Have you ever come across the Chinese proverb about the palest ink being better than the best memory? The moment I heard it, I knew it was true, and I’ve have been jotting down observations, overheard conversations, and highlights from presentations ever since.
Flipping through some notes from a recent LDS Conference, I came across a story about a conversation between two doctors concerning the treatment of a patient who had been hospitalized several times. Told by Dale G. Renlund in his talk titled “Do Justly, Love Mercy, and Walk Humbly with God,” the story was about a conversation he overheard between two doctors at Johns Hopkins. The physician assigned to the case complained about having to spend so many hours caring for a patient whose problems were self-inflicted by continued alcohol consumption. She was told, “You became a physician to care for people and work to heal people, not to judge them.” (paraphrase).
In his talk, Elder Renlund reminded his listeners that people who love mercy are not judgmental and that they “treat everyone with love and understanding, regardless of race, gender, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and tribal, clan, or national differences.”
But that was nearly a month ago. It wasn’t until this week that a takeaway/application to my own life popped into my mind. “You became a teacher to teach people—and to understand and help them, not to judge them.”
It’s rare that I receive “self-revelation,” and even when and if I do, I’m probably more likely to see it as plain old insight. In any case, I think if you’re more of a judge than a helper, you might consider a different profession. I’m not saying teachers don’t have to make some judgment calls; what I’m saying is that students deserve a fair shake regardless of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, religion, or any other category. I can honestly say I’ve learned more about mercy, humility, and tolerance from my profession than from other areas of my life. My students removed my blinders.
What you share in class forces you to study, to ferret out the truth, and to ponder it before presenting it, always keeping the audience in mind…you try to understand them as a whole, students trying to complete a degree requirement and often dreading your class, and later as individuals with unique backgrounds and perspectives. They’re people.
A few examples spring to mind.
- A mannerly, quiet student who walked back to building 200 from 1000 after class and said he had something he wanted me to read about the greatest man who ever lived. “Who? Christ?” I asked. ‘No, Mohammed,” he replied. That was the first time I’d met a Muslim (as far I as I know).
- A smart young woman who also happened to be a single mom struggling to pay bills. Her boyfriend, with whom she was smitten, moved out, leaving her to take care of their two children. It broke my heart slap in two when she said, “Me and Hank, we’re not together no more.” A relative moved in to help with the little ones and brought her live-in boyfriend along. Unfortunately, the boyfriend was mean to the children. You don’t know nuttin about struggling, Jayne.
- A handsome young black man who always looked sullen and somewhat resentful. Then one morning, everything changed when I handed him a test (this was before we did everything paperless) and remarked that he didn’t look very happy that day. He looked at me with the saddest eyes ever and said, “Oh, Mizz Bowers, my little puppy’s sick. She’s sick, and I’m so worried about her that I can’t think of anything else.” Genuinely shocked at this revelation and the awareness that I’d misjudged him, I said I was sorry.
This afternoon, I’m taking Renlund’s words a step further because they apply to me, to you, to everyone—not just to doctors and teachers but to all humans. If you hear me saying “judgy” (not a real word) things, call me out on it.
P.S. I’ve come a long way and am striving to be more woke. Yesterday I saw two people with blue hair and thought “cool” instead of “crazy.” In fact, I’m kind of tempted to….