Uplifting Communities

By Jon Leef, Upper School Principal

"If you ever feel down, if you ever feel depressed, and you want to solve your problem, go out and do something kind for somebody because when you do that, you're uplifting yourself."

You may have heard that quote if you watch CBS Sunday Morning. It was spoken by a wealthy businessman who prefers to remain anonymous. I saw him, face hidden, on last Sunday's broadcast. He enjoys playing "Secret Santa," and for years, he has given away tens of thousands of dollars to total strangers, a couple of hundred dollars at a time. He often makes his gifts while visiting thrift stores.

This year, he spread the wealth in more ways than one. He enlisted the help of five bus drivers from the Milwaukee County Transit System. He had seen news reports detailing the good deeds of those bus drivers: stopping the bus to assist a small child who had wandered out of her home, collecting a lost pair of boots, and even helping a turtle finish crossing a busy street. Those men and women became Secret Santa's helpers and passed out the money to their riders throughout the day, giving and receiving hugs of joy throughout. (Please go to CBS News online to see the reactions.)

"It was a great experience. It's gonna stick with me the rest of my life."

"It was awesome to be part of something so big."

These reactions came from a couple of the bus drivers and, together with that anonymous businessman's philosophy on uplifting oneself, tell an important story. In The Road to Character, author David Brooks draws the distinction between resumé virtues and eulogy virtues. I read the book in the year of my 50th birthday, so this reference caught my interest! Resumé virtues carry us to job interviews. They are often quoted in award presentations or introductions. They are important pieces of a senior's college application. Eulogy virtues are obviously in a different category. What would your five-year-old niece say about you? What would your life-long friend say about you? How kind to others are you? How do rate on the loyalty scale?

Often, it is easy for any of us—adults and students alike—to focus on the resumé virtues. Society gives us great encouragement in this direction. I would submit that the businessman with a keen interest in uplifting oneself has a well-developed appreciation of eulogy virtues. Of course, it is natural to react by pointing out that his success in business has allowed him to undertake his Secret Santa project. This is true. Admittedly, I have no knowledge of his backstory and so cannot tell you when, how, or why eulogy virtues became important to him. Of course, there are many other ways to practice kindness and to uplift yourself—like helping a lost child, returning lost boots, or helping a turtle!

When I was discussing uplifting and eulogy virtues with Mr. Kyle, our Dean of Students, he asked a wonderful question: "What makes someone go from a face in the crowd to an essential part of the community?" Paying attention to eulogy virtues, perhaps? I think so.

Two weeks ago, a senior at school led an assembly about mental health and suicide prevention. Working with Jacquie Butera, our Dean of Student Life, this senior put in countless hours of planning and then had to adjust to a delayed opening and a rescheduling. The assembly was remarkable: emotional, informative, sad, heartwarming and, indeed, uplifting. I cannot recall a show of greater courage by a student on a school stage. The senior had developed and carried out this effort in the face of great personal loss, seeking to uplift the community and herself when the bar might have seemed very much out of reach. Her message was straightforward. The most basic way to care for another human being is to communicate, "I see you. I hear you. I want to understand you." That is not an expensive thing to do.

At a time of the school year when most of us, young and old, are leaning far to get to the finish line just preceding winter break, my greatest hope is that we all help others get there, too. Wouldn't that be uplifting?

Enjoy a safe, restful break. Happy, healthy New Year (in advance).

In partnership,

Jon Leef
Upper School Principal