In 11th and 12th grade, I was blessed to study with the most gifted teacher I’ve ever known – Mr. Mike Evans. He was rather on the small side, wore argyle sweater vests, and had red hair; the leprechaun comparisons were just too easy.
But the man could teach. He showed me the world of fine art and introduced me to Jelly Roll Morton. He loaned me paperback books off the spinner in his office and gave me a project that didn’t required but encouraged me to read every work Edgar Allan Poe ever wrote, which I did. Mr. Evans was just one of those teachers who could pull the desire to learn from his students.
In his classes, we often debated – not political debates (those were saved fro Mr. Muir’s class) but debates about gender and identity and the value of art. To say these were heated would be a lie. They weren’t; they were academic, and I loved it.
Somewhere in the midst of one of these discussions – I so wish I remember what the topic was – I realized something: the point wasn’t to prove the other people wrong; it was to prove myself right.
Later, when I shared this epiphany (for that isn’t too strong a word here) with Mr. Evans, he nodded, put a hand on my shoulder, and smiled.
In all these conversations about conversations, I’ve been uneasy. It wasn’t until last night, as I pondered what I hoped to gain from these conversations that I realized why: I was encouraging this kind of conversation for the most arrogant of reason – so that the other person would change. I need to ask forgiveness from all of you for this. I am so sorry – I truly had no idea I thought this until we talked. Thank you for challenging me to see more clearly.
The thing is that I think I’m right about what I believe. If I didn’t think I was, I’d change my position, my mind, or my actions. That’s probably true for all of us – if we didn’t think we were right, we would think differently.
But here’s the thing I needed to be reminded of – as much as I think I’m right, I may not be. If I hold my positions with a blind fervor, I make it impossible to learn, to grow, to change. It’s like I’ve locked myself behind the walls of my tiny ideological castle. The walls are so close to me that I can barely move, and once in a while, I just peep over the side to see what’s going on. That’s no way to live.
To be honest, I feel pretty certain that if I carry the possibility that I may be wrong into my conversations about difficult topics, if I remember that every time I talk to someone who I disagree with, if I do as many of you have suggested and listen and ask questions, well, then I may very well find I’m wrong. But at least I’ll be free and out in the world, not tucked away tight in my castle.
And once in a while, I may very well find I’m right. Wouldn’t that be amazing?
What about you? Why do you enter into difficult conversations? Or why do you avoid them?