Just yesterday, when my now 18-year-old son was in second grade, (no, he was not held back 10 times, it is just that it seems as if it were only yesterday) my husband and I attended his school’s beginning of the year open house. After the general assembly, we like other parents, had the opportunity to take just a few minutes to talk with his teacher, Mr. Day, to find out how he was doing. We were pleased with the feedback Mr. Day gave us regarding his academic performance and his behavior in class, but we were very surprised when he reluctantly told us that there was one problem. He told us that just that day he had received a telephone call from another mother to inform him that there had been an incident on the playground wherein Dallin had bullied her son. He did not know the details of the incident, but felt that we needed to be aware of the problem. We were very surprised and concerned to say the least; it just did not sound like our Dallin. Mr. Day agreed with us about the inconsistency of the story with respect to what we all knew about Dallin’s character, but nevertheless, I assured him that I would go home and discuss the issue with our son.
Upon arriving home, I called Dallin in to sit by me on the couch and we began to discuss the incident of that day. He, being a very sensitive child, held his head down as his lip began to quiver. He began to tell me how he had been standing in line and he and another boy kept “cutting” one another. Although I definitely am an advocate of staying in one’s place in line, I was quite surprised that a mother would have been so upset about this incident that she would take the time to call a teacher. Nevertheless, I felt that it would be a great teaching moment for my son and an opportunity for me to share with him what personal characteristic I value most in life.
We had a very tender and serious conversation about the attributes that I consider to be of great value. I knew that he was already aware of many of these. We talked about honesty, work ethic, education, honoring parents, using clean language, and many other important qualities. I emphasized the great importance that I placed on each of these characteristics, but, I said to him, if you can do all of these things yet do not treat people with kindness, you have failed in life. In other words, I value people more than anything else in this world and I think the most important characteristic we can possess in this life is that of kindness to our fellowman. Although I did not express disappointment in him nor did he receive any punishment, I remember his eyes welling up with tears and I felt satisfaction, not because I had caused him to cry, but rather because I felt I had used this experience as a great teaching moment.
Two days later, I got a call from none other than Mr. Day. Of course, a parents first thought is, “Oh no! Now what!” I was greatly surprised when Mr. Day became very apologetic. He related that he had just got off the phone with that other mother. He told her that he had talked to Dallin’s parents and that we were addressing the situation. He continued to tell me how the mother was stunned. She responded by telling him that it was not Dallin who had bullied her son, but rather so and so. I do not remember the name and it does not matter anyway; I did not know the boy so certainly you would not. Mr. Day felt terrible and hoped that Dallin was not punished for the mistaken identity. I was greatly relieved that I had handled the situation in the way that I had and that I had not gotten angry nor punished Dallin. I actually laughed at the incident because I imagined Dallin now thinking that taking cuts in line is one of the most terrible things we can do to another person.
The reason I share this story is twofold. First, because I do consider the way we treat other human beings as being the most important aspect of our character. One can be “religious” as were the Scribes and Pharisees of New Testament times whom Jesus told, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” (Matthew 23:23). Yet, with our human egos we can become either self-righteous or simply feel we are better than others for a variety of reasons–success, money, fame, intellect, talents, etc. and as our ego expands, it is evident in the way we treat one another. We can be fooled into thinking that we are the sun, you know, that the world revolves around us.
We have all witnessed a lack of kindness in our world, whether as the recipient of such acts or perhaps even at times as the perpetrator. None of us are perfect and we all have been pushed to levels of fatigue and stress that often affect our moods, but hopefully these are by far the exception and not the rule. I am more concerned with our attitudes toward one another. Do we really see others as our equal or somehow do we have some advantage in life that makes it acceptable for us to treat others as less than human beings? Are our needs more important than their needs? Is our time worth more than theirs? And, perhaps the most difficult question to answer, are our children more important than someone else’s?
Our unkindness shows up in a variety of ways. Currently one of the more visible ways is that shown through political intolerance. Our country is so divided on so many issues that we simply cannot seem to get along and we think our political beliefs justify name calling and berating. After all, does not the end justify the means? The sad part about all of this, is that when we see a child bullying another child on the playground or as in today’s world when we hear of cyber-bullying, we are greatly dismayed. Yet, how can we expect more from our children than we do of ourselves? Is it really too much for us to recognize that just because one doesn’t think like we do that they are still of value and perhaps their ideas are also of worth? I have my own political beliefs, and they often are in opposition to the beliefs of those around me, yet, I try to take the time to understand their position–and I do understand their position most of the time even if I do not embrace it as my own. I do not believe that I am very often given that same benefit. It has been disheartening and even hurtful at times. I yearn for a country and even a world wherein even in disagreement we can value one another as human beings.
The lack of kindness can be witnessed in a multiplicity of ways. We see it in road rage, while shopping, looking for a parking spot, or promoting one’s own child over another because after all, our child is more important. I suppose I am a dreamer. I dream of living in a world of kindness. I was once told that my expectations are too high and I guess it is true. After all, we are all just human and we come with our human frailties. But, I guess I want to believe in a world where people treat one another with respect and goodness.
Now, I said that my reason for addressing this issue was twofold. Perhaps my second reason is even more important than the first. I do not remember every time I have been unkind; there were probably times that I did not even recognize that I had been such, but certainly from my childhood until this present day there have been many such times. That unkindness may have been due to the stress and fatigue I was feeling. Perhaps at times it was due to my own pride. I am sure there were times that I may have said something that one took personally because of their present trials and challenges of which I was unaware. It would be impossible for me to know every person that I have hurt or offended in some way. Yet, if I could, I would go to each one personally and beg them for forgiveness. My heart breaks at the thought of having caused another individual pain. I would gladly take that pain upon myself if possible. I have come to know the truth of the words, “Remember the worth of a soul is great in the sight of God.” (D&C 18:10) Each individual should be great in our sight as well. I will continue to strive throughout my life to be kind, but I know there will be times when I will fall short of that ideal. I hope it is not often and I hope that when I do it is not too hurtful to the other person or persons involved. But, here and now I will make each one of you one important promise; I will never take “cuts”.
Remember that 2 Plus 2 Doesn’t Always Equal 4 [And please take time to read my original post to understand Why the Title of this Blog? (Feb. 17, 2011)]