Being Sweet Might Get You A Seat

Being an advocate means being willing to extend grace to those with whom you disagree, but want to persuade.

There’s precious little I agree with Greg Abbott about, but I try to find every instance of common ground we have or any small action he’s taken that I can sincerely appreciate. In my meetings with him, he’s been gracious. For example, he invited me and a dozen teacher leaders in Texas to a roundtable late last year. Without cameras or reporters around, he delayed another meeting so as to give time for each of the teachers to speak. He seemed truly present and willing to listen, even to those of us who tended to ramble a bit. It was a moment of respect and I thanked him for it when I shook his hand.

Only in the overheated partisanship of current Texas politics would funding a smallish bit of early childhood education mean burning political capital, but that’s what Abbott chose to do. I wrote him a thank you for doing that. When he chose to put an “education” float in his inaugural parade, I thanked him for highlighting the important work of teachers. When his wife, Cecilia took the time to talk with me, I wrote both of them a follow up thank you.

There are many who would roll their eyes at this, sighs of disgust punctuating my telling of it. Too little, too lame, too late, they tell me. Many would, except I believe, the man himself. Gov. Abbott doesn’t have to include teachers in anything, yet he’s scheduled an appreciation barbecue at the Governor’s Mansion that includes not lobbyists, but teachers. Even though I’m unable to attend it, I will still send a thank you and I will make it as personal as I can.

What I’ve learned about advocacy is what I’ve learned about teaching. Advocacy is teaching. It’s teaching your opponent to understand and hopefully agree with your argument. You don’t get someone to learn by humiliating them.

You can choose respect rather than ridicule, manners rather than misbehavior. Teachers learn to presume positive intent because we know it’s in our best interest to call on our students’ better angels and not provoke their inner demons.

Even as I type this, I risk offending those who have sincere grievances with not only the Governor, but with others in our legislature who are promoting some truly awful bills. I’m not trying to minimize the potential harm of those, but I am saying that choosing to engage in civil disagreement is more effective, in my experience, than mean social media posts. I’m also not telling anyone to stay home from peaceful protest, but try to follow up the protest with further action. This Nicholas Kristof column is packed with inspiration and resources.

In short: Being sweet often gets you a seat at most tables. 

Here are some challenges for all of us:

  • Study the issues – find one where you have common ground
  • Find an example of a legislator’s action that you can sincerely compliment, no matter how small
  • Build relationships with handwritten thank you’s – include work from your students, if you are a teacher
  • Tweet thank you’s and use Facebook to let others know what you’re doing
  • Try to see your representatives in person and share your personal reasons for advocating an issue – don’t forget to thank them for taking the time to listen
  • Call their offices to register your opinion on their actions
  • Recruit like-minded people and teach them to do this

Day 7: What I’ve Learned About Advocacy

  1. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” ― Dr. Seuss, The Lorax
  2. “Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth.” William Faulkner
  3. “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Elie Wiesel
  4. “He who wishes to exert a useful influence must be careful to insult nothing. Let him not be troubled by what seems absurd, but consecrate his energies to the creation of what is good. He must not demolish, but build.” – Johann von Goethe
  5. “If you cannot thoroughly eradicate corrupt opinions or cure long-standing evils to your own satisfaction, that is still no reason to abandon the commonwealth, deserting the ship in a storm because you cannot control the winds. You should not din into people’s ears odd and peculiar language which you know will have no effect on those who believe otherwise, but rather by indirection you should strive and struggle as hard as you can to handle everything deftly, and if you cannot turn something to good at least make it as little bad as you can.”  – Thomas More
  6. “The simplest and most obvious way in which to begin familiarizing yourself with your duties as a citizen and with the mechanics of politics is to take the trouble to pay some attention to local politics. In your own community, where the issues are familiar to you and you are able to judge for yourself what should be done and how it should be accomplished, there is no mystery about them. Here, too, you are generally able to meet or at least find out about the qualifications and personalities of the candidates, to know what their record has been in the past, and how far it measures up to their claims and promises.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
  7. “The best argument is that which seems merely an explanation.” Dale Carnegie
  8. “Even a thought, even a possibility, can shatter and transform us.” Friedrich Nietzsche
  9. “You can’t change somebody else’s mind, but if you can bring them to the moment of “Oh yeah? Well, we’ll see about that!” you may spark in them the ability to change their own mind, and to finally see what they’ve been unable to see before.” Fred Clark

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Shanna Peeples

A former features writer and columnist for the Amarillo Globe-News, Shanna chaired the English dept. and was an instructional coach at Palo Duro High School in Amarillo, Texas. There she taught AP and remedial students for seven years. She is the 2015 National Teacher of the Year, and the 2015 Texas Teacher of the Year. Currently she serves as the Secondary English Curriculum Specialist for the Amarillo Independent School District.

One thought on “Being Sweet Might Get You A Seat”

  1. This is great, Shanna. It reminds me of how we teach students to write argument essays by acknowledging the other side of their argument – they catch a lot more flies with that honey than be insisting they are right, period! And thank you for doing this hard work in Texas – your words and thank you notes and handshakes matter!

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