My mother was upset when she learned that I wanted to serve RC Colas and MoonPies at my wedding reception. For some reason, she had a more traditional menu in mind for the event. She eventually forgave me. Some things just go better together, and for most of my childhood, RCs and Moon Pies were way up on the list. I would also add Pepsi and Peanuts. I know many of you will argue that it should be Coke and Peanuts, but I’m from North Carolina, and here it’s Pepsi. I would probably add Burgers and Fries to the list as well. I am a real sucker for a great burger with fries. I imagine we all have our own list of unusual combinations that we could also add to the list. For me, I like the saltiness of potato chips with my ice cream, and I usually add a spoon full of my wife’s strawberry freezer jam to the top of gravy and biscuits. Finding foods that go well together is a great reminder that togetherness is a critical component of our lives.
When our school leadership team met this summer, we discussed what we would like our theme to be for this school year. After a lengthy debate, we settled on Better Together, Climbing to the Top. Little did I realize how critical the idea of “Better Together” would be to the start of this school year. Because I love to spend my free time hiking with my wife, I love the visual image. After a busy, stressful week, one of our favorite things to do is to find a mountain with a great view at the top and climb it. Even though I tried not to steer the team in any particular direction, the theme fits me perfectly.
Over the past two weeks, we have witnessed both extremes of togetherness. We watched a mask debate unfold within our school district. We have seen passionate, well-meaning people on both sides of the argument get caught up in this debate. Unfortunately, unnecessary jabs have been hurled by community members that happen to see the world differently. We have also watched a flood devastate our community, and those same individuals work together to help their community recover. If the last two weeks have helped us see anything more clearly, I hope that it is the simple fact that we are better when we are together. Togetherness asks us to step away from our own wants and desires to selflessly carry another’s burdens.
Pulling together is natural for communities when they face the devastation we have witnessed over the last week. Unfortunately, within a few weeks, as the trauma we have experienced begins to fade, we will be tempted to return to the same behaviors we witnessed before the storm. We will be tempted to start hurling insults about political views and mask requirements on social media. We will be tempted to turn back to ourselves and our own wants and desires. If we are not careful, we will become inwardly focused once again.
Togetherness is powerful because it requires us to acknowledge that others matter. It requires us to do the hard work of finding common ground, realizing that most of the time, we are not as far apart in our views as we might imagine. It asks us to keep an empathetic point of view and see the world through the eyes of others that might have a different vantage point than us.
Years ago, I watched a kid put grape jelly on his sausage biscuit. I had never thought of trying the two together. After he walked away, I tried the same combination, and it worked. So now, nearly twenty years later, I ask for a grape jelly packet when I order a sausage biscuit. I watched it being modeled by someone else, I tried it, and it stuck. Our students must see us model togetherness. They must see us finding common ground and working together to find a solution. It can’t just happen after a crisis. It has to be a part of what they see us do on a regular basis. Suppose the only actions regularly modeled for them are anger, decisiveness, and division. In that case, it will be difficult for us to expect the next generation to pull together, keep together, and work together. We must continue to model for them how togetherness works.
Coming together is a beginning;
keeping together is progress;
working together is success.
Edward Everett Hale