavoidable. There are only so many sane ways to respond to something so heartbreaking. Everyone expresses condolences, pauses pensively and agrees that the way we treat each other has to change. Then, the New York Times quickly calls out conservative extremists, Fox News cites the Tea Party’s preemptive defense against the “hard-edge liberals.” Who cares. And who knows?

For the past few months, I have been trying my hand at assisting an early education teacher in a young charter school. What I did not realize before I started was that almost every aspect of early education, even in the Drama classroom, is focused on teaching good behavior.

At first I thought, who am I to instill strong values in children? The last four years taught me how to read and write, but to be a human being? Of course I had to quickly realize that this skepticism was indeed an echo of my recently concluded liberal arts degree and that I had to get on with it.

I picked it up pretty easily: when someone speaks out of turn, you remind them to raise their hand; when someone tattles, you encourage them to express themselves to the alleged offender; and when someone overtly hurts or upsets another, you see that they make it right. How can they make it right? Well, they can start with an apology.

But what if they didn’t mean it? Or what if the other person did it first? None of that matters—I’ve learned to instruct—what matters is that in order to stop hurting other people and stop other people hurting you, you have to accept responsibility.

That might sound wishy-washy or trite or true…and the problem with our political arena is that there is no longer any teacher sleeve to pull on or to tell us what next to do. But I would like to take that sentiment and express my condolences not only to the loved ones of those killed and injured in Tuscon, but also to every citizen, like me, of the United States. I know I deserve better—we deserve better.

Without being ironic, all I can say is that we have to resolve not just to be sorry, but to sometimes say we’re sorry to the right people, too. At some point we have to reject the notion that each party is stuck in some kind of political prisoner’s dilemma, each one fearing self-sabotage by admitting even the slightest fault.

Of course, elementary school students don’t always obey immediately because they’re often embarrassed or upset themselves, so you gently remind them before leaving them to their own devices, “Fix it. You can fix it.”

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