Guest column: Keep building upon your education

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By Rod Haxton, The Scott County Record

Congratulations, graduates.
With a diploma in hand, you are about to discover how much you thought you knew about the real world and how little you actually know.
There’s no need to feel bad. This is a road that each of us has traveled down. The only question is how quickly we realize this hard truth . . . if at all.
And in no way are we implying that your teachers, coaches and others haven’t done their job. In fact, we have nothing but high praise for our public education system.
It must be remembered, however, that this was only a foundation on which to build.
As an athlete, think back on the coaches who pushed you to go beyond your pain threshold, beyond what you felt your body was capable of doing. Until an athlete is willing to step outside their comfort zone they will never realize their full potential.
The same is true of the way we think and in how we view life.
We can refuse to challenge ourselves mentally, to accept things as they are now with the assumption they won’t change – or shouldn’t change. We can deny facts, or worse yet believe there are “alternative facts,” in an attempt to explain away things we don’t want to understand.
Or we can approach life with an open mind, a desire to learn and a willingness to accept change.
This generation has never-before-seen opportunities to learn about life, different cultures and interact with people in a way that was unimaginable just a generation ago. We have never enjoyed greater opportunity to bridge cultural gaps and gain a deeper understanding of each other.
But change doesn’t come easily. We are creatures of habit who prefer that things be a certain way. We don’t want disruptions in our routine or feel forced to accept new “norms” – even if it’s in our own best interest.
We once refused to wear a seat belt because it was our belief that the government had no place infringing upon what we felt was a personal choice. We resisted, even as we knew of friends who were seriously injured or paralyzed as the result of a vehicle accident in which they chose not to wear a seat belt.
Today, we wouldn’t think of traveling out of town without our seat belt fastened.
We learned. We adapted.
As a youngster, it was common to hear racial slurs, even among some family members. When you don’t grow up with a minority population in your school or community, one imagines those words are harmless because they don’t apply to anyone we know.
In time, we realized that minorities didn’t have to be within our communities for such language to be offensive and hurtful – that if we didn’t challenge people who thought such slurs were acceptable then we were no better.
We learned. We adapted.
Unfortunately, we were a little slower to accept the growing awareness of lifestyle choices until faced with a family member who came out as gay.
It shouldn’t take a close relationship for something this personal to have meaning, but only then did we finally begin to understand.
We continued to learn. We adapted.
And yet, here we are in the 21st Century and people believe they can turn back the clock to a so-called “simpler time” – that there is something to be gained by ignoring reality and refusing to accept those things, or people, that make some of us uncomfortable.
Stereotypes about certain types of people and ethnic groups became so ingrained in our thinking through popular cartoons or even Dr. Seuss that we didn’t realize the effect it was having. We’ve come to accept a certain way of thinking because it’s always been that way.
Change can be difficult, sometimes controversial, whether it’s allowing people of different races to sit at the same lunch counter, share the same classroom or use the same water fountain. The problem isn’t with acknowledging our past but in refusing to make it part of the conversation so we can assure these same mistakes are never repeated.
For generations, we believed the only way to be raised in this nation was as a heterosexual, Anglo-Saxon Christian. Holding that belief made it easier to accept minorities as second-class citizens.
It offered an excuse for separating hundreds of thousands of Native American children from their families and placing them into boarding schools for the sole purpose of erasing their culture from existence. It allowed us to force the LGBTQ community into the shadows because they were seen as deviants who didn’t belong among normal people.
As we belatedly acknowledge our past and try to make amends for our shameful treatment of others, there are those who continue to resist. They are waging a cultural war in our public schools, trying to prevent the teaching of history which portrays us as not-so-exceptional and banning books which can help young people understand there is no one-size-fits-all definition of normal.
If our education system has functioned as it should, as a student you’ve been made to feel uncomfortable on numerous occasions – whether it was the time in kindergarten when you had to lead your class to the lunchroom, or you had to deliver your first speech for a forensics tournament or a coach turned to you during a huddle with 15 seconds left in the game and said, “You’re going to take the winning shot.”
When we are forced out of our comfort zone, we grow as an individual.
It’s okay to be uncomfortable. Determine what feels normal for you and accept what others decide is normal for them.
Above all, learn from the past. Adapt.
You’ll be a better person for it.
Editor’s note: Rod Haxton is editor and publisher of The Scott County Record in Scott City.