I had a wonderful English teacher in grade school. Her name was Sister Alice Marguerite, S.J., a Sisters of Saint Joseph nun. “Voyages in English” was the textbook, and I recall working through grammar exercises, rewriting sentences and diagraming sentences in my black marble copybook, because we were not permitted to write in the answers in the text, that was passed on to next year’s student.
One of the grammatical rules that Sister Alice helped us remember was how to appropriately structure a compound subject which also referenced yourself. So often today, I hear people say, “Me and my friends . . .” and I cringe, hearing Sister’s voice say, “It’s not polite to put yourself before others, so the correct grammatical form is ‘My friends and I . . . ‘”
Just hearing a recent television interview of a famous person who used the “Me and my friends” formula often, I thought about the subtleties of the meaning, and asked myself, “In our contemporary culture, do we innately think about putting others before ourselves?” It is certainly something that we teach in our Catholic Christian faith tradition, and it is not exclusive to our religious tradition. In the recent Open House video created by the World Languages and Cultures Department, Sophia Liston ’20, shared her summer experience of living in Taiwan and studying the language and culture. She explained that the Taiwanese are taught to “cater to the needs of other people.” Her experience is that they try to “be mindful of what you need and what you were expecting and accommodate those expectations.” What a beautiful statement about an ancient culture that is rooted in a communal vision of peace and harmony!
This sense of kindness toward and awareness of others is fundamental to our concept of community at Archmere. And the gestures that accompany this mindfulness are simple ones: “Please” and “Thank you,” holding the door for others, and in conversations, being respectful of differences, offering comfortable space of dialog and deeper understanding, asking the question often, “How can I help?” Over the last few weeks, I have been visiting classes, randomly “shadowing” a student’s day schedule to experience what the students experience. It has been wonderfully refreshing and validating to see students engaged with each other and their teachers in learning in such supportive and thoughtful learning environments. It was obvious that teachers were not only leading the conversations, but they were also listening to the students.
My constant hope and prayer is that our students who are a part of this caring Archmere community will go on to make positive change in a world that seems to be absorbed in “self” and polarized in opinion. The tragic shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh was borne out of hatred and antisemitism. We keep the members of this grieving community in our prayers. Just a few days before, authorities were retrieving bombs being sent through the mail. These extreme violent acts are universally condemned; however, I am concerned that our public discourse and our “me first” culture has deteriorated to the degree that somehow these radical elements believe that they can express themselves through violence. While these recent events present a disturbing picture of our contemporary culture, I do believe that there are many wonderful people, like those of our Archmere community, who care about others, who regularly put others’ needs before their own, and who, in the end, will make the defining difference. Sister Alice would be pleased.