All I wanted was acceptance truly a part of empathy not popularity but just true friendship and understanding.

Photo of Anne Burley
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Some emotions, no matter how long ago the circumstances, can well up as strong and meaningful as if it all just happened a few moments ago, we all have them some we wear on our sleeve and some are stuffed back into the recesses of our memory begging to stay hidden. Elementary school time is fun, carefree and innocent, or is it? Yes, I have some fond and funny memories--Ricky teasing our 2nd grade teacher that his mom was having twins, the custodian playing the piano, fresh cinnamon buns and recess!

It was the late 60's and early 70’s. Busing and integration were in full swing. Children of all ages, colors, races, religions and backgrounds had their lives being turned inside out. Families wanted their children to be accepted and safe. These times were layered with many injustices going on is the world. The differences were not scary. It was the adults projecting their fears and emotions that was scary. I think we carried those fears and emotions we learned at home back to school. Sadly, resulting in verbal altercations and fights --- watching this happen was scary. I was a peacemaker seeking ways to help people get along. When emotions boiled over fear froze my footsteps. Fourth grade was disrupted by friends new and old taking sides leaving justice, empathy and acceptance on the sidelines.  

My parents chose to send me to a new school then after one semester to the one where my younger brother was. Families made decisions that sent friends in many directions - public schools, private schools and neighboring districts.  There are times I hate to admit I was in a private school, but I was glad it was open to all races and beliefs yet making new friends was difficult. I rarely felt like I fit in. One girl told me I couldn’t wear my new dress because she and her friends had the same one! That still burns! Where is the acceptance? Trying out for cheerleader and not making it because you aren’t in the popular crowd. Where is the empathy? Being left out of sleepovers and other teenage fun because you go to youth group and love going to church! Yes, all of these experiences have shaped me.

Standing for what is right is not always popular. Yet the emotional toll can be draining.  I found ways to get involved at my school but missed the “real” friends who accepted and understood me. Misfits? Maybe? Genuine? Definitely! We made efforts to get together but it wasn’t the same as being in school together. Yet, those REAL friends have stood the test of time…30 and 40 years later we get together and share our lives picking up where we left off. I think that Margery Williams who wrote the Velveteen Rabbit said it the best, “Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child (friend) loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'

[Optional] Synthesize a little! What's one take away or insight to leave people with?

Our stories are real. The more we listen, understand and digest the experiences we share with each other the greater the chances for acceptance, genuineness and empathy.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Donna Teuber

Hi Anne, That photo looks familiar! :)Thank you so much for sharing your experience. The stories that we tell are a powerful way to tap into what others are thinking and feeling. I'm looking forward to seeing your ideas. Be sure to update your profile and include a profile pic and where you work.

Photo of Anne Burley

I thought you'd recognize "that" Anne! That was 1978, the summer after George graduated high school. I'm trying to figure a way to develop something that might work. Is the goal to have a district or school level project? I've done many activities on communication that incorporate empathy but of course those are just one time experiences. I guess I'm hoping to find a balance of training, implementation and keeping something going...Thanks for this opportunity!

Photo of Donna Teuber

Hi Anne, Your ideas can be any scale to start. Do some brainstorming to come up with your best ideas and then in the build phase you can try them out. We would love to see ideas scale into something that can be used at the school or district level but you don't need to start there. As you build out your idea, you'll see how you can iterate it to be something that others can adapt or adopt. Come to our brainstorming session on Wednesday, Feb. 22. I'm sending out the invite today!