Just one act of kindness can make an impact
March 18, 2014
I suppose it shouldn't have been a surprise that our 10-year-old daughter didn't want help with her speech.
She's always been one of the "I'll do it myself" kind of kids. Whether playing with a new toy or learning to tie her shoe, she'd rather figure it out herself than have someone show her how.
Still, writing a speech was something for which I was sure she'd seek my help. But my red editing pen never came close to her work.
I got a sneak peek at the speech early on, but not again until she presented it before hundreds of classmates the day prior to last week's semifinals of the Nevada County Speech Tournament.
Of course, as a proud papa, I sat there amazed by the courage she showed and the flair with which she delivered the words she wrote herself. But my wife and I also swelled with pride over the premise of her presentation.
From what I understand, this year's speech tournament participants were provided with the prompt: "What is your one wish for America?"
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Our daughter's answer? "To be kind."
Of course, her words had me smiling with the realization that I, in fact, must be one amazing parent after all! It was so satisfying to know this simple, but sweet wish was surely the result of the stellar example of kindness I had been setting over the years for our children.
But upon further review, as my wife pieced together the puzzle, it quickly became clear I actually had little to do with the message she was sharing.
It turns out, not so surprisingly, it all goes back to her teacher.
Earlier this year, as she was working on a class assignment, I was a bit taken aback by the depth of what Paul Stackhouse had her studying.
As she and her classmates were reading the Brothers Grimm's "The Fisherman and His Wife," our daughter was writing about the deeper meaning behind the story.
I can't remember at exactly what age I was first introduced to a metaphor, but it sure seems a lot later than the fourth grade.
In her speech, our girl references a book that Mr. Stackhouse had read to his class, "Wonder," by R.J. Palacio.
Clearly the book had an impact on our daughter, but we didn't realize to what extent until my wife found a half-written letter to the author lying around the house.
"Dear R.J. Palacio," she wrote. "Thank you for writing 'Wonder.' My teacher is reading it to us, but I bought it and read ahead. Once I started I couldn't stop!"
My wife snapped a photo of the letter and texted it to me at work, along with a link to the author's website. When I read the publisher's description of the book at the website, I couldn't help but feel a sense of pride for my daughter, who got the message, and for her teacher, who chose to deliver it to her and her classmates.
"August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school — until now," the site reads. "He's about to start fifth grade at Beecher Prep, and if you've ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie's just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, despite appearances?"
In a day and age when bullying seems to be more prevalent than ever in our society — thanks largely to a social media world that somehow frees people to say things they often would not in the physical presence of other people — R.J. Palacio wrote a book to provide people with the perspective of a person "who just doesn't fit in."
By selecting that particular book to share with his students, Mr. Stackhouse showed them a different point of view of their own and in the process the message behind the work, that indeed "just one act of kindness can make an impact."
The story so struck our daughter that when she was asked for her "one wish for America," she, in fact, chose "To be kind" and sought to share it with everyone who will hear her speech.
"She talks about wishes (being) pretty meaningless unless there is action involved," Mr. Stackhouse said to a crowd of our daughter's classmates before she presented her speech. "Her wish, her action is something we can all start today, right now and bring about this change in our school, and it would ripple out to our community, to our state, to our country."
It's a message that is apparently resonating with young people, as it has spurred a website spin-off from Palacio's book "Wonder," where people — young and old — can make a pledge to "Choose Kind."
All across our nation, anti-bullying programs are popping up on the Internet and are being more prevalently presented, from inside elementary and high school classrooms to National Football League locker rooms.
And while our daughter didn't turn to me in developing her one wish for America into a speech to convey that message — once again, determined to do it herself — she certainly did have the help of a thoughtful teacher who shares so much more with his students than just the words he reads.
We should all be — or have been — so fortunate to benefit from the inspiration of such a great teacher.
Brian Hamilton is editor of The Union. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4249.