When people are afraid.

What are the two things people say you don’t talk about in polite conversation?

Religion and politics

I always forget where sex fits into the mix*, so not being a fan of polite conversation, I try to include all three whenever possible.

Respectful conversation, yes. Polite…nah.


I’m in a combo classroom of twenty 3rd and 4th graders. She’s guiding a discussion on Immigration. Specifically, she’s talking about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and the rationale behind doing so at the time.

A kid raises his hand. A kid who’s not a bad kid - he’s a kid - and it has been apparent throughout the year that he absorbs a great deal of his father’s political positions and passes them along to his peers - and teachers - as gospel.

So he raises his hand

[good for him for raising]

"It might be good that they put them in camps,”
he said earnestly.
”they might have been terrorists.”

She gives him her attention during this five second statement, and then, in a masterful blend of acknowledgment and dismissal, looks at him, then around at the others, and says,

“People were very afraid during this time because they thought those with Japanese ancestry or relatives might side with Japan.”
She paused.
“Interestingly, they didn’t do it with German-Americans, who had the same skin color.”

She looked back at the boy.

“When people are afraid, it makes them do things that don’t make sense.”

She moved on firmly, and I caught up with her later to thank her for the time she’s spent on some of these topics.

Why should you run away from talking about or discussing certain topics?

I respect the neutrality and even-handed way she has introduced many topics to students during this volatile point in U.S. history.

Sometimes that is the most important thing:

Getting something on people’s radar. Getting them to think about a topic. Learning to critically examine and think about a thing and learn how to talk about that thing in a respectful, yet thoughtful and methodical way.

I have seen this teacher, over and over, maintain a mix of objectivity, passion, compassion, and intellectual rigor in leading and guiding our children through some of these subjects.

I was talking with her later, thanking, and said: “We don’t need to agree on everything. But to know that when our children are in your classroom, that they continuing to learn the importance of facing difficult conversations and topics head-on; not running away from them, and learning to think and discuss them…we appreciate that so much. Thank you.”

And then

A short while, she is leading a discussion about biology and ecosystems as they relate to owls’ digestive systems and the same boy raises his hand.

“Did you know,”
he says confidently, his ostensible question a firm statement,
”that scientists are completely wrong about carbon dating?”

It is difficult for me to imagine a human being displaying the magnitude of the neutral expression she conveyed as she considered his words.

she said, and responded with something along these lines:
”Your dad can have his opinion, and you can make your own opinion. And scientists have their opinion. In fact, their opinion is called a hypothesis and is based on their examination of evidence as they research their idea to see whether it’s true or not. Sometimes they might be wrong. But the important thing is that they use evidence, actual evidence to form their opinions. You should do the same thing, ____ (she used his name).

He looked at her with the face of one who has heard words coming from someone’s mouth, but who has not processed or understood those words.

“Can you believe,”
he repeated,
”that scientists are completely wrong? Did you know that? My dad taught me that.”

She mercifully moved on.

The question is the thing

The important thing is not that we agree. The important thing is that we can talk about difficult things using a common set of expectations about :

  • the nature of debate and the role of respectful listening

  • a shared vocabulary that avoids dehumanizing language or derogatory descriptions of peoples

  • a set of standards for determining what is legitimate evidence

  • a set of standards for determining what are legitimate sources of information

  • a respectful deference, if not agreement, for those who have more experience or knowledge than us (often the elder)

  • a sense of patience and humility, if not agreement, for those who have less experience or knowledge (often the younger)

They said hi and I loved it.

I sat with my boys and their friends on the schoolyard at lunch and watched as two girls veered off their path; a path that ended directly in front of me. They looked up at me, two second graders holding hands and sprouting big giggly smiles. They appeared vaguely familiar, in the sense that all second graders are cute and adorable, especially when they’re holding hands and smiling.

one of them said.

I said.

the other said.

I replied.

They looked at each other, then back at me.

“You saw our countries earlier!”
one of them said, laughing.

“Yes, I did!”
I said, quickly remembering where I knew them from.
”Your geography projects were so much fun, you both had super creative posters and I learned a lot about…Ukraine and China, right?”

they looked at each other, beaming.

I said…
”…it’s good to see you again. Thanks for saying hi!”

“You’re welcome!”
they chirped, and then ran off laughing.

I love that. I love, love, love it.

Two things:

  1. They came up to say hi. To express something kind and genuine to another human being. They didn’t think it. They did it. How many times do you think about saying something nice about someone you see…and then you don’t actually say it to them because you think : that would be weird. But why not just do it? It feels good. If it’s something kind and true and offers an opportunity for a sliver of positive human interaction, why not just take that chance and do it?

  2. I talked to them and asked questions as I looked at their posters and displays. Some put in more work than others (or some students’ parents put more into their projects than others…yikes). But they all took some pride in what they did and I found something specific to talk about and compliment them on. Even the ones that weren’t…the awesomest. I tried to use their names, to look them in the eyes, and to say something constructive. Basically…if I was in their position, how would I like for people to interact with something I worked hard on? I’m not saying this to toot my own horn. I make lots of mistakes and don’t always treat people great. But this is something I work hard on to make myself remember: the value and incalculable importance of

    1. using people’s names

    2. asking good questions about them or what they’ve done

    3. finding something specific to compliment or observe

    4. looking at them and giving focused attention

I watched the only sequel film Denzel Washington has done, The Equalizer 2, and it was much better than I expected. What’s the deal with quality sequels these days? Equalizer, John Wick, The Incredibles?

Anyway, there’s a line I like a lot.

“If we don’t remember somebody out loud, they die twice.”

There’s a time to not just think something.

There’s a time to write it down.

A time to say it.

You never know what the next moment will bring.


My remembrance of dialog and conversation is true to the spirit