As a person who grew up near the gulf coast without any semblance of a change of season, it is a little surprising that I have grown fond of January. Most of our students mark it as their favorite month of the school year because of Winterim. Yet another reason I am drawn to January is because it marks the beginning of a new year while providing enough cold weather to drive us indoors. It inspires even the most distracted among us to settle into a little introspection and reflection.
Our Core Purpose, which was written and adopted by our faculty years ago, states that we want to “inspire students to combine knowledge with goodness and reflection with action.” I think we do a pretty good job of conveying “knowledge”, and we continually lift up “goodness”, both by example and in our classes and assemblies. I don’t think anyone would argue that all of us, including most Americans, have the “action” thing down. It is the “reflection” piece that can be so easily overlooked.
Deciding to take this need for reflection by the horns, in our last assembly of 2014, I did what any teacher would do; I assigned “reflection” homework over winter break and Winterim. Armed with the Core Purpose, I asked our students to reflect on the obvious over the break, to think about the possibilities of next semester along with lessons learned last semester. Then I asked them to reflect on something more specific – comparison, and how it affects their lives.
According to Theodore Roosevelt, “comparison is the thief of joy.” Often, I see it rob both students and adults of contentment and satisfaction in a job well done. While living and working in such a close-knit community, we should strive to resist comparing ourselves to others, at least on the micro level. A triumphant moment of bringing a biology grade to a B, is quickly squashed when you notice that the person next to you just raised her grade to an A-. You made the team, but observe that she plays more. The list goes on and on. I catch myself making these kinds of comparisons daily. So, in the new year, let’s resolve to compare ourselves a little less on a micro level and more on a macro level.
An assembly speaker earlier this year reminded us that around 35% of Americans graduate from a four-year college or university, and even more surprising, only 16% of Tennesseans are fortunate enough to accomplish this goal. If we can compare ourselves to others on these levels, things begin to fall into place. We don’t have to be in competition or constant comparison with that girl next to us. Instead, we might inspire our students to look outside themselves.
Always keeping up and constantly judging ourselves in relation to others, is exhausting and leaves us hollow at the center. Someone is always smarter, faster, prettier, and more talented. A little reflection during this winter season will go a long way to fortify us and perhaps inoculate us from this constant tendency to compare. We will return to full action mode soon enough, but until then, may your indoor activities this winter include plenty of time for reflection.