The recent presidential election brought about an unprecedented level of vitriol, hate and anger in our country. As a history teacher I had to go back to the election of 1800 between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams to find such a divisive campaign. As an educator I am deeply disturbed by the number of stories coming from college and high school campuses that talk about students being threatened based on their race, gender identity, religion, sexuality and beliefs. Now more than ever schools like Dublin must engage in intense conversation and encourage active listening.
This past Monday during a day of professional development I asked our faculty to talk about how we teach our students how to be kind and thoughtful citizens. I asked them what kindness looks like, what behaviors and habits of mind we want to see in our students, and what methods we can use to develop these behaviors and habits. The conversation was dynamic and insightful and once again I was impressed with the depth of thinking of the adults in our community.
The faculty made it clear that kindness was something more than a smile or a predilection for being polite. They emphasized the need for proactive kindness rather than just reactive kindness. If I could humbly attempt to consolidate the multitude of thoughts offered that morning I would suggest that we feel that kindness begins with self awareness. What assumptions, power, feelings, backgrounds are we bringing to the table when we interact with other people and how do these impact how we come across to others. We believe that we need to listen actively to other people and not always work to bring the conversation back to ourselves. We need to stay with the other person and seek to truly understand where they are coming from, even and especially if we disagree with their point of view. Kindness means putting aside our own needs and having the strength to be truly empathetic.
There is power in empathy, in putting our own needs aside and going beyond the Golden Rule to find out how other people want to be treated since it may be different than how we want to be treated ourselves. In Morning Meeting the following day, I spoke to our students about these issues and pointed out that our community is filled with a multitude of people coming from a variety of different micro and macro cultures. Through active listening and intense conversation we can learn what motivates people, how their culture views things like extended family, honor, courage, love, etc. We need to be brave and address unkindness when we see it. Kindness is difficult.
When I asked the faculty how we are teaching and should teach kindness they emphatically shared that kindness starts with the adults. In a world that is filled with unkindness we must model the very kindness we want to see in others. We must be kind to our individual selves and take care of ourselves so we can take care of others. We must set limits in our classrooms so students gain an understanding of what is kind language and what is not without quashing their ability to speak their minds. We must continue to use Morning Meeting to recognize and model kindness. Faculty and students frequently stand up to express appreciation to one another, and three or four times a year we take the time to allow people to give “shout-outs” to people who have been kind. We must use sports and sportsmanship to teach kindness in the heat of competition. Clubs like Amnesty International and our new Philanthropy Club help students see the world from the perspective of an other. We can communicate with our advisees and ask them questions like, how have you been kind this week? How have you have been brave? How have you failed?
My hope is that our students see there is truth in vulnerability, there is courage in kindness and that together we can make our world a more civil and inclusive place for generations to come.