I have three siblings, a brother, and two sisters. The sister who is closest to me in age is really smart. If you ask her, she’ll say that she’s not so smart. She’s just really good at figuring things out, in my book, that’s smart.
I have to say that whenever I don’t really know what to do, I’m very grateful to have these three people who are older than me, smarter than me, and have more experience than me, always there to help me.
Not that there isn’t occasionally a price for their advice. But, at large having someone smart in your corner is really more of an asset than not.
When I think about it, it is actually quite extraordinary.
I will tell my sister something and she will have an amazing idea or solution that I never thought of. In fact, her idea often makes so much sense that it is embarrassing that I didn’t think of it myself. I call that smart vision. I think that I am too much of an emotional being to have much of that quality. Sometimes to see the smart solution you need to just assess the situation and take the feelings and drama out of it. That is not so easy for a drama queen like me.
One of the things we work on in my anger management class is understanding that we have the power to control our emotions. I have to admit that although I’m a really great teacher, I am my own worst student.
I repeat over and over in class that I’m not going to teach them what to do. I am going to give tools to navigate situations that come up and new ways to cope. We act out scenarios. They share stories. It sometimes gets very emotional, and my beloved students get fed up with me.
“This is so hard, Ms.”
“I never said it would be easy,” I say, and smile.
I was taught by a mentor long ago that in life it is about being smart and not necessarily about being right. In order to get what you want, you need to be strategic and smart. Being right and expressing it to a person in power can actually piss the person off and do more harm than good.
My students are incredibly street-smart. Again and again, I am amazed at how they lack understanding of basic conduct and cause and effect.
“I told that judge to fuck himself,” she told me.
“Shocking,” I said, “that you didn’t get an early release.”
“Why you go saying that shit, Ms.?” she asks.
“Because,” I say, “Even if the judge is an ass (and in this case he really was), he has the power. Don’t go telling him to fuck off,” I say.
“How do I say it then?”
“In your head,” I say.
“Oh, you mean not out loud.”
The streets have programmed my students to fear, to hate, most of all to survive. When you are busy surviving, problem-solving, and using smart vision is almost impossible. Making rational decisions, taking a breath or stepping aside is almost unthinkable. You react from the gut.
I quietly ask, I actually carefully invite my students to move away from their usual responses, and try to be smart, because I know they can be. Asking this could cost them their life, that is for real, and not me being dramatic. I am very aware of this fact, and very cautious when I teach.
I deeply admire my students for embarking on this journey of change, being willing to go against what everyone around them is doing in order to do better.
“Ms., everyone drinks and smokes. I don’t do good when I am on that shit. It makes me crazy,” she says.
“Well, that’s why you are staying sober,” I say.
“I know, but what do I do when they get mad at me for not partying anymore?”
That’s such a loaded question. How do you grow and stay with people who are not growing?
My amazing students are climbing incredible mountains, only to be pulled down by the people they love, who will not do the work. Many of them want to change the hood, their families, their homes. It is not easy and there is so much to do.
I teach them the Jewish proverb “It is not your responsibility to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.”
“That’s deep, Ms.,” one says.
“But, if I don’t fight for everyone, who the fuck will?” one asks.
“Dude,” the other answers.
“It’s not your fight. You stay fucking sober. Make them follow. Be the smart ass that gets out.”
“Who the hell gonna let me get out?” He answers.
“You, gonna let you out, Friend. Do the work.”
And then, one looks at me and says, “Be smart, but in this case, you are also right!”
I love it when the conversation goes on without me. That is how I learn and get the chance to see how much they have learned.
“Nomsie,” my sister says, “Here is what I think you should do.” And again, and again she has the best idea ever, especially when I am totally lost. She is so smart that sister of mine.
“Find someone smart,” I tell my students.
“Someone you trust.”
“Someone who can see things that you cannot.”
“You got someone like that, Ms.?” he asks me.
“I do,” I say.
“You’re lucky as fuck,” he says smiling.
“Yes, I am,” I say.
We act out a difficult scenario, we try to figure out how to respond in a smart way.
“You know what, Ms.? I am going to be someone’s smart person. I’m gonna get me that smart vision of yours.”
“How about that?” he says.
“Well,” I say, “Whoever that person is, they are lucky as fuck”
We all laugh, and I know, it’s true.
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