Simple Kindness

Standing in the crosswalk at drop off and pickup yields daily lessons in kindness for me. Everyone stops to make time for pedestrians, everyone takes their turn, everyone lives with the occasional strange parking maneuver, knowing it’s no big deal. I’ve heard a horn honk maybe three times all year. And there’s plenty of waving. Gets me thinking of the fundamental importance of just being good to one another in a school community—and what’s at stake given what’s happening in the wider culture.
Here's what we’re up against, from my vantage point—the assumptions about what we can expect from one another and what we should expect from ourselves took a hit during the pandemic. And no, I don’t want to be one of those nags that blames everything on COVID but think about it. We spent long stretches of time in small family units or alone, wondering when life would get back to normal and dealing with all kinds of frustrations along the way. We kinda had to be self-focused, even as we were pressed to respond to what was happening to others around us. And it was draining.
The familiar elements of living among others risked being lost in that time away, and other people were often seen as potential risks to our own well-being. Or if we weren’t worried about that, we risked being busy criticizing people who were worried about what might happen. Then we all got stirred back into the mix, without any agreed upon instructions about how that was supposed to work. And here we are.
Combine that reality with the increasingly nasty partisan political debate (if you could even call it that), the 24-hour media feed that amplifies our differences, and the basic tribalism that separates us more than ever in recent memory. People now trumpeting the freedom to say, write, and do whatever they choose as a core value without any corresponding responsibility to think who might be negatively affected—with the loudest voices being the ones that got the most attention. When’s the last time you heard anyone being publicly praised for compromising? Right now that seems like a sign of weakness and not a strength, maybe even a character flaw.
Now against that backdrop, consider the children who’ve lived a larger percentage of their lives in that environment than we have—in the cases of our youngest, it’s most of what they have known. What did they (and didn’t they) learn about looking out for other people in the last few years? The simple arithmetic confirmed by lots of folks who work with kids is that the social cost of the pandemic has been at least as big as the academic cost, especially in families that have educational resources—leaving many young people two years behind what we’d typically expect from children their age.
What’s to be done? We need to model for them what we’d hope to see from them. Every act of kindness, every thoughtful reflection, every commitment to the common good can ripple outward to the kids in our care and to their friends. My hope remains that we normalize being caring to one another and marginalize being mean, even in jest. Puts me in mind of a great book from Nell Noddings at Stanford called The Challenge to Care. Let’s practice that concept already so visible in the parking lot.
What I like about kindness is that it’s non-partisan. Doesn’t belong to any tribe or denomination. Let’s reinforce the importance of owning one’s place in the community, from the smallest to the tallest. I see our students figuring this all out in real time, and I know it calls for patience—they say and do some pretty unkind things, but most importantly, they are learning—in large measure from us. We just need to offer them great examples from which to learn. I can’t think of anything much more important for the lives they will lead.
And it seems appropriate to point out that you’re kind to read,