Tag Archives: veterans

Giving thanks, November 11

11 Nov

It’s Veteran’s Day.

My father is a Veteran of the Vietnam war. He avoided most combat by becoming an officer, and living in Japan flying supplies to aircraft carriers. But for a long time he wouldn’t talk to me about it, until he was sure I was old enough to understand.

War changes people. And so today, I am thankful that my dad is alive, that he wasn’t changed too much by being part of a war, and that he is the man he is today.

That’s something I’m thankful for today, but I also want to share a story with you:

I work an occasional job as a manager of Performing Arts Centers at some local schools. I manage events ranging from orchestra concerts to week-long conferences. I meet a lot of interesting people. (I’m often yelled at by these interesting people, but I try not to take it personally.)

Today I worked an event hosted by The Church of Christ, Scientist. It’s not a religion I know much about, and the event was an hour long lecture titled “The Power of Prayer.” I listened to a little of it, and learned some of the history of the Church of Christ Scientist.

While working at these schools, I work in close contact with the custodians. Today I worked with an older gentleman, originally from Vietnam, who struck up a conversation about religion with me (being that we were working at a church event.) He told me about Buddhism, the way his people celebrate holidays and come together at temple. He told me about how close families are in his culture, and how he is sad to see children “running away from home when they are 18” in America. He asked me if my family lived close by, and was happy to hear that I see my parents regularly.

While people were coming into the school before the lecture, a man came in with his dog. The custodian stopped him, and tried to tell him that dogs were not allowed in the school. This man, seeing the Vietnamese custodian talking to him, began speaking in Japanese. The custodian shook is head, and again said that dogs were not allowed.

“Oh, you aren’t Japanese?”

“Sir, you cannot bring a dog in here.”

“Ah. Arigatou Gozaimasu.” And then he left, with his dog.

The custodian, as I mentioned, is originally from Vietnam. And yet this man insisted on speaking Japanese to him, even when he was not answered in kind. What kind of awareness (cultural or otherwise) did this man have? Not much. Was he open to understanding a new experience? Not really, he wanted to make it into something familiar to him – and when it wouldn’t fit that mold, he tried to force it anyway. You know the story of the square peg and the round hole?

I learned things about two groups of people today that I previously had no knowledge of. I am a little more informed, and have a slightly better understanding of two new cultures. Cultural understanding is more than a classroom presentation. Cultural understanding is listening to people tell their stories, gaining understanding of people’s experiences, and using that new knowledge and understanding to see the world through a different lens.

How can we apply that kind of learning to a classroom? How can we teach our students not to force their ideas onto situations where they don’t fit – to find the round peg, instead of forcing the square one where it doesn’t fit?

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