Wednesday, February 27, 2013

To Be A Man: Beyond Not Being Gay

Dan Savage wrote in a recent blog post that two negatives have traditionally defined male heterosexual identity: not being a girl and not being gay.

Unfortunately the same thing can be said for what it means to be a man.

A guy who has interests in what some think of as being “traditionally” for girls is often seen as not being as masculine. If your interests include musical theater, fashion or cooking there’s a good chance that someone called your masculinity and/or your sexuality into question.

Then there are the simple three words: Are you gay?  This question for many guys is an affront to their "manhood."  If we define masculinity solely on heterosexual male sexual expression, then there is no place for homosexuality in our collective definition of what it means to be a man.

By defining what it means to be a man, by what men aren’t we are narrowing the definitions of manhood to the point that we are exclude others in a way that is both discriminatory and very damaging to boys who are struggling to balance loving themselves and trying to grow up to be a man.

Let’s say that a boy is really interested in fashion, but he internalizes that his interests are not “manly,” because of what his parents tell him. This conflict may completely diminish the boy’s interests and lead to a devastatingly low self-esteem. Ironically, it could rob our culture of the next Calvin Klein, a fashion designer who for many defines masculinity.

Then there are the tragic results of what happens when boys are made to fell less valued not only as young men but human beings for being gay. The suicides and hate crimes are a sobering reminder of the consequences of letting insecurities become damaging and insidious aggression.

If we accept guys who have less "manly" interest as men and guys who are homosexuals or transgender as men, then what are we left with to define what it means to be a man?

When I learned that you were going to be a boy, my own insecurities about my masculine identity made me concerned about helping you discover the great person that you will become. I wasn’t sure that I really knew how to help you be a “man.” For some reasons silly things like the fact that I’m really bad at sports became concerns. I’ve come to realize that those things aren’t important.

You will find when you get older that it's the relationships that we have and the way that we view the world that defines us more than anything else.  For me its my relationship with people I love and the acceptance and optimism that I struggle to view the world with that have shown me what it truly means to be a man.

Always be proud of who you are, the things that you love and the life that you lead.  Define your manhood not by pushing things away, but by embracing the best things inside of you. 

Being a man is not about not being girly, or not being gay.  Being a man is being yourself.  

Monday, February 25, 2013

Gettin' Jiggy Wit It by Will Smith

“That’s not really rap music. It doesn’t have any swearing.”

-8th grade student
My students seem to have the most misconceptions about the music they like the best. One of those genres that many of my students talk about with some authority is rap music. When I teach about rap music I usually open up the conversation to get some ideas about what kids think about rap music. Some common misconceptions they tell me are that rap artists are only men, all rap music is about being a" gangsta" and that all rap needs utlizes explicit language.

I dispute all of these things and use The Beastie Boys to teach about rap (which I talk about in this post ). The thing that astounded me this year was that some of my students argued that The Beastie Boys were not actually performing rap music. I patiently explained to them the The Beastie Boys were in fact one of the most important and influential rap groups of all time, though I’m not sure they believed me.

I wonder what they would say if I told them about how Will Smith used to be the Fresh Prince and how he still rocks the mic with mad skills (while keeping it clean).

When teaching about rap music, I often consider using some of Will Smith’s works, but the problem is that he work is too complex. Unlike “Intergalactic,” Smith places his rhymes of different beats, changes rhymes schemes quickly and adjusts phrase lengths within verses. One great example of this is with his 1998 smash “Gettin' Jiggy wit It.”

He immediately his the first verse with a clever phrase with rhymes almost every other word.: “Let’s go, dance floor pro, I know, you know, I go psy-cho.” He throws the accents on the off beat and come out of this pattern as easily as he get into.

The beginning of the second stanza is just a slick:
Everybody lookin' at me,
Glancin' the kid,
wishin' they was dancin' a jig
Here with this handsome kid
Instead of creating pauses when he hits a rhyme, he goes straight into the next line rapping between the phrases as opposed to simply landing on them. When you analyze the different ways he places rhymes on beats, it’s dizzying.

 It’s amazing how well Will Smith performs. He’s moving around the stage with so much energy and personality. Smith is a rapper that makes what he does seem so easy, but when you try to do it just like him, you might fall trying to do what he did.

I grew up watching Will Smith on television and listening to him as a rap artist. I respect his success as a film actor, but I can’t wait for him to pick up the mic and return as rap’s most important royalty.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Blame It On The Rain by Milli Vanilli

At first the story of Milli Vanilli was one of triumph. Then it became one of scandal and finally it ended in tragedy. When Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus signed on to be the faces of the pop group Milli Vanilli, they had no idea how it would change their lives.

Producer Frank Farian, after recording an pop album, felt that he needed a more marketable duo so he hired Fab and Rob. The album Girl You Know It’s True went on to be a Grammy winning success.

Then during a live performance, the track they were lip-syncing to started to skip and the truth about the record came out. Then the scandal erupted and they had to give their Grammy’s back. After being butt of jokes for years and finally being able to tell their side of the story on VH1’s Behind The Music, Milli Vanilli began work on an new album that would feature their own voice. Sadly on Arpil 2, 1998, Rob Pilatus was found dead in a hotel. His death was ruled and accidental drug and alcohol overdose.

When I think about Milli Vanilli, it always makes me sad. People overreacted. Look, I know they lied and they mislead the public, but we’re talking lip-syncing. It would be one thing it they performed on stage as classical musicians. These are pop musicians who are dancing around in a way that makes it nigh impossible for them to sing well without at least a backing track.

Getting offended or surprised by a pop singer lip-syncing, is like getting angry about the fact the McDonalds is selling you previously frozen food. Yes, Milli Vanilli took it one step further by not even singing on the original recording but in the world of music scandals (which includes murder, shootings and extortion), this is a pretty minor offense.

The lead single “Girl You Know It’s True,” is really silly and campy. It’s dated, the rap is contrived and is pretty forgettable, but the other single from their album “Blame It On The Rain” really has heart.

I came across this video of Fab performing this song live and it was really touching. After everything Fab has been through, he’s making it happen on stage. These guys were put through such a ridiculous media storm and all they were doing was trying to entertain people.

There’s really not a more perfect song than “Blame It On The Rain,” to reflect about the legacy of Milli Vanilli. Sometimes focusing on who’s to blame isn’t the important thing. Did Fab and Rob deserve to be punished for what they did? I’m not sure, but they did get punished. I’m not saying that we should take blame for Rob’s death, but our reaction couldn’t have helped.

The reason we look for blame is to provide us a way to move forward. Sometimes we can do this without beating ourselves up or punishing someone else. No, that’s not a cop-out, sometimes it’s the best thing to do, because mistakes lie with the people who make them whether or not we can see that clearly.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

To Be A Man: Women

A man walking along a beach was deep in prayer when all of a sudden he said aloud, "Lord grant me one wish". The sky clouded and a booming voice said, "Because you have tried to be faithful I will grant you one wish." The man said, "Build a bridge to Hawaii so I can drive over anytime I want."

The Lord answered, "Your request is very materialistic. Think of the logistics of that kind of undertaking. The supports required to reach the bottom of the Pacific! The concrete and steel it would take. I can do it, but it is hard for me to justify your desire for worldly things. Take a little more time to think of another wish, a wish you think would honor and glorify me".

The man thought for a long time and finally said, "Lord, I wish that I could understand women. How can I make a woman truly happy?"

After a few minutes God said, "How many lanes did you want on that bridge?"
Everyone from psychologist to comedians have tried to explain to men how to best understand and interact with women. The differences between the genders influenced almost every facet of our modern society, from the way our shirts are buttoned to the amount people get paid to do a job. Every woman is different and for every generalization about women like how they aren't solution-based when they share their feelings, there are exceptions. The reality of the fact is that not all women are really from Venus.

Regardless of the diversity within the world of women, there are a couple things that guys should consider to understand what it means to be a man when interacting with the opposite sex.

Acknowledge what you don't and can't understand:  There are many life experiences that guys can never truly understand like breast-feeding, experiencing a menstrual cycle and giving birth. Then there are the things that most guys will never get, because most guys will never wear high heels, get a part of their body waxed or wear a bra.

It's not important that you have deep conversations about the unique experiences related to being a woman, but you need to be aware of what you don't understand and inform yourself from a women's experience, not from your own conclusions.

Be direct and honest: If you aren't sure what a woman is asking of you, speak up. If a girl asks you if you like something, be honest. This isn't a license to be rude or even bluntly honest.  You have to be truthful with women if you want to stand a chance to have a positive relationship with one. If she asks you for a commitment that you can't fulfill, do not commit to it. If this leads to a fight and even a break-up, its better that it happens sooner.

A man doesn't make up a reason to break-up with a girl. He is honest about his feelings and takes the hard road of honesty and not the easy way out through self-degradation or avoidance.

Give up on trying to "figure out" women: Sometimes when I hear men talk about women, it's like these guys are talking about a different species or some kind of puzzle. Don't forget, women are people and the best way to understanding a woman is to simply sit down, open up a conversation and listen, really listen. If you set out to figure out women you will fail, however if you try to get to know a woman as a person and a friend you will "figure out" more than you can imagine.

Women continue to struggle to have control over their own lives, find support from both men and women for the choices they make and resolve conflicting expectations from older generations. The biggest difference between men and guys, is that men acknowledge and respect the unique challenges that woman face, while guys brush off these issues as insignificant.

It is not our job as men to solves these problems for women but we need to do our best to understand these struggles and support women as they deal with these issues.

So will the real men step up?
And since we all came from a woman,
Got our name from a woman and our game from a woman
I wonder why we take from our women
Why we rape our women, do we hate our women
I think it's time to kill for our women
Time to heal our women, be real to our women
                                                            -Tupac Shakur

Monday, February 18, 2013

Mrs. Robinson by Simon & Garfunkel

“Mrs. Robinson” isn’t really about Mrs. Robinson.

The Graduate is one of the greatest films of all time. This film about a recent college graduate’s struggle to figure out his life reflects a shared experience and feeling that twenty-something's across generations experience.

Then of course there is Mrs. Robinson who seduces, the recent college graduate, Benjamin while he is going out with her daughter. The whole cross-generational affair is enough to cause controversy and interest in viewers, but it’s really not the point of the film. The point is . . . well. . . it’s complex and multilayered and you’re just going to have to watch it to figure it out for yourself.

Mike Nichols’ the director of The Graduate became obsessed with Simon & Garfunkel, and asked for three songs to be written for this film. Paul Simon came up with the shell of one about Mrs. Roosevelt, Joe DiMaggio and times past. After some lyric changes, a stripped down version without verse appeared in the film.

Later Simon & Garfunkel completed this song and released it on their 1968 album, Bookends. Along with “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” (which I discussed in this earlier post), “Mrs. Robinson” became one of Simon & Garfunkel’s signature songs and one of the most popular songs of the decade.

Now when I said that this song isn’t about Mrs. Robinson, it’s because, she’s really not a respected or heroic figure in the film. The lyrics of this song really don’t hold the depth that later Paul Simon songs do. He admitted that the Joe DiMaggio reference had more to do with syllables then meaning and also there’s the fact that it was originally Mrs. Roosevelt that he was singing about.

What we are left is really about gratitude, trying to convince someone how important and meaningful they are to the people around them. It’s a beautiful sentiment and every time the chorus rises, you feel a sense of warmth and love.

If you take this song as being separate from the film, it takes on a whole other level of meaning. It’s not about the loss and confusion of The Graduate, rather it’s a reassuring anthem to a person who doesn’t realize how special she is to the people in her life.

Watch The Graduate and sing along with “Mrs. Robinson.” Try not to get them mixed up with each other. Sometimes we find meaning when we put things together but other times we find even more meaning when we look at things separately.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Year 3: Week 21 – Starting All Over Again

My high school orchestra teacher told me that her favorite film about teaching was Music Of The Heart. It wasn’t because of the climax of the film when she gets her students to perform on the stage of Carnegie Hall. It was the ending. After the concert, all of the applause and fanfare, the violin teacher played by Meryl Streep is working with a beginning student teaching them the basics of how to hold a violin.

Yesterday my 6th grade band did an awesome presentation. They played really well and spoke well as they shared their experiences in band this year with the audience.  There was a great feeling of pride and accomplishment within the band.

As soon as we were done cleaning up, I rushed to a 3rd grade class and proceeded to teach them their first song on the recorder, “Hot Cross Buns.” I almost felt like I had an out of body experience as I was teaching. Many of these 3rd graders in a couple years were going to be doing that 6th grade band presentation and here I was starting them out with their first song.

I tell people that even if you teach the same song every day, the different groups of students make the teaching process unique and interesting. While that’s mostly true, as the cycle of the year goes on, you don’t make “progress,” in the traditional sense.

When you teach 5th graders at the beginning of the year and watch them grow and when they leave you, they are very different students.  But then the next fall, when you walk into your 5th grade class, with a whole new batch, you start all over.

Sometimes this is really exciting to get to revisit lessons and try new things. At the same time, teaching has the potential to become stale and feel like drudgery. When we can’t find excitement in starting all over again, that’s when teachers start to slip.

One of the ways that we can stay fresh and motivated is by changing up our curriculum. Unfortunately many teachers do not have this freedom so all you can do when you are asked to teach curriculum that is not engaging to you are the students year after year, is to get excited about getting to know the students.

If the idea of teaching the same book, or the same song for twenty years sounds horrible, don’t be a teacher, because for many teachers, that’s the gig. But if that doesn’t seem so bad, as long as you get the chance to get to know and work with a new class every year, than you might make it as a teacher.

At first I felt a little ridiculous teaching "Hot Cross Buns," but as I saw how interested my 3rd graders were about the song wanting to practice it and find out what hot cross buns actually were, I got excited.  Then I got to work, smiling as I moved around the room helping students amidst the cacophony.  

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

To Be A Man: Drinking Like A Man

A man understands the basics of food and wine pairings and chooses to ignore these conventions if he feels like it. A man knows the difference between scotch and bourbon. And a man has no shame drinking out of a tiki mug and doesn't mind a miniature parasol.

A man doesn't get black out drunk more times in is life than he can count on one hand. A man doesn't try to coerce people to drink alcoholic beverages. And a man doesn't use alcohol as an excuse for things he says or behaviors he regrets.

Men have a very challenging relationship with alcohol. On one hand alcoholic beverages are a beautiful expression of gastronomic creativity and cultural traditions. On the other hand alcoholic consumptions has become associated with masculinity through activities that sometimes focus on excessive drinking.

There is this idea that experiences with drinking are a rite of passage for guys. There are high school proms, fraternity initiations, 21st birthday bar crawls and bachelor parties. All of these moments in guy's lives that represent important life transitions are associated with drinking for many guys, not all, but many.

I’m not arguing that having moments in our lives when we indulge ourselves are bad. But indulgences are risky and sometimes have dire consequences. If we want to have alcohol be part of our lives, celebrations and rituals, that’s fine and if done responsibly, alcoholic beverages can enrich our lives.

We have to get away from this idea of that the ability to drink in excess as a defining characteristic of what it means to be a man. What we are as men are defined by choices we make about our lives and the way that we treat people, not by risky behaviors, which demonstrate a lack of care and good judgement.

I remember guys at parties when I was in college bragging about how much they had drunk and how wasted they were. This is not an expression of masculinity but rather an expression of insecurity. If your expression of confidence and self-worth is defined by drinking habits, there’s a lot of others things in your life that you have to figure out before you are "grown up." 

What separates men from boys isn’t necessarily how much they drink or what they drink, rather how they view drinking. For a man, drinking is about enjoying life even more, not escaping life. For a man, drinking is a choice made independently, not through peer pressure or to prove anything to anyone else.  For a man, a drink is simply a drink, nothing more, nothing less.

What’s in your cup is not a status symbol, it doesn’t define your personality and no one with any true insight into people really cares what you are drinking and how much you drink.

If you enjoy a good drink, awesome, if you don’t that doesn’t make you any less of a man. Don’t let something so minor as the alcohol you consume define you.  If you do drink, don’t let poor choices and insecurities allow your drinking habits to become destructive to the man your evolution as a man.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Again by Janet Jackson

Michael Jackson’s little sister grew up before our eyes.

First there was her time as a child actress and then there was her evolution as a pop music icon. The moment when Janet Jackson became more than simply Michael’s younger sister was in 1993 when she released Janet.

The album cover, first seen on the cover of Rolling Stone shocked the world. I still remember a girl in my middle school who came to school with a t-shirt that had this image, being sent to the principal’s office and being forced to wear that shirt inside out for the rest of the day.

Janet backed up the controversy surrounding this image with great music. “If,” is a thunderous and aggressive dance song with a clever sample of a Motown classic and “That’s The Way Love Goes,” is a groovy, relaxed and unforgettable R & B classic. These songs demonstrated a strength and confidence but the song that always got to me was “Again,” which showed a more vulnerable and sensitive side of Janet.

As a middle school boy, this video blew my mind. There was something about this video that combined Janet’s beauty with a gentle sensuality that was so much more memorable and powerful than many “sexy,” videos of that time or that I’ve seen sense. There’s giggling, there’s fun, there’s anticipation and then there’s the quiet moments, a look in that eye that lingers in the memory like a ghost that you want to go away but you hope never leaves.

There’s not a lot of songs that deal with the aftereffects of a break-up this way. We don’t’ want to show that we actually want to get back together with that person after its over. The strength is in being “Stronger,” like Kelly Clarkson, but the reality is that most break-ups involve the feelings that Janet deals with in “Again.”

She’s conflicted. Janet sings about the tears and the pain, and while she seems to resolves that she’s not going to go through this again, she doesn’t know if she’s strong enough to not fall in love again.

The songs climax’s as Janet sings with anger “Don't you stand there and then tell me, you love me, then leave again!” Then with a trembling voice Janet realizes that she is falling in love again.

There's strength in walking away from a relationship but there's also strength in facing your feelings and taking a chance.  It's not easy to open yourself up to somebody because the more open you are, the more likely that you will get hurt.  Do people deserve a second chance like Janet's love in "Again"?  Maybe, maybe not.  It depends on the circumstance.  However we should always strive for the strength to give ourselves a second chance and take a chance for love. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Year 3: Week 20 – The Wrong Kind Of Expectations

One of the pieces of advice that I received as a young teacher was to have high expectation for my students and to hold them to the expectations that you expressed.

If you actually do this, you will become a frustrated and angry teacher, because students consistently will fail to meet the most basic expectations. So you spend your teaching time getting annoyed at your students.

There’s so much more nuance to this idea of expectations then many people want to consider and want to admit.

There’s two kinds of expectations that great teachers learn to balance.

1. Expressed expectations – the standard of behavior and work that you express to your students: “When you want to share an idea or questions, please raise your hand?”

2. Operational expectations – the behavior and work that you realistically expect out of your students: “A couple times a week, one of my third graders will talk out of turn.”

Students need to hear the expressed expectations and have consequences for not living up to them . However, teachers need maintain operational expectations so that teachers aren’t personally frustrated when your students don’t meet the expressed expectations.

If you know that a students will interrupt at some point in the class, you can be prepared with a response that may seem surprised and offended, but it will not be something that catches you off guard. Part of being a teacher is being an actor and having your operational expectations set to the right level really helps you be prepared for the part that you need to play.

Expressed expectations are established in the beginning of the year and need to be consistently reinforced. Operational expectations on the other hand are constantly in flux as you get to know your students and adjust lessons and approaches to get the operational expectations as close as possible to the expressed expectations.

The thing about teachers is that for the most part we are optimists so our operational expectations are on the high side. We build ourselves up for disappointment but every so often students reach the level of our expressed expectations. When that happens a lot, then you got to raise both kinds of your expectations a little bit higher and you’ll be surprised at how high your students can reach.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

To Be A Man: Fashion

Men have always been into fashion.

It may seem that fashion is an interest only for women but here’s the thing: every time you make a choice on what to wear and how you wear it you are making a fashion statement. You are influencing  fashion and our culture every day you get dressed.

Men have always enjoyed fashion, from the Pharaohs, to the modern hipsters. Now most men don’t spend their time looking at Vogue or watching What Not To Wear, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not part of their lives.

It may seem nigh impossible to come up with any sort of guidelines for how to dress like a man. If you look at the wide variation in fashion from my parents’ generation to now and even within my current generation, there doesn’t seem to be any rules or logic.

There are some things to keep in mind, no matter what style or look you are going for.

Think about the context: You shouldn’t wear the same clothing you wear to paint your house as you would to a job interview. Sports game attire doesn’t fly at most weddings and your work uniform is just weird for a Friday night out with friends. A huge sign of immaturity and one of the most laughable fashion mistakes is not wearing the appropriate dress for occasions. If you’re not sure what to wear: ask. You’d rather be that person who is laughed at for asking, than the person who is laughed at for showing up dressed inappropriately.

Wear clothes that fit: A guy who wears a shirt that is too small to show off his muscles looks just as ridiculous as a guy whose pants are so big he can barely walk in them. Yes, some looks incorporate different kinds of “fits.  Even within that there are levels of wearing things that work. One strategy people often employ to hide parts of their body they don’t like is to wear clothes that don’t really fit. That doesn’t work: EVER.

Wear your clothing: If you are wearing a suit with a dress shirt and tie, button up the top button of the jacket when you stand up, and keep the top button of your shirt buttoned and your tie, snug up against your neck. Pull up your dress pants to your waistline and wear appropriate shoes.  It’s uncomfortable, I know, deal with it. If you’re going to wear an article of clothing or an outfit, wear it right or not at all. Little boys are the ones who complain that a suit isn’t comfortable or is too hot, not men.

Walk the walk: When you are on the basketball court in workout gear you should walk and carry your body in a different way than when you are wearing a tuxedo. If you’re not sure what I mean, the shoes and the clothing will help you figure this out. Suits fit better when you don’t slouch and when you actually pick up your feet and walk, it’s a lot easier to work a pair of dress shoes.

Love what you wear: Explore different kinds of fashion and styles. Try on things that you don’t initially like, give something new a try. Don’t get hung up on brand names and logos. Sometimes they are signs of quality, many time they aren’t. Look instead for quality. Take pride in how you look.

Fashion for men is an expression of who you are, but it’s not a billboard. Men don’t scream about who they are through their clothes.  Instead, let the subtlety and the style of your dress invite people to discover the man that you are and seriously, never leave the house in a pair of pajama pants. 

It's never okay.  

Monday, February 4, 2013

Halo by Beyoncé

There’s been a lot of talk about Beyoncé lately. There was the ridiculous controversy surrounding her performance at the Inauguration (ridiculous because any criticism about her lip-syncing reflects a lack of historical perspective and her role as a pop artist). Then there was the amazing halftime show she performed at the Super Bowl.

As I was watching her perform what struck me was the strength and spirit in her music. I’m not talking about “Bootylicious” (which I discussed in this earlier post). I’m talking about her more recent solo work. The song that exemplifies the power of Beyoncé’s music is “Halo.”

When I started hearing Tyra Banks use the term “fierce” on America’s Next Top Model, I was confused and just figured it was another example of Tyra being weird and crazy. Then there’s Sasha Fierce, the name of the album that features “Halo.”

“Halo” is an unconventional love song. It’s not so much about what somebody does for you that makes you fall in love. It’s about letting you love somebody and being loved in return.

This is really mature reflection on relationships that many people don’t understand. Most people struggle with their own role in the weaknesses of the relationships they have and in “Halo,” Beyoncé embraces them and moves past them.

The first verse is about the emotional walls that Beyoncé puts up and later in the song she sings about “every rule I had you breaking, It’s the risk that I’m taking.” This is a person who found comfort keeping people at a distance and setting up rules so that she wouldn’t get hurt. In this way, many people see themselves as being “strong,” or “fierce.”

That’s not strength.

True strength is reflecting on your feelings and having the guts to open yourself up and be vulnerable. This is a fierceness that would scare anyone who dares to mistreat someone because of their own insecurities.

The production of this song features an aggressive beat but also soft heavenly instruments. It modernizes the 1990s era ballad into something more modern. Beyoncé’s voice is strong but also it's honest. You feel that she’s really been through something to get to this point of strength.

The two videos I featured in this post show Beyoncé making “Halo,” something very special, first for the hospital she was visiting and second, this girl who has lived a life with cancer. Look I have no illusions that Beyoncé is some saint. I don’t look to my pop stars to be on a higher moral plane, but there is special about Beyoncé beyond the dancing, the singing and physical beauty.

There’s halos all around us we just need to tear down our walls to see them in the people is our lives.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Year 3: Week 19 - The Accent

Everyone puts up guards to protect themselves from being hurt by others. Some people don't talk about things they are passionate about while others make jokes as opposed to revealing their true feelings.

Bonnie's guard was her accent. Born and raised in Ireland, Bonnie consciously spoke with an American accent so that she could fit in better and not have to deal with the inevitable barrage of questions about her heritage.

I met Bonnie when I was student teaching. She was a junior French horn player. Bonnie was friendly, positive and very sharp. She was the kind of girl that you could tell was always thinking and being conscientious about what she said and did.

I got to know Bonnie on the marching band field. In conversations during breaks she revealed her background to me and the choice she made bout her accent. I told her that I thought that the variety of accents in our culture were a great thing and that she shouldn't feel like she had to hide her accent. In response she looked straight into my eyes, with a soft smile, paused for a second, and then walked away.

One of the early events in the marching band season was a parents showcase. Parents were invited to come and their children taught them how to march in a block and a couple basic commands. This was a great event that helped students learn by teaching and it helped parents to really understand what goes into being in marching band.

As the students found their parents and placed them in the marching band block I saw Bonnie standing alone holding her mellophone. I walked over and asked her how she was doing. She explained why her parents couldn't be at this event. Bonnie told me that it wasn't a big deal but as she stood watching all of the other students with their parents I could tell  how she really felt.

So I told her, "Look, I'll be your parent, you can teach me how to march and hold the instrument." For once Bonnie was at a loss of words, and then she jumped in teaching me everything I needed to know to be in a marching band. Of course, Bonnie, knew that I could do all of this stuff but we played our parts and we had a great time.

As the event was coming to a close, her American accent began to melt away and her Irish accent emerged. Along with her accent, she conversed in a more relaxed fashion. Without her guard, the best of Bonnie shown brighter.

In later conversations, her Irish accent would slip out in the quiet moments when there wasn't a lot of people around.

Putting up your guard is an instinct that most of us do that in general isn't a bad thing. Very few people are so comfortable with who they are that they can truly be themselves in all situations. The protection our guard makes us feels safe but often hides the best parts of who we are from people we want to connect with.

You never know how your actions, no matter how small and seemingly insignificant helps the people around you be themselves. If you let down your own guard, and are truly present for someone you might just hear someone's true voice.