Tough-minded and Tenderhearted
~ Nancy Snyder, Student Support Coordinator
The student was sinking under sorrows and stresses. Like all drowners, he was also grabbing anyone nearby and dragging them down with him. I crawled under his desk, told him to follow me, and brought him to my office.
When Liz went by, she put her hand on his arm and told him that she knows his life is hard. She also told him how much she loves him. She briefly outlined the traumas he has endured this year, acknowledging how difficult these circumstances are.
After insisting on eye contact, Liz said, with heartbroken compassion and immovable firmness, “But, no matter how hard things are, you cannot behave this way in your class.” The student’s eyes fell.
After insisting on eye contact again, Liz said, with heartbroken compassion and immovable firmness, “No matter how hard things are, you cannot crawl under your desk.” The student’s eyes fell.
After insisting on eye contact yet again, Liz said, with heartbroken compassion and immovable firmness, “No matter how hard things are, you cannot push other students.” The student’s eyes fell.Five times, Liz repeated the intimate eye contact, heartbroken compassion, and immovable firmness. The student, who had arrived in the office angry, disheartened, and hardened, began to cry. Liz wrapped an arm around him as he sobbed.
At the beginning of the year, Aaron (our Head of School) challenged us to read and apply Martin Luther King’s essay, “A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart.” In it, King states:
The Bible, always clear in stressing both attributes of God, expresses his tough mindedness in his justice and wrath and his tenderheartedness in his love and grace. God has two outstretched arms. One is strong enough to surround us with justice, and one is gentle enough to embrace us with grace.
We can’t change our students’ daily circumstances. As we have restorative conversations, however, we can change how our students live in their circumstances. Part of being an urban, kingdom school is offering our students the toughminded tenderheartedness of Christ, so a student who was bellowing under his desk can return to that desk to make a mosaic map of the continents over which our God reigns with two outstretched arms.