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The Big Questions

A couple days ago I listened to a discussion between Krista Tippett and Ta-Nehisi Coates on racial equity and I’ve found myself reflecting back on it. During a Q&A portion of the discussion, an audience member posed the following to Coates, “For the middle school students I teach, is there anything you can offer that will help students remain optimistic about progress in the long-term?”

Coates was not able to offer any positive resolution to the question citing how long-term of a problem this is. He instead offered how he might think about the situation saying,

"If I were in your class, and I put myself back there... I think I was looking for enlightenment from my teachers... I think I wanted to be exposed to different world views… I probably would want to be pointed — not even would want the answers: Give me the tools. Arm me. Allow me to be able to understand why. That probably would be more important to me. That’s not hope. That’s not hope, but I think that’s the sort of perspective I would’ve come from, at that age."

“Give me the tools”, is what I keep coming back to. The more vexing questions we face: the wealth gap, racial equity, the future of education / employment / healthcare, climate change and many others likely do not have a foregone conclusion or answer. And to look for something so reductive is probably foolhardy. There is something seductive about an answer. “Give me the synopsis”, or “summarize it for me in a tweet”. When discussing something complex or systemic, a single answer is likely oversimplifying and overlooking many factors to satisfy the simplicity of the question or impatience of the listener.

Having “tools” and the capability to use them is perhaps what we should really be striving to acquire in the world we inhabit. The world is not becoming simpler but more complex and interdependent. Rather than seek answers, perhaps tools to understand how and why are what we really need.

Go Forth Boldly

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