Just like most brains, mine constantly searches for patterns and connections. Lately, I’ve observed an underlying theme in many of the resources that I’ve been culling for teaching next year – the importance of kindness.
After seeing a book recommendation on several blogs, including one of my favorites, “Not Just Child’s Play,” I finally read it during my recent vacation. The book is Wonder, by R.J. Palacio. It is a novel about a boy who is born with a severe facial deformity. After years of being home schooled, he and his family make the decision for him to attend school in 5th grade. The story chronicles his year dealing with ignorant bullies (including students and parents) as well as big-hearted heroes. (Check out the “Choose Kind” Tumblr here.)
I was reminded, near the end of the story, of recent posts on two other blogs, Larry Ferlazzo’s and Sonya Terborg’s, referencing a graduation speech given by George Saunders. George Saunders, during his speech, says, “What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.”
In Wonder, during a graduation speech, one of the main characters offers a quote from J.M. Barrie, “Shall we make a new rule of life…always try to be a little kinder than is necessary?”
Those quotes led me back to two other great speeches I have featured on this blog – by Jeff and Mark Bezos. Mark Bezos, in his simple story about an experience as a volunteer firefighter, gives us this, “Not every day is going to offer us a chance to save somebody’s life, but every day offers us an opportunity to affect one.”
And Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, gave this powerful quote that I feel is an excellent reminder for my gifted students, “What I want to talk to you about today is the difference between gifts and choices. Cleverness is a gift, kindness is a choice. Gifts are easy — they’re given after all. Choices can be hard. You can seduce yourself with your gifts if you’re not careful, and if you do, it’ll probably be to the detriment of your choices.”
The question I asked myself (and many of you may also confess to thinking) as I read Wonder and George Saunders’ speech was, “Which one am I – the kind person or the bully?” The truth is, unfortunately, that most of the time as a child I was the one who did nothing. In the eyes of some people, that is even worse.
I like to believe that I am stronger than that now. I like to believe that I model choosing kindness on a regular basis for my students and my own daughter. I like to believe that I show them that it is not always the easiest decision, but it is the best.
I recommend sharing Wonder with your students. Have some genuine discussions about the importance – and the difficulty – of bestowing kindness. Let them share their stories, and, whenever you can, share your own stories about kindnesses you gave, didn’t give, or wish you had received. The world needs more conversations like these.