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A Response to Current Events: Speaking to Middle School Students

Monday, October 29, 2018

Written by Assistant Head of School Gretchen Forsyth and shared this morning (October 29, 2018) with GUS upper school students and faculty.

A lot happened over the weekend and given this year's school theme of "Civility," I thought it was important to bring our upper school community together and talk. So of course, the Red Sox won the World Series, and that is very exciting, but sadly that’s not what I want to focus on this morning. Over the past few days, people have been attacked: attacked for being Jewish, for being black, and even for being leaders in the Democratic party. It’s hard to think of these things happening here in the United States. Very hard.

And I feel the need to do something. I am moved by the Hebrew words eighth graders learned at the Jewish Heritage Museum, Tikkun Olam, meaning “acts of kindness performed to repair the world.” I think our world needs some repairing and I think it starts with us.

So what do we do?

Well, we must do better.

As Dr. Martin Luther King said in his 1963 "Letter From a Birmingham Jail," “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Hate starts small, so to fight hatred everywhere, we must start by treating each other a bit better.

I need you to understand that hate, and acts of unkindness, start small. It can start with an eye roll, a snicker, a joke that isn’t really funny. It’s name-calling and teasing. It’s ostracizing and ignoring. It’s blaming the victim: "they annoy me," "they are clueless," "they don’t care." It’s making excuses like "I was joking!" or "they were mean to me." If you think I am making a big deal out of nothing, you are wrong. The implications of our actions are significant. They matter. I truly believe we can make the world a better place and, like the Red Sox, who took it one hit or one out at a time over and over to win, we will make the world a better place with one act of kindness at a time, over and over, until we are better, until our community is better, and until the world is better.

What I want you to to take away from our time together today is to try a little harder to be kind. We need to watch ourselves, and as the creator of Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie said, "be kinder than necessary…." Just always try to be kinder than necessary. It’s kind of a funny thought, but worth trying.

This isn’t easy work sometimes, and there may be situations that may challenge you. In these moments, we will remember if we don’t have anything nice to say, we don’t say anything and when we hear something not nice, we will try to say something. We will gently remind each other to be better. We may make mistakes, mistakes do happen, but we will work to take responsibility and we will never underestimate the power of an apology.  We will also work to forgive. Forgiveness can be hard, but it is essential to creating a better community. A community of "Civility," where we can live side by side.

Today is one of those days, that I am so thankful for GUS, for our world here, where we can really make a difference. So more than anything, I want you to leave here understanding the part you play in making the world a better place. It isn’t always by making some amazing discovery or being a world leader, it’s by the little things you do every day. So be kind. Do good. Be civil. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Let’s start spreading kindness and shine a little light from our little school to the rest of the world.