The more I think about what’s wrong with our current political moment, the more I believe that we are awash in contempt. It saturates our news media and our civc discourse, to the point where otherwise reasonable individuals are willing to embrace absurd concepts and ideologies if doing so will irritate those with opposing opinions. In fact, people actually seem hungry for it. After all, contempt has an addictive appeal, a sort of junk food of emotions that delivers an easy, quick jolt of endorphins but ultimately leaves you undernourished, unsatisfied, and looking for more. The more one indulges the addiction the more likely one is to transfer that contempt from the idea that incited it to the person expressing it, eventually questioning their right to hold it and, in extreme cases, their basic humanity. In that way, contempt hardens into hatred.
There are many ways in which contempt is bad for us and our relationships. As an educator and the leader of a school that aims to graduate students who are empathetic and compassionate, I see contempt as especially damaging in an educational setting because “empathy and contempt are polar opposites.” A natural skepticism is part of a healthy learning process, but not when we permit its expression as cynicism or derision.
In addition to damaging our school environments, contempt is harming the fabric of our democracy. I use the word “fabric” deliberately because a fabric’s durability comes from the collective strength of its individual threads. Contempt isolates people, breeding apathy and disengagement, two qualities we also don’t need more of.
So, in this month of giving thanks, I’m contempt fasting. My goal is to listen for utterances of contempt from others, and scan my own thoughts and actions for the same. I’m hoping that, as the weeks roll by, I’ll experience an outcome similar to the one I had when I deliberately and gradually reduced my sugar intake each day. The less I consumed, the less I wanted to consume. I believe contempt fasting will create more connection, a stronger sense of team and purpose, a sense that positivity is what makes us stronger, and that we’re all humans worthy of respect just by virtue of being fellow members of our species.
I want to inspire others to consider contempt fasting. Our schools certainly depend on that and our democracy probably does, too.
Simon Says… is a regular blog by Simon Holzapfel, Head of School at Darrow. Learn more about active curriculum and project-based learning at darrowschool.org.
Read Simon Holzapfel’s bio.