One day many years ago, I was walking into school with my 7th grade class. As we were walking upstairs, my teacher, Mr. B, told me to get out of the line and to wait for him outside the principal’s office. I knew it wasn’t for a good reason, but I didn’t know why. (As I’m writing, I’m surprisingly noticing my increased heart rate and a certain residual level of shame even decades later.)
When he finally came down to meet with me our conversation was a dance around why we were meeting. I don’t remember exact details, but eventually he referred to me cheating on a test. I remember (to this day) how I deceitfully did it, but back then there was no way I was going to admit it. So, I adamantly denied it for a good part of the conversation, which only seemed to be stalling the inevitable. Mr. B realized I wasn’t confessing so he showed me some proof and it was over. I’m still not sure why the interrogation lasted so long, but I imagine it was some mix of his testing my character, teaching me a lesson, and playing into the control he had over me. Shortly after, we had a parent/teacher meeting and little came from it outside of my apologizing.
When I reflect on this experience, I think about the elements that influence the ability to grow in relationships - safely being vulnerable, able to express inner and relational conflict, allowing for mistakes, realistic expectations on change with other people. In my case, I wish it had gone differently and that it aligned more with these elements. First, I shouldn’t have cheated. Just as significant, I wish the conversation could have allowed for a greater understanding of the deeper meaning beyond violating the school’s academic code. The true lesson could have come through the openness of expression, regarding an unfortunate choice, influenced by certain demands/tensions and feeling incapable to make a better decision. I could have also learned the possible deeper meaning that Mr. B experienced. I see these types of conversations having the ability for real movement and fulfilling the increased need for trust and respect with one another.
Alain de Botton, author and philosopher, talks about having a “capacity to tolerate our differences with generosity.” He shares that all of us are defective and while there are not any perfect matches, in relation to compatibility among us, there should be an “awareness that every human will frustrate, anger, annoy, madden and disappoint us, and we will (without any malice) do the same to them.”
Life as a student, teacher, colleague, spouse, friend, sibling, neighbor, parent, calls us, as de Botton says, “to accommodate ourselves to wrongness, while striving always to adopt a more forgiving, humorous and kindly perspective on its multiple examples in ourselves and in our partners.”