A retired teacher friend and her husband came over for dinner last night. Twenty three years separate us in age, but our friendship has already spanned fifteen years. I confess that sometimes I wonder what she sees in me: author, activist, and scholar, my friend sets the bar high for those who admire her and might wish to follow her example.
One of the most important lessons that I learned from working with her is that it's possible to disagree with someone without losing respect or affection for them. Professional disagreements can become rather heated, especially in a school, probably because the stakes seem to be so high... we're talking about the future of children here!
I don't even remember what it was that we disagreed about, but when you work on a team, it's impossible to see eye to eye on everything. It's my impression that many people confuse our opinions with ourselves. If someone doesn't like what I'm thinking, how can they value me? And if that's my frame of mind, then all of a sudden, a simple disagreement becomes much more personal and difficult to resolve amicably without losing self-respect.
My friend showed by example what it means to be open-minded. In even the most contentious of discussions, she listened without interrupting, never lost her temper, and never even raised her voice. On those rare occasions that she and I were on opposites sides of the debate, she'd go out of her way to find me after the meeting. "I don't see it your way, Toots," she would tell me, "but good people can disagree."