My students have come to know my four rules for life and everything else over the last few years. It started with an activity in my 2011-2012 English 4 class (my penultimate run of When The Legends Die by Hal Borland). We came up with some rules for life Tom learned and it got me thinking. A few years later I was using Be Smart, Be Safe, Be Legal…it took me a little while unpacking those with a few new groups of students to settle on The Big Four—exception may have a fifth thanks to The Year of Mess (I’m trying to be appropriate and apolitical).
Be Smart. Live and learn or look for the lessons from success and failure because life and personal choices will litter our history with both. I’m firmly in Aristotle’s camp on this one. The greater reality, the great hereafter, doesn’t matter; how we live our lives and what we learn along the way does. We cannot divorce ourselves from uncomfortable realities. This is the time and place we were born into. Learn how to navigate the world of children. Recalibrate and learn to navigate the world of teens. Recalibrate and learn to navigate the forest of adulthood. Use it all to help others as elders if we survive that long.
Having grown up white, mostly middle class, in the Pacific Northwest granted me certain privileges. Growing up female granted me certain dangers. Growing up with my father in the sights of some unscrupulous folks (look through my older posts *cough*Rajneeshis*cough*) granted us a certain level of implied danger for several years. So, my parents stealth taught us to Be Safe. We learned what to look for, basic ways to defend ourselves, why groups are important, why loyalty among friends is vital. We learned about trust.
Be kind was a natural outgrowth of something my earliest students were already passing onto their siblings and children. Take care of each other. Exercise compassion. Put your religious love into charitable action. See something wrong? Step in to stop it or find someone who can. See someone who needs a friend because they a different? Be that friend. I’m just sorry it took me a minute to believe the sincerity of a couple of my biggest smartasses.
The fourth I talked about all the time. I stole The Scarlet Letter from English 3 so I could teach it to English 4 and moved it back again as my teaching assignment changed, because I’m the only one who loves slogging through the old school fairy tale starring Hester Prynne. I’ll give up Huck Finn and Dead Legends any time to dig my teeth into the bleak, savage beauty of Be True.
I’m helping shape the next generation of critical the miners and communicators. It is brutally hard sometimes. I have to keep learning. I have to listen when a teenager or adult tells me I’ve screwed up & I have to fix the problem. I have to try to get my students to connect with fiction, nonfiction, & poetry the way they connect with video games or their favorite TikTok creator or Instagram influencer or YouTube vlogger.
I’ve learned how to accept help over the years. I’m quick to offer help. We all need help from time to time. We all need forgiveness too. We need a chance to actually grow, to implement change, to become our truer self. This is where Grace comes in.
Grant yourself grace.
Grant others grace.
Don’t be a fool and make yourself a doormat. Don’t walk all over others. When you see someone trying to be better accept that backslides and mistakes are human. That’s where grace comes in. We are living in a time when screaming and extremism makes the news. Maybe the rest of us can tip things a new direction through truly granting a little grace to those on the edges who don’t like what they’ve become. Maybe we can be a moderating influence that makes America more than it has been…maybe we can make the world better one neighborhood, one classroom, one community at a time.