Given that I am not the most overtly compassionate creature ever to walk the face of the earth, I do try to take pause every year around this time. As I giddily count down to the first day of school, my main concerns are uniforms, shoes, and supplies. Sadly, this is not the case for many parents.
Many parents are worried sick.
It broke my heart to read a post on a community Facebook page recently from a mother despondent over sending her daughter back to school. Her admittedly quirky child had been facing bullies and isolation at school, and the mom’s plea was simply to make parents (and hopefully children) aware that sometimes a warm smile and friendly gesture go far.
After a week where the country showed tremendous division over everything from Robin Williams’ death to the events in Ferguson to the merits of the ALS ice bucket challenge, it is no wonder the world is facing a massive crisis of compassion. The ability to give an inch, to try to understand someone else’s perspective, or to simply agree to disagree has been obliterated. Lines in the sand have been drawn. Agree with me or cease to exist. It is a dismal and prevailing creed of the times.
And it is in this environment where we expect kids to celebrate differences, quirkiness, and the inherent beauty of each child.
Hubris and inflexibility are definitely not strangers to my profile. I can be as childish and mean as Nellie Oleson on a bad day. Yet in hearing and reading about all the worries and anxieties of parents sending their kids back to school, someone needs to be the adult in the room. Now is the time to talk to kids about standing up for others, asking the solitary child to participate in a game, and demonstrating a kindness that is currently lacking in public discourse.
This summer, I watched a gaggle of boys get into a heated dispute over the rules of the sport they were playing. Each side swore sacred allegiance to whatever statute they believed to be true. Some of the kids started to push, and I was about to step in to drag my kids home. That was when an old soul of a 10-year-old offered a compromise. Still not completely happy with the concession, each side nonetheless continued the game.
To live, work, and play alongside people who do not always agree with us is how the game of life goes. It is how we learn and develop cooperation skills and critical thinking. To completely dismiss someone’s perspective, life experiences, or allegiances simply because they are different from one’s own ensures mental decay. This is not what I want for my boys’ formative years.
Disagree? Yes. Dismiss? Never.
As this school year commences, the most important message to my kids will be that they do not have to love everyone. They do not have to like everyone. They certainly do not have to agree with everyone.
But they do need to make sure everyone at least gets the chance to play.