I’ve had the opportunity to have breakfast with three different advising groups of ninth grade parents this fall, and our conversation has ranged from students managing transitions to academics to social lives to engagement in growing up. As I’ve reflected on those conversations, I’m always reminded of what it means to grow up. I don’t know about you, but I certainly made my share of mistakes in high school. And as a young teacher at a boarding school in New England, I found myself quickly thrown into the role of parent. That is, parent to 22 8th and 9th grade girls. Which I have to say was more challenging than being a parent to my own two boys. But in being the dorm parent to those 22 kids who were off to boarding school for the first time and living away from home for the first time, I got to see the complexity of their decision-making, and could watch really great kids who knew they were making mistakes and could do nothing to stop them from making them. And so what I learned early on as a teacher and now I believe very strongly as Head of School, is that we don’t want to concentrate on keeping kids from making mistakes. We want to teach them how to make a good decision after they’ve made a bad one. And to me, that’s the essence of good education. It requires self-reflection, honesty. It requires a school to be clear about its values, and to have the courage and fortitude to live those values in a relationship with the students.
For me and my family this is a time of year for thinking about atonement and what it means to know that you’ve done something wrong or have wronged someone. At MA, we talk a lot about intention and impact. And that’s where we know that the decisions we make are almost always in relationship to others. And it takes a lot of courage to say: I didn’t mean to do that, but I understand that it had a certain impact on you. So I think it’s important for all of us to think about the last time we explicitly asked someone to forgive us. I suspect we find ourselves saying more frequently, you need to apologize. But the willingness to ask for forgiveness requires a sense of one’s own humility and to recognize that our own needs are not more important than the needs of others. And when we begin to think about what it means to ask for forgiveness, I think that’s when we recognize our humanity and the value of compassion.
Along with opportunities of asking forgiveness and showing compassion, we also all need the opportunity to earn redemption. Any school that doesn’t as part of its educative process allow kids to not only make mistakes and take risks but also to ask and get forgiveness, isn’t tending to the development of the child. We need to let kids learn how to let themselves off the hook and how to move forward with wholeness and integrity.
In this particular season of forgiveness, let’s not think about apologizing; let’s think about what it means to ask forgiveness from not only those around us but also from ourselves. It’s the compassionate thing to do.