In May 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump promised America that we’d be winning so much we’d get tired of winning. It’s now September 2020. I don’t personally know anyone who is winning. My family here is not winning and neither is my family in West Virginia. My friend is an architect in Seattle. His oldest daughter will start college online. They are not winning. I am a school counselor in Seattle Public Schools. I cannot tell you of a single student, educator or family that is winning.
My employer, Seattle Public Schools, and my union, the Seattle Education Association are working on how to make our schools safe and effective. SPS does not have the resources to make the buildings safe, and remote learning is not a desirable endeavor. Every question and concern for each individual child and family is echoed for a multitude, and not once has anyone from either side of this bargain felt anything related to winning.
We are in a space of trying to minimize hurt. And sure, we can call experiencing “the least hurt” a win, but a frame like that, though powerful in resolution, may be more indicative of a strategy of survival for when things are very tough. And things are very tough. We won’t even know how tough until we all are able to be together again, physically.
Remote learning is a “least hurt” strategy. It is likely an err on the side of safety, as opposed to returning to physical school, which is an err on the side of risk. I’m feeling anxious about the school year starting because remote learning did not work well for my own family in the spring, and my wife is also a teacher. We struggled. The arguing was/is real, the sadness and frustration over friendship withdrawal and distance was/is real, and I can tell you that the shame we feel that our rising first grader can identify more YouTubers than sight words is real. We are not winning. And yet, by many measures we are. We still have jobs to work, a roof still covers us, we have food and water. And to think that in America those basic life needs could count as winning is something to consider.
Eventually we will be back in physical proximity, and then my language, by necessity, will most likely revolve around loss. Loss of loved ones, loss of income, loss of stability, loss of connections, loss of footing. We won’t know the extent of what our people have had to do to survive for some time. We need to be prepared for a rise in anxiety, in depression, in divorce, in domestic violence, in chemical dependency, in food insecurity, in the suffering that can come with the stress of poverty. We must prepare for those things in amplification for families whose communities are marginalized by skin color, gender presentation or any variety of cultural situations that are not protected by white normative thinking.
However, all is not lost. We have inherited a very complex national character. Some parts of it are cruel and should be recognized as such. However, some parts are strong, helpful, creative, compassionate, capable. We can work together to overcome great adversity. Our nation has within its character resilience, humility, community, neighbors, activists, teachers, moms, grandparents, students, artists, musicians, comedians. We have a depth on our spiritual bench that we don’t often recognize or call upon. It may look and feel different for different folks, but it’s in our stories, and it’s all around us if we know how to look.
So, we are not winning. We haven’t been winning. It’s OK to own that. It’s OK to accept that. It’s also OK to start to work through that. As we say in counseling, emotion information will always be there for you, behavior is what you choose to do with it.