A snow-bright day outside the glass door, I worked on a transcription file with my headphones on only one ear. As a work-at-home mom since way before the pandemic, I've adopted that work-around to keep aware of sounds in the room, as well as in the audio on my headset. On this day, my son was working from home, too.
As a newscaster droned in my left ear, in my right, I became aware of the conversation on my son's class session, held via video conference. His teacher was talking to them about trying to do the right thing but also being open to learning. The lesson was part of Black History Month, and she fielded the kids' questions about how to know when what they're doing and saying might feel bad to the other person.
Patiently, she advised them that they should let other people know when someone says or does something that makes them feel bad, and that they should remain open to whatever they might hear from someone else. All that was required, she said, was to do your best to treat people right, and to learn from your mistakes.
As she spoke, she displayed this Maya Angelou quote on her shared screen: "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better."
My heart swelling three sizes, I shared an abbreviated version of what I'd witnessed via social media. Lots of friends found the conversation as heartwarming as I did, and a teacher friend said she'd been inspired to do something similar in her own class.
This lesson in compassion and kindness reminded me of the best advice I've received from another parent. When my son was a toddler, and her own son was in elementary school, she advised me to let my son know early that mistakes were not only expected but even necessary. We have to practice to get better, she recommended I tell him. Nobody's perfect the first time they try something.
In my experience, that's certainly true, as I've written previously. Be willing to admit your mistakes, and learn from them, whether they have to do with a solving a math problem or being properly supportive of a friend or colleague.
For days, these thoughts rolled around in my head, thinking about the ways I've been corrected over the years. Some involved learning the proper way to talk about ethnicity, gender, belief, and more sociological designations: an ever-evolving process, I'll admit. For instance, I've used the term "Native American" for years, but I learned while attending a pow-pow in State College a couple years ago that the current preferred term is "native people."
Then there was my freshman college roommate, who with exasperation in her voice, scolded me halfway through the first semester for never sweeping the floor or taking out the trash. I spent very little time in the room, being heavily involved in student activities, and until she said something, I'd honestly thought we had a maid.
Serendipitously, today, as I contemplated the idea of fixing what we've done wrong, I received an anonymous comment on an LJ Idol piece I wrote four years ago. The comment directly related to my thoughts; a continuation of the musings begun by my son's teacher.
The piece had been about some early discoveries I'd made in my genealogical research, many of which eventually turned out to be wholly or partially inaccurate. In one section, I wrote about a Colonel John Buchanan, who at the time I believed to be my direct ancestor, but whom I've since determined was not. At the time, I also wrongly concluded that Col. John had owned slaves, based on a slave schedule I'd discovered, which turned out to be for another John Buchanan, who lived decades later than the Col. John Buchanan in question.
The commenter pointed out this error to me, very graciously, showing me that the data doesn't match up with the documents. Then, the anonymous person went further, and I'll take the liberty of quoting them here:
Even though I no longer believe there is evidence connecting my ancestors to slavery, I do know they were not perfect. I've had ancestors who were born out of wedlock, or who broke with their faith traditions to marry outsiders, or who failed to honor financial commitments. My husband even had an ancestor who was drummed out of the Quaker religion for wearing an extravagant waistcoat and playing fast and loose with women. I may have had ancestors guilty of darker wrongs which have been lost to history. There is no way to know exactly how many times they "broke bad," and what they might have done to fix it.
But as the commenter points out, and as my son's teacher reminds me, we can only be the best person we're capable of being at the time. Then, taking Maya Angelou's advice, we can try to do better. We can try to fix what's wrong in the world by fixing ourselves.
ETA: The voting link is up! (https://therealljidol.dreamwidth.org/1090866.html) Deadline is 8 p.m. tonight (Thursday, February 11). If you don't have a Dreamwidth account, you can login in via OpenID using accounts on various other blogging platforms (such as Livejournal).