The other side of the gun is many things to me. In addition to being a quote from Elie Wisel’s novel Dawn, it is an homage to both those who have been victimized in addition to those who have, more subtly, been victimized by being themselves victimizers. It is a recognition of the killer and the killed in us all, while refusing moral equivalency of the two.
This is also the story of a how I, in the midst of attempting to understand this swirling neo-imperialist corporatocracy and cleptocracy we currently inhabit, became a seventh grade teacher, against all odds. It is a story of starting over at thirty+three years in more ways than one, a story not of pain and triumph, not of teleological endings or of goals accomplished, but a story of beginning yet again in the middle of things, as Deleuze says, which is the only kind of story that ever actually existed.
“There is always an uncanny symmetry between the way we are outside ourselves and the way we are inside,” says John O’Donoghue in an interview with Krista Tippet of “On Being.” He says that poetry, fiction, good film, reawaken us to the possibilities inside ourselves and remind us of the complexity of our interior lives. I think this is one of the main reasons I chose to teach literature in particular, and a major reason I continue to advocate for the importance–yea, the essentiality–of art of all forms.
And so, in my own students, I must wonder, and invite them to wonder, often through art, often through experimentation, about the complexity of all our lives. Empathy is a vastly complex human mode of being, and sorely needed at this juncture. It is both emotion and cognition, both abstraction and attention to the concrete and contextual. It is both literal and figurative, both a drawing upon of the known and an imaginative reach toward the unknowable. It is both identifiable and unquantifiable.
How, then, can I make and represent my attempts, as a teacher, to urge my students and myself toward more contemplative and peaceful ways of becoming in the world, more empathetic and socially connected and responsible ways of engaging with the world around us, more attentive and non-judgmental, but firmly righteous yet open ways of developing themselves, their values and priorities?
How does one measure or even begin to represent one’s educational endeavors in these regards? What does accountability look like, or become, in the face of the ultimate complexity of human and non-human, and more-than-human life? And in the face of certain violence, and possible extinction–or at the very least, in the face of the unprecedentedly rapid and unpredictable changes to ourselves and our planet that this century is sure to bring?