Big Belly Breaths

Throughout the pandemic, many of us have received and circulated pithy quotes, cartoons, and memes to get us through the day. Heads of school are no different, and almost daily I receive something from another head that makes me smile, wince, feel humbled, or empowered. The flood of information and advice—solicited and unsolicited—ebbs and flows with the anxiety of the rising case counts, the hopefulness of the vaccines, the frustration unleashed by too much time working remotely, and a sense of helplessness to effect change. The postings and ‘shares’ that get the most traction make me laugh or embolden my convictions (and sometimes self-righteousness) that I am getting this work right and offer a necessary balm to the cacophony of disparate voices. 

Just the other day, I received one from another head of school that read, Science is not the truth. Science is finding the truth. When science changes its opinion, it didn’t lie to you—it learned more.

I worry sometimes that we have strayed too far from the notion that learning is a lifelong endeavor and that shifting perspectives and convictions is what makes the process thrilling and unsettling. Too much of the narrative that dominates our discourse amplifies the impulse to see altering an opinion as either a sign of weakness or of dishonesty. We easily retreat to the echo chambers of our social media feeds or to the people who embrace the same opinions. This sort of surrender undermines our commitment to excellence and inclusion. 

I have not always been proud of my reactions to viewpoints that differ from mine, and I need to be better at always challenging myself to take a “big belly breath,” as one of our first graders reminded me recently, before I launch into a response. Our community thrives when we understand that we don’t need to approach conversations as zero-sum games but instead welcome the confidence and vulnerability that listening and empathy require.