October 23, 2018
I posted last month about some of the reasons we teach social skills here at Greenwood, both through explicit instruction and through casual integration into various courses and teaching moments that our faculty take advantage of to insert a little extra guidance. Today, though, I want to focus specifically on our communication with one another—students, teachers, administrators, families, vendors and maintenance personnel, even the postal carrier that comes by the School in the morning. I’m having some deep thoughts that I couldn’t get off my mind the past couple days, so bear with me, please!
Many of you have heard that the state of Florida has established the Hope Scholarship program for families of students who have experienced severe bullying, intimidation, harassment, etc. at their schools. It saddens me greatly to even imagine that such a program has been made necessary by the actions of others, and reinforces to me the responsibility we have here at Greenwood to teach and model appropriate communication and respect for others. Why do some people seem to have such a capacity for unkindness to others? Please allow me to express a few personal theories and observations.
1. Focusing on individual rights as more important than doing right to every individual. Too many people are so intent upon doing what they think will make themselves happy, and it often comes at the expense of others’ well-being.
2. Forgetting to LISTEN to one another (or deliberately refusing to try). Too many people handle conflict and disagreement with a verbal sledgehammer, trying to pound their point home instead of seeking to understand others’ perspectives.
3. Fostering a distorted view of success that emphasizes personal gain over community good. Look at the role models that are placed in front of our young people in the media every day. I am certain there are wonderful personal qualities in these individuals—but most often what is reported and celebrated about them is their lavish lifestyle and possessions.
Greenwood School students stand out amongst their peers because they are taught—both explicitly and by example—that there are better ways. We start with the individual student: “If you want to get to know someone, you don’t begin by judging them on everything they do wrong. You start by approaching them with a sense of inquisitiveness and openness” (Rinzler, 2014, p. 11). Our academic programs are strengths-based, and that personal relationship with the individual student is focused on valuing them as a person in order to meet their academic and social-emotional needs.
We emphasize “kindness and mutual respect” as a daily practice, and our students learn to listen to others’ views while withholding judgement. When we discuss communication with one another here at Greenwood—between any and all individuals, a precept of the sangha monastic community comes to my mind:
“Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech, I vow to cultivate right speech. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I will do my best to not lie, to not gossip or slander, to not use harsh or idle speech, and to not say things that bring about division or hatred. I aspire to always speak the truth.”
Kindness costs an individual nothing, except our own ego. That is why conflict and disagreement at Greenwood are handled as teaching moments, with the aim of fostering the skills of a good listener; good listeners become productive thinkers and have positive impact upon those around them.
Finally…what does success mean for a Greenwood graduate? Most of our students, especially if they had a class with me, would be able to tell you that I’ve often told them that as far as careers are concerned, the criteria include: 1) Are you doing something you enjoy; 2) Is it providing for your bills; and, 3) Is it legal (I had to add that one after a particularly sarcastic suggestion from a past graduate). But truly, the theme that I endeavor to impress upon every Greenwood student is that their success in life is most genuinely measured by their ability to leave others better off for having met them—whether that means they have a career that positively impacts their communities’ health or economic well-being, whether they are using their time and talents to spread happiness to others, or they end up leading a company, team of individuals, their family…whatever their impact will be, if it is positive and kind, then they are successful.
I was privileged to grow up watching one of those role models who was celebrated for the right reasons—Mr. Fred Rogers—and I’m so excited that he’s going to be honored with a film about his life and what his life meant to those he influenced with his kindness and generous attitude. It is my hope today that we will all determine to focus our efforts, in partnership with one another, to set the example in our communications and actions that will encourage our students to continue to make the world a better and happier place.
Note: the quote cited above is from Lodro Rinzler’s 2014 book, The Buddha Walks into the Office. Its use as a resource does not constitute any religious-oriented endorsement by Dr. Mortimer and Greenwood School—it is simply good advice on being kind to one another!