The Character Movement

Student shaking hand with a youth frontiers retreat leader

See Rather Than Be Seen

By Joe Cavanaugh, Youth Frontiers Founder and CEO

Last school year as I embarked on a Design Year sabbatical, the following statement from Mark Nepo’s “The Book of Awakening” were guiding words: “We need not see more rightly, but rather more completely.”

I encouraged my staff to live up to that saying in a year of tumultuous partisanship, growing incivility and demonization of the “other” – whoever that “other” may be. This focus brought clear intention to my experiences abroad and to our mission.

We’re proud to say we had another record year in 2016-17, serving 126,934 students and educators on 861 retreats. We’re truly grateful to our school partners and our donors for making these retreats possible. Unfortunately, the need for these retreats on character seems to grow with every news report we encounter. We anticipate continued demand from schools calling us to provide retreats for their students and teachers on values of kindness, courage and respect.

As we begin this school year, we have a number of new staff joining our experienced veterans to make a difference in schools. The theme I have charged them with is to “see rather than be seen.” This challenge asks us as a staff to embrace curiosity not conflict, and to hold humility not arrogance.

It’s a bit countercultural. Too many role models, from celebrities to pro athletes to our politicians, are often far more focused on being seen versus seeing. Social media – from tweets to inane YouTube videos – has exacerbated this issue by connecting a human’s worth to the number of comments, likes or views a post receives. This era of “look at me” has had a detrimental effect on our young people’s character.

Our passion and purpose at Youth Frontiers is to build community. We know from 30 years of experience and working with more than 1.7 million students that for any school community to exist – from a school lunchroom to a playground to a faculty lounge – we need a collection of people who acknowledge the value of humbly seeing others with goodness and compassion. Community does poorly when everyone is shouting, “Look at me!” or “Look at what I think or believe or feel!”

In our current state of societal discord, I am becoming more and more convinced that the key to reweaving our fraying community is this path of humbly choosing to “see rather than be seen.”

We need your help. This is a gentle challenge to all of us to see rather than seek to be seen – whether pausing on judgment when a co-worker shares ideas we disagree with; or being curious not confrontational with a neighbor who is different than us; or humbly listening when a teenager is telling us something that gives us pause. Today, help us as a community to see, not to be seen.

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