Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring and integrity, they think of you – H. Jackson Brown Jr.
H. Jackson Brown Jr. is a New York Times bestselling author. In the early 1990s, he wrote “Life’s Little Instruction Book” that contained this quote. About 15 years ago, I found the quote and put it on my “wall of inspiration” in my office.
I also like the one by Oscar Wilde that says, “Always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much” (it’s true, by the way). There’s another great quote by William Arthur Ward that says, “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” Truly, these quotes, among others, have impacted my choices, my values, taught me how to live without grudges, and helped me to adjust my perspectives now and again.
As a parent, teacher, university educator and a Jewish Day School leader, I have always wanted to exemplify certain perspectives and values. The H. Jackson Brown Jr. quote and others have guided my own life and professional career and allowed me to reflect on my experiences. I want our kids and students to think highly of us. I want our kids to look up to us, to treat us with respect and to act in a way that makes us proud. However, that particular quote makes it clear that unless parents, educators and leaders act in a way that models fairness, caring and integrity, we can’t expect our children to magically inherit or understand those qualities.
As anyone who has ever raised a child or taught in a classroom knows, fairness is subjective. Fairness is not about everyone getting the same thing, but about each child getting what they need. It is so important for kids to understand that distinction at an early age. I remember when my mom passed away in 2010. We were all really sad and shocked, and we had no manual for how to act or feel. One of my children wanted to come home from school the day it happened; two stayed at school with their friends. One of my kids dragged a mattress into our bedroom and slept on the floor for a few weeks after the funeral; the other two stayed in their rooms, one with the door open and the lights on, the other needing lots of hugs and cuddles before falling asleep. For me, that was fair. The same approach is true for us as educators. All kids don’t get the same attention, supports or time – some kids get more support less often and some kids get small amounts of support more often. The important thing is to make sure everyone is accounted for and that everyone’s voice is heard in sharing what they think they need. Our job as parents and educators is to listen and make good judgments, based on what we know about the children.
In the year 2000, I had 3 kids aged 6, 4 and 2. I was working as a teacher and doing the best I could to hold it all together. I was also a big fan of the 4:00 pm Oprah Winfrey show, which I taped and watched everyday. That year, Oprah’s book club featured the book “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison. At the book club meeting, Toni shared these words that changed the way I interact with others: “It’s interesting to see, when a kid walks in the room, your child or anybody else’s child, does your face light up? That’s what they’re looking for.” I think caring can take many forms – structure, expectations, accountability – even food – those are all acts of caring! But I am also aware that when I see my kid or other people’s kids, I take the time to connect when they walk in the room. That little bit of connection is reciprocated often, and it makes me feel cared for too.
The dictionary definition of integrity is: The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles, moral uprightness. This one is trickier. Is it better to be honest and moral (e.g. do the right thing – our conscience lets us know what that is), or to protect us at all costs? Jewish Day School education for my children was an extra step in hoping that fairness, caring and integrity would be taught and modeled by the families who chose that path and by the educators who work there. For the most part, it was and I am thankful for every individual who was fair, cared and had integrity. I am angry and frustrated by those who didn’t – but I can forgive them.
I have always hoped that the “village” I raised my children in would do the same. That village, which included family, friends, camps, and the Jewish Day School system, has often done so and I am thankful. My personal reflection became even more pronounced over my years as a leader in the Jewish Day School system, partly because of the teachings of morality, fairness, caring and integrity that are inherent in our religion and approach to education.
It is my hope that, moving forward, parents, educators and our Jewish educational leaders will work to create a world where when they think about fairness, caring and integrity, it won’t be difficult to imagine who our children will think of.