“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
— Maya Angelou
As we approach the end of August, schools across the nation are opening for classes. My social media feed is full of photos of sometimes smiling (sometimes not) young people posing for the ubiquitous “back to school” photos.
Before boarding that big yellow bus, carpool ride, or, if you live in Norman Rockwell’s 1950s America, walking to school, I think it is important to remember the No. 1 thing that should be the focus of any and every school year: be kind.
Yes, I said it. I am the parent of some high achieving kids, if I do say so myself — athletic standouts, drama club leads, salutatorian of the graduating class. I’m sure I sound obnoxious but bear with me. I’m just setting the stage here. Our children have been out of high school for four and five years. That is enough time to let hindsight be fully focused.
With all that I am here to tell you: no one really remembers what your win/loss record was in your high school sport. No one but you, and maybe your parents, really cares if you set a school record.
As I reassured my “star” athletes many times over, being a big fish in a small pond really isn’t that big of a deal. Just enjoy yourself. Be a good sport. Enjoy the camaraderie. Take younger players under your wing.
On that note, no one really remembers who had the best solo on stage, or what the graduation speeches were all about. Doubt me? Quick, name your high school Valedictorian. If it wasn’t you, it’s highly likely you do not remember. I know I don’t. It definitely was not me.
Now, I’m going to ask another question: name a time you were bullied. Or, at the very least, that someone was unkind or mean, or you felt left out and hurt. I bet, no matter how many years — decades, even — it has been, you still recall the experience. That old adage about “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me?” It’s a lie.
None of us are perfect. I was not always impeccably kind to everyone. I regret that now. I have often told the story of my venting about “mean girls” in preschool. I was full of ire at how exclusive kids could act at such a young age!
A friend turned to me and said, “you mean like your daughter does to mine?” I could have died.
And yes, at her tender age of 4, we sat down and explained to our otherwise sweet girl that just because you want to sit by your “bestest friend,” you cannot tell someone else not to sit with you!
A column I once wrote surmised that it was entirely possible our son, for his part, was raised by wolves. We corrected that behavior too, This is how we learn. I swore that with God as my witness, I would not raise mean kids.
I am proud of our children for many reasons but I beam the most when someone tells me how nice they are. I am not here to say that humans will never be thoughtless or cruel. I am here to say we can and must learn and do better. “That’s just kids” isn’t an excuse.
As parents and guardians are sending kids off to school, I think it’s time for a little refresher. Please note that teaching young people to “not be mean” is not enough. We must teach our young people to actively be kind. Kindness is an action.
Teach your child — particularly those that have confidence and leadership abilities — to use their power for good. If they see a student struggling, reach out. If they see a student being picked on, intervene or get help. If a student is shy or not part of the “in crowd,” include them.
In fact, let’s do away with the “in crowd.” I would love to drive a stake through the heart of popularity contests and cliques. That starts with spreading out the “popular” kids. It’s a startling idea for some, but your kids do not have to eat lunch or ride the bus with their “BFFs” every day. Teach those “leaders” to smile, say hi, welcome new people to sit with them and include them.
Now is the time to use your popularity for positive change. Years from now no one will care if you were the king or queen of the lunchroom or prom. They will, however, remember forever if you were kind.
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