Twelve-and 13-year-olds walk into my classroom every day. My plan is to teach them something. One of two things will happen: They will learn what I have to teach, or they won’t.
Some of my students understand new concepts right away, while others take longer. The ones who take longer get frustrated. They often are afraid to admit what they don’t know. They fear that if they admit it, they’ll be judged or ridiculed. It becomes more important to hide than it does to learn. Rather than work through their fears, they allow the fear of judgement or ridicule to stop them in their tracks. Fear causes them to act out or shut down, and no matter how much they want to learn, their fear won’t allow it.
I’ve experienced every type of student — the student who pretends not to care, the student who pretends to have a headache, and the student who pretends not to have heard. If they allow it, fear robs them of opportunities to learn and grow to their full potential.
Fast forward 20 years. You’re at a restaurant with friends of your significant other. Far from being comfortable, you stay only to be supportive. Your dinner guests are well-versed in things about which you have no clue. One of them refers to the foie gras. You can’t even pronounce the dish, let alone have a conversation about it.
What do you do? You pretend you know what they’re talking about and pray that’s the end of that. Here’s what happens: You stop listening, stop connecting, and stop sharing.
Why? You’re afraid. You’re afraid to look stupid and show them how much you don’t know. You don’t think about all the things you could share with them. You think only about the things they’ll know you don’t know.
So what do we do? Try something new. Admit the fear. Face it, and embrace it. Be honest about what you fear, and why. Be honest about what you don’t know. When we let go of fear, we can take risks, broaden our horizons, and grow into better versions of ourselves.
In the Bible, in John 21:20, John refers to himself on multiple occasions as the one whom Jesus loved. When I first read that, I thought, “Wow, John is full of himself.”
But John wasn’t bragging. He was not being haughty. He found something that gave him strength any time he needed to be strong — Jesus’ love for him. When John was afraid, he reminded himself of how much Jesus loved him, then made a choice not to be afraid. If we work to become like John, we rest in being loved for just who we are. When we embrace being loved for who we are, what we know and what we don’t matters little. We begin to share our true selves, and because of it, learn and grow.
Children who don’t learn to face their fears become adults who have difficulty facing fears. Children do not learn to face their fears by adults telling them to do so. Children learn to face their fears by witnessing others face theirs. Let’s build a nation where there is no need for fear — a place where everyone is accepted for exactly who they are.
Momi Robins-Makaila is a teacher, author and public speaker. Her books, Candy Canes and Coke and Rescued By A God I Didn’t Know, can be found on amazon.com.
“A SHARED SPACE” is an ongoing reader-submitted column. To share your story, email firstname.lastname@example.org