When I was in the classroom, much of my favorite student writing came in response to an assignment I often ended the school year with in my English classes that dealt with two weighty ideas.
Students first encountered this claim—“The thing about humans is that they are constantly comparing themselves to one another”—before moving on to the idea that with few exceptions, we are “people who [are] wired up so that something outside [ourselves] tells [us] who [we are]” (both quotations from Donald Miller’s Searching for God Knows What).
That’s a lot to consider, but in class, when we kept the conversation focused on how this might apply to the literature we covered throughout the year, we not only found this idea to be true, but we also found this truth to be much more tolerable when applied to anyone other than ourselves. It seemed much easier to see that Huck Finn believed in half-truths and bald faced lies throughout his story than it was to ask whether we have treated others as less than human for the same reasons. Likewise, it seemed much easier to condemn the community that shuns Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letterthan to look at the reasons we accept or reject people today.
Despite the relative discomfort caused by bringing this all up in class, my students overwhelmed me with their responses as they wrote about taking care of their families, setting goals to make people smile daily, and how exhausting it is to try to keep everyone thinking that everything is going great in their lives. Many wrote about clinging to the values that had been instilled in them. More than a few wrote about the relief of not having to be known as “the funny guy” or “the quiet one” after high school.
If we are truly wired up so that something outside of us tells us who we are, we need to identify who we are letting in (and maybe spend some time evaluating what’s healthy and what’s not so healthy). More than that, though, what need to recognize that we have to say to others—friends and foes, new and old—matters more than we might have previously believed.
I hope you seek out opportunities to speak life and truth into the lives of those around you—both those closest to you and those you’ve not even met. It’s your responsibility and your privilege to be able to invest in others in this way.
It’s incredibly encouraging to watch students and staff carry this sort of challenge out on campus. The power hidden within our words is obvious in the yellowed thank you letters that hang in classrooms around campus and in the conversations I watch students make time for when a friend needs their undivided attention. It’s also there in that look in a student’s eye that says, “I want to say something life-giving right now, but I just don’t know how or I’m not ready to let my guard down with these people,” and it’s in a hundred other places as well.
Regardless of your role at school—admin, teacher, support staff, student—let go of whatever holds you back, take the opportunities to thank those who have poured into you, and challenge others to continue to do likewise.
As you move throughout your week, be deliberate—go out of your way—to speak life into the lives of others and build them up.
Think about it before you move on to the rest of the internet, and make a plan to build someone up this week.