Friday, May 08, 2015

After the Car Bombs

I flipped on the television to kick off a discussion this morning about preparing for job interviews with some classic clips from Chandler's ill-fated interview on Friends.

But what initially turned up on the screen was an article from the Washington Post I had queued on my laptop to read later. It tells the story of Karim Wasfi, the conductor of the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra, who sat in a chair on the sidewalk where a car bomb had exploded the day before and played his cello.

"He's probably the one who detonated the bomb and he's come back to celebrate, to rub it in their faces," said an inmate in the front row without missing a beat after reading the headline. Some of the class laughed and nodded. "You can't tell the good guys from the bad."

"That is really your first thought?" I asked. I shouldn't have been surprised. Every day I am reminded in myriad ways that people view the world differently than I do.

I scanned the article to reinforce my belief in humanity. “It’s about reaching out to people exactly where someone had experienced something so grotesque and ugly earlier,” Wasfi said . . . “The spot where people lost their lives, the spot where people were still trying to stay alive, trying to function.”

"He's trying to create something beautiful in a devastated space," I pushed back. "To reclaim it from the terrorists. To help people in the neighborhood find some hope."

Then I remembered the homework assignment I'd given them moments before to prepare for our next class, when we'll be talking about handling questions about their criminal record in an interview. A key strategy, I told them, is to get the conversation on your terms. Instead of being reluctant or defensive or justifying yourself, which won't go over well, face your experiences head on and talk about what you've learned from them. Focus on moving forward.

There is a metaphor for us somewhere in Wasfi's story, I said.

Sit with your past and become the cello player.

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