I observed something remarkable during a recent visit to my child’s fourth grade classroom. The class engaged in a Socratic-style discussion using “responsible dialogue” as a means for communicating their viewpoints on an issue they had recently read about.
The teachers said nothing for 20 minutes and allowed the discussion to be completely driven by the students. As I observed, I wondered if the students would stray off topic, or their limited life experience would prevent any meaningful dialogue, or which of the strongest personalities in the room would dominate the discussion at the expense of those who were reluctant to participate.
To my surprise, none of those things happened. Instead, I observed students listening attentively to one another, taking turns to speak while eliciting comments from even the most hesitant children, and respectfully exchanging opinions and ideas.
There were some who held very strong opinions on one side of the issue being discussed and the students were quick to recognize this, but they did not single out and gang up on those individuals, they did not call into question the individuals’ motives, or character, nor did they engage in name calling or bullying tactics of any kind. I left the classroom feeling inspired and invigorated by what I had just witnessed, wishing that the officials we had recently elected as leaders of our community, state and our nation could have been in the room with me.
This classroom visit and the political and societal events that have unfolded in the past year have caused me to reflect on what took place approximately 100 years ago in Europe between opposing forces along the western battle front of World War I. Pockets of soldiers fighting down a 450-mile long stretch were forced to confront the reality of spending the holidays away from families and loved ones to fight in frozen trenches.
For a very brief period, despite the consequences of severe disciplinary action and threats of death, many soldiers cautiously and courageously climbed out of their trenches, bravely traversed no-man’s-land not firing at one another, but gathering their wounded and dead. Soldiers from both sides met their enemy half way to exchange holiday greetings, meager gifts, play games and sing songs. This brief period became known as the “Christmas Truce of 1914.”
I firmly believe there is much that we could learn from my fourth grade friends and the WWI soldiers who for a time and in their own way, created an environment where civility, tolerance and respect reigned supreme. I would like to extend an invitation to this community and the citizens in it to participate with me in a truce for this holiday season.
Let’s institute our own cease fire. Let’s allow our fellow citizens time to enjoy the holidays with their families without the daily threat of derogatory or inflammatory e-mail exchanges, negative social media campaigns, and public outcry over the minutia of the day. Let’s instead reach out in understanding, respect, and tolerance for one another.
— Heather Nielsen, West Windsor