As much as we need a prosperous economy, we also need prosperity of kindness and decency.
– Caroline Kennedy
I wanted to be mean today.
It was a little moment.
Instead of completing her work in class, one of my students was working on her math homework.
I asked her to stop.
She asked for two minutes more.
In that moment, I wanted to be mean.
I wanted to say, “No,” take away her notebook and use my teacher voice to tell her to get back on track.
I would have been well within my rights, but I wouldn’t have actually been right.
Compliance could have been achieved by the application of force, but that wouldn’t have been teaching – at least not the right kind of teaching.
If later, she had come to ask me why I had done what I wanted to do, I would have been ashamed of my answer.
Meanness is worst when it slips in to these small moments and erodes the times we choose to be nice.
When New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had the message passed along that Firefighter Union President Bill Lavin should “Go f@#! yourself,” he chose meanness. Like my student and I, Lavin and Christie were at odds. Like my student and I, Lavin and Christie are motivated by different interpretations of what they think should happen.
Christie, though, chose to be mean.
I freely admit I wanted to do the same thing. For a moment, I wanted to use language and tone that asserted my power and showed my student I was in power.
But, I’m a teacher.
I gave my student her two minutes.
Two minutes later, I came back.
She looked at me, “Ok?”
“Ok,” I said.
She put her math aside.
I realize the Christie/Lavin comparison falls apart a bit here, but the principal remains the same. Nothing keeps us from being nice other than us.