Culturally, What Looks Like “No” Could Mean “Yes.”

I was once so inspired by a lecturer that I was unknowingly shaking my head left and right back like I was saying "no." The lecturer stopped his lecture, and said in a condescending tone, "I don't know why SOME of you are shaking your heads in disagreement. I know I'm right." I smiled hoping he would give me a chance to respond or explain, but, perhaps because it was a large class, he continued lecturing without opening up for any questions or comments. I tried to approach him after class to explain, but other students had already surrounded him. I eventually left.

What that professor failed to understand is that in African-American culture, when someone is saying something that we believe is profound, we sometimes shake our heads back and forth in amazement. Even though it looks like we are saying "no," we are really saying, "WOW!" Or "YES!!!"

As brilliant as that professor was, he lacked awareness about my culture, and he made me feel as though my way of expressing appreciation was not normal, acceptable or welcome in his class. He thereby created distance with me.

Teacher, if you are not aware of your students' cultures, you could unintentionally and unknowingly be pushing them away.  Humble yourself and become  student of your students. #HowtoREACHYouthToday

Believing in Others is not Naive; it’s Necessary

I sometimes sense that people think I am naive for believing in other people too much. Of course, most of them don't tell me to my face that they think I'm naive, but it's in their faces, in their body language, or in their carefully-crafted questions that focus on the deficiencies/shortcomings of the people they are assigned to help.

In any case, there is a reason I believe in others so much.

You see, I used to be the kid that almost everyone underestimated, overlooked, or never even noticed. In school, I was the quiet one in the back of the room with my head down on my desk. I was the one who sat alone in the cafeteria because no one wanted to sit with me. I was the one who got picked last for sports. I was the one who got teased for having holes in my pants and shoes. I was the one who lost friends as soon as they found out I lived in the projects or was homeless. I was the one that no one wanted in their study groups. I was the one that no one invited to their parties. I was the one who walked home alone.

But I was also the one that had big dreams and potential like everyone else. I just had a whole lot of other stuff going on in my life that was out of my control. But God saw my potential and sent people into my life who believed in me when I needed it most. There was my mother, who, despite her own challenges, loved me the best she could with what she had been given, and believed in me like no one else. Then there was a man named Martin who sat down next to me on a park bench to tell me that God loves me and wants a relationship with me, wants the best for me, and has a purpose and plan for my life. Then there was a pastor named Richard who believed in me, modeled love for me, and helped me return to school. There was also an English teacher named Erin who believed in me enough to help me prepare for and apply to college. There was a lunch lady, Rodu, who told me that I was going to be great one day even though I was failing several classes. And there were coaches- Clarke, Brennan, Tucker, Valentine, Hauke, and many others- who believed in me and poured into me. There have been many others who believed in me as well. So, all of that faith in me pulled some things out of me that even I didn’t know were there.

Because of that, I am absolutely convinced that believing in other people to help them realize their potential is not naive; believing in them is necessary. Your belief in others has the power to free their potential; it can help them become what they not yet are; it can even save someone's life. I'm living proof.

So keep believing, friend! Even if the circumstances don't look good, believe. Even when they are giving you very little reason to do so, believe. Believe that people are greater than their circumstances, greater than their problems, greater than their shortcomings, greater than their failures, greater than their genetics, greater than their neighborhoods. Believe in them until they believe in themselves. It works! It works! I'm living proof! Believe!


Upcoming Event: ASCD’s Empower 18 in Boston, MA


How I Handle Fights on Social Media

PLEASE SHARE this to help save relationships and increase understanding.

In my nearly 10 years of observing or participating in social media arguments, I have yet to see more than a handful of people have a change of heart about their position BECAUSE of a social media argument or post. It seems that no matter how many links get posted, or data gets cited, or evidence gets presented to support one's position, I have concluded that most people are more interested in winning an argument than seeking understanding or truth. When most people argue online, they often resort to personal attacks and emotional appeals that are devoid of objective facts; then, when someone challenges them with a different perspective or evidence that refutes their arguments, more often than not, rather than acknowledging the error of their own logic or the unsoundness of their own arguments, most people seek to save their "social-media-face." They often deflect, change the subject, throw out more emotional appeals, spew forth more personal attacks, or disengage from the exchange completely. The one thing that I rarely see is someone saying, "You know what? You're right. I was wrong. Thank you for explaining that to me." Even writing that felt foreign to me! From my experience, most people on social media do not change their minds because of social media arguments.

Some of that is undoubtedly due to the fact that MOST of what one INTENDS to communicate on social media is limited in the worst ways: we can't make eye contact, hear vocal variety, show facial expressions, see body language, hear people's emotions, or see how people are being affected by what is being said, etc. Because of that, much of what is intended NEVER makes it into the head or heart of the intended interlocutor, and, as such, understanding becomes nearly impossible. Communication only takes place when a listener/reader UNDERSTANDS a speaker's/writer's message in the exact way the speaker/writer INTENDED IT. Therefore, most of what we call "communication" is little more than self-expression. What happens during internet arguments, more often than not, is feelings get hurt, and personal attacks get worse, and the distance between people becomes even greater. At that point, not only does communication become impossible, relationships between people are often ended. That's what makes internet arguments so disappointing and sad.

Because of these, and other realities, I have chosen to use my time and energy and social media platforms to help, teach, encourage, inspire, empower, unite and uplift people. Of course, I sometimes say things that are challenging, and that might even offend some people, but it is my hope that people understand that I would not intentionally demean, tear down, or villify anyone on purpose.

If, by chance, I do have a conflict with someone, I choose to address that challenge by dealing with REAL people face-to-face. I talk to REAL audiences face-to-face. I address hurtful or mean comments with people, in person, face-to-face. I confront bullies face-to-face. I try to diffuse misunderstandings in person, face-to-face. Trust me, I do it A LOT more than I ever talk about online. However, if I can't talk to someone in person, then I try to talk to them on FaceTime. Or, if I can't connect with them on FaceTime, then I try to talk with them over the phone (and not leave a long voicemail); or, if I can't get a real voice on the other end of the phone, then I text them and ask them to pick up the phone; if I can't get them to pick up the phone, then I might try to send an email requesting that we talk on the phone or face-to-face; if I can't connect via email, I might send an inboxed message to their social media account (to try to get on the phone). Of course, all this face-to-face talk presupposes that I think the issue is big enough to warrant a face-to-face encounter. If it does not, then I am neither talking about it online, nor am I trying to talk to the person face-to-face. I have chosen to pick my battles. I am too busy, and too much of what is intended gets lost, for me to be arguing with people online.

If we have an issue, I want to see you face-to-face, and look you in your eye, and listen to how you really feel and seek to understand your perspective; and, I would hope that my openness to really listen to your perspective, and my effort to understand you, would convince you to hear what I have to say. If I can't talk with you in person or on the phone without us having a mutual respect for one another, or without a sense that both of us are seeking to understanding one another, then I am not going to argue with you or anyone. If people only want to argue online, I am convinced that they have way too much time on their hands, they do not want to be understood, or want to understand. Perhaps they do not want to learn and grow, or they are not interested in helping others learn and grow. In any case, it's not an efficient use of my time to try to engage such people.

I can't tell you how to handle your conflicts. I can just tell you how I have chosen to handle mine: by talking to, and listening to, real people, face-to-face. If more of us did that, I believe we would have a lot less acrimony, a lot more understanding, and a much better world.

-Manny Scott