A short and somewhat chubby third grader tells me, “I want to be an astronaut when I grow up.” His classmate, a very thin and fragile little girl, advises that she wants to be a firefighter. Very often, I ask my classes what they aspire to become in their lives.
Under no circumstances and for no reason will I ever criticize, contradict or minimize these dreams. To begin, I have no right to do so. More importantly, we adults do these children a huge disservice by suggesting that their expectations are unrealistic.
If I think about my own childhood, women either got married or became teachers but rarely both. My dad was forever reminding me and others that I was going away to college to acquire my Mrs. degree.
For fear of sounding as if I am grandstanding for women’s rights, I’m extremely glad that opportunities for women have dramatically improved. Would my life have evolved differently if he had encouraged rather than insulted my intentions? It’s difficult to say. Ultimately, I achieved what I intended, often in the face of gender discrimination.
But I won’t allow my students to ask that type of question of themselves. What characteristics present in third or any other grade are nearly irrelevant. That generalization, however, does not apply to passion.
Passion is an emotion that I seize and explore as thoroughly as possible. We can’t create it but we can identify and champion it. If you want to be a police officer when you grow up, I’m sure that you’ll be able to become one. No matter what and no matter who tells you otherwise, you can be what you want to be.
It used to be that height, weight, gender and other factors served to prevent us from pursuing various endeavors. Much less of that now exists. But our students may continue to receive negativity from parents, grandparents or classmates.
Many of us can speak literally about the teachers or other adults who had lasting influence on us. My experience suggests that most of this takes the form of enthusiasm and encouragement. We can also learn from those who worked to discourage or insult our aspirations.
Help those who can benefit the most from the help to build dreams. It’s likely that each of us who touch the lives of others have the potential to make profound impacts on them. As I often mention, we will never be able to calculate or measure how much influence our words and actions will have. Shalom.
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