Dear 4th Graders,
You just missed out on something. I wanted to let you know. While you were out running around on the playground, you missed out on something pretty great.
Curious what it might have been? To answer you, let me tell you what I observed, and maybe you’ll see for yourself.
Earlier, I watched as one of your own classmates approached first one small group of you, then another, then another, a smile on his face, laughter in his eyes. He jumped in with a few of you when it was time to take silly pictures for the little end-of-year event your teachers put together for you. You didn’t push him away, but you also didn’t look at him or laugh with him. He ran up to your game of tag and asked if he could play. You didn’t tell him he couldn’t, but you also didn’t run after him or try to tag him. You just allowed your group to drift away from him time and again until he gave up trying to participate. He joked with you about some of the class games your teachers set up. You didn’t say anything mean to him in return, but you also didn’t look him in the face or smile or do much of anything.
You didn’t actively push him away or aggressively exclude him. And at the same time, you didn’t include him. In fact, you didn’t react to him at all. It was as if he wasn’t there. You effectively turned him into a ghost. A non entity. A nothing.
I’m sure some of you are decent kids. Some of you may even be nice, under the right circumstances. But I have to wonder how so many “nice” kids can be so very hurtful.
If you think about it for a moment, you’ll know the boy I’m referring to. There’s no question. He’s the only classmate you so fully and assertively shunned. Are you fooled by the smile on his face as he gives up and walks away from you? Do you really allow yourself to believe that you don’t hurt him deeply every time you treat him like he’s nothing? You’re smarter than that. You’re better than that. At least, I like to believe that you are. Think about it: how would you feel if you were in his place, if you were treated the way you treat him over and over? How would it feel to you if your classmates never acknowledged you, never listened to you, never included you? How would you feel if no one seemed to care about your very presence?
You’re probably wondering why I said you’re missing out. Allow me to enlighten you.
That boy you exclude so readily? He’s about the least competitive kid around, and because of that, he’s also pretty much the best cheerleader you could ever hope to have. He’s supportive and generous, and if you needed someone to call on for help of any kind, he would jump to help you in a heartbeat without a worry about himself. He even cheers on the competition when he plays games and sports, because he wants the best for everyone. How many friends do you have like that? How many friends do you have who are completely okay – even happy for you – if you win and they don’t? How many of your friends, if they win, want to teach you what they know so that you can possibly beat them next time? Or would they rather keep their skills to themselves because winning, even with you, is what matters most to them?
That boy you don’t acknowledge is crazy smart. He could help you with any school work you find challenging. He’d be a phenomenal partner on a class project because he picks up knowledge almost as easily as breathing or drinking water, but more than that, he understands how to use that knowledge, how to manipulate numbers and words, and he can help you learn how to do it, too. He loves sharing knowledge. He can make school easier for you. He’d like to.
That boy you ignore even when he’s right next to you saying hello and trying to joke with you? He has a heart larger than your entire school. We all go through fun times we want to share and tough times where we need someone to listen. He’d go to the ends of the earth for any friend, to make them smile and to make sure they’re okay.
That boy you look down on because maybe he’s awkward or small or a little different from you? He’s also far braver than you. Any of you. Think about how often he has approached you – in class or on the playground – and been shunned by you, ignored by you, not accepted by you. If you were in his shoes, how many times would it take before you just gave up? Think about that for a moment. Think about how much that would hurt and how quickly you would stop trying. But he doesn’t stop. He continues to try, over and over, a huge, friendly smile on his face, hope shining through that maybe this time will be different, maybe this time you’ll include him… maybe this time he will be visible to you. Imagine how much courage that takes. I’m not sure I’m that brave, and I’m fairly certain you are not.
Today, I saw you miss out, my dear 4th graders. I saw you walk right by the chance to make not only a great friend with a true champion but also to get to know someone who’s more of a hero than you can imagine. Someone kind and brave. Someone with more of a heart than any of you have shown.
Better luck next time.