The bustle of the school day had ended. The last of the after school activities had passed. So we sat, reflecting on the events of the day. As we conversed, Sr. Sue recounted passionately, “The Sisters would constantly reiterate, never raise your hand while someone else is speaking. If you are already thinking of your reply, then you are not listening to the other person.”
How often do we see people quickly and vigorously “raising their hand?” Traditionally, there are many ways by which people “raise their hand:” the agitated body language, intentionally interrupting, or subtlety not paying attention. Today, people can “raise their hand” in many other ways: a tweet, Facebook post, or Instagram picture. Traditional or modern, these actions all send the same message, “My response is more important than what you have to say.”
On March 24th, more than 1,000 people participated in a March for Our Lives Rally, organized by CBA’s junior class student, Phylicia Latorre and a few of her classmates. At the March for Our Lives, the final words of Philly Latorre’s speech to the gathered crowd were, “to listen.” Philly could have offered countless words of advice:
“Make people hear us!”
Instead, Philly chose to encourage people “to listen.” Listen, not just to hear, but to understand. Listen, not just to understand the words, but to understand the person, their life, and their experiences. Listen, not just to people with the same opinion, but all people. Truly listen.
On Palm Sunday, Pope Francis reflected on the shouting down of others, “Here is another form of shouting.. Crucify him! It is not spontaneous but already armed with disparagement, slander and false witness.” You can picture Jesus trying to speak the truth yet silenced by shouts of “Crucify him!” These shouts were the hands being raised—silencing the voices and failing to listen. The message of Jesus, the message of the leper, the message of the healed, were drowned out by the shouts of “Crucify him!”
Throughout their involvement with the march, these students were often shouted at, but they possessed the courage to continue. Comments surfaced on social media such as, “These are basically children with vague ideas and in no way are suitable to comment on public policy. But if they want to seem ignorant and self-contradictory, what harm can there be?” Or, “Do they teach United States history at CBA? Sounds like these girls need a history lesson in prohibition, and then an English lesson to follow.” It would have been easy for these young women to become angry, hostile, or divisive. Instead, they chose the more difficult path, a path outlined by St. Teresa of Calcutta who encouraged all of us to, “Give the world your best and it may not be good enough. Give your best anyway.” Our students did not allow the harsh words to harden their hearts, or change their character. It is a lesson for all of us—people may say hurtful things, but we must always react in a way true to ourselves with love, kindness, and compassion. We must truly listen.
In the life of de La Salle, hands were constantly raised, interrupting and not hearing his message. The economically disadvantaged children of France cried out for help, but traditional schoolmasters refused to educate this population. De La Salle reminded the schoolmasters that every child was created in the image of God and therefore deserved an education, an opportunity to develop into the person that they were created to be. De La Salle did not believe that God stopped forming people after birth, but that He continued to form people throughout their lives, working through de La Salle and all those committed to this ministry.
At CBA, we continue De La Salle’s mission to teach students to listen, to empathize, to understand, and to be compassionate. Educational institutions should be places where all students feel welcome, physically safe, intellectually safe, and respected. Our classrooms should be places that no matter our personal beliefs, all students feel comfortable sharing their personal beliefs. Whether our students are Catholic or another denomination, liberal or conservative, black or white, republican or democrat—honest, respectful dialogue must always be one of the core values of our classrooms.
We strive to teach students to be leaders, to be passionate advocates for the causes that are important in their lives. I am proud of the leadership of the five CBA students (Jessa Davidson, Rachel Krul, Sydney Schulman, Aishwarya Varakantam and Phylicia Latorre) who organized the March for Our Lives. Pope Francis said, “There are many ways to silence young people and make them invisible. Many ways to anesthetize them, to make them keep quiet, ask nothing, question nothing. There are many ways to sedate them, to keep them from getting involved, to make their dreams flat and dreary, petty and plaintive. It is up to you (young people) not to keep quiet.” Our Lasallian, Catholic, and liberal arts tradition challenges us to continue to inspire safe classrooms where all students engage in critical, thoughtful, and respectful conversations, instilling self-confidence, leadership, and courage, to not raise hands, but to truly listen.
Each of us encounters times in our lives when the hands are raised around us. We also encounter times when we are the ones raising our hands. When we are quick to raise our hands without listening, Pope Francis reminds us that, “Hope is demolished, dreams are killed, joy is suppressed; the heart is shielded and charity grows cold. It is the cry of ‘save yourself’, which would dull our sense of solidarity, dampen our ideals, and blur our vision… the cry that wants to erase compassion.” When we hold back our hand, listen to understand, listen with empathy, we move the whole world forward, one relationship at a time.
As Lasallians, each of us are responsible for creating a culture where all beliefs are respected. We meet students where they are and encourage them to enjoy knowledge, critically think, and engage in respectful dialogue that further reveals the truth. While not everyone may agree on the what, we strive to teach students the how— with respect, with empathy, with listening, and with passion. It is not the topic, but how people engage each other in the topic, that strengthens the solidarity of humanity…. All it takes is not raising our hand.
Mr. Matthew Keough
Principal, Christian Brothers Academy