Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of stupid – “Given to unintelligent decisions or acts: acting in an unintelligent or careless manner”
One of the first things they cover when you are in school to get your teaching license is to encourage students to ask questions and delve deeper into the material. There is no such thing as a stupid question. And that, my friends, is why I teach the big kids. Because there definitely are stupid questions!
Classroom Examples (collected over my many years being both a student and teacher in the classroom):
Exhibit A: “So, will there be homework tonight?” After literally just finishing up explaining what the homework assignment was.
Exhibit B: “Did I miss anything while I was gone?” No, of course not. I stopped teaching in anticipation of your return (Insert exaggerated eye roll here).
Exhibit C: “Is this important?” No, I’ve just been talking about it for the last 20 minutes for kicks and giggles.
Now, please don’t start contacting my school about what a terrible teacher I am! I don’t always respond with blatant sarcasm. I work hard first to build a healthy, trusting relationship with my students before dropping the reality “there are stupid questions” bomb on them! I know my students and gauge accordingly based on who can handle what response. Honestly, I love my school and my students, I wouldn’t be there if I didn’t. Sweet elementary students are not yet ready for my degree of honesty and so I teach the big kids. I teach the big kids so I can carry around mugs that say things like: “And yet despite the look on my face you’re still talking” or “I Can’t People Today” and they know that even though I’m carrying those mugs around, they are still my kids and I will drop anything to help them.
For six years my job has been ever changing, ever evolving. I have created curriculum and taught 20 different classes, been class sponsor, ASB advisor, drama director, and more. The last two years I have taken on a new roll that includes being a TOSA (teacher on special assignment) giving me a small office. That little office has ever-increasingly become a place where students come in to talk and hash out life; a guidance counselor office.
Now, please don’t take the above list as me complaining about my job because I am not. I love my job! As exhausting as it can be, I love it! But I have learned, not just from classroom teaching or counseling sessions in my little office, but also from sweet, well-intentioned people wanting to give us advice after the loss of our daughter, that people can say some hurtful, and sometimes stupid, things.
So, the question then is how can we respond in a way that is both honest AND kind?
I am a people-pleaser by nature. A people-pleaser who does not like conflict! Most of my life I have preferred to let people lecture me (talk to my mom, she will attest to this fact) while I nod and take it or berate me uncontestedly. I frequently operate under the age-old saying, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” and so I avoid the tough issues with people. I avoid letting people know when they say something hurtful. I avoid telling people what I am really feeling. I avoid telling people things they might not agree with because I don’t want to hurt their feelings. Or, I take the other approach and bottle everything up for so long that when someone says something small and insignificant, I fly off the handle. Not because what they have said or done has actually made me that upset, but because it was the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back”.
What I am finally starting to learn is that I need to find balance. I need to find that balance between protecting my heart and also protecting the hearts of those around me. I need to find that balance between knowing when to be silent and when to speak (Ecclesiastes 3:7); in using restraint with my words (Prov. 17:27-28); in being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry (James 1:19).
In this current season of life, I am learning that people mean well, even when what they say or do is hurtful. Most people are not intrinsically unkind. Often they simply do not realize the way their words come across. Even words with the best of intentions can be taken the wrong way. At the same time, there are some who lash out because they, themselves have been hurt. They have felt pain and don’t know how to process it and so they lash out. People are not intrinsically unkind but sometimes what they say can be unkind. It is one of the reasons I love teaching History. More than memorizing dates or events, I want students to learn how to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. I want them to imagine what it might be like for the person on the other end of the story and try to make sense of their actions. I want them to read primary sources and secondary sources and then try to figure out what actually happened, because history is rarely told without a bias of some kind. So what happened from the perspective of the “other side”? My heart is for students to be so accustomed to thinking about things from someone else’s perspective that they exhibit more patience, kindness, and compassion with each other. That without even realizing they are doing it, they have become less concerned with what was said, and more focused on why it was said.
This doesn’t mean we need to ignore the hurtful things said, at the expense of our own hearts, unintentionally collecting bitterness like court-cases awaiting justice. Instead I am learning (I would say I have learned but to be honest, this is a day-by-day, moment-by-moment thing for me) to stop, take a moment, try to think of things from the other person’s perspective and then be honest. The best phrase I am learning to say in times when stupid, hurtful things are said: “Is there another way you could maybe word that? Because the way I am taking it is hurting me.”
This doesn’t always happen in the moment, sometimes I take a while to process things. Sometimes a comment is made, I am hurt, and I say nothing in the moment because I know I won’t respond with kindness. The raw emotions and hurt the comment brought up means I will not be able to respond without lashing out and so I am learning to stop, take a moment, and then try to put myself in the other person’s shoes.
I am human.
I am not perfect. Please don’t expect me to be.
Know that I will occasionally fly off the handle over something that seems insignificant because I have been bottling up my emotions for weeks, or months, on end. Know that I may not always respond with kindness. I may not say anything at all, and simply move on.
Be patient with me as I grow and learn.
But also know that I am working on being a better person. A more Christ-like person.
This morning at church we were covering Nehemiah 9, specifically verses 16-17.
“But they, our ancestors, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and they did not obey your commands. They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery. But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them,…”
God is gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love and He will not desert me. My heart needed that message this morning. My heart needed that reminder that no matter how many times I fall and fail, God is forgiving and full of grace. And if God is so willing to show me, a broken human being who says stupid things, compassion and grace then who am I to withhold those things from the people around me?
And so I try, moment-by-moment, day-by-day, to put myself in the other person’s shoes. I strive to keep things in perspective. And I attempt to find a different way to communicate with people when hurtful things are said.