Thirty-seven years ago I became a teacher. I became a teacher because I was passionate about peace and justice and I wanted to make the world a better place. It was the right decision and I grateful that I stumbled into the work I love at the age of 21. I am still teaching because I still love it. And because I still want to make the world a better place. I am still passionate about peace and justice, but I have learned some things. I have learned that peace and justice begins with please and thank you. And hello. There is simply no way to leapfrog over love and courtesy to righteous indignation. Don’t get me wrong: righteous indignation has been the fire of change in a world that is under the spell of “how it has always been.” But there are no shortcuts here. Love and courtesy pave the way for peace and justice.
“Hello” is the first real vocabulary word teachers teach. It won’t be found on a test, but you can find it in every language, culture, religion, and civilization. The word is familiar—too familiar – and has been cheapened over time. We use it to punctuate sarcasm (Helloooo????) or to demand attention (Hellooooo!!!!!) or to proclaim discovery (HEL-LO!). So, it takes some intentionality to dust off this treasure and restore its beauty. Like most restorations, it is worth it.
I am not a purist. I know that the best hellos come in many forms—some of them raucous and some of them silent. Whatever the form, the important thing is to learn to acknowledge the grace and dignity of each and every person we encounter along the way. This isn’t a skill or a personality trait. This is a choice and a practice. This isn’t a Virginia Standard of Learning, but it certainly one of the most important things I teach.
School starts this week and once again I will embrace this word and the nuanced values that it represents: I see you; I respect you; I greet you; I want to work with you; we are okay; I am willing to deepen this relationship; we are part of a bigger world.
My children and I will learn how to greet one another in morning meeting every day. As the year moves along this becomes a sacred practice. They learn that it matters. It is so simple, this practice of saying hello, but it changes us. It is a doorway to making the world a better place. Stand in that doorway with me. Stop and say hello.