Headmaster, Landmark School
Being “peaceful,” or at least making the effort to become peaceful, is often associated with the holidays. However, the arrival of the holidays this year (2012) was accompanied by horrific visions of school violence that conjured up other visions of violence in movie theaters, malls, and on our streets. For so many people, including me, these visions were not conducive to peaceful feelings. Rather, they created difficult questions and a sense of anxiety.
Such social violence, portrayed almost daily in the news, is painful and impossible to understand. This violence is by no means specific to schools, yet health and safety concerns at our schools are increasingly on all of our minds. One of the swirling questions for me during our holiday break was how do we learn to balance what we so often hear, see, feel, and fear with who we are, what we do to maintain safety and help create change, and how we communicate with each other as adults and with our students. How do we stay balanced as we move forward in a healthy way while still carrying the emotions of such terrible events?
Often, when there is too much chatter in my brain, I retreat to a good book, and, at this time, I found the title of Susan Cain’s book, Quiet to be promising. Writing about introverts and our society’s evolution toward the “Extrovert Ideal,” the author makes the following statement on page 21: “America had shifted from what influential cultural historian Warren Susman called a Culture of Character to a Culture of Personality – and opened up a Pandora’s Box of personal anxieties from which we would never quite recover.” This is a bold and sweeping statement, yet it resonated with me.
The phrase Culture of Character describes that which we work endlessly to achieve in our schools, often against other powerful cultural influences. School cultures strive to build and reinforce character in the community as a whole, and within each student and adult within the community. In this context, who we are, how we respond, what we learn, what actions we take when confronted with overwhelmingly bad news depends on our character and almost forces us to strengthen our culture.
From this perspective, I felt more balanced knowing that our work is really about continuing to build a Culture of Character within our schools and communities wherein how we behave makes all the difference. While we cannot control external events, we can control how we respond to them, and we can seize every opportunity within our community to teach, grow, refine, and communicate. Focusing on the dignity of each person, acting with respect, and honoring our emotions and responsibilities in difficult times, do not answer all of the questions, but they are the hopeful foundation for a more peaceful existence.