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2. Constructing Community

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Hello everyone, today is Wednesday September 23rd, 2020, it’s the official second day of Autumn, yesterday was the Autumnal Equinox, Hail Druids, it’s also the 8th day of Hispanic Heritage Month, which goes from September 15th to October 15th Friday was both Rosh Hashanah and the passing of Supreme Court Justice and women’s equality and equity icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg and on that note it is now time for a moment of Social Emotional Learning.

We are starting this year by talking about Community. One of the main things that builds community is when people share a sense of belonging.

When we describe a sense of belonging, we are talking about a feeling a person or people may have of connection or familiarity or welcome or inclusion with other people or groups. Maybe it comes from feeling seen and heard, or feeling valued, or maybe it comes from sharing in similar ideas, or interests, or goals, or activities.

One way to start thinking about community and belonging is to start thinking about all the different groups we might share a sense of belonging with. Here’s a group we could start with, humans. That’s all of us. And no matter how different we may identify inside that big group called humans there are some things that we all do because we all share a human brain.

Our human brain likes to make categories. Categories like this is food, this is work, this is rest, this is play, these things are safe, this thing could eat me. This is how we humans begin to understand the environment around us and it’s important for survival. But humans have proven we like more than just surviving, we like thriving.

So, in order to help us thrive we humans have invented the concept of culture and through our concepts of culture we teach and learn more concepts that help us thrive. It’s a circle. You should know that part of what comes from culture is the ability to create, experience, and share emotions. Emotions are information created in your brain and are a reflection of the culture or cultures you are familiar with. Everything we do is filtered through the cultural concepts we know.

There is not really such a thing as good or bad culture that is until the human brain starts placing different value on different categories and different things inside the same category. Here’s an example, this is a broccoli, it is food, this is pizza it is better food! Pizza and broccoli are in the same category, things we can eat, but if you said, “after the game let’s all go get broccoli” your teammates are going to look at you weird. Because going out for broccoli with your baseball team is weird.

That’s because sharing pizza is part of the culture concept of team sports, sharing broccoli is not. No dis to broccoli, it’s good for your body.

So the human brain constructs categories to put things in, and just like the human brain constructs categories to put things in, humans construct social categories to put other humans in. Then culture takes those categories and adds value. That value cycle can be activated by the language we use to label these different categories.

You are in these categories. Let’s start big and then work down with more specific identifying language to demonstrate this. We are humans, we live on earth, we live on land that has had many names one of which is North America, more specifically, the United States of America, more specifically, Washington state, more specifically Seattle...

There, I just described you perfectly. Don’t you feel seen? Of course not, for most of us those categories are really big, and we don’t often focus on categories at that level. And here’s also a possible catch, just because you are placed in that category doesn’t mean you share a sense of belonging with that category? It would be awesome if you did because those are great groups, particularly humans living on earth, but again, that’s a really big group and it would take some serious brain work to really feel that as a group you share a sense of belonging with.

Oh one thing you should know about the human brain, it does a ton of work. I mean a ton, but it doesn’t like to do more work than it is already doing. That’s not to say it it’s lazy, but it really doesn’t like to be inefficient, so it doesn’t like to spend energy when it doesn’t have to. Because of this your brain really tries to make categories as simple as possible. Then it likes to predict what will happen in relation to the categories it knows. Here is another metaphor we can use to think about our brains. Like gears in a car. You can imagine that your brain also has two gears for thinking, one is fast and can do a whole ton of things at one time, and one is slower and more methodical.

Maybe think of it like this. In fast thinking your brain is like a sprinter. It runs quick and it runs all over the place. In slower thinking your brain is like a weightlifter. It can lift really heavy things, but it does it slowly and safely. You want to be able to recognize and choose to be able to switch between, sprinting when you need to go fast and lifting weights when there is something that requires more time and focus. You would not want to send your sprinter to lift weights, or your weightlifter to run a sprint. You want to be able to use both sprinting and weightlifting when it’s the right fit in the right context.

Let's go back to our categories and let’s go with a really simple one, this is the category we can put all things either in or out of: “can I eat this or can this eat me?” Fast thinking might really like this category because it’s real easy. It could move through that work quick. Either, I can eat it or it can eat me. Super fast. But if you let slow thinking really analyze that you realize that in that category fast thinking would include pizza, and broccoli and dirt and bark. Since none of those things can eat us and you can in fact put those things in your mouth and do all of the mechanics of the category eating. Note, the category eating may or may not include the sub-category digesting.

Slow thinking might discover that the big category of “can I eat this or can this eat me” does not suffice for thriving, maybe not even living, if you start eating bark. With sub categories for “can I eat this” you get taste, preference, gourmet, cafeteria. All categories that can inform “can I eat this”? You may even get, “do I want to eat this?” and “do I need to eat this?”

School requires a person to switch between fast and slow thinking all the time. Critical thinking in science is best for slow thinking, getting into science class is fast thinking. If you ever recognize that you need a “brain break” that can be a sign that you’ve exhausted your weightlifting thinking and you need to sprint around awhile. This can be really helpful language for all of us to share, and we’ll talk a lot more about this as we go on through the year.

But back to community, remember that? Fast thinking likes the easy categories, quick things that are on the surface, that’s why fast thinking uses big categories for people like skin color, gender presentation, age of the body. Fast thinking doesn’t really care if the things it places in categories share a sense of belonging with that category it just likes to put things in there and move on.

Sometimes there is a struggle between fast and slow thinking. Imagine a person is born and the person’s gender presentation is male. Fast thinking says, boy, move on. But suppose that human says, but wait, I don’t share a sense of belonging with the category male or boy, I share a sense of belonging in the category female and girl. Slow thinking says, okay let me work to understand. Fast thinking says wait what? You’re changing categories? Wait what? Fast thinking could not have predicted that without a concept called transgender. And one thing to know about fast thinking, it really doesn’t like to be wrong in its predictions. So much so that sometimes fast thinking will burn more energy trying to prove its predictions are correct, rather than simply switching to slow thinking and working it out.

The concept transgender creates a new category for the brain to put people in. Fast thinking only knew girl boy. Slow thinking works out the understanding of a new category and once the concept is created and the emotions have been constructed and informed, fast thinking can go back and recognize this new category and then make an accurate prediction next time.

Of course, culture and context and emotion information and knowledge and experience and wisdom will inform that concept and how it is used, but we’ll talk more about all of this down the road too. For right now, let’s go back to community and a sense of belonging. Here is another example of social categories that all people in the United States get put in to. It’s called generations. A generation is a made up social category that is based on something no one has control of in their own lives and that is the year you were born.

As you may or may not know there are two people running for President of the United States. Their names are Joe Biden and Donald Trump. The are both septuagenarians. That means they’re both in their 70’s. They both present and identify as male, and they’re both even whiter then me.

Because of when they were born, in the 1940s they are considered to be in a generation people called The Baby Boomer generation. and if you’re thinking, “wait Biden was born in 1942 which actually makes him part of the Post-War Cohort, then you’re really over thinking this and need to remember that all this generation stuff is just a social construct and made up anyway so...

Okay so they’re boomers. When the boomers were kids they really stuck-it to their parents. So that’s cool. But, they also really stuck it to the whole planet by doing almost nothing when it comes to helping the environment.

A lot of baby boomers had kids and those kids who were born between 1966 and 1976 are called Generation X. Unlike the Baby Boomers, Generation X is really, really cool. That’s pretty much their thing. They’re easily the coolest generation. But, to quote from one of their movies, “What is it, you say you do here?”

After Gen X is a group of people called Millennials. They are to sadness what gen x is to coolness. It’s not their fault, they had to grow up in a wild transitional time that would have destroyed boomers and Xers. Millennials are those really old teenagers who might still live in your house. They often look like adults, but don’t be fooled. There are not a lot of jobs for them, and even if there were a ton of jobs most of them are holding out for management. Things have been harder for them and it’s really not their fault, and they’re doing the best they can.

But we’re not Boomers, or Xers, or Millennials. The category for us is called Post-millennials. But popularly we’ve come to be called Generation Z. Yep, if you are in school right now between kindergarten and 12th grade you are going to be put in Gen z.

Gen Z can give Gen X a run for coolness, mostly because, not only can we do a ton of stuff with technology, and not only do we dress cool and like cool stuff, we’re also, for the most part, kind. We’ve had formal training in learning about emotions and social skills. Lord knows the boomers haven’t, they mostly hate learning about emotions because they tried to stuff all their feelings into NOT FIXING THE ENVIRONMENT. And Gen X are too busy dancing with themselves. And Millennials, well see also, sadness.

But not Gen Z. We know more about the brain, about culture, about emotion information, about social awareness. We also have access to every song ever written, right at our fingertips. We don’t need records, a Walkman, or a Zune (see also Millennial fail)

You can, if you want, feel proud about your generation category. It’s a group you can share a sense of belonging with, if you want. You can share community with your fellow Gen Zers. And just to really help you share a sense of belonging with Generation Z, remember this, no one from Generation Z was old enough to vote in 2016, so that’s not on us at all! Thanks a lot everyone else.

So on Wednesday, in our school we’re going to start Character strong. We’re going to continue building our sense of belonging by working in a group we call homeroom. That’s a category you’ve been assigned to. You may already share a sense of belonging with your homeroom or you may not yet. The work of Character strong is all about sharing a sense of belonging. Especially, when you start by sharing your name. Which is another category you’ve been assigned.

The SEL work of Character Strong like many social emotional learning programs is designed to help you build the skills to recognize and interact with your emotion information and to recognize and understand the culture and context of your many different environments. This is very important learning. It’s slow thinking and learning, which hopefully allows for fast thinking action, down the road. It’s also one of the things that makes us the great Generation Z we are.

We hope that you enjoyed this first Monday Moment of SEL brought to you by your very own ASB. If you liked what you heard, let us know! If you didn’t like what you heard, let Mr. Manzo know. Remember these great words of wisdom from retired Seattle schools counselor Ken Geddes. Make it a great day or not, the choice is yours. Until next week, may your thoughts and feelings be with you.

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