Be The Kindness That You Teach
I teach a bullying workshop twice a year.
It started as a bullying workshop, but now it’s evolved into a social and emotional learning workshop for middle school students.
We teach them that they’re not going to be best friends with everyone that they meet.
We teach them that even though they’re not going to be best friends, or like the people in their classes, or the ones that they meet in the cafeteria or the hallways, or even at soccer practice after school — it doesn’t mean that they’re allowed to be mean.
It doesn’t mean that they can be cruel.
It doesn’t mean that they can go out of their way to make the person who they don’t like to feel horrible, for dislike is not a license to hurt and harm.
We teach them that they should navigate this world with a baseline of human decency and respect for their fellow humans — and that showing decency and respect doesn’t mean that they will sit around a campfire, holding hands and singing songs — it just means that they will live and let live.
It just means that sometimes they won’t make a friend, sometimes they’ll just walk away.
We teach them that bullying — whether it’s face to face or on their screens, is never okay.
We remind them that screens are not going to go anywhere — but they must learn how to use the technology at their fingertips in a way that adds value to this world.
We remind them that if they have a problem with someone, they should talk about it, and not air it on their social media feeds. We encourage kindness and communication and compassion.
We show them that there is no honor or bravery in adding shame to people’s stories — especially on the internet.
We teach our children this. And show them this. And do our best to help guide them through the rocky terrain that is middle school.
And then, as adults, we do the opposite of what we preach and teach all too often.
And our children see that.
They read that.
They internalize that, too.
When you post horrible things on your Facebook feeds, ranting about tender, painful moments of life that would be best worked out around the table of your home — those words will eventually find your kids. (And let’s be honest — nothing ever good comes from fighting in the comments section of the internet.)
When you purport openness, and empathy, and sensitivity — and then post screenshots of a private conversation on your Instagram story — you’re not teaching anyone. You’re not morally superior. You’re not showing people how enlightened you are — you’re just adding shame to the story of another.
And our kids — all of our kids, see that, too.
We teach our kids about being respectful and kind.
We teach them to listen, and we remind them that everyone is carrying a different story within their bones.
We teach them to face their problems face to face and not to be a bully and hide behind screens.
We teach these things to our children — it’s time to put them into practice as adults.
Use your social media presence to pour positivity and goodness back into this world.
Recognize that you’re not going to like everyone you meet — and that that’s ok. But it’s also not a reason to be a jerk, either.
Stop hiding behind screens, and engage with the ones who surround you in your life — in times of peace and in times of unrest.
Be the kindness and respect that you preach and teach.