Reposted with permission from the Peninsula Pulse LLC
The last time I heard that phrase was probably in eighth grade math class, just before being sent to stand at attention at the back of the room for not paying attention. I was a serial offender in the not paying attention category in math class because I had – and continue to have – less than zero interest in the subject and its principles.
I had other interests, mostly to do with words and how to manipulate them. My brain was filled with words. There was no room for figures. But that's something an awkward, pimply eighth grader has a hard time expressing to a crazy world that insists on math for everyone.
So, to continue to show my disinterest in the subject while standing at attention at the back of the room, I would at irregular intervals bump the wall with the heavy heel of my wingtip shoe (wingtips were all the rage then, largely because they were well-built shoes and you never knew when you'd have to deliver a solid kick to someone's chiclets). It caused a strange reverberating thump in the cheap school walls.
Kids started snickering as the thumps continued. The math teacher, a very mild-mannered fellow named Mr. Anderson, ignored the noise at first. So I continued to bang the wall. Kids continued to snicker.
And then, before I knew what had happened, I was on the cold floor and Mr. Anderson was on top of me with his hands around my neck and his suddenly very red face millimeters above mine. For a while in school after that incident I was known as the kid who drove teachers crazy, until another kid so enraged a shop teacher that the teacher spectacularly broke his clipboard over the kid's head (I was in that class when it happened).
But, in full disclosure, the math teacher was not the only teacher I caused to get physical. The worst came from a muscle-bound gym teacher who bounced me around an empty hallway until he drew blood.
When I think of all the dustups I had with teachers and witnessed other students have with teachers in junior high school (yes, it was long before "middle" schools), it seems like we were all savages (the wingtip thing for one…yikes!).
Had I only shown the courtesy of paying attention in Mr. Anderson's math class and Mr. Anick's gym class and Mr. Hauer's science class, I wouldn't have caused them to lose their marbles and act like savage beasts. They only wanted my undivided attention for an hour or so of the day, five days a week, a little more than nine months of the year. Who knows, I might even have learned something.
If I had paid attention in those classes I had no interest in, just as a common courtesy to the fellow human being at the front of the room who does believe in the particular subject, I wouldn't have flicked the primeval switch in the otherwise staid and civil teachers of children. I often wonder if they regret beating me up as much as I regret causing them to completely lose their cool.
Does reaching that stage of wonder about the other person at last make me a civil person? Is that what is known as enlightenment?
I hope so.
Pay attention is the first of nine principles being promoted by the Door County Civility Project. We'll highlight each one through September, and they are, February: Listen; March: Be Inclusive; April: Not Gossip; May: Show Respect; June: Be Agreeable; July: Apologize; August: Give Constructive Criticism; September: Take Responsibility;
By its very nature, civility is something we share. So we would like to hear from you about any random acts of civility you are aware of or witness. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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