One of the lessons from our discussions around the book is that each one of us has facets of our identity that we think make us vulnerable. For many, these facets are outward characteristics that are impossible to hide, such as an extraordinarily loud laugh or a facial difference like Sam Drazin’s, or perhaps the color of our skin or the clothes that our religion teaches us to wear. For many, the things that make us feel vulnerable are not apparent from the outside at all. It is how we feel on the inside, or perhaps our worldview, that makes us feel different from those around us.
Many of the conversations in school over the past few weeks have unpacked both the seen and the unseen vulnerabilities that humans feel inside a community. An emphasis for us is learning how to talk about these differences with mutual respect, kindness, and compassion. Teaching the knowledge and skills necessary to learn these skills is the calling of many educators and speakers. Sam Drazin is one of these educators, and we are excited to welcome others throughout this year.
When he was here, I noticed Sam consistently answered each question without talking for too long. Many speakers will use one student’s question as a jumping off point to talk about several matters. I admired Sam’s self-discipline, but I was not sure why. He told me later that he was trying to learn how to lead the conversation in such a way as to elicit as many questions as possible. I’ve been thinking about that remark ever since.
As often happens, it was during chapel that this remark suddenly made more sense to me. In Wednesday’s Middle School Chapel, our guest was Ms. Ann Gibson, Assistant Executive Director of Northeast Ministry , where Moravian Academy delivers food from our Middle School food drives. Ms. Gibson talked with us about where our food donations go and about the families served by the food pantry. Then she stopped talking and she invited questions. This is not the expected thing to happen for Middle School students in chapel. It took them a few moments to gather their questions, but soon they were on a roll and hands were in the air. They asked:
- How many families use the pantry every month?
- Are there times the shelves are empty?
- Where is the pantry located on Stefko and how far is that from school?
- What foods do your families like to eat the most?
- Why are there so many families without food in this area?
- Do you have baby food?
As I listened to these questions, and more, I was struck by how many different students had their hands in the air and how specifically they were thinking about these families and what their lives were like. It was then that I realized that in asking these questions they were applying their “empathy muscles” without even knowing it. Their questions demonstrated interest, compassion, and respect for families that at first glance would have seemed very different from many Moravian Academy students.
These students were being curious about other people. In their genuine interest to understand others, they had suspended what might have been an unchallenged judgement about people who do not have enough resources to provide food for their families. Instead of assuming, they were asking.
A few minutes later, these same ideas about treating all people with kindness and personal respect resonated through one of our chapel songs. The words are based on our reading of the day from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25:
I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.
Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored,
that was me—you did it to me.
Moments of personal connection and recognition in chapel do not surprise me anymore at Moravian Academy, but I feel grateful each time to be a member of this community of thinkers and feelers. It is with this spirit in mind that we are hosting the upcoming events in the empathy series. I hope you will look at the list of speakers and topics and find opportunities to participate, either in person or through your own questions and conversations with other members of our school community.