A rabbi, a mother, and a teacher walk into a bar…
I overheard a rabbi talking to his breakfast companion this morning. It got me thinking about rabbis, mothers, and teachers. (I wonder what the collective nouns could be for each of those groups?) The rabbi portion of this exploration is the tamest of the three. It started like this: A rabbi and his companion were at a table near me on the deck overlooking the river at a local cafe. He spoke in that wonderful way many people who know more than one language do — stringing his words together in an almost musical manner. I didn’t really hear the particulars of their conversation but at one point I did overhear the rabbi mention an ecumenical group he belongs to as he began listing the other religious leaders who also belong. It occurred to me that that group could only be successful if they took the time to identify their mutual goals relative to helping their congregants. Their focus could then be on sharing “how” they each attempt to accomplish these common goals instead of potentially becoming separated by their differences. They could learn from the successes and failures of their chosen methods. They would also be able to make space for the considerations and impact each of their particular religious practices brought to these methods.
You don’t have to join an official “mommy” group to be judged by other mothers. Judging mothers are free range. Quite often when mothers get together, regardless of the setting, one or more of them will have very strong opinions about the “right” way to mother children. They will be very specific. They will not allow space for your point of view if it differs from theirs. It will simply be labeled as unenlightened or wrong at best, and abusive at worse. We could be talking here about what kind of diapers you use or whether apple juice is better than grape juice. I’m not sure why so many mothers are like this. Maybe they feel overwhelmed by the fact that children do not arrive with an instruction manual. These mothers panic and worry that they’ll screw up so they become dogmatic about the choices they make. Choices they have gleaned from those they trust or the so-called experts they’ve been told they should trust. One might even say that motherhood becomes their religion and the particular way they mother represents their particular mothering sect. There is no room for nonbelievers. There are no considerations for a woman who has legitimate reasons for not being able or choosing to breastfeed, not that it’s anyone’s business but hers. These mothers could choose to learn from each other. They could laugh and cry and celebrate the hilarious results, failures, and successes of their mothering choices. If you are a mother and you find one or more mothers who are willing to do this with you, never let them go.
Teachers, perhaps professors most of all, when they are at their worst can be a mash-up of the negative characteristics of the two groups listed above. They have the potential, much like the this-mommy-knows-best mothers to insist that their way is the only right way to teach. …and just like those mothers, they believe that they know the right way to accomplish each aspect of teaching, ways they are more than willing to attempt to cram down your misguided, poorly educated throat. Sigh. They like religious leaders in an ecumenical group who happen to be unenlightened and dogmatic fail to take the time to discover, or in some cases to rediscover, the fundamental purposes of teaching. Once these are agreed upon, educators can begin to share their successes and failures, to learn from others why something they tried did or didn’t work the way they had hoped it would. They can stop feeling threatened when anyone disagrees with their methods. They can stop mistaking difference for judgment.
The rest of us:
Friends, family members, work colleagues, service providers, and strangers on the street could all benefit from realizing their common goals. We all smile and laugh when we witness each other using whatever is at hand to protect ourselves from a sudden, unexpected downpour. We don’t judge that this one is using a newspaper, that one a lunch bag, and that one a trash bag. We recognize our shared desire to stay as dry as possible. We understand that there is no reason for all of us to accomplish this in the same way. Our differences — who has a hat or a newspaper or whatever — don’t cause us to label each other as wrong or stupid. We aren’t threatened by the choices others make. We celebrate a creative person’s ingenuity. We have compassion for the person who gets soaked to the skin. In short we aren’t threatened by differences. We realize there is more than one choice, and perhaps more importantly, we realize there are far more than two.