This fall, it seemed providential that our monthly values fit perfectly with this very unusual time in our country. We have been accustomed to “the way we have always done it” with regards to elections and public debate. The months leading up to the election threw many of us off kilter. Politics aside, what has thrown me most off balance was the manner in which we, as a society, have found a sense of freedom in expression that lost civility, respect, compassion, tolerance, and kindness. This new freedom represents a huge step backwards, giving voice to those who are much less tolerant of people who may be different in mind, body, or spirit. Hate crimes have been on the rise, and disrespectful behavior is openly displayed without regard for the harm that it causes. In many ways, my heart is breaking for our country. And the main reason for my heartbreak: the children.
For those of us who teach, lead, and model for our students, we have agreed to certain principles that, although not always perfectly carried out, do establish how we should treat one another. We carry a huge responsibility to model civility, respect for one another, kindness to all, forgiveness, and humility. We often discuss, beginning in Chapel, the need to choose our words carefully, to be inclusive, to avoid teasing behavior that is hurtful to others. Above all, we speak about the courage it takes to be kind, to make St. Michael’s a place of kindness, and to practice forgiveness when feelings are hurt. With that being said, however, our students see different behaviors displayed at times, both at school and out in the world. Our community is a family, and therefore the expectation is that we will treat one another with compassion and care. It is much too easy, however, to use alternate forms of communication through electronic devices or social media to exclude someone or to say hurtful things that ultimately cause a sense of discomfort at school or within a class community. So what are we to do, particularly when so many role models in the world display a different behavior?
I believe that it is important that we, as adults, continue to reinforce our expectations for how we treat one another. That message should come from our faculty and staff at school and from parents at home. As members of the faculty and staff, we have agreed always to demonstrate integrity and honesty, show concern for the welfare of others, act responsibly, demonstrate respect for the rights of others, build trust in professional relationships, and demonstrate professional demeanor at all times. In living into this, we strive to be true role models for our students. At the same time, we can give our children social tools that will help them to navigate successfully through challenging situations, while learning to treat everyone with kindness and respect. It’s not a one-shot lesson. Constant reinforcement is necessary, both for adults and children. But I believe that we have an obligation to be different from the trends of the world. We have an opportunity, in the face of the current challenges, to be a different type of school: one that is respectful, tolerant, safe, and, above all, kind. It does take courage, but the students we send out into the world can be leaders and set the example for a kinder, gentler world. For that, I remain optimistic.