Future Shoes & Present Resolutions

Welcome back, and welcome forward: into a new year! 2015 brings many things; not the least of which is that Marty McFly should be showing up (along with some sweet kicks), and not the most of which is that I get to be a Teaching Assistant (TA) for a biomedical ethics course in Scarborough. But, as everyone who's ever seen a superhero movie likes to note: with great power (laces) comes great responsibility. Or, something like that.

So this year, for the first time in many years, I've put myself to the task of making a few New Year's resolutions. Some of them, with particular regard in mind for my roles and responsibilities as a TA. I thought I'd share some of them here, so that you can all hold me accountable.

1. Stop trying to understand people through my own experiences, and just listen more. By trying to understand others through my own experiences, I risk misunderstanding them or diminishing their own experiences. It's hard to fully understand something completely new when you're actively trying to relate it to old knowledge. My goal is to be less preoccupied with trying to understand others, and turn to focus more on hearing what they have to say. I think this is especially important in a diverse classroom where students may be coming from all sorts of backgrounds. The goal is not to talk over students, nor to constantly try to reframe their statements ("So, are you trying to say something like...?"), but rather to create a listening space where everyone is safe to speak and welcome to be heard.

Photo of Wittgenstein's famous duck-rabbit. An ambiguous image which looks like a duck, or like a rabbit, depending on your perspective and your familiarity with ducks or rabbits in general.
If you spend your whole life looking for ducks, you might never see the rabbit sitting in plain sight. [source]

2. Try best to assume that people doing or saying harmful things don't know any better. The course I'm the TA for covers a lot of sensitive topics, and it's easy to accidentally say a good idea in the wrong way, and to unknowingly end up hurting others. While I will be doing my best to keep my classrooms a safe space, I want to also keep in mind that people don't always know when they're being harmful: I certainly don't! And it can be difficult to be confronted with the fact that you've done something wrong; especially when you have no idea you'd done so. My goal is to keep in mind that everyone makes mistakes, and to avoid making people feel bad or victimized for actions when they might not know any better.

3. Stop caring about other people's grammar. This is a pretty tough one for me. I've done my fair share of correcting people's grammar. In part, probably because I have difficulty understanding people some times, and in part because I just find that it's sort of a fun puzzle-solving activity. But to be able to worry about grammar is rather privileged of me, and to call people out on their grammar can be really insensitive. Toronto is a big city with people from all over the world and a vast spectrum of individual backgrounds. It's really unfair to expect people to have perfect grammar. Aside from when I'm grading papers (when it's my job to care!), my goal is to care less about other people's grammar or spelling. Just like with my other resolutions, I want to focus more on caring what other people have to say more than how they say it.

Picture depicting how "We invited the rhinoceri, Washington, and Lincoln, could be taken in two completely different ways, depending on how one implements their Oxford commas. The photoshop job is a little lazy, but the sentiment is cute.
I doubt they'll be showing up, but I can understand your point even if you do without the (beloved and important) Oxford comma [source].

What about you? Have any New Year's resolutions you're trying out? Let me know in the comments below!

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