The fear of being wrong is so powerful and so corrosive. We all have such a powerful fear of public humiliation yet everybody makes mistakes and everybody is imperfect.
I play tennis. So many people equate winning at tennis with self-worth. But half the people who play tennis necessarily lose each match. There is only one richest person, one most powerful person, one best looking person, one smartest person on the planet. If we set our goals on ‘winning,’ we will fail continuously.
I’ve learned to make respect the center of the classroom. Of course, respect from others is important and the foundation of a civil and enlightened community. But respect for one’s self is all that is required for a successful life. Everybody gets answers wrong, wears unfashionable clothes, forgets names, trips or spills or bumps or burps. The list goes on and on, there are so many things that are mortifying but ubiquitous. It’s ridiculous, the shame we all carry when the truth is that we are all just wonderfully human. It’d be fascinating to see the little thought bubbles over every head in the classroom, all the privates shames. “I’m too tall, “I’m too short,” “I have a pimple,” “I speak with an accent,” “I’m not wearing the right outfit.” So painful and so utterly without importance.
In my classroom, I will tolerate nothing that adds to the panic towards perfection, the demand for conformity. Respect will include supporting everyone in their imperfections and raw humanity. We all think we will die if our private shames are revealed. The reality is we are all dying bit by bit trying to keep them hidden. Our lives get pushed and warped and twisted as we try to look the way we want to be seen. Yet, inevitably, we fail because perfection lives only in our tortured imaginations. How much simpler to teach children from an early age to revel in their imperfections, to find love for themselves instead of shame.
In my classroom, embarrassment will be honored and uniformly supported.