“Why are those kids filling up their buckets with water?” my son who was 12 at the time asked. “Because they don’t have running water in their houses.” my wife responded. My son and his two younger sisters looked perplexed. We were in Morocco. That moment might have been the best part of the trip. If I added up the hours that my wife and I have tried to instill gratitude in our children, the impact would likely not equal that single moment.
I was an Assistant District Attorney in Philadelphia. Through that work, I saw the challenges of our witnesses and victims who lived in rough inner city neighborhoods. When I was in college in Washington, DC, I participated in two tutoring programs: one for talented youth from the inner city and one for juvenile delinquents. I remember going to one of my student’s schools and viewing a blackboard that was filled from top to bottom with writing. The student explained that the teacher had written what was in “the class’s textbook”. I didn’t understand. “We don’t have textbooks because there is no money. The school can afford one only for the teacher. So she writes down what’s in the textbook and the kids who care copy from the blackboard.” I looked as perplexed as my children did in Morocco.
Students in Shoreline, Connecticut live in an idyllic area. Most of those living in Guilford, Madison, Essex, Old Saybrook, Old Lyme, East Lyme and other gorgeous towns in Southeastern, CT have – fortunately- never experienced real challenges. When I hear the occasional student whine about having to take the SAT, I begin my gratitude lecture with acknowledgement that it is fully understandable that we gripe about any challenge (even if we are fortunate enough to have a car, driving through Connecticut’s I-95 will make even a monk irritated!) but that the secret to happiness is perspective. I then launch into my “If the SAT is your biggest challenge…” discussion. Surprising as it may seem, most nod their heads and understand.