On Being Neutral

I still have much to process about the outcome of this election.  It will be weeks perhaps.  At some point, pressing teaching issues will return and will need to be reflected on. In the meantime, bear with me.

In my role as school administrator, I have had to remain neutral in the aftermath of the election. Among my students and colleagues, it’s no secret where I stand personally, but I have to support those with opposing views and to give them a safe space to express those views.  But I’ve been thinking about what this really means.  And I’ve been thinking about and have lamented the energy it takes to see both sides, to protect both sides, to give space to both sides.  But I think that’s our role as educators.  We have to teach our students to express their points of view in ways that don’t insult those who hold different views.  We have to teach them that someone else’s point of view is their reality, and we can ask questions of it in order to seek understanding, but we cannot deny that that is their reality.  We might be able to find ways to change minds, but we cannot go into a conversation with someone who opposes us with the idea that we’re going to win them over.  If we just say the right thing.  If we just show them how they’re wrong.  What we can hope for is mutual understanding if not mutual agreement.

That being said, I’m struggling this election cycle with something entirely different. A different question.  Does being neutral mean condoning certain behaviors?  Is there a way to be neutral on some things and not on others related to this election?
If I’m neutral, what do I stand for?  So here’s some thoughts on where I’m not neutral, on what I stand for.

Everyone deserves empathy.

I will stand up and speak out when people use racist or sexist slurs, threaten violence against someone for any reason, or denigrate someone for their ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or any other perceived difference from the “norm.”

I will work within the system to move forward on issues I care about: women’s rights, climate change, general civil rights.  I have my representatives at the state and national level on speed dial.

I need to get out of my bubble, physically as well as virtually.  I’m working harder to diversify who I’m in contact with.  That means finding things to participate in outside my usual activities.  I have some ideas that involve things like volunteering and attending different kinds of events.  This is going to take some time.

More than anything, I’m feeling like I need to expect more of myself, and in so doing, expect more of those around me.  I think where I’m standing now is not in neutrality but in tolerance.  Tolerance is not neutral, but it’s not obdurate either.