Wednesday, October 12, 2016

More on kindness

Edited to add: Wow, this Inside Higher Ed essay pretty much nails what I'm getting at here, along with adding a few other points. (SO MUCH YES to "it's a myth that Because we are nice, we never get angry, tired or frustrated." that because we are "nice," stuff doesn't get to us. Stuff gets to me ALL THE TIME but I also recognize that in a lot of cases, the person delivering the "stuff" to me did not cause it, so it doesn't help for me to lash out at them. Also the idea that "nice" people don't hold high standards: I've reminded students more times I can count this semester that "ecology is a difficult class; there is a lot of material in it" and just because people aren't doing as well on exams as they'd like to, I'm not going to make them easier)

I don't want to give the wrong impression. Being "kind," in the sense I meant it, doesn't mean being a big squish who never tells anyone the hard truths they need to hear. I've told students, "Yes, unfortunately at this point it is not numerically possible for you to pass this class" when they came to me. Or "You plagiarized this paper, here is the proof of it, my policy is to give you a 0 but for first-time offenses I do not refer you to the Academic Honesty Council*"

(*That has long been my policy and I stand by it for two reasons: first, I think everyone - especially brand-new freshpeople - get a chance to screw up but then redeem themselves, but also, because referring something like that is kind of a pain for a prof. MOST of the plagiarism cases I've caught the person has been repentant and said either, "I guess I knew I wasn't doing it right but I let myself run out of time" or "no one ever really showed me how to do it right" [which is kind of a lie because I go over it in class, but whatever]. I do stand firm on "it's a 0 and you don't get to redo it" and "do it again and I WILL refer you" but most of the people I caught were repentant but accepted their 0.)

What I mean, is not being needlessly hard with someone. Or unnecessarily cruel. For example, the person online who talks about being "excited to be cosplaying as Belle from "Beauty and the Beast"" and some random troll goes, "LOL, but Belle isn't FAT" which is a seriously cruddy and useless thing to say - it doesn't hurt you, personally, if someone who is the "Wrong" body type (or skin color, or prettiness level, whatever) in your mind for a character decides to dress like them. I tend to keep my mouth shut if someone seems to be making a decision I think of as "stupid" unless it's one that is going to actually hurt others or hurt themselves. (For example: I'd speak up and probably try to wrestle the keys away from someone who was drunk but was going to go driving)

But there are a lot of things that don't need my input, and actually, it's a relief to me not to have to give it.

I will critique things if I am specifically asked: students, for example, giving a talk somewhere, call me in to hear it and make suggestions. So I will tell them things like, "You will want to give more detail about your methods, people need to know what you did" or "The graphs are very hard to read, I recommend you redo them..." (and if there are specific things, like, I don't know, a bigger font or something, I suggest it).

Otherwise, I tend to leave feedback - like, for example, on something someone posted on a hobby blog or Ravelry - if I like it. If I think they did something well. If I don't like it, meh, they weren't making it for me, so I move on. It doesn't hurt me that there are things out there not to my taste.

Anyway. I try hard to be a decent human being.

And we had an issue of this on a larger scale at church tonight (Board Meeting) and it bugs me even as I don't see any other better option. We have a small day-care type program (really more like a preschool). It does well and fills a need. There is a small playground on church property for it, surrounded by a 5 or 5 1/2 foot fence (I THINK it's 5 1/2 feet, it's nearly as tall as I am). The fence was erected to (a) help keep the little ones corralled safely while they played but also (b) to keep unauthorized people out so the equipment doesn't get damaged or stolen.

Well, we've been having some problems with b. Apparently there are some teenagers in the area who climb the fence at night, play on the equipment, and they've vandalized and broken stuff. (There is a trampoline, which makes me cringe because liability, but I guess it's one of the safe kinds?). Anyway. We've tried having some of the larger men hang around a bit to try to scare the kids off, we've had cops make extra patrols, we've tried lighting....nothing seems to deter the kids and the daycare can't keep replacing stuff that gets broken (nor can they move it all into a garage or something every night).

(This, my friends, is almost an example of The Tragedy of the Commons).

Anyway, we were concerned about the loss and damage, but also concerned about the whole "attractive nuisance" angle - yes, we have the property posted as private property and that you are not supposed to go on it without explicit permission. But I do wonder about, "What happens if a kid falls while climbing the fence and breaks his arm?" What if his parents try to sue?

So anyway. The conclusion on the part of the trustees and I guess the daycare management was that we need to make it even harder to get in, and the most cost-effective way is to put something like barbed wire on top of the fence. (Digging the old fence out and replacing it with one enough higher to deter climbing is not financially viable).

I hate this. Hate it a lot. For a mixture of reasons. The main one being: we are a church. We don't want to do anything to seem unwelcoming. Especially to the "unchurched," which these kids apparently are. And I also hate the image it projects to other people in town. (Yes, I worry excessively about judgemental people). And it DOES project a bad image - a siege mentality, a closing off.

But there seems to be no other option. (Others were suggested - more lighting would not be a deterrent, talking to the kids hasn't done anything, photographing the intruders with game cameras would do little, the parents don't care that their kids are doing this (apparently), cops can't hang out there all the time even if they chase the kids out the few times they come across them. Taking away the playground equipment hurts the little kids).

The board moderator said he'd talked to the insurance agent we have, just to be sure this wouldn't make liability worse - apparently it actually would make our case stronger if someone were injured while breaking in. (Sad strange world). Also the agent said, "Well, you know, in Dallas and places like that, the churches in the city centers ALL have barbed wire topping their playground fences." But it makes me sad that in our wee tiny city, that's apparently even to small to have a decent supermarket or even a small bookstore, we have to do the stuff that's done in cities.

And it also makes me sad to see the decline of respect for public places. (When I was a kid - granted, it was in a very small, low-crime town, but still - the church my family belonged to left the sanctuary unlocked, at least during the day, with the idea that "if someone needs a place to pray, here we are." You can't do that now. In fact, a church of our denomination a few cities over was broken into and all its electronics stolen. And you see similar things happening to libraries and schools.)

So I don't know. I try to be kind, I try to be a light, I try to be optimistic about humanity - but sometimes it's so hard. I feel bad that these kids apparently didn't have the kind of guidance in their lives that I did, and I anticipate they will have much harder adult lives than I do - but that still doesn't give them license to destroy the little slides and sand toys and stuff for the little kids.

I don't know. Living in the world is hard sometimes. I think of that book I read some years back, where one of the characters talked about how if she could only live up on a mountaintop, she could be good and loving and pure and really, a saint - and another character tells her that it's easy to be a saint on the mountaintop, and that's true - it's harder to keep that love down in the mess of humanity.

(I think that was the book - "The Traveling Death and Resurrection Show" - that also had a character asking another one if she had a "love strategy or a war strategy," suggesting the two were different ways of approaching the world. I try to have  a love strategy but I admit some days it gets hardened into, if not a full-on war strategy, at least a conflict one, where I'm less willing to forgive and walk in the other person's shoes and all that Albert Schweitzer stuff.)

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