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Since I left the classroom, I have not been doing my Saturday morning reflections.  I have posted little here.  But I have been reflecting, observing, thinking, reflecting more.

One week ago we were finishing up dental triage in Wise Virginia, for the 13th Annual Remote Area Medical and Missions of Mercy free medical and dental event.  That Friday we triaged more than 800 patients.  We have now lived for several years under the Affordable Care Act yet still the needs persist.  Remember, even those who have medical insurance often find it covers up to the neck - no vision, hearing, psychological or dental services.  If you are on Medicare or Medicaid, the fact that Congress does not keep the reimbursements at a level that covers the costs of medical professionals means increasingly they will not take on patients in those categories.

As I drove home in md-morning last Sunday, I thought about how lucky I have been with respect to medical and dental, and wonder how it is that in a country with as much wealth as ours we still have too many people whose access to medical care is worse than in some third world countries and I am ashamed for my country.  

This morning, however, my thoughts go in a different direction.

I am basically shy, something I know some may find hard to believe.  Sometimes making friends with people I would like to get to know is beyond me.  I may sit in a public place and watch and listen, but it can be very difficult for me to initiate contact.  

Recently I took a chance and started a conversation and remembered something about friendships - as we get to know new people, as friends or even as lovers, it is a way o rediscover things about ourselves we may have forgotten.  It is one reason we should never become constricted in our lives, by occupation, by family ties.  It is why when we are in a solid relationship of love (as hopefully one is when in a marriage) that relationship should not be threatened by our partner developing new friendships.  

I think this is relevant as well to the political processes that so concern us here.  It has to be about more than merely winning and losing elections.  At least for me politics is about being able to make a difference through government and policy in the lives of others.  It is why I have been a Democrat, why I have no trouble calling myself a liberal, why my politics are to the left, modern-day progressive.  

It means I want to know more people - their needs, their fears, their wants, their joys.  I want my politics to help heal, to open people's hearts and minds, not to manipulate them by fear.

I want us to realize how much we can learn by listening, by getting to know.

Last week I was in a part of Virginia which is not friendly to Obama.  And many of the dentists with whom I work are compared to me exceedingly right wing.  But we respected one another's service, so we had occasion to get beyond the visceral reactions.  I think of one fine dentist who is a right libertarian who thought he hated Obama.  I let him vent.  I explored with him what his concerns were.  Then I walked him through what Romney seems to propose and how that would affect him.  Perhaps because we were both there volunteering to help people who needed dental care, often desperately, the hypocrisy of Romney on the issue of health insurance was something on which it was not hard to find agreement, as it was not hard for him to acknowledge, once he had vented, that it was more important to find ways to help people than it was to score political points.  

Sometimes it has been hard for me to listen when people are venting, when what they are saying I know is wrong.  But I have learned if I wait I might be able to find an opening, a point at which we can find some agreement.  

I was reminded of that part of myself in my new friendship -  I listened, I tried to understand and I began to remember that part of what made me an effective teacher was to listen and to reflect back what students had said, to let them begin to understand their own thinking.  It was to value them as persons.

When one makes a new acquaintance, part of the process is what one exposes or if you prefer shares about himself.  Unless one is willing to be open it is hard to expect of the other to be open with you.

And maybe this is the point of this reflection.  I share what I think, what I feel, because it is the only way I know how to connect with others.  That is, I demonstrate my willingness to be open, I trust them with me, to assure them that they can trust me with them.

That is how I taught, how I connected with students beyond the content of the assigned curriculum.  It is why when asked what i taught my answer was usually students.  

I began the previous school year knowing it might be my last in a classroom.  I have now retired from that classroom.  And yet today I filed an application for a teaching job of a very different kind - it is in a school that deals with things like autism and asperger's.  I have had as many as 3 Aspies in the same AP Government class - some are incredibly bright, but almost totally lacking in normal social skills.  I am not an Aspie -  I can understand emotional communication in a way that is difficult for many of them.  But I have in common a sense of not quite belonging in normal settings.  It is why I can do as I am doing now -  I sit in a Starbucks with people coming and going and write.  At my keyboard I can practice communicating in a way that face to face at times may seem overwhelmingly impossible.  As an extravert I am among people, which is important for me.

I want a politics that brings people in, not one that drives people away, that makes them feel as if they don't belong, as if their needs and concerns do not matter.

I used to say that teaching was my essential political act.  While I may no longer be classroom based, to a degree that statement still rings true, for my writing is, as my teaching was, a means of joint exploration:  it is not that I peel open skulls and pour in knowledge (although I may make others aware of things about which they did not previously know) - rather, it is that I seek to engage and to use the material of a lesson, of something in the news or from history, to share and to explore jointly.  It is why the comments of others on the threads of my diary matter so much to me, because it is through them that I connect with and learn from others.

Life is a pilgrimage.  Like any pilgrimage, how we do the journey is at least as important as the destination we seek.

Persons we encounter along the way are an important part of that journey.  Sometimes they may provoke or challenge us.  At others they invite us.  And sometimes, as has happened to me recently, they remind us of things about ourselves we had forgotten.

So here's my not so profound thought of the day.  I am thankful for the chance to make new friendships, because that opens up my world, and sometimes even reminds me of who I really am.

How about you?

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (14+ / 0-)

    "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

    by teacherken on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 04:46:26 AM PDT

  •  I Like This Line (4+ / 0-)

    It is why I can do as I am doing now -  I sit in a Starbucks with people coming and going and write.

    It's really important for us to have public spaces for private activity. I like reading in a coffee shop. It feels good to have people around, even when you are not interacting with them.

    But it's a violation of the standard social order.

    Increasingly, respectable people are supposed to be in one of three places at any given time: 1) work, 2) a car or 3) the home. Occasionally, you might be able to partake in some sort of socially-sanctioned institutional entertainment, like watching a sports game in a giant corporate arena.

    But other types of activity are suspect.

    I told some people at work that one of my favorite things to do was to take a long walk through the city. Reactions ranged from suspicious to downright angry.

    "I'll believe that corporations are people when I see Rick Perry execute one."

    by bink on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 04:58:10 AM PDT

    •  Should Have Block-Quoted (2+ / 0-)
      It is why I can do as I am doing now -  I sit in a Starbucks with people coming and going and write.

      "I'll believe that corporations are people when I see Rick Perry execute one."

      by bink on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 04:58:42 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Oh, I got what you were quoting (2+ / 0-)

        thanks for commenting

        As I sit now, listening to Wilhelm Kempff play transcriptions of Bach on the piano, I look around at the people coming and going.  And thanks to what I have remembered as a result of my new friendship I am able to see something of beauty in each person who comes through here.

        "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

        by teacherken on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 05:43:41 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I find myself peoplewatching and thinking (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          bink, teacherken, bewild, CuriousBoston

          that it's like watching birds or looking at flowers. I'm at an age where I can just shut off my libido's access to my optic nerve and simply enjoy all the beauty I see. Perhaps my life-drawing classes also helped me to disconnect the beauty of forms from the appeal of bodies.

          People can be quite fancy, even decorative. They're all interesting and beautiful.

          I like to wear dark glasses. It makes it harder for people to notice that I am studying them and be offended or embarrassed.

          Sometimes the ol' sketchpad does get me into trouble though.

          •  I dislike people taking my picture without my (0+ / 0-)

            permission. Once I was sitting on the base of the "Working" statue on Boston Common, people watching. Another on the Esplanade, reading and people watching. Completely changed my focus and concentration of the details around me for some time.

            My personal computer is limited, can't post without tagging on. Community computer better. Pardon tagging to comments, spelling, please.

            by CuriousBoston on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 09:22:00 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir wrote (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          teacherken, bink, CuriousBoston

          always in small street cafes or restaurants. It was almost their living room. It's what I love about France and Italy. People live part of their lives in public spaces and talk to each other.

          The only thing that so far prevents me from going with a laptop to something like Starbucks, is the embarrassement I feel to admit that I need human company, even if it doesn't lead to conversations.

          I liked this diary.

      •  Suspicious to angry? I don't understand? (0+ / 0-)

        When I skipped work to go to South Boston during the first days of busing, I saw women with baby carriages that had rocks in them, the mothers with their teenage sons. Sons that had been kept home from Catholic school. Bars open early to fuel the -I will not post what they called themselves.

        When I had to make my feelings known, to prevent violence that LEO did not see, I ran like hell to get out.

        Other than that, walking around was not a problem. Except for the ususal problems women have walking around any time of the day.

        My personal computer is limited, can't post without tagging on. Community computer better. Pardon tagging to comments, spelling, please.

        by CuriousBoston on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 09:17:25 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Good piece, teacherken. Yes, for all the whining (6+ / 0-)

    about bitter coffee and overpriced bakery treats, I think Starbucks and its like have done a real service with their businesses.

    Some people take their laptops and have an office there; students can study or work there; and it provides a good neutral meeting ground.

    As to meeting people, you are correct. You usually get out what you put in.

    Thank you for volunteering at the clinic and writing this.

    This is, of course, the difference between republicans and human beings. - Captain Frogbert

    by glorificus on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 05:26:40 AM PDT

    •  you are welcome (3+ / 0-)

      thanks for reading and offering your comment

      "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

      by teacherken on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 05:45:09 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Italy and France have thousands of street cafés, (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      and they all can or could offer same services and NOT be a chain or a corporation. How many independent coffee shops and street restaurants has Starbucks pushed out of business or prevented from opening?

      How many independent butcheries, bakeries and other food related small shops will never be able to open a store because everything is taken by Safeway, Shoppers, Giant etc?

      How many walkable public towncenters DO NOT HAVE small independent stores that could offer services?

      •  A few of the high priced streets in any large city (0+ / 0-)

        have tables outside. In Boston, some parts of the city beside the parks have benches, mostly near bus stops. some neighborhoods still have porches, porch visiting still continues.

        During school, the Isabella Gardner museum was five minutes away. A docent would hang up my coat, carefully place my books on a rack. I wandered from room to room, a docent in every room. I was left alone unless I stood in front of something and looked at the docent. Just me, not even my best friends. That experiece cannot be had now.
        The peace, quiet, the knowledge, the solitary and not solitary were exactly what my mind and body needed.

        My personal computer is limited, can't post without tagging on. Community computer better. Pardon tagging to comments, spelling, please.

        by CuriousBoston on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 09:32:22 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Starbucks: hippies version of a bar (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bewild, CuriousBoston, glorificus

      I don't drink alcohol (since 1975) so I stay out of bars. I'm really happy to see the proliferation of coffee houses because its a good alternative to a bar.  Theyre actually becoming more like a british pub--- a place to socialize, not necessarily get drunk.
      It strikes me as odd sometimes to go into a coffee house and see everybody staring at a screen or a phone. But I love coffee houses and, even tho I used to have a bumpersticker that said "Friends don't let friends go to Starbucks," I like them too and theyre a familiar place from home when I'm traveling abroad, a better symbol of America than a plastic clown (maybe not)

      I think at heart I'm basically shy but I picked the kind of vocation where I had to go meet new people and make them like me (building contractor) so Ive picked up a few personality tricks over time, like walking up to people and introducing myself. I just remind myself I'm on a mission. Hi, I'm only here for your money!  Way down deep, where I'm real shallow, it works.
      It gets familiar over time. I left Vietnam, where I walked up to people and shot them, knowing ANYTHING was going to be easier than that, and I was right. try working up the nerve and courage  for that and later introducing yourself to people comes a lot easier.
      One thing to keep in mind is that EVERYBODY is shy underneath, we just all have different ways of covering it up.  Everything youre feeling, everybody else feels too, especially the insecurities. Realizing this has helped me to get along better in the world.

      reading your diaires, Ken,  always makes me wish I was a better person. I get paid to be who I am tho, so forget it.

      Happy just to be alive

      by exlrrp on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 06:34:38 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I am in Virginia for a bit, and I noticed that the (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ads are non-stop here. Makes me happy to live in a state that is not considered a "swing" state. I think it also puts people on edge politically, at least those exposed to the advertising. So I think the venting is healthy, and that your willingness to calmly accept it draws people to you and opens their minds (if only a smidgen). So keep that up. I wish I could meet you sometime.

    In terms of continued education of those around you, what is on your recommended reading list?

    The man who moves a mountain begins by moving away small stones. -Confucius

    by Malachite on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 05:52:32 AM PDT

  •  My life after teaching: (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, bewild, CuriousBoston, drmah

    Creative landscaping
    Volunteering at the food bank,
    Woodcarving club
    Volunteering at the children's museum
    Progressive political activities- (protesting, signature gathering, and even some occupy camping).

    The list is ever changing.  
     I have spent many years in a rigid system of orderly bells, schedules, meetings and structured obligations.
    Now that I am free from that imposed routine, I am free to create my own.

    I have learned that giving is the foundation for happiness, and that doing what you love makes life meaningful.
    Now I am free to evolve in ways that my professional teacher mind could not even imagine.  

    Enjoy your adventure and keep us posted.

    If cats could blog, they wouldn't

    by crystal eyes on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 06:18:53 AM PDT

  •  teacherken, I too am thankful . . . (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, CuriousBoston

    . . . for the chance to make new friendships. But I think we should all learn something from your reflection that is far more important: when we make that new connection we should listen. If we don't listen then there is no connection.

    If speaking is silver, then listening is gold.  
                           - Turkish proverb

    Many of us only mine for silver, when it is far easier to mine for the gold. For many, friends are those we speak to, not those we listen to.

    Listening is understanding, understanding is connecting. We should listen more than we speak and we will always be connected.

    To these unfortunate citizens aid must be extended by Government--not as a matter of charity but as a matter of social duty. - Franklin D. Roosevelt

    by rudyblues on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 07:20:42 AM PDT

  •  Teaching students with special needs (0+ / 0-)

    well requires training. Having a few "aspies" in your classes doesn't qualify as training. And these students deserve highly trained teachers.

    "There must be more to life than having everything" -Maurice Sendak

    by lilypew on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 08:42:10 AM PDT

    •  this particular school has its own approach (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      and they train their teachers to implement it so it is not as big an issue as you might think

      "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

      by teacherken on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 09:08:53 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you for posting (0+ / 0-)

    I look forward to your diaries. They are always well thought-out and make me think.

  •  That would certainly be (0+ / 0-)

    an interesting job.  Good luck finding your next place.

    It's funny - as a therapist I learned long ago that when you listen to people long enough, you can (if you really have their interests in mind) convince them that the way to get what they want is to do what you want them to do.

    I'm listening to the Borodin Quartet play the second Borodin quartet.  So lovely.

    Old people are like old houses - lots of character, but the plumbing leaks.

    by ramara on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 02:37:50 PM PDT

    •  one of my favorite quartets (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      since the opening melody is assigned to the cello, which was the instrument i played in orchestras and string quartets (also played piano)

      "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

      by teacherken on Mon Jul 30, 2012 at 01:18:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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