Nearly 30 years ago a book came out called, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. It is a witty book full of quotes about how we learn to be good citizens in our schools. Recently my daughter was telling me a story of returning to school that also made me think of being a good citizen.
My daughter, who just turned 25, went back to school to become a surgical technician. Because of her reading disability, school has always been difficult for her. However, this time she has found a career she loves and she desperately wants to succeed. She is also very afraid she won’t.
Her program has two teachers with very different approaches toward the students. The first teacher, teacher A, has what they call the disciplinarian-style of teaching. She holds every student accountable for their actions, good or bad, and she pushes them so they can succeed. The second teacher, teacher B, has a coaching-style of teaching. She encourages the students, works with them when they run into problems, and assumes that they are trying to succeed.
I’ve seen these two types of teachers throughout my life and not just in the teaching field. Teacher A, the disciplinarian, tends to have a suspicious view of people. Always on the lookout for the ways in which students are trying to take advantage of her or the system, she is constantly expecting the worst and therefore often finds it. Teacher B, the coach, has a more optimistic viewpoint of students. She believes that they are doing the best they can and that often times barriers, either internal or external, cause them to falter and they then need encouragement, not discipline, to move forward.
In a world of diversity, both viewpoints hold value. They can even work together to create a challenging and thriving world. I have always been drawn to people who are more like teacher B, who approach others with optimism. It is the type of world I am most comfortable living in, and the world I want to help create. It has its draw backs. Sometimes people do need a harder, more disciplinary approach, sometimes they do take advantage of the system, and let’s face it, there are just some bad people out there who are looking to do harm. Approaching people from a positive view point may mean that occasionally these folks who are more predatory may take advantage of you. However, it is possible, even when you have an optimistic view of people, to learn to watch for signs that someone is not who you hope they are. Being a person who coaches others is not the same as being a doormat, indeed, coaches often have high expectations and can challenge people to be more.
The other world, the one that more often looks at people with suspicion and wonders how they are going to take from you, is not a world I want to have to live in. I find it oppressive and I wonder how people can go through their days with so much dread of others. I understand that for some it is a result of being harmed in their lives. They have learned to dread others because of the harm that has been done to them. But for many it is just about wanting to make sure they get everything they want. They are focused on their own needs and are constantly assuming others will take from them.
Another way of understanding these two different perspectives is by thinking about resource. People from group A often see the world as having limited resources. They worry that there will not be enough to go around. They see the world in terms of a competition between people for scarce resources. People from group B on the other hand often look at the world as a place of wealth and plenty. They want to see the wealth of the world shared with all. They do not believe that by lifting others up they, themselves, will be brought down.
Again, both perspectives can be true. Sometimes, there are limited resources. We have a finite planet and we must take care of it. However, when you start with the assumption that we must manage these resources for the benefit of all and that there is enough to give all people a life worth living, you look at the limitations differently than if you assume there is only enough for yourself and your close circle of family and friends. There is plenty of evidence that when we frame the world as a competition and keep some people oppressed in order to benefit others, we have a more violent, less healthy world. On the other hand, in a world where all are given opportunity, we find that all do better and we have a healthier world. I believe that is the world worth working for.