The Character Movement

Valuing Compassion Above Belonging

Recently, I led a Youth Frontiers Respect Retreat® with more than 200 ninth-graders. Our goal was to get the each student to see what it would be like if everyone in their class respected each other. At the end of the retreat, we invited students to share how the day impacted them. One student, who didn’t seem like part of the “in” crowd, got up to speak. He said to his classmates, “People ignore me at school, and it’s a lonely place for me. Today was the first day in a long time that I felt respected. Thank you.”

160,000 kids miss school every day because they are afraid of being bullied. Nearly 2.7 million kids are identified as chronic victims of bullying each year. As adults, we may remember someone who was harassed when we were in school years ago. As parents, we suffer if our kids are the target of disrespect. There are people who accept bullying as a normal part of growing up, but the suffering it causes creates a compelling moral issue of respect and compassion for our fellow human beings.

A statistic that may reveal even more about the character of our young people and the climate in our schools is that 80 percent of students are neither a bully or get bullied, but instead are bystanders and idly watch while their fellow students are laughed at or ignored. It’s the silent majority of kids who do nothing that creates the environment for disrespect to occur. As famous philosopher, Edmond Burke, has said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

As a parent and concerned community member, I see a greater and greater need for young people and adults to live out the value of courage and compassion above the value of belonging. This is a challenging task for anyone, let alone a teenager who faces enormous peer pressure to fit in. Yet the silent majority among us holds the key to changing a relationship, school or even a community for the better. As parents and grandparents, it is critical to infuse our kids with a sense of respect for their peers and elders.

On Youth Frontiers retreats, we give students a positive, three-step plan to help them stand up and be a hero for others. Feel free to talk to your kids about these non-confrontational ways to help their friends or classmates who are being disrespected or ignored.

Interrupt. When your child notices disrespectful behavior, they should get the attention of the person who is being disrespected or ignored.

Compliment. Your child should then give a positive compliment to that person that will help change the atmosphere they’re in.

Invite Away. Your child should invite them away from the negative situation and help engage them in something positive.

Imagine what your child’s school, neighborhood or world would be like if, instead of turning away when we see something that isn’t right, we stepped in. We need to work together to give the silent majority the courage to be silent no longer.

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