Core Values

by Alan Reinstein, Columnist
photo courtesy of Alan Reinstein

Welcome or welcome back to Newton South, home of the Lions, all of us. This period has been strange and distressing for most of us, and despite the one benefit that every community crisis offers — that it can bring people together — there’s so much surrounding this current turmoil that destabilizes us. Health and economic worries exhaust us, isolation fragments us, political wrestling angers us and acts of institutional and individual racism dishearten and terrify us. So what can we hold onto as we return to school, albeit remotely, to steady us?

Written on posters in classrooms that few will be seeing for the foreseeable future are our school’s four core values: show respect, listen first, choose kindness and take responsibility. If viewed as demands from adults, these core values will get dismissed by students right away. As invitations, however, they offer a sensible prescription for honest and civil interactions that can be the foundation for both the short- and long-term emotional health of our community. 

Start with “showing respect,” the commitment to treat other people with dignity, from those who mildly annoy us all the way to folks whose words and actions are repugnant to us. Be respectful to the person, this value says, even when you don’t respect the behavior. This is hard to do, and because it’s hard, we get two strategies for support: listen first and choose kindness. To listen, really listen, is to acknowledge that a viewpoint is worth trying to understand. Of course, this can be hard, too, and so if we can’t listen well or if we listen well but loudly disagree, we can fall back on kindness, the sidekick to good listening. And since we will occasionally fail at one or both — we forget to or refuse to listen, or we lack the willingness to be kind — in the end, we can own up to our imperfection and apologize. We can take responsibility for misstepping.

Here’s one way to begin the year: we try our best to respect the folks around us, either in the virtual or tangible classroom, and to listen and to be kind; and if we slip, then we take responsibility. The magnitude of these crises oddly yields some warmth: we’re all together in this place — students, custodians, teachers, secretaries, aides and administrators. Reaching toward respect and civility falls on all of us Lions as we make our way into the new school year.