choose kind

Wonder book cover

When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.

– from the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio

If you’re anything like me, you want to pretend that you will always respond the way you know you should. You will let your kind words melt away the wrath of others…you will turn the other cheek…you will sow mercy instead of pain.

But reality doesn’t always follow the script.

I recently began a new school year: my eleventh tour of teaching duty in the elementary classroom. As I do with each new pedagogical journey, I begin with a blueprint for what I want to see in my teaching, in my management, and in my interactions with students. Kindness and strength are two key denominators in my plans.

As an educator, I want to be a strong leader, but I also want to be compassionate. I want to have high expectations, but I want to be understanding. I want to bring consistent rigor, but also consider the diverse realities of kids who come to school with so many basic needs unmet. Ignoring their burdens will not help them learn or succeed.

I’m reading the book Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, to my class right now. Our school librarian recommended it to me last year but I never got around to finishing it…until now. Wonder follows an elementary school-aged boy, named August, with significant physical impairments as he experiences the pain and joy of relating to other kids. This year, for reasons I won’t go into, it seems especially important to share the story with my students. There is a beautiful message and crucial truth to be uncovered in the book. I want the boys and girls in my room to recognize how fragile each of us can be and how much we all need and rely on the kindness of others.

Today, we read the words that one of August’s teachers wrote on the whiteboard the first day of school:

When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.

It can be a tough choice when being right feels so good. There is such satisfaction on proving a point, in winning an argument, in coming out on top. When we believe or, even, know that we are right it seems morally necessary to make everyone else realize it.

But asserting our rightness isn’t always the way of kindness. It isn’t always the way of love.

I can think of times when my mom and dad truly knew what was best for me…knew what was right…yet allowed me to learn hard lessons on my own. They knew that experience is a powerful teacher and that telling me the right way to go wouldn’t be as impacting as allowing me to find it through stubbed toes and wounded pride.

I can also think of times when they showed me brilliant mercy…enduring kindness…when they surely could have been pointed and injuring in the name of rightness.

But they chose kind.

As a teacher, as a parent, as a man, as a child…I want to choose kind, too. I want the words of my mouth, the attitudes of my heart, the actions of my life to be artifacts of kindness.

Being right can be satisfying in the here and now, but being kind can produce ripples of blessing that far outlast my sojourn on this earth.

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