CANDACE STEVENS BOEHM
THE BAJA POST/STAFF WRITER
It’s been hard for me to process the past 5 months. Everything went from normal to crazy to a new normal that’s still not really normal at all. Everyone is upset. Everyone is judgmental. Everyone is just so damn angry.
I know I can’t be the only one struggling to process this world right now. First this stupid virus and everything it’s taken from all of us. Not a person on Earth hasn’t been impacted. To the racial injustice and political differences and moral and ethical decisions tearing apart our lives. The amount of choices we face in a single day is overwhelming. The fear. The anxiety. The unknown. And then the loss of acceptance and tolerance and kindness. It’s sad. Too often I just feel sad.
I thought about where I was this time last year. Last year I completed a social experiment where I traveled to a foreign country and pushed myself to meet at least one stranger a day. I wanted to meet people different from myself. I strongly believed that I needed to slow down and pay attention to the world and to the people around me. I believed meeting people of different races, from different cultures, of different nationalities, from different backgrounds, and different ages, would teach me lessons about living my best life.
I was right.
Some of my conversations lasted moments and some hours. Some of those people I know I will never see again and some have become friends. Some conversations led to the best laughs I’ve ever had, some made me ask questions as I sought to learn more, and some completely touched my soul. From the twenty something Australian nomad to the 17 year old local surfer to the Tennessee moms to the 60 something cowboy. I believed meeting people who didn’t think like me or act like me or have the same experiences as me would make me a better person.
And guess what? I was right.
Then I began to think about the past three years of my life where I taught in a residential youth psychiatric hospital. First I thought about my coworkers. People that I came to respect and admire and trust more than anyone maybe I ever have. Some of us had college degrees and some of us did not. Some of us were parents and some were barely adults. And I am pretty sure some of us were democrats and some were republicans and some probably didn’t vote. Every race was represented and every sexual orientation was present. We didn’t all come from the same socioeconomic worlds and we certainly weren’t all going home to the same ones. I believed none of that mattered and that a whole mess of different could work towards a common goal – working to help the students we served.
I was right.
If I had a question about race or sexuality or a personal experience, I asked. If I needed information about a mental illness or a behavior or anything I didn’t know, I asked. When my coworkers needed information or clarification or guidance and advice, they asked. We talked about it. Everyone gave their perspective and their opinion. Never once did I fear my voice even when I knew we might not agree in the end. And I think, at least I hope, they too knew how valued their voice was to me. I believed when judgment and anger and ego were taken out of the equation it was possible to communicate and to learn and to achieve. I believed working with people who didn’t think like me or act like me or have the same experiences with me would make me a better person.
Once again. I was right.
And finally I thought about my students. Some of the most troubled youth you might encounter. Young people who knew judgement and anger and pain more than most of us ever will. Each group of students who came into my classroom on paper would have looked like a nightmare waiting to happen – few commonalities and few similarities. Poor communication skills. Poor coping skills. Little empathy and less tolerance. And yet, what I saw happen time after time was these students begin to work together and form connections. I saw individuals become friends and these groups become like family. Acceptance lead the way to respect. Differences became a point of celebration and pride. I believed an environment led by open-minded thinking where communication was modeled and practiced and where kindness, a lot of kindness, was shown, would teach my students that better was possible for them.
I was right.
I watched the student who came to us as a bully standing up for the transgender student. I saw the white farm boy become best friends with the inner city black student. I laughed when their dance battle brought the class down with laughter. I saw the student we were told couldn’t get along with her peers answer the questions of her classmate with a disability time after time after time, even when the questions never changed. I saw the student who had never known a life outside of foster care sit down and pray that her classmate be reunited with family. I saw them laugh together and cry together and lean on each other for support time and time again. I saw them argue and then I saw them forgive. I heard them talk and then I watched them listen. I saw race and gender and religion and sexuality and past traumas and past histories fade to become individuals. I believed it was the differences around them that allowed them to start to discover their true selves. I believed those experiences are what put them on the path to become better young people.
I’m pretty confident I was right.
I do not want to live in a world where everyone looks like me. I definitely don’t want to live in a world where everyone thinks like me either. I’m thankful I have people in my life that don’t come from the same place I do. Thankful they don’t all agree with me. Thankful they question me and challenge me and push me in directions I would never go on my own. I think of all the adventures and experiences I would have missed without them. I want to talk and debate and laugh and share and even argue. I believe that’s how I will learn to be better. I believe that’s how I will become a better person.
I don’t begin to know the answers to all the problems in our world right now. And I know it’s not realistic to hope we can all agree. I don’t think we need to be same. It’s about being different. It’s about being able to not agree but still respect. It’s about being able to listen without always having to talk. It’s about making my choice and letting others make their choice. It’s about understanding I don’t always have to understand. It’s about knowing the only path I’ve walked is my own. I can’t possibly know the journey of another. It’s about kindness and compassion and empathy for others not being dependent our commonalities. It’s about just being kind. I believe differences are the very best thing about us.
That’s what I believe. And right now, I don’t care what anyone else says because I believe I am right.