At school, I find myself repeating this simple mantra. Whether it’s an upset student or an angry patron, I am amazed at the number of conflicts that could so easily be resolved by simply “being nice”.
As educators, we are constantly asking our students to be nice. We decry bullying and condemn gossip, as we attempt to teach strong values and good judgment. We teach the “ethic of reciprocity” in our lessons and mimic the Golden Rule in our Codes of Conduct. We make a huge effort to convey the consequences of the spoken word.
But students are growing up in a world where being mean is part of the day-today vernacular. Their words are cheapened by a callous society that has turned even the ugliest words into the acceptable lingo of the day. And believe me, our kids are using that lingo.
Many of the conflicts we handle at school start with this type of language. Words like “sucks”, “gay”, and “ho” (and I don’t mean the garden or “ho ho ho” variety) have desensitized our kids to a point where they are shocked when someone actually takes offense. Students routinely say to me, “that’s just what we call each other… it’s OK, it’s just the way we talk.”
I’m afraid such pejorative language has taken root with our kids and even more disturbing is the adult endorsement. We can blame it on whatever societal “ill” is most convenient (i.e., reality TV, negative news reporting, etc.), but the fact remains, being nice to one another will never be important to our youth until we set a precedent they can follow.
Adult language is coarser than it used to be, so the bullying and gossip that goes on at school isn’t a revelation. Students are just emulating adults. They hear the way we so flippantly criticize each other with embellished connotation, and they duplicate that ugliness. Though the language may be different, the tone is exactly the same. We preach the Golden Rule and simultaneously denigrate its value.
In Don Ruiz’s book, “The Four Agreements,” he says “Be impeccable with your word… Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean, avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love”.
For my students, I try to get them to connect their words to what comes back to them in the way of kindness. I ask them to treat others the way they would want to be treated, and I tell them about the sign over my sink. But as I move toward the New Year, I will start with my own conversations. As an adult example, I will endeavor to be impeccable with my word, and to live by the simple adage in my sign: “Just be nice”.