How to Cross the Great Divide

We have never been more divided. Or so it would seem. If we are in fact divided, we are the ones who created the divide.

The media and candidates can fuel the divide. But the divide only happens when we, the people, make negative assumptions about each other.

If it seems like you’re surrounded by negativity, consider the situation I encountered a few years ago. I call it the tale of two teachers. When I originally wrote about these two teachers, I got letters from people all over the country saying, “I know those two. You must be writing about our school.”

See if you can spot yourself or someone you know in this story:

Teacher X teaches biology; teacher Y teaches language arts.

Teacher X has a Facebook fan page started by her students; they share facts about biology, project triumphs, questions and compliments. The students love Teacher X. When she walks down the hall, past and current students come up and say, “Hey Ms. X, how’s it going?” Kids are on fire for her subject. They show up early for class. Former students go back to see her year after year.

Teacher Y also has a Facebook group. Her Facebook group was also started by students. But it’s not a fan page; it’s the “I Survived Ms. Y” group. Kids don’t make eye contact with her when she walks down the hall; instead they look at the floor or roll their eyes behind her back.

Both teachers teach gifted students. They both have reputations as really tough teachers, and they’re both regarded as experts in their field. Anyone would say of either of them, “She really knows her stuff.”

Yet they get completely different responses from their students.

Here’s where it gets interesting; they don’t just teach the same kind of kids, gifted kids. They teach the exact same kids. They both teach at the same high school and the same students are in both classes.

I’ve interacted with both these teachers and I’ve seen the way they look when they talk about their students. The difference is amazing. If you ask the rocking biology teacher about her kids she’ll tell you, “The kids in this school are so great. They are on fire to learn. They’re motivated, they’re fun and they’re interesting.”

Every time I’ve been around the dreaded language arts teacher, she sighs and makes snide remarks when discussing students. She drops little hints about the kids being spoiled, and not caring.

Both teachers are accurate in their assessments of students. They’re both describing the way they experience their students.

So what does this have to do with the political divide? Everything. Both of these teachers have created their own reality. One teacher is showing up every day with 150 people excited to see her. While the other teacher is showing up facing five classrooms a day of kids who would rather be anywhere than with her.

You don’t get to choose your neighbors; and you certainly don’t get to choose your family. You do, however, get to choose the way you experience them. You can focus on their worst traits, and make negative assumptions about their motivations.

We’re at a turning point. We can be like the cranky high school teacher who assumes the worst about, and because of her attitude, experiences the worst of people. Or we can be the person who assumes and experiences the best of others.