Posted: Friday, February 23, 2018 11:00 am
By John Bays/News-Sentinel Staff Writer
Techno music pulsed in Lois E. Borchardt Elementary School’s cafeteria as fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders entered for a special assembly by Think Kindness on Thursday morning.
Think Kindness inspires “measurable acts of kindness in schools and communities around the world,” according to the organization’s website. Founder Brian Williams spoke at Borchardt in 2017 and inspired students to collect more than 1,700 pairs of shoes that were donated to children in Africa.
Vice Principal Cassandra Sotelo kicked off Thursday’s assembly along with the Borchardt’s Kindness Crew, a group of 10 students formed after last year’s Acts of Kindness assembly to take the lead on kindness projects. One student introduced Gary Xavier, a former Marine sniper and childhood friend of Williams, who began working with the organization in 2014.
“One of the main issues I have with kindness is that is doesn’t run deep enough. I think that serving your enemy, someone you don’t like, is what makes kindness real. It’s what makes its true power come out. In light of all the shootings that have happened, there’s been a lot of talk about legislation. What we’re concerned about is students legislating their own hearts,” Xavier said.
Xavier entered to more techno music, jumping with the audience before asking them to sit back down. Channeling his Marine Corps roots, Xavier raised the students’ energy levels by introducing the Kindness Crew, with each student’s name followed by an enthusiastic “Hoorah!” from the crowd. He used a picture of himself landing on his face after a failed backflip to show that first impressions are not always correct before explaining the similarities between being a sniper and being kind.
“To become a sniper, you have to train every single day. It’s not easy, it’s not the most glamorous thing to do. It’s sweaty, it’s really hard work. To be really kind, to be kind to someone who doesn’t want it, to be kind to someone who hurt you, that takes training. I actually think that you (students) are better teachers for doing that,” Xavier said.
Xavier used various animals to represent three personality traits that must be acquired to practice real kindness, starting with a sheep representing apathy and the desire to remain in one’s comfort zone instead of doing what is right.
“A real sheep will eat grass until it eats dirt. A real sheep will walk over the edge of a cliff following another animal. A real sheep just wants to do what feels good, it doesn’t care about doing what’s right,” Xavier said.
Xavier enlisted the help of fifth-graders Maggie Lawrence and Landon De Silva to illustrate his point. De Silva fell to the ground, pretending to be injured, and Xavier instructed Lawrence to first ignore him, the comfortable thing to do, then help him, the right thing, explaining that controlling one’s inner sheep leads to compassion, the first trait.
Xavier also told a story from his own past to show the dangers of apathy. When Xavier was 15, his father died of cancer, causing him to disregard the consequences of his actions and make poor decisions. At age 19, Xavier parked in a red zone and threw his keys at a police officer who wrote him a ticket, and was arrested for assaulting the officer.
“I’m sitting in jail and realizing that my sheep has made me sick. I am sick, I’m sitting in jail for parking in a red zone. The bad guys always lose, think about the movies you’ve seen. They might win today, but in the end, they always lose,” Xavier said.
Xavier then used a wolf to represent the danger of peer pressure, anger and lies. Wolves take advantage of those weaker than them, he explained, because their friends encourage them to do so. People succumb to peer pressure, he said, because they fear losing friends if they stand up to them.
“A wolf sees something and just wants to take it, that’s why they’re so angry. A wolf just takes what’s his, so no one else can have it. A wolf will never say ‘I’m the best,’ but they’ll say, ‘I’m better than you.’ That’s wolf talk,” Xavier said.
He had Lawrence pretend to kick De Silva, then help him, to prove his point. Xavier told the students that anyone who would tell them to hurt someone is not a real friend, and that by helping others they can make new friends who may return the favor. Controlling the wolf leads to courage — doing the right thing despite one’s own fears, he said.
He used a lion to represent the final personality trait, power, saying that kindness is “truly the only superhuman power we have.”
“You might see a new kid on the playground, who doesn’t have any friends. The sheep thing to do would be to leave them alone. The wolf thing to do would be to make fun of them, but the lion thing to do is to say: ‘What’s your name?’” Xavier said.
Xavier then gave the students their two-part mission. The first part challenges each student to complete a list of 10 acts of kindness, he said, such as helping with household chores, thanking teachers and introducing themselves to someone they don’t know.
“If you can finish these acts, this school will have done over 8,000 acts of kindness. The final act is the most challenging, and that is to do something kind for someone who has hurt you. The second part of the challenge is that every class in this school is going to do something to make this school better. You’re going to do this one big thing on top of those 8,000 acts of kindness, and you’re going to do this in 15 days! These next 15 days are yours, and I can’t wait to see what you do with them,” Xavier said.
Sotelo hopes the children will learn about compassion and the rewards of helping others through projects like cleaning up the campus, making banners to thank school staff and writing letters to students in Parkland, Fla., returning to school after last week’s tragic shooting.
“We want our students to have experiences with helping someone who might not be able to help themselves or who might not be having a good day. And what I truly want our students to understand and believe, is they have the power inside of them to make the right choice. Our children have the power inside of them to choose to be a kind person, and we need to keep telling them that until they hear us,” Sotelo said.