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It’s getting to that third space again. People avoid third because it’s hard.
It requires work, the work of actually listening and understanding, consid-
ering another perspective—maybe not even changing your mind, but just
understanding and considering. It’s much easier just to make a difficult topic
or different belief, viewpoint, language, value, and so on wrong or bad and
then create rules around niceness and civility that prohibit us or inhibit us
from talking with each other. The hegemony of niceness is so bad that we
can’t talk about some things even when we are clear that we want to! I once
worked for an organization that had conversations about race and social
justice as a key feature of its mission. We were in the process of hiring a new
teacher and had really narrowed it down to one who was bilingual in Span-
ish and English. Below is an intriguing conversation that ensued between me
and another teacher who was new to the organization.
Me: I think we should hire Mr. Y because he’s bilingual in Spanish
and English, and we need that.
Her: If we hire him just because he’s bilingual, we’ll be tokenizing
him. Me: He would only be a token if we don’t hire anyone else who’s
bilingual. Our plan is not to hire just one bilingual person. And,
he’s Latino, and we’re committed to increasing racial diversity.
Her: Well now you’ve made it about race so we can’t talk about it.
Me: Why not? I’m here. You’re here. It’s part of our work to face
such things head-on.
Her: You’re right. I don’t know why I said that. I’m just more used to
not talking about it.
We need to be very careful about passing on our unproductive processes
to children. We teach them that uncomfortable conversations are not polite,
are not safe, and that pretending to be nice is better than engaging in con-
flict or difference. We want them to have emotional intelligence, and then
we teach them to ignore unpleasant emotions. When children disagree, we
sometimes tell them just to be nice and play nice or just hug and make up.
We make children say I’m sorry to someone they’ve wronged or injured even
when we know a child really isn’t sorry. The sad part is that the wronged or
injured child also knows the other child isn’t really sorry. One child learns
that pretending to be sorry is acceptable and another child learns to hold
in true emotions and accept a fake one. And so the hegemony of niceness
begins and another generation has to struggle to dance with conflict.
12 C H A P T E R
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