I am often called pragmatic but the truth is I am also an idealist. I try really hard not to be but there’s something that I cannot explain that keeps me believing that things can get better. Perhaps it’s faith, perhaps it’s my family’s life stories, perhaps it’s being a history buff – maybe it’s all three. I think things can and do change, and sometimes they can change for the better. Sometimes even people change. It’s possible.
Starting as a TA this quarter has been a very gratifying experience for me. It’s been evident that I love the classroom and I think I will forever believe it is my ultimate vocation. Over the space of three months, I watched over twenty students grow in knowledge, in attitude, and in their ability to look at the world critically. One of my students’ assignments was to write a narrative about themselves in the context of intercultural communication theories. Their assignments utilized identity markers such as race, religion, gender, sexuality, nationality, etc.; topics I find fascinating and interesting as the social constructions that they are.
But as I was grading their papers, I realized that it didn’t say a lot about who they are, not really anyway. And this is our everyday reality, our everyday mistake if you will – that we perceive and judge people by the markers of their identity; yet people are always so much more than these things. Most of the time the important things that really make people who they are, are unknown to us. But we judge them anyway because it is the human condition and we are all susceptible to it. We all forget the profound truth that when it’s all said and done, we’re all just trying to do our best; we’re in a broken world, and we are broken too.
In my academic life, I focus on differences, on multiculturalism, on marginalization, on institutions that privilege and disadvantage, and the truth is sometimes it’s all I see. I see the brokenness in the populations who have been so historically put to shame. And sometimes I am angry – at history, at the present, at the people who fail to see what I see; and the people who make it all possible. But when I am at my best, in my reflection of what it means to be human, I know that people – all people – are victims of humanity; we are all broken.
Brokenness comes in all shapes and sizes, and although some are greater than others, they all hurt. It hurts to worry about where your next meal is coming from. It hurts to worry how to make a better life for your children. It hurts to suffer from heartbreak, from loneliness, from physical pain, and mental anguish. It hurts when you’re not sure who you can trust, and it hurts when trust has been broken. It hurts when our loved ones die and it hurts when we realize that we have to move on without them. We hurt; and we forget that so many around us are hurting in silence too.
From time to time, we are all unkind. At least, I know I am. In the heat of a moment, I forget that the person in front of me is wrestling with their own demons, trying to make it through the day; just trying to do their best. Sometimes I think we forget that the person we see in the mirror is trying to do their best too. And maybe if we learn to be kinder to ourselves, we’ll be kinder to others too. Maybe if we remember our own brokenness, we’ll be more aware of the brokenness of others. Maybe if we can see past those identity markers that we think say a lot about people, and remember that they say very little, if anything at all. Because in a world with so much brokenness, I can’t help but feel that if we’re not helping, we’re hurting. And we’re all already hurting enough.