Change is Hard

Even though the State Legislature has ended its session, there will still be a “Moral Monday” protest today, this one focused on public education in our state.  I’ll be in Raleigh myself, but for a different purpose:  lunch with a friend who’s there this week.  Will I wear red for public education as we eat our picnic lunch?  Will I drive through downtown on the way home to see the protest or join in?

I honestly don’t know.  But I doubt it.

I have a lot of sympathy for the protestors.  Like them, I’ve lived through more with less struggles, pay freezes, and increases in health costs over the past five years.  Like them, I’m concerned that “good” and “excellent” teachers might flee to places where they can earn more money, better support their families.  I’ve read this heartfelt blog post from a young teacher trapped between calling and economic reality … and I’ve felt as she feels even though my situation is less dire than hers.   And like a lot of people, I wish the good old days would just come back – the days when teachers were “revered” (as so many people keep saying), when “kids were well-behaved” and schools “really made a difference.”  The way things “always” used to be.

But “always” and the “good old days” are lies.  We talked about that on Friday.  They’re lies we love, lies we tell ourselves … but lies.  Soft, comfortable lies we cling to, the way I sometimes cling to that comfortable pillow and blankets, pressing the snooze button one more time, if there’s a difficult, painful day ahead.

Truth hurts, but in the end, it hurts a lot less than clinging to lies.  The pain of truth can be acute, but clinging to a lie leads to chronic pain.  “I just want the pain to end,” we tell ourselves … but are we willing to do what it will take? Am I willing?

And that’s a hard question to answer.  When I was very small, both parents used to sing me to sleep with that old song, “You Are My Sunshine.”  In retrospect, it was an odd choice for a lullaby!  “You make me happy when skies are gray,” they’d sing … and perhaps that’s one reason why making people happy means a lot to me.  “You’ll never know … how much I love you,” they sang, and maybe that inspired me to try to show love to people I care about.

A lot of good has come from those tendencies, but I can also see how they contributed to  chronic pain for me and others.  “I’m unhappy,” someone says, and often I shift into overdrive, trying to shelter them from their unhappiness, to find some way to make it better, all the while hoping that maybe, just maybe, if I work hard enough and do a really good job, that person will know and understand how much I care for them.

It’s a sweet song, but I didn’t sing it to my own children.  I didn’t sing it because, at least the way my child-self understood it, it’s built on a comfortable, cozy lie, just like “always” and the “good old days.”  You can’t make somebody else happy, can you?  That’s a horrible amount of control to seek (if you’re doing the making) or to yield (if you’re the unhappy one).  And you can’t quantify love or care directly.

So, if you buy into those lyrics as a guide for life, what will you do?  You’ll seek to control (or be controlled, or both) in the name of love or care, and you’ll try to find quantifiable measures for your love and care.  It’s similar to the factory-school mindset in many ways.  You really care, so you make young people do things … and you try to measure everything as best you can.  When the making doesn’t work,  when the measurements aren’t what you wanted, you get angry … at the “bad, lazy ones” you want to blame, and at yourself because, it seems, you didn’t do a “good enough job” after all.  Try something, anything, new and different; try “bold and radical” changes.  Sink into a toxic stew of trying stuff and blaming, of yelling and labeling, of pain and punishment and anger and loathing.

Wear red and protest, or cut benefits and salaries for “bad, lazy, spoiled, entitled ones.”  Different bowls, to continue the metaphor, for the same toxic stew.

I’m climbing out of that stew pot; I’ve been working on it for a while now.  But it’s hard, painful, and scary, and the economic uncertainty makes it harder, more painful, more terrifying still.  I’m glad to know I’m not the only one in that place; when I read the later posts on Roz’s Google+ thread I find myself in pretty good company.  And like any good factory-citizen, I keep hoping for a Magical Rescue, for someone who really cares and will show how much they care by … what?  Showing me a clear pathway?  Taking away the economic stress?  Reducing the whole thing to a simple, easy checklist?  Making me happy?

Change is hard because no one else can make it for you.  A joyful community can help a lot; it can support and sustain and encourage and guide, and when necessary it can yell at you and strip away the excuses.  But in the end, only you, only I, can make the change for ourselves.  I’m not sure what color shirt I’ll wear today for lunch with my friend, but I do know that protesting (in front of an empty building) won’t help with the changes I need to make.  But neither will yelling and labeling about the folks who do choose to protest.

Threads are connecting, and the long-term picture grows ever clearer.  But the short term is still so confusing and murky.  I’m grateful to have a joyful community to walk with me through that short-term darkness!

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Published in: on July 29, 2013 at 12:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

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