writings and Reflections

What Does It Take to Mobilize for Good?
Tara Christie Kinsey

It is early March, and the days are growing longer, lighter, brighter. Even our school feels lighter and brighter this week, with the end of the mask mandate and so many beautiful smiling faces fully visible in our halls again. The green shoots are breaking through fertile ground once more, and everywhere we look, buds are swelling on tree branches. This week, our community gathered first at Wollman Rink in Central Park to restore our beloved Skating Party tradition under a breathtaking city skyline, and then again to share the growth and progress of every Hewitt student with parents and guardians in conferences. Spring break is just a few days away, and upon our return, we will be in the final quarter of the school year.

Even as we bear witness to so much newfound growth and joy, I’m remembering that it was two years ago this week that we closed our campus “out of an abundance of caution” to give our faculty and staff two days to prepare “just in case” a new and unknown virus began to spread. We thought we would switch to remote learning for just a week or two. In hindsight, we had no idea what was coming.

Looking back on the last two years, I find it hard to fathom just how much has changed in our city, our country, and our world. Managing change is always hard, but managing this much change at this speed and over this length of time has tested us in ways that we have never been tested. Many of us regard the last two years as the most difficult of our lives. I must admit that there were more than a few moments over the last two years that broke my stride and broke my spirit, but I remain enormously grateful for all that I have in my life—health, family and friends, and a career I love. There is a saying that “tough times don’t last, but tough people do.” Never will I forget how tough Hewitt faculty, staff, students, and families were in a truly difficult time.

Yet at the end of the day, there is something more important than toughness. And that is kindness. For it is kindness—genuine, loving, human kindness—that opens up the dark and brings back the light.

As a teacher and scholar of literature, I have long believed in the transformative power of poetry, literature, and the arts to open up our hearts and minds to new, empathetic, and generative ways of thinking about one’s life and the world around us. Last week, I attended The Wellsprings of Leadership, a conference facilitated for independent school leaders by The Aspen Institute. Together with my fellow seminar participants, we wrestled with a central question: What does it take to mobilize for good? One piece of literature we discussed was “Once The World Was Perfect,” a short poem written by Joy Harjo, the first Native American named Poet Laureate of the United States. I’d like to share this poem with you:

Once The World Was Perfect
by Joy Harjo

Once the world was perfect, and we were happy in that world.
Then we took it for granted.
Discontent began a small rumble in the earthly mind.
Then Doubt pushed through with its spiked head.
And once Doubt ruptured the web,
All manner of demon thoughts 
Jumped through—
We destroyed the world we had been given
For inspiration, for life—
Each stone of jealousy, each stone
Of fear, greed, envy, and hatred, put out the light.
No one was without a stone in his or her hand.
There we were,
Right back where we had started.
We were bumping into each other in the dark.
And now we had no place to live, since we didn’t know
How to live with each other.
Then one of the stumbling ones took pity on another
And shared a blanket.
A spark of kindness made a light.
The light made an opening in the darkness.
Everyone worked together to make a ladder.
A Wind Clan person climbed out first into the next world,
And then the other clans, the children of those clans, their children,
And their children, all the way through time—
To now, into this morning light to you.

Reading Harjo’s poem, we asked ourselves: What does it mean to mobilize for good? What did it mean for us in the past? And what does it mean for us now, today, when there appear to be endless forces counteracting what is good? Harjo’s poem ultimately reminded me that “mobilizing for good” requires genuine human kindness. It requires being connected enough to others that you care about them—want to “share a blanket” with them. It requires wanting to learn “how to live with each other,” even and especially when we “bump into each other in the dark,” as we will inevitably do. Harjo beckons us to return to our essential goodness. And she invites us to consider the powerful and restorative act of choosing kindness with no wish of anything in return. Harjo summons us to be, as a Hewitt colleague recently said, “a person for others.” Just because. No matter who we are, we all have the power to show kindness, and when we do we create a world in which everyone works together to “make a ladder,” so that we, our children, and our children’s children can live in a world of peace and kindness, a world of love and light.

I like to think that this is what our founder, Caroline Hewitt, meant when she stated, “It is the touch of life upon life that matters most in a school.” I would argue that the “touch of life upon life” is what’s most important not only in school but also in life. In fact, a longitudinal Harvard study, almost 80 years old, has proven that close, positive relationships with spouses, family, friends, social circles, and one’s community help us live longer and be happier in our lives. It’s not how much money we have or where we went to school. It’s the quality of our personal connections that matters in the end.

In this moment of awakening spring, I urge us all to reflect on the last two years, and to ask ourselves: What will it take to mobilize for good? What is one thing you can do differently to mobilize for good? I have been inspired by the way members of the Hewitt community have already begun to consider these questions, and look forward to continuing the conversation with our students, families, faculty, and staff as we approach the end of the school year. 

Dr. Kinsey shared this message with Hewitt students, parents, guardians, faculty, and staff on March 8, 2022. 

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