I was walking down the hall at Williamson Elementary the other afternoon, and as I passed the library I saw the counselor teaching a class of older students. I heard her talking about saying please, thank you and I’m sorry, and asking the students to identify which they would say in various scenarios. It seemed very basic stuff to me, and I thought how sad it was that we have to teach manners in school.
It would be easy to say that inner city parents don’t teach their kids manners, and blame some amorphous villain. But that simply isn’t true. It doesn’t matter what school you go in, you are going to find children who have been taught kindness and respect and those who have not.
The most powerful way to teach civil behavior is to model it. There are many places where adults congregate, including church, where it is clear no one has taught them to be nice. We live a life of rushing, of fear, of imagined scarcity, and so sometimes we lead with our elbows. I am always moved and deeply impressed when I see people stop, pay attention and choose kindness.
I have a picture in my mind from the Charlottesville protests. A toddler, barely able to walk, clothed in a bright white Klan outfit from head to toe. I was horrified. What will that child know but how to hate? It will take a lifetime of pain and isolation to unlearn the cruelty and meanness. That poor baby is being taught a very specific way of treating people. Heartbreaking.
While I cannot change what is happening in that family, I can be very intentional about what is happening in my own. I can work to be a sign of peace. I can work on my temper, on forgiving and forgetting, on practicing kindness over being right. I can set a more reasonable pace, lower my stress and take time to be with people I love and who love me. I can be what I want from others, live the life that I hope for others.
All of this is hard work. But I can’t leave it to a school counselor to accomplish. She has enough work to do. We all must reset our priorities, put others first, and be nice. That is the world we all want to live in, so that is how we must live.