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Dr. Grauer's Column - Standing on One Foot

Dr. Grauer's Column - Standing on One Foot

Standing on One Foot
(How Are You?)

Hi Readers! I hope you are okay.

In these troubled times, the weight of the world's events can feel overwhelming, lonely, and scary. From the heart-wrenching situations in Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan to the tensions in Israel-Palestine and Eastern Ukraine, our peace of mind seems constantly challenged. Extremists seem to be ascendant. Some events, like the situations in Gaza and Ukraine, resonate deeply with many of us on The Grauer School's campus due to our personal connections and the immediacy of the situation to our world. The pain and destruction are not just news stories; they're realities that touch our school community directly. We can feel them.

In the midst of these troubles, how do we remain compassionate and supportive, not to mention fearless? I recall this ancient wisdom from the Talmud: Rabbi Hillel, when asked to teach the entire Torah while standing on one foot, responded, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary—go and study.”

Dr. Grauer with California State Senator Catherine Blakespear and Community Resource Center CEO John Van Clef - October 30, 2023

A reader writes: “[Some] families are not even aware of this ‘news cycle’ as it doesn’t affect them personally and at the other end, some families are barely getting through each day because nothing else matters to them right now.” Everyone experiences these hard realities uniquely, but what I love about being in our community is my knowledge and feeling that I am not alone. You are not alone.

Tragedy strikes us through our own experiences or through those we support. There will be no end to the constancy of issues, some unbearable or heartbreaking. A global pandemic. A contentious election. Racial inequities to confront. Ongoing conflict amplified by social media. The extinctions I keep hearing about are having an ongoing impact on me. It goes beyond news cycles. It can feel relentless.

Plus, even if you feel detached from global events, you still may have pain. Or, alternatively, some among us may be masterfully engaging in close-knit compassionate acts and interactions through it all. Let’s all make peace with whatever scale we are comfortable working on, whatever arena we function well in.

Natural disasters and violence are tragedies that can make us feel hopeless or helpless. Anger, fear and frustration are normal human responses to events like these, even though we want to avoid them. When we witness events from afar, naturally, makes it harder to find ways to help. Being in a school and any compassionate community means we can always find ways for showing care for those around us.

Grauer students Esme and Mikayla carving a pumpkin during American Sign Language class - October 30, 2023

Our personal responses matter. Nurtured healthily, they lead us to be more compassionate—I know this is a lifetime endeavor for me. I will never wake up and say, okay, today I am compassionate enough. And yet, I will never wake up and attempt to take on the full weight of the world, either. We embrace our core values, and we press on.

To me, the purpose of our school is to teach and embody universal core values so that, once our students leave, they are levelheaded and morally grounded enough to deal with all manner of conflicts, and successes, independently. No matter what class our students are in, our core values are the highest curricular goals. The core values are the real curriculum.

Right now, a core value we all need is compassion. I remember when we added it twenty-five years or so ago. It felt like a stretch: how could we ever say we are truly compassionate? And yet, when we added this core value, we committed to the permanent endeavor of attempting to be that way. Every Grauer teacher and staff member has made this commitment. This is a commitment we make not only to our community, including our students and families, but (hopefully!) to ourselves.

Compassion is the ability to recognize the emotional state of others, to feel empathy for their situation, and to be moved to help them or lessen their suffering. It includes cognitive, emotional, and behavioral components:

  1. Cognitive: Understanding or recognizing the suffering of others.
  2. Emotional: Feeling empathy or emotional resonance with the suffering of others.
  3. Behavioral: Taking action or being motivated to alleviate the suffering.

Which are you focused on these days? None of us can always achieve all three of these. It’s just a practice, not an end. We are always attempting healing, never fully healed.

Grauer Pre-Calculus students Karina, Kai, and Aiden dancing a choreographed routine to demonstrate transformations of basic functions - November 1, 2023

To embody compassion, one can start by being mindful and present: just trying to have a greater awareness of the needs and feelings of others you are with. Prioritize listening over talking. Not much is more exemplary of this practice than the Socratic method our teachers attempt to use in class. We probe one another, we listen so that we can express understanding rather than criticism, and this is a way of sharing our caring. I personally know of no greater exercise of compassion, no more essential aspect of “the Grauer way” at our school, however imperfect we are at this, than the Socratic method. Maybe we can’t be fixed, but we can be understood.

In class and around campus, active listening and a non-judgmental attitude create a safe emotional space for acknowledging suffering, while genuine expressions of emotional or practical support can make a real impact. Likewise, when students and families reach out to one another and express what they are going through, it provides a real conduit where compassion can run. Small acts of kindness can go a long way.

Self-compassion is essential as well. Be kind to yourself in hard times. This equips us to extend our care to others more effectively.

I know, in our small, caring community, we might not impact the whole wide world all that much. There is not always much we can do. The bombs echo from overseas. If you are overwhelmed, and shocked, we understand. We understand compassion is a practice. We press on.

The Grauer School at sunrise

At The Grauer School, we practice compassion in many ways, including our daily focus on our core values, our core values portfolio group meetings, and our greetings as we enter the Tolerance Gateway and see each other around campus. Every day, we employ empathic, Socratic method as teachers.

I know complete compassion is never fully achieved, any more than we will learn the body of ancient wisdom standing on one leg. “Go and study!” said Hillel. Ultimately, at least as teachers, we are called to be students of compassion. We make an ongoing commitment to self-education. Right now, in writing this, I am studying compassion. By continuously striving for growth in this area and setting an example, we not only enrich our own lives but also contribute positively to the lives of those around us. So, I am writing to you. Who can you reach out to?

The ancient yogis may have been able to memorize a whole holy book while standing on one foot, but we can’t. And yet, even in the darkest times, we can smile at others and notice beauty around us. We can promote a compassionate community in all seasons. We are a community of caring. How are you?

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Dr. Grauer with California State Senator Catherine Blakespear and Community Resource Center CEO John Van Clef - October 30, 2023

Grauer students Esme and Mikayla carving a pumpkin during American Sign Language class - October 30, 2023

Grauer Pre-Calculus students Karina, Kai, and Aiden dancing a choreographed routine to demonstrate transformations of basic functions - November 1, 2023

The Grauer School at sunrise

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