This I Believe
I’m delusional. I only see what I want to see. After nine years of teaching high school, I’ve been exposed to every kind of fractious personality you can imagine. From the kid who on the first day of class said, “I’m only going to write poems about Satan,” to the girl who regularly cried if she couldn’t put a punctuation mark in the right place. I was tempted to see the faults of these creatures whose footprints were all over my last nerve. But I believe that it’s a lot easier to deal with people if you only see what you want to see. In my case “love is blind” is a teaching tool.
My Satan-worshipping tenth grader went out of his way to be obnoxious. He would snort and stomp when given even the simplest assignment. He only wore black, accented by an astonishing array of chains. Anything I said was fodder for an argument. His under-the-breath muttering was focused and purposeful. But I refused to be sucked in.
I knew that if I gave in to the temptation to dislike him or I started to congratulate myself on how much more likeable I was, I was going to be in for a miserable eighteen weeks. Notice I said I. Being annoyed is hard work. It takes a lot of energy to sustain an effective level of agitation. It’s distracting. It’s draining. It permeates all aspects of your life. It becomes de rigueur to kick the dog when you get home. I don’t like being keyed up and angry. It gives me those angry, little spider veins on my face.
But as a person who spends most of my waking hours surrounded by a whole spectrum of sixteen-year-old angst, I have dozens of opportunities a day to get mad. So I only see what I want to see. There is nothing self-sacrificing or Pollyanna about it. Nor is it related to that Hollywood fantasy of the supernaturally heroic teacher. Seeing only the good in my students is a survival tool.
But a funny thing happens in rejecting those annoying qualities a student might have. I really do end up liking them. When I see only what I want to see, I’m rewarded with seeing someone at their best. We like being around people who bring out the best in us. I don’t bring out the best in students, I simply choose to ignore what is not the best in them. I do it on purpose.
Since I have had hundreds of opportunities over the years to practice this skill, it has spilled over into the rest of my life. I have a penchant for liking people. I believe that my life has been immeasurably enriched as a result of a process that started out as a selfish attempt to avoid unpleasant feelings. I believe it is just plain easier to like people than dislike them. See, I only see what I want to see.