Mike's Notes: The Polarization of Awareness

Posted by Mike Henriques

02/01/2019

I’m not going to get this right. The stories of intolerance are plentiful. An incident occurring at the Lincoln Memorial a couple of weeks ago - a teenager wearing a MAGA hat appearing to confront or taunt a Native American elder - still reverberates. How can we not honor our Native American elders? It revealed insensitivities. (It also revealed the dangers of an oversimplified narrative begat by a single photograph.) And here at Proctor, Assistant Head of School Karin Clough spoke to the school community yesterday about a troubling incident that occurred on our campus recently: the tearing down of an all-gender bathroom sign in the newly renovated field house. We are saddened and angered by events like these. Confused. How can a community like Proctor, committed to the work of inclusion, be a place where such anger and ignorance takes place? But I don’t write about just that.

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These are tricky times to navigate. As much as progress moves us forward to more inclusion and more awareness, there also appears to be greater polarization. Fissures seem to be opening at a greater rate. In a paradoxical way we seem to be experiencing both greater awareness and greater distance. Sensitivity seems to have reached a hair trigger point in everyone. Awareness is good, engagement is good, willingness to listen is good, evolution is good, but sometimes that hair trigger sensitivity moves us away from where we need to go as individuals or as a community.

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Anyone who self identifies with any group is susceptible, and we live in an age where everyone tries to move within the safety of packs. We jump from pack to pack depending on our situation: Are we at school? At home? With friends? With an ethnic group? With our gender? With our age? With our team? With our gaming community? As we hop from island to island, the point seems to be to spend as little time outside of the pack as possible. Intentionally or not, we have predisposed ourselves to defend or go on the attack for our pack: we are becoming hyper sensitized.  

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Sometimes with great sensitivity comes great deafness to the perceptions and perspective of the other. We go on the attack so quickly. We need to be careful about that. I believe that if we want to do serious damage to our spirit, being too quick to judge and condemn the other is a good starting place. And to be clear, I am not suggesting that we abandon our packs - read EO Wilson’s The Social Conquest of Earth to understand why that’s not going to happen - but I am suggesting that we need to become more aware of our groups, our alliances, and the islands we hop. We all have our causes and we should hew to them, but sometimes we need to slow down and open up to the possibilities of the other lest we do unintentional collateral damage to those who are really our friends and allies. (Let me be clear here that those who espouse hate or act on hate stand in a wholly different place.)

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Sensitivity. It’s a topic I freely admit to tussling with as I navigate both Proctor and the larger landscape. I want to become wise and more compassionate, not narrowed down and walled off, so I am thinking about my own sensitivity and my own alliances and how I react to others.

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Mike Henriques P'11, P'15

Proctor Academy Head of School

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