The Generation of Fake Reality...

The internet’s been abuzz these last couple of days with the story of Karen Klein, a 68 year old bus monitor whose experience with taunting was videotaped and posted to facebook by one of her taunters — a middle schooler.

You can watch the video and read up on it here.

When I first took note of this incident and took to twitter with my thoughts, someone asked me “why didn’t they put a more intimidating monitor on the bus?” I surmised that at middle school age, kids still, generally, revere adults. So simply placing an adult on a bus typically solves any behavior problems because kids fear being reprimanded. However it appears that in this case the kids had come to learn that she wasn’t to be feared and so they attacked her.

But that still leaves the question of why. Surely not just because they could, right?

In a separate article, one of the taunters’ fathers is quoted as saying he was surprised to find out his son had treated another human this way and I got to thinking…

Kids in middle school, depending upon the grades that exist, can run in age anywhere from 10 – 14 years old. That means the youngest kids in the building were born in 2002 and the oldest kids were born in 1998. They have quite an interesting frame of reference for popularity.

Go with me on this…

Read the rest here


Seeing The Great

Five days ago, Erica Kennedy died. In that time I've seen a whole lot of tweets and blog posts about what a great author and friend she was. Though I was only vaguely aware of her as the author of "Feminista" and "Bling," it seems I follow several individuals on twitter who had a much (MUCH) stronger knowledge of and connection to her. And as I read their blog posts and tweets I found it both stirring and remarkable that they all seemed to say almost the exact same things about her. That she was a genius, and supportive.

The one thing, however, I saw repeated that really has stuck with me is that they all mentioned how she seemed to have the ability to see greatness in individuals who could not see it in themselves. Several individuals mentioned that when invited to join a group of women put together by Erica, they had no idea why only to come to learn that she did it with purpose -- she saw something in each of them that she thought might help the others. She saw the great.

If you've ever had someone see something in you that you can't see in yourself, only to later begin to see it for yourself, you can only describe the experience as magical and touching. As you think back over all the moments and events that got you to that place, you realize that had it not been for that one person who could see the great, you might never have gotten there.

I've had MANY moments just like that and I continue to. As I was cleaning out some of my drawers, I found old tshirts that I really need to get rid of (thinking of a tshirt quilt) but haven't because they all mean something to me. A few of those shirts refer to things I did in high school and they made me think of one of the first times somebody saw the great in me (after my mama who saw it the day I was born, so...). What's interesting is that while I count this as once, it was actually two different people.

Most predominantly white and private institutions of learning, whether K-12 or higher ed will have an organization that functions as both a support group for its minority students as well as a unifying voice. My white, private high school was no different. I avoided joining this group in my freshman year, feeling out of place and not quite connected to them. The first friends I made at this school were white, and I didn't do any of the stereotypical black things that connected the black students so I had managed to make it through both 8th and 9th grade only really connecting to the handful of black kids in my class, and only kinda.

However towards the end of the school year one of my white friends whose sister had been active in this group wanted to go but wanted some "support" and I was the obvious supportive choice (aside from being black, or rather because of it, I was the most likely to agree to even go, though I had turned down previous requests from her). Being at a college prep school, it had been beaten into me that my resume for college needed stuff on it and so I figured there was no harm in going to one meeting and then slapping that on my resume.

We happen to pick the last meeting of the year, where they were electing officers, to randomly attend. In hindsight, I don't doubt that all of the upperclassman present at that meeting knew who I was, or at least knew of me. My class had the most black students - 10 - so it wasn't hard to spot the one black girl who didn't kick it with them. I stuffed myself in a corner (while my friend sat herself up front) and tried to remain inconspicuous. Elections began and it seemed that everyone had already decided who would be elected or at the least, nominated, to many of the positions except for treasurer. No one volunteered themselves, as had been the case with other positions. Finally one girl who had been previously nominated raised her hand to accept the nomination. It looked like she would be the only one and thus the default winner when at the last minute another girl raised her hand and said, "I'd like to nominate Ashley." All eyes were on me and I was confused. In my mind I had spoken to this junior maybe once or twice. I knew who she was but was baffled that she knew who I was and went so far as to nominate me for a position. The president-elect (she was the only one nominated) who was the current secretary asked if I was ok with the nomination and I accepted it.

After the meeting, this junior approached me and said she hoped I hadn't been embarrassed and that she thought I should be on the executive board the next year. Not only did she see the great, but she was someone I had no clue was even paying me attention.

The day of the elections, the president-elect mentioned to me that if I didn't win she had an idea she wanted to run by me but she first needed to speak to the organization's faculty advisor. Of course I didn't win the election and I wasn't surprised -- I actually only voted for myself because it felt silly not to. About a week later, the president-elect emailed me and asked if I wouldn't mind stopping by their faculty advisor's office to talk with her. At our impromptu meeting she mentioned to me that after having served as secretary for a year she knew that it was a lot of work and she thought there might be enough work that having an assistant secretary made sense. She said she specifically wanted me for the position. I was baffled. Twice in one week someone implied that they thought I might be good at something I had never considered: Leadership.

I point to that experience as one of the reasons I went on to hold other leadership positions. The year after I was asst. secretary I became President of the organization (I was elected VP and bumped to President, a motif that played out again, in another org, the following year). I had two people who saw the great in me and acted on it. Not only did they influence my pursuit of leadership positions but they influenced my efforts to see the great in others. That event changed the trajectory of my life, I'm sure of it. If I can do that for others, similar to the way Erica Kennedy did it for many, I'll feel like I really am achieving the great so many have seen in me.


Everybody Won't Like What You Do and Sometimes They'll Even Tell You

This one might not make you feel good. The post, I mean. And if as you read it, you find yourself not particularly liking it, read to the end and leave me a comment saying so, ok?

Working with the lil chirruns, I see lots of things. Some of them make me happy that I work with kids, some make me really uncomfortable, lots of it makes me want to take parents by the ear and lead them around and some of it concerns me.

One of the things that concerns me is how poorly kids these days seem to handle criticism. There's a lot of reasons why our grading systems in our educational systems don't actually work, but for the purpose of actually staying on topic, I won't go into all of them. Let's just agree on the following: we grade our kids based far more on how much we like them than on how well they know material.

In and of themselves, grades are supposed to be critiques on students. Mostly on how much material they know of what they've been taught. In other words, when a student gets a 76 in science, we should be able to fairly assume that this student knows 76% of all the material taught.

Unfortunately, that's not actually how this stuff works out. Instead, a 76 seems to more accurately express that the teacher only likes the student 76% of the time. Or maybe the child showed up 76% of the time. Or perhaps somebody in the class had to make a C so it was this student. My point is, grades just aren't the useful critiques they used to be and increasingly its because we don't teach our kids how to handle criticism.

We're not teaching our kids how to handle criticism because WE can't handle it. I see grown men and women spazz out because somebody told them they didn't like them. Out here in the internetland we have catchy phrases like "the unfollow button exists for a reason" and "if you don't like what I write on my blog, then you can go on somewhere..."

And those are factual statements. It really is true that if you follow me on twitter and don't like what I'm saying you can just unfollow me. I've done it plenty of times myself and found it such a freeing thing. But say I chose, instead, to push back on some of the things I saw tweeted. Am I really wrong for that? I mean if I disagree with what someone put out on a public forum -- and I do mean just disagree with what was said, not with the person's existence as a whole, a topic for a whole other post -- am I really wrong because I choose to express that?

We post up blogs, well bloggers do, I'm not sure I consider myself a blogger, to be read and commented on and isn't "critique" inherent in commenting?

We all want to be liked. There is nothing in the world wrong with it. But I posit that maybe we should also seek to be critiqued sometimes. We can all always be better and nobody ever died because someone said "hey, I think what you just said was a bunch of stupid" or "the way you write stuff just ain't awesome..." The criticism might be off base, it might even be unwarranted but nobody has ever died. In fact, more often than not, criticism can lead us to be better than we are.

Maybe the real problem is we don't like to be blindsided by criticism, which I can understand. But just like a person can hit that unfollow button or just not comment/read what you write (or whatever else) we can ignore criticism we didn't ask for or that we disagree with. I certainly don't want to imply that all criticism can be easily ignored -- my mother critiques me all the time and it makes me wanna punch bunnies, but I think that's because it's my mother and I seek, to a certain degree, her approval. But when criticism from a stranger makes you that uncomfortable or upset... maybe you gotta take a second and critique yourself.

Just the other day a friend of mine and I were having a chat and she laid out a scenario for me that she implied she wanted my feedback (a euphemism for critique, it's ok) on. I gave it and then she said, "hm. I'll take that under consideration..." I thought that was a great response, because at the end of it all, all you can do is take it under consideration. All you can do is think about it, compare it with what you already know and make a decision from there.

Ultimately, what I'm trying to say is that we'll be able to teach the youngins how to handle the criticism they will ultimately face in this world a lot better if we ourselves know how to take it. If we first understand that all criticism isn't bad, even if it's unwarranted; if we first understand that some criticism, even that given to us in a spirit of "less than awesome" can be awesome; if we ourselves can understand that even if a person does critique our work as a way to critique our person, it's all in how we choose to absorb it.

We all have thoughts and opinions and we want to put them out there. We should all also be ready to hear that what we put out there isn't well received and then "take it under consideration."


Timing is Everything...

Through high school and into college I had a close friend that knew a lot of my secrets and I knew hers. When we graduated from high school we both thought we'd go off and meet new people and make new friends and lose touch. We even had one last hoorah before I left. Instead we grew closer in our first two years at college. I think the process of having to get to know new people made us appreciate having someone "back home" who already knew us pretty well.

One of the things this friend watched unfold was my relationship with J. From the outset she never liked him and he never liked her. As things progressed between he and I during my first year in college, I found myself telling her less and less about us. I grew tired of her obviously disliking our relationship and her constantly telling me that I "could do better."

The summer after freshman year of college was a really bad summer for J and I and this friend was there for all of it. She convinced me to have the uncomfortable talk with him about where our relationship was going. Unfortunately that conversation, though necessary, threw J and I into utter turmoil for most of the summer. I never blamed her, but he certainly did. I did find that though I was going through a lot emotionally with him, she was much more fun to talk to when we weren't talking about that and so I all but quit speaking about him to her.

By the end of the first semester of my sophomore year, J and I had reconciled and had decided to get back together. I was elated but knew I wasn't ready to tell my friend. I wanted her to be happy for me, but I didn't trust that her happiness for me wouldn't come with reservations, so I elected not to tell her. Ironically, a few weeks prior she called me to vent because her cousin, with whom she was exceptionally close -- they were much more like sisters than cousins -- had finally admitted that she had started dating her ex-boyfriend again. My friend didn't particularly care for this guy either and so she was obviously upset, but she told me that what really upset her was that her cousin had been dating him for months and everyone knew but her. So when I decided I couldn't tell my friend about J and I, I decided I couldn't tell anyone.

Eventually, after a night of partying and drinking with some friends, I did tell her. I remember that I called her from the bathroom of a club I was in and it all spilled out of my drunken mouth. I emphasized, even in my drunkenness, that I hadn't told anyone -- which was factual. She was rather understanding (possibly because I was clearly drunk) and told me that while she wasn't terribly excited about the fact that I was a month into a relationship with J and hadn't mentioned it, she could rest a little easier knowing that she wasn't the only one I had kept in the dark.

I learned that night that there's an art to secret keeping and it has a lot to do with how everyone finds out. You see, the thing about a secret that most people really hate is the not knowing part. It's amazing the information people feel entitled to have (especially with the boom of social media) Just like the time the then-BFF complained to me that her ex boyfriend was dating a new girl and I told her I already knew. Big mistake. She was more upset with me for knowing and not telling than at him for telling me first. Thanks to those two incidents, and seeing others make the same mistake my M.O. re: secrets is if it's not a secret I can tell most of my close friends, I don't tell any of them and if it's a secret about a close friend that they didn't tell me, my lips are sealed permanently. Loose lips do indeed sink ships, in more ways than one.


The Moment I Knew I Was Dying

I'm not sure what made me think of this incident, but I like to share it with people to demonstrate that even I have been known to write checks with my mouth that my ass can't cash (and therefore know what I'm talking about when I encourage people not to).

I was about 15 or 16 years old. Right at an age where I was smelling myself (to use a nice country old people saying). I was closer to legal independence and was experiencing this odd thing most high schoolers go through where they have to balance all of the responsibility they're given by school and family with remembering that at the end of the day, they're still underage and relative know nothings. Of course the whole point of being a teenager is not knowing that you don't know anything.

Almost 10 years later I remember not what the argument was about, but as had become the norm, my mother and I were engaged in a heated battle. I'm sure it was some nonsense where I wanted my way because I'm an all knowing teenager and my mother doesn't want me to have it because I'm a smart ass teenager.

At some point I got in her face. I clearly remember thinking "she's probably gonna swing on me, but I'm about as tall as she is and I got a little weight on her, I'll be aight..." She did that "calm before the storm" warning where she eerily tells me that "I need to back up..." and I keep on going, because I'm big and bad and she warns me again and then... she snaps.

The first swing on me misses and I get a little upperhand on her. I'm in control and smelling myself when suddenly, I'm flat on my back with my mother's hands around my throat and she is SQUEEZING.

I very clearly recall doing 3 things: 1) grabbing her wrists movie style and trying to pull them off, 2) kicking with my feet hoping to kick her or get leverage to get from under her and 3) not breathing.

I was looking in her eyes and that wasn't my mother. I thought "this woman has no idea she's literally choking the life out of me, but surely she's going to stop" and as things progressed (the seconds that felt like hours) I began panicking because it seemed like she wasn't going to stop until I stopped breathing and then it happened... my foot went through the wall.

Remember number 2? Well, all that kicking on the wall only served to break the wall, not save my life and in that moment ladies and gentleman, I prepared to go see Jesus. I'm not playing. The lady wasn't stopping and I wasn't breathing.

I guess hearing her wall get a hole put in it (or hearing the sound of money leaving her bank account to fix it) snapped my mama out of it because she stopped squeezing the life out of me and got up. We didn't talk about this incident for years and when we did, we didn't -- I told the story to some family and she laughed along with them as I made light of the fact that one time, my mama almost killed me.

In case you still don't get that my mama is a G, when the handyman came to fix the hole and asked her what happened she said, "Ashley was acting a fool and kicked a hole in..."

What was I gonna do? Right. Not shit.