Thursday, August 15, 2013

Kindness

Err on the side of kindness.  That's the message I got from George Saunders' wonderful commencement speech at Syracuse University.  Such a simple messsage.  Such a profound message.

So why is it so hard to practice?

When I started teaching elementary school many, many years ago, I did all the required course work, I did my student teaching, then I got my first job in a parochial school.  And yet, it was all wrong.

It was all about discipline, or rather, test scores and discipline.  I'd thought there would be more.  So at the end of the year, I changed and went to work in the public shool system.

My first prinicipal was a widely feared straight as an arrow disciplinarian who terrified me as thoroughly as if I were one of the children being called on the carpet.  She was ramrod straight, with steel gray hair and an icy stare that made the grungiest gangsta wannabes tremble.

I was terrified.

But right away, she called me in her office and wished me luck.  Then she said something to the effect of "The only piece of advice I am going to give you, other than what's written in the teacher's handbook, is this: always err on the side of the child."  Such simple advice.  So profound.

And I did.  I did exactly what she said for over a dozen years.

When I stopped doing that, I stopped teaching.

I know it isn't exactly the same thing, but I think it's very close.  It could also be thought of as erring on the side of respect.  I believe those two things are sorely lacking in today's world, after all, respect and kindness go hand in hand.

Thanks for stopping by today.  If you're interested, check out the wonderful commencement speech here http://6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/31/george-saunderss-advice-to-graduates/  in case you haven't had a chance.

Afterthought:  Next time, I will tell you about my "failure of kindness," another part of Mr. Saunders' speech.  Oh, there has been more than one, for certain.  But this one particular instance stuck in my mind.

But that's for next time.  Until then, remember, life is fragile, treat it with care (All For Love quote, 5 Prince Publishing).



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