It has been a tumultuous year! Even with that big word, my comment seems to be an understatement. The 2020 Pandemic and our grief for those who have suffered or succumbed has made many of us pause and take note of the fragility of life and how unprepared we are when a loved one has departed. What have we learned from our experiences this year? In this blog, I reflect on new perspectives on daily life due to events this year.
When I was an elementary principal, “have courage and be kind” was my mantra. I wanted my students and staff to understand and live this mantra as well. It takes courage to do the right thing despite whatever fear one is facing. There are always options for our response in a crisis. But when you understand what courage is, you are able to make a decision about your actions instead of letting fear grip your thinking. Built into an act of courage is a dusting of hope. This is essential because without hope, one would not muster the courage to act. This year we have seen courage all around us in our communities where essential workers gloved up, masked up, stood up, and carried on because people needed them. Even in the face of an insidious virus seeking its next victims, these people chose to step up to keep the hospitals open, the grocery stores open, pick up our trash, transport goods, keep financial and technology resources flowing, hold Zoom worship services, deliver the mail, teach our children, and provide care for others unable to care for themselves. These essential workers have also kept our hope afloat as we struggle to get through this tough time.
These essential workers remind me of The Greatest Generation who pitched in, tightened their belts, and boldly defended the lives of their fellow man in World War II. These were not a few unknown caregivers who survived rations and going without and maintaining faith in one another. These were my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles who lived through those harrowing times and doing what needed to be done in the hope that the generations to follow would not have to experience the fear, anguish, and self-sacrifice that they did. This does not seem to be the case in the Pandemic of 2020. I cannot help but puzzle over individuals claiming their right to NOT wear a mask superseded their responsibility to the well-being of others. What would The Greatest Generation have done? Somewhere along the way, the altruism of our previous generations has not fully been handed down. Individual patriotism has morphed from “what you can do for your country” to “I know my rights!” A true patriot knows there is no true freedom for anyone if one does not also recognize one’s responsibility to the welfare of others. To be sure, there are selfish individuals in every generation and in every community big and small. There are those who have a selfish impulse and later regret their actions. There are those whose greed drives their behaviors and there are those whose fears cause them to take irrational actions.
In my line of work, I believe that our responsibility as parents and caring adults is to help our next generation develop the social-emotional skills to have courage and be kind. Unusual times befall us humans in every era and we are called to take a stand or make decisions that affect others. The best preparation to deal with a crisis is to have a strong understanding of why kindness and courage is a necessary part of survival for us all. Our entire human species are made up of social beings whose successful evolution resulted from our interdependency and care of one another. Our very existence is a result of the altruistic efforts of others before us who have made our world possible.
The second part of my mantra was something important to my parents also. I had four siblings, but my parents didn’t wait until we were all squabbling to instill the importance of being kind to others. They had a profound vision of the type of people we children would be before any of us were a twinkle in my parents eyes. Being kind was essential to who we were as a family and acts of kindness toward others was something that filled my father and mother’s hearts with pride. Constantly teaching kindness to children is not an easy task. No, “being kind” is not something you can teach children whilst yelling it at the top of your lungs. It has to be taught through one’s actions. Being kind is taught by example in thought, word and deed. Being kind does not mean you should be unkind to yourself. This is where the courage fits in. The courage to be kind, both to yourself and to others, is sometimes a balancing act that often requires us to keep our neocortex at the helm of our brain instead of letting our limbic system hijack our best selves and behaviors.
To that end, I have listed some more resources below to help teach courage and kindness. We need this season to remind us how we aspire to be all year round. We need this season to restore our hope and give us the courage to carry on despite our COVID fatigue. We are living through the challenges of 2020 the best we can. It will be our courage and kindness toward one another that History will remember and define who we were long after we are gone. So I remind myself and all of you to “have courage and be kind”. The end is in sight and we will get through this better by working together even if it means making sacrifices for one another.
Have a safe and hopeful holiday season to one and all fellow humans on this small, blue planet.