Years ago when I was training for a marathon, I was participating in an 18 mile training run. It was a hot morning and the route was full of hills. Near the end of the run, we hit a stretch void of shade. Everyone in the group is starting to melt a little and the pace is starting to slow. I am covered in salty sweat and I am just trying to finish the training run. When we finish, one of runners sighs and says, “It’s not pretty, but it’s success.”
Since then, I have used his words of wisdom often. Making any changes, even positive ones, can be painful. Success is often mucky, uncomfortable and ugly.
When I worked as a vice principal, a big chunk of my job was managing student discipline. A student would be sent to my office for punching a student during class. Inevitably I would investigate only to discover the recipient of the punch had repeatedly harassed the student who finally pushed back.
I am teaching a group of grade 5 students. We are making a list of all the ways we can take care of our big feelings. One of the suggestions the students come up with is yelling. So I ask,
“When might it be okay to yell in order to manage a big feeling?”
“It’s okay to yell, if somebody has been bugging you for a long time, and they don’t listen to you and they still keep bugging you.”
“It’s okay to yell, if you are in trouble and you need help.”
“It’s okay to yell, if you need to stand up for yourself or when you need to help somebody else who is in trouble.”
And I say,”Yes, that’s right.”
Working things out sometimes gets messy. Teaching the people around you to treat you with kindness sometimes requires you to be unkind. If you are finding yourself always yelling in order to connect with someone or get your point across, its a problem, but getting loud, hot and ugly is sometimes the right thing to do. In my view, it is part of the learning required to stay present in conflict. It is why any form of “conflict resolution” can be both transformative and dangerous.
Learning to show up in your own life means sometimes doing the ugly thing. The road to self advocacy is not always paved with kindness. In a world increasingly polarized by dualities – you are either right or wrong, good or evil, right wing or left wing – it is our responsibility to provide practice and language that help children understand the messy, grey, middle of living.
Let’s be honest with all of the messy middle. Let’s provide children and adults for that matter (Unions, management, and government could all learn a thing or two from grade 5 students) curriculum that addresses real life communication and self advocacy practices. It won’t be pretty but it will be successful.