TOADTalk: "People are hard to hate up close. Move in."

Dietrich Schuhl described Thacher as a community that fights the sense of otherness while embracing differences.
As always, the Monday morning All-School Assembly launched with the Teacher On Active Duty (TOAD) addressing the community. This week, we heard from Dietrich Schuhl, whose TOADTalk is featured below. He teaches AP biology and environmental science, coaches the boys’ JV Cross Country and the Track teams, and provides homework assistance in Upper School. Mr. Schuhl joined the Thacher faculty this year.

Good morning. I’m Mr. Schuhl and I have the distinguished honor of serving as this week’s Teacher on Active Duty—your humble TOAD. I’ve been thinking ahead to this responsibility since Mr. Carney told me about it back in August. I was excited to be granted a platform like this, where I could share a bit of myself to a captive audience of new students, friends, and colleagues. I understand that, as a new teacher, this talk will provide for many of you, a first impression of me and what I value, so I really don’t want to miss the mark.

And so here’s where I’m a bit conflicted. I want my words today to be uplifting, to be cheerful, maybe a little funny, and to also reflect my great appreciation for being here in this special place with each of you. After all, I am enormously grateful to have been welcomed to Thacher as  warmly as could ever be imagined. You even let my crazy dog, Tucker, audit the classes I teach. I am very grateful, but at the same time, I’m carrying with me today a heavy heart and an acute sense that while we are fortunate to share this special corner of the world with amazing people, there is a great deal of turmoil and human suffering just beyond our peaceful campus. I think
it’s important that we keep this in mind as we look forward to the upcoming holiday. Let us not forget that right now, hundreds perhaps thousands of hungry, tired, desperate, and yet hopeful people are walking from Central America and across Mexico to seek refuge in our country from violence and abject poverty. I can hardly imagine how horrible the situation must be to grab whatever you can carry, to uproot or perhaps worse, break apart your family, without any assurances your journey will be successful. Remember how challenging it was to hike for a few miles on our EDTs? And we knew we had a home to return to when we were done. A week ago, in Thousand Oaks, America had our 307th mass shooting in 2018. On a hunch, I went to check this stat, and unfortunately there was already another mass shooting in Tennessee yesterday. There are many ways to explain these mass shootings, but ultimately, they all seem to be rooted in the same sense of otherness, of division.

And of course, the fires raging through California have yet to finish carving their destructive path. For the families that have lost their loved ones and their homes, this Thanksgiving will take a distinctly different tone. Without enormous support from friends and loved ones, I can imagine that tone would also carry a sense of separation and aloneness.

These are challenging times with plenty of opportunities for us to pull ourselves away, to allow a sense of otherness to creep in. To feel divided. We see this happening across our country and perhaps even in our own families.

But, and here’s where I’m turning the corner in this talk, it doesn’t have to be that way. I know it and you know it too. Because right in front of me, in all of you, I see a community that seeks to bridge the divide. A community that fights that sense of otherness while still embracing the differences that make us unique. Well, maybe we could tolerate a little more uniqueness with the rules about haircuts, but we definitely embrace the big stuff. And no, we’re not perfect. But a quick look around will remind you that this is a special place.

I think one of the reasons we’re such an accepting community comes from the sheer fact that we live together. One of my favorite social scientists, Brené Brown, says, “people are hard to hate up close. Move in.” Well, we all literally moved in back in August, so we’ve had time to figure this out. Getting close makes it pretty hard to hate each other. We also make it a point at Thacher to get each of you out of your comfort zones, so that all the stuff that makes us different goes away just long enough to put us on similar ground—to see each other up close. And my sense is that, the more we do this—the more we see that we’re all in this together—the better
off we’ll be.

My wish is that we all take a little bit of Thacher with us when we leave. And that we share it with those around us. That we make an effort, not to pull away when differences arise, not to shout when we disagree, but to whisper as we “move in.” I’d like to close with something that’s gonna seem a little corny and definitely sentimental. When I was a kid and into my teens, I definitely thought this little ritual I’m going to share with you was corny, so please just bear with me and play along. When my family sat down for dinner at Thanksgiving, we always took a moment
before the meal to join hands and go around the table and share one thing for which we were thankful. When the whole family came together, this meant up to 25 or so thank yous. All while staring at a delicious meal with stomachs growling. I’ll never forget when my 92-year-old grand mom said, “I’m just glad to be here!.” The most unifying part of the ritual came last: When the last family member had spoken, we’d all give two quick squeezes with our hands and say, “And two squeezes ‘cause I love You.”

So here’s what I’d like to do. I want to close with two squeezes ‘cause I love you, but we don’t have time to go around the audience individually so in just a second, we’ll join hands and share one thing we’re grateful/thankful for with our neighbor and then I’ll call out, two squeezes.
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