I’ll never forget a conversation I had with a parent who decided to withdraw her son from Acton Academy. She said, “We want him to experience the reality of bullying and mean kids because that’s what he’ll face in the real world. He’ll toughen up at a public school and that’s what we want.”
Over the years, her words have haunted me. Why do we want to teach our children that the best defense against bullies is to absorb them into our lives as a necessary evil? Why do we want children to learn that cruelty is a part of life so they must learn to live with it?
I understand evil is real. But can’t we do better in its presence?
What if schools were small enough so no one could hide; and learning to be kind was built into the governance systems and was a necessary achievement for progress at school?
What if our children were armed with the sort of kindness that at its roots is tough?
This is a kindness that is not afraid to hold people – even close friends – accountable for their words and actions.
It is a kindness that calls out the first seeds of cruelty – snarkiness and gossiping – so insidious in our families and culture.
It is a kindness that defines the boundaries for appropriate behavior and is not afraid to hold them.
It is a kindness that doesn’t protect others from natural consequences even when they hurt.
It is a kindness that tells the truth even when it is hard.
This kindness runs deeper than good manners and cordiality. It calls out the inner genius in others. It celebrates the success of others. It steps up to the plate and rises to the occasion. It laughs easily. It is gritty and has dirt under its fingernails.
Tough kindness takes time and practice to grow.
What, then, if we gave children plenty of room to practice being kind-hearted and tough-minded over months and years so their characters were etched with this high level of humanity?
What if, after growing up in such a school, these young people went out into the world as our community and family leaders? How much different would life be?
Could that be heaven on earth?
I’m banking on it.