the second arrow


Sometimes I let myself imagine the classes I actually wish I had taken before they handed me the keys to my classroom. This is especially true since I’ve been in the world of teacher education. I ask myself, what was it I needed to know? What did I learn on the job in rough and tumble ways, that might have been smoother if an older, wiser person had pulled me aside and whispered, “ok, here’s the deal…”

I know there is an element of “have to live it to learn it” but, still, part of me wishes my whisper could spare someone else at least a sliver of the heartbreak of learning the hard way.

Here’s one class that everyone on the way to teaching would benefit from taking before they get the classroom keys:

I’ll call it ‘intro to forgiveness’ but the simple title hides how many layers we would explore together in this class.

One unit would be all about the ways we accidentally rush to judge children and teens. It would help us see the patterns in our judgment- he’s lazy or not a great writer or some other form of forgetting the truth about humans- our inherent goodness and our layers of complexity.

One unit would help us learn to see families and communities as complex and wonderful, just like individual children. We would study the history that produced so much of the hardship in many communities, and we would celebrate the knowledge and beauty that thrives alongside the mistakes our country has made with regard to unequal resources and historical positioning. We are not forgiving them, we are learning to heal our misperceptions. We are forgiving our own error in seeing.

One unit would help us learn to forgive ourselves. This would be the unit where we get a forgiveness buddy, a teacher friend we can call on the way home to talk through a mistake and problem solve a do-over for the next day.

The class would end with a discussion of the Buddha’s teaching on the Second Arrow. This is the story of the second arrow: There is the thing that happened, the first arrow, the one we can’t prevent, and then there is the story we tell about it, the way we react to it, the judgments and dysfunctional interpretations. We choose to shoot the second arrow and forgiveness helps us stop, pause, and choose again.

Oh, if I had had this class. Oh, the heartbreak I might have prevented for myself and others.

And, here’s my secret. These are the lessons I include in all my classes. No matter the title, everyone who takes a class gets the one I wanted for myself: how to forgive.

Oh, and there would be no tests, of course. Just a lifetime of practice.

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