Power is very magnetic. We are drawn to those who seem to hold the power to make things happen. We are charmed by politicians who exude confidence and the power to make a certain campaign promise reality. “Vote for me – I am powerful.” Yet this is very far from the reality of power. True power and the ability to change something comes about when people work together, not against each other. This is the message I teach my students. Our differences, including our different opinions, different viewpoints, and different ways to get something done, and how we collaborate toward a solution what makes us all successful and empowers mankind to new achievements.
Build on one another’s strengths and tolerate differences is a worthy principle to live by. But it is the ongoing human dilemma to adhere to or carry it out. Just a peek at Social Media and the disparaging remarks, name calling and language used toward people that are strangers is downright appalling. Do abusive words make one’s Twitter post more powerful than others? Is giving someone a piece of one’s mind how rational adults deal with one another? Do we want our children to see the world where adults so readily spew anger and harsh judgement to one another?
Our children are most vulnerable. Some children see and emulate this behavior because using judgmental words or directing hateful comments feels like power. And because children see adults behave this way and think being an adult means “You can say anything you want no matter how hurtful those words may be to others.”
Caring adults teach a child that true power is not controlling another, but having power over oneself. I wanted my children to know that when you choose how you will react and your choice is based on your higher beliefs, you have the real power. Caring adults who teach children to “Have courage and be kind.” as a motto to live by teach an inner strength and self-respect. Adults teach best through their example. By doing so, they have imbued a core strength that will last that child a lifetime.
Kindness is the highest form of wisdom. One who is kind, in spite of one’s circumstances, will prevail over one who is spiteful. Kindness is the true power. It takes courage to be kind. One needs to be true to oneself and keep one’s dignity in the face of others who attempt to tear that down with their words in order to “be kind” and not “respond-in-kind”. In this way, kindness is universally recognized as a higher power because it overcomes one’s own instincts and chooses a response in keeping with one’s values.
So is this my plan to avert bullying behavior in my classroom or my school? Yes, but no. It is much more than that. Teaching children the impact of words and the strength to choose kindness is to teach children that this is a respected character trait of a strong adult. A child who learns this is a giant step closer to being fully self-actualized. (Carl Rogers).
To “be kind” is not merely “nice” or “thoughtful” behavior. It is about how one sees oneself. It’s about one’s identity. It’s about being congruent with one’s own beliefs. Children learn that being verbally victimized by another is wrong. They know this because they have experienced someone being mean to them. To then teach a child to “fight back” with the same behavior is therefore not congruent with what they know is wrongful behavior and doesn’t make the child stronger either. The “fight back” advice actually leads children to believe that “kindness” is a sign of weakness. And when a child is too fearful to follow that advice, self-respect suffers and guilt gets a toe hold.
Instead, teach that having courage and being kind doesn’t mean that one passively chooses to be a victim. Which is stronger – the castle wall that still stands despite the arrows hurled at it, or the wall that falls on top of the attacker? Sometimes the most courageous and strongest thing to do is refrain from attacking the other person in return. The most courageous thing to do is walk away and keep in mind that the other person hasn’t yet learned the strength of kindness. There is pride and dignity when one chooses to refrain from sinking to the other person’s lower behavior.
How can you teach students the strength in kindness? As a teacher, you can foster meaningful, relevant thinking whether you have high school students or kindergarteners. Use a quote about kindness as a writing prompt following some examples you provide in class. Literature for all ages is full of characters who grapple with and succeed in kindness in the face of adversity. So is real life. No matter what subject one teaches – history, math, science, music, art, athletics, or literature, there are people who have overcome their difficulties with courage and kindness. Find those stories and have your students think, discuss and write about how important it is. The time you spend on this lesson is well worth it. A positive change in attitudes will give you greater gains with your students’ interactions. You will have empowered your students with the core belief essential for success and confidence. You will have made your classroom a better place to be for all your students.