I managed to spend a significant amount of time today chatting with a coworker of mine who has been given a job assignment that interacts with my own, and that related to a former boss of ours. I was a bit surprised, but pleased, that she had parts of the puzzle that I did not have and that I had parts of the puzzle she did not have, and that we both shared a desire to make processes work much smoother. It did not surprise me, alas , that there had been a problem where nodes were not working as well, or that both my coworker and I were looking to make sense of something. I asked her to keep me in the loop about future meetings to make sure that I was aware of what was going on in the future and how we could make things work smoother, and I feel, on the whole, a lot better about matters afterwards than I did beforehand. I suppose this could be considered the meeting before the meeting, given the changes that can be expected and the desire to get out in front of them, to be leading them rather than dragged around by them.
A great deal of life exists in the space between planning and reacting. As a child, I had some friendly neighbors of mine who were Spanish-speaking, and one of them was a girl about my age, who lived along with her family in poverty. I did not think anything of it, being a poor person myself growing up, and not the sort person who found it easy to find friendly people, I did not think myself particularly well-qualified to be prejudiced against those like myself. I did not realize that my early interest in learning languages would extend to the level it has, and that this interest would be found first in the simple and straightforward desire to communicate with those around me who simply happened to be comfortable in other languages. I did not realize that my crossing the border from monolingual into bilingual, done at such a young age and with characteristically little drama, would make it easier for me to enjoy and appreciate a host of other languages.
When we face disagreements with people across boundaries of worldview and perspective and ideology, we often assume that others are acting according to some wicked plan, and our beliefs as to the wickedness of their strategy tend to amp up the hostility that we feel towards them. Most of what I see in life consists of people who do not act according to any plan of their own, but rather react to what goes on around them. I do believe there are plans, but I don’t think that people themselves are largely responsible for them. The plans that we have go awry fairly quickly and fairly easily, and the plans by which we operate are largely unknown and obscure to ourselves. And yet we see others as operating by plans even if we recognize ourselves to be frequently extemporaneously operating people. The more we get to know others, the more we realize that everyone feels heavily burdened and that few people have taken the time to operate by plans or larger processes, and that others react as strongly as they do because even small frustrations and problems seem massive to people who are already operating close to the end of their tether, if not well beyond.
How do we see others for what they are? There has been a recent brouhaha over a conservative cartoonist who compared our new Secretary of Education to civil rights leaders. Many people have viewed this in a negative light? But is it not brave and heroic to stand up against the forces of prejudice, and to seek ideas for education that move beyond failed paradigms as well as a corrupt education system within our country? At least it seems brave to me–I was educated in the public school system and the experience was so traumatic that I would not want to inflict such suffering on any of my own offspring. Why would I want to put anyone through years of bullying because they were a bit odd or quirky, because they were somewhat kind and sensitive and bookish? Why should that be such a horrible thing? Perhaps if it was easier for us to admit that systems were broken and likely needed to be fixed in a variety of ways, it would be easier for us to be kinder to those who were working to make necessary changes in life. Yet when we try to make a living or draw a great deal of our legitimacy from systems it is hard for us to admit their failure, and to see the sense in what others say about what changes can be made. That is true in many areas of our life, after all.
 See, for example: