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Saturday, June 23, 2018

Nature Signals

Once when I was in sixth grade, a teacher lashed out at me and two friends.

I remember the experience well.

I was creating a bulletin board with two classmates. We were delighted with the process which was to essentially use many, many colors to create a wonderful design. One of the classmates working with us was particularly talented and I was honored to work with her. We worked with lots of laughter and playful banter. I imagine that we were very silly as we worked at the front right corner of the room while all the other students were sitting at their desks finishing up their work.

As we created, the teacher reminded us to settle down and be quiet. We followed his command for a minute or so and then returned to our silliness. He reminded us again and again we stopped for a short while and then resumed what was probably loud laughing and total disregard for his instruction. Finally he simply lost it and lashed out at us which caused us to run out of the room crying.

What was initially a wonderful, extra project turned into a classroom disaster--a disaster created, in part, by the fact that we really loved our teacher and felt awful that we had caused him to lose his temper.

As a teacher now, I often think back to that situation. Never did I think the teacher didn't care for us and never did I think we were not at fault--we were silly and lost in our twelve-year-old world of friendship, creativity, and fun. The rest of the class and the probable efforts the teacher was engaged in at the time was lost on us--we were in our own world when he lashed out.

I bet most people have lashed out from time to time for one reason or another. I know for myself when it's occurred, the impulse has come from pure frustration or guilt. As a young mother, this lashing out typically arose when I felt I wasn't doing enough for my children and I was suddenly reminded of something more I could do, but did not have the energy or ability to fulfill that impulse. This lashing out can occur when you feel that someone doesn't understand your point of view, respect your work, or understand where you are coming from. In school, children tend to lash out when they feel unheard or when they think something is unfair.

As I think of the act of lashing out, I'm thinking about why it might happen and what we can do to respond to this action. Long ago a relative lashed out at me during a very trying and difficult time. Clearly he felt that he had nowhere to turn and I was the scapegoat for his feelings of insecurity, isolation, and powerlessness. Much later, he apologized. I understood his struggle--I probably would have lashed out too given the circumstances he faced at the time.

Lashing out is a signal of need--a response that comes from our gut and shows the world that something is not right. We need to heed the call of lashing out with sensitivity and kindness first--we have to hear what the lashing out words and actions are saying to us, the needs they are demonstrating, and potential for needed change, support, comfort, or help.

Life is always sending us signals. A focus on mindfulness demonstrates that to us. I tell students that nature speaks to us if we are attuned. Thunder and dark skies warn us of coming storm, a buzz signals that a mosquito is near, and the smell of smoke tells us there's a fire. Similarly human nature sends us signals too--slumped shoulders tell us that someone is a bit down, a smile shows a happy spirit, tears signal sadness, and lashing out can illustrate frustration and other emotions.

The more sensitive and attuned we are to the people and places around us, the better we are able to navigate the terrain of need and potential. There is great power to be had here--power to serve each other well in ways that matter.