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Three times per week, I teach an elective to 7th and 8th graders and I get to talk to them all about leadership. It’s fun and rewarding for me (I hope it is for them too), and I choose activities that I think will really cause my students to think, not simply do the work.

Last week, I asked my students to reflect on the past few months and describe an activity, person, or event that really impacted them in a positive way. After they each wrote down their ideas, I asked them to write down a few words that represented how they felt. They wrote words like “loved” and “happy” and understood.”

Then, I told them to think of someone they know who needs to feel that way, to think of someone who needs to feel one of those feelings. They looked at me funny, but I made them write down the person’s name. Then, I asked them to think of one thing they could do to make that happen.

You should have seen the looks I got. Confusion. Annoyance. Appeasement. It was a tough activity for each of them for different reasons. One student said right away that, “this is going to be too much work.” Another one said, “I don’t know anyone who needs my help.” Another one said, “I don’t think I could really help, even if I wanted to.” Another one looked at me and rolled her eyes.

Helping people isn’t easy sometimes. People are complicated, and it can seem a whole lot easier to just, well, leave them alone. After all, can’t I just stay over here and can’t you just stay over there and we’ll all be fine?

Nope. That’s not how it works.

A lot of the time, the cost of helping others is our own comfort. Make an extra phone call? No, I can’t. My day is too busy. Write a quick note of encouragement? Nah, I’m not even sure what I would write.

The truth is that it’s not about having the ability to help; it’s about having the attitude, an attitude that says, “I’m here. I want to help, and I don’t want anything in return.”

AUTHOR: Erin Weidemann
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