There is nothing I can say about the shooting in Connecticut that could properly explain my thoughts about the display of evil that occurred there. All I can do is pray for the families who are left behind and for the children who survived and have to cope with this. In an event such as this, there is nothing else to do but turn to God and pray. Pray for peace, for healing, and for all of us to find a way to focus on being kind towards one another. God calls us to be kind, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as in Christ God forgave you." Ephesians 4:32. (Being in Awanas, a children's choir and going to Grace Christian means that I have a large amount of verses that can be easily recalled with catchy tunes) This verse has been frequently popping into my head lately. Before the horror of the Clackamas and Sandyhook shootings, God was compelling me to examine the example I set for my students, and my son, when speaking about or to others.
I am just finishing up teaching Flowers for Algernon for the sixth year in a row. I love the tale of Charlie Gordon and his journey. One of my favorite parts of teaching it is that it forces students to truly examine how they treat people who are different than them, and allows us to help change their use of the word "retarded" as a derogatory adjective. This was the first year I had students openly reject the idea that we should have consideration for those who are outside the norms of society. The argued things like "well you can't change how people speak" and "maybe people with Downs are being sensitive and need to get over it". I was shocked. Normally students are so moved by Charlie's passion over the treatment of the dishwasher that they express shame at having treated other students in negative fashion. A sophomore recently returned to my classroom to ask my help in crafting a letter that complained about the fact that a coach had used the word retarded to refer to another student. She, and the other students, referred to Flowers for Algernon in their argument that the district should not tolerate this. So, how was it possible that six years in my students were callous about this story and how it reflected society?
I would like to tell you that I had Dead Poet's Society moment and inspired them, but in reality I stared at them and then stated that I felt like they had lost their humanity. "We are in fact, speaking about people with thoughts and feelings." was the best thing I could think of to say. (One amazing young man did stand up and tell his peers that they weren't thinking about what it meant to be a good person who considered the feelings of others. I wanted to hug him) The next day, I watched them rip apart an amazing paper written by a recent graduate. None of them had the skill to write a paper of the same quality, but they only had negative things to say about it. In frustration I finally asked them where they learned to be so critical and negative. They thought about it for awhile and replied, "We can't think of any everyday examples of people being kind, but we see a lot of people being sarcastic and critical."
Wow. Along with my recent lesson about the power of words, this statement hit my conscience like a brick. One of the major facets of my job is to be an example of someone who is kind, and I am clearly not doing that. Add to that my new found awareness that my actions will be mimicked and adopted by my son, and my growing awareness that I have developed a habit of responding with snarky comments without being aware of what I am saying. My favorite mode of communication is sarcasm and judgement, and this has been weighing on my heart. I don't want my son to learn to communicate this way, and I owe it to my students to be a better example to them. Finally, I don't want to treat those I love this way. I want to get in the habit of uplifting those I love and break the habit of tearing others down.
I kept thinking about, but not doing anything to change, this situation when my friend Chris wrote about the same theme. His blog, and my feeling of helplessness at the recent horrific events, have pushed me to come up with a plan on how to fix it. I have decided to challenge myself to 51 days of being conscientiously kind. There are 51 days between Christmas and Valentines and I feel that this is clear season of love, so I am going to look for a way to demonstrate kindness through my words and actions each day. My theory is that by practicing kindness for several days I will break the bad habit and develop the good habit. All things take practice, and I am sure it won't be easy, but I feel that this is what I am being called to do. Does anyone want to join me and be accountability partners? My hope is that if even a few of us do this, it will make a difference. It may not end horrors, such as those we have recently witnessed, but it will help us heal. Hopefully, my students will be able to say that they have examples of kindness to emulate, and I can be proud when my son copies my mode of communication. Please help me out with some support. I can't do it alone.