Option 3: What happens when there are differences or conflicts within a community? How do we respond with patience, tolerance, and openness to building bridges?
Madeleine Agudelo, Grade 6, Greene Street Friends School
Last year, I was new to Greene Street Friends School. I didn’t know who to hang out with. So in the first week of school or so, during the recesses, I tried hanging out with many different groups of friends. After a little while of doing this, I found a group. We were together all the time. But we wouldn’t let other people play games with us, and we were not allowed to make friends outside of the group. Our group name was M.E.S.M.A., one letter for each of our first names. We started book clubs, and with the book clubs it was nice because we would let other people join the club too. Then I stopped doing the book club, as well as many other people.
Later in the year, our group had some problems. Half of us wanted to step away from the group, and the other half wanted to keep the club just as it was. We had many discussions about this, and decided to keep our little club, but allow other people to play. We were still a club, but anyone else that wanted to play could play with us.
In the beginning of this school year, during our class trip, we finally stopped the group. We still are friends and hang out together, but we are not a club. It feels much better not to be a group, because you can be with the group when you want and you can be with other friends too. All of us like it better.
I think that it was very important to include people for many reasons: it feels better for me; it lets other people play; and you don’t feel stuck. It feels better because you know you are doing a good thing. It’s better for other people because if they want to play they can and if they don’t they don’t have to. Also, you don’t feel stuck. Sometimes if you stay with the same group for so long, you feel that you are stuck. If you are free to go and play with other people, then this gives you some wiggle room. Doing this felt better for me, and it felt better for everyone.
It’s important for us, and it’s important for the whole school community to include. It is important because a community that doesn’t let other people join is not a healthy, inclusive community.
If everyone includes everyone in the community, and even those not in the community, it makes everyone feel better. Thomas Jefferson said, “I believe that every human mind feels pleasure in doing good to another.” I think that this quote means when you do good to others, you will feel good yourself. This practice can also reflect on the community; if you treat everyone with respect, you will feel better knowing that you did a good thing and you will be treated the same way. This way everyone will be a part of the bigger community, and the community will be kind and caring. This also goes for other communities besides the ones at school.
You can have many different communities, like at home, at school, or someplace else. You might be part of lots of small communities within a big community, just like I was part of M.E.S.M.A. So with everything you do with other people, think of it as a small community—sometimes within a bigger one, and sometimes just by itself. But when you think about it, there will always be a bigger community that you belong in, like your town, city, and country.
We are also part of one more community with everyone included: the earth. This community is not always peaceful, and not everyone treats others with peace, respect, and kindness. But if we do, it will make an impact. This impact will reflect on other people and even animals, then they just might start to do the same thing back.
I chose to write about an experience of my own because I think that it really represents community in a good way. Sometimes there are problems, and when they get solved, it makes me feel really good afterward. I thought that this would be a really good example of when there are problems in the community, it’s really not that hard to solve them.
Hands of Peace
Heidi Suh, Grade 9, Westtown School
Pictured in this illustration is the shape of a star consisting of five hands of distinct ethnicities. I drew five hands all with peace signs, and they all form a star. I think this represents the community at Westtown since everyone is so diverse. This is also representative of Westtown since they are all making peace signs, and as a Quaker school, we are very peaceful. The hands are all different ethnicities to represent the diversity in Westtown. The hands form a big star, which shows that Westtown, with the help of everyone in the school, can form one big shape. Community is a feeling of fellowship between other individuals, and the five hands are uniting in a common purpose. This portrays how Westtown can band together to create something really great. The groups of people here are very diverse, and they all have amazing ideas, which can greatly contribute to the community.
I’m a Muslim Too
Bilaal Degener, Grade 6, Sidwell Friends School
My mom told me a story about when she dealt with ignorance from a kid in 2001 after the Twin Towers were struck down. Schools were closed because of the plane attacks. A fourth-grade teacher had to tell her students why they were missing school. She told them that some terrorists from a dangerous group in Afghanistan called al-Qaeda were suspected of crashing planes into the Pentagon and the Twin Towers.
All the kids were scared, but one kid said, “Why don’t we just blow Afghanistan off the face of the earth so they don’t come? Won’t that end all the fighting in America?”
The teacher asked him, “Have you ever met someone from Afghanistan?”
“No,” he grumbled in response.
“How about I invite someone from Afghanistan to have a talk with the class?” she offered politely.
My mom went to the class a few days later and shared with them many stories about all the fun experiences she had with her family growing up in Kabul, such as snow slides that her uncle built for the kids, the ice cream vendor that came down their block in the summer, and the delicious tomatoes and beautiful roses that grew in their garden. The boy realized that he made a mistake; he realized all children share the same fun times in the places they love the most.
When I heard this story, it reminded me of a time in class when we were learning about Muslims and their beliefs. A girl had heard about how Muslims have to pray, fast, and do all kinds of things which are much harder than just living a life without religion at all. The class thought that it was very hard to go on Hajj, but I said it is a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Then one girl said, “Let’s just get rid of the Muslims. They are all just terrorists anyway, right?”
I felt very offended by that comment so I announced, “I’m a Muslim too, and I’m not just going to terrorize this whole class!”
“You’re a Muslim?” she asked
“Yes, I am a Muslim,” I replied.
Two of my friends helped explain that Muslims are not horrible people that want to destroy the world. She said she was sorry and that she didn’t mean to hurt my feelings.
Both of these stories showed me how we can be mindful of people around us and people everywhere. I commented to my mom that in both stories a kid thought poorly of Muslims and wanted to get rid of them; she agreed but also added that both people realized their mistake and apologized for what they said. From these two stories we can understand that to make our community feel as safe as possible, we need to respect other people’s faiths, home countries, and religions because making this change could be a step to having peace in our community.
Resolving Conflict in My Community
Jack DeVuono, Grade 9, Westtown School
When there are differences or conflicts in my community, there are two phases that we go through every time. It starts off with harsh words—the kind where you do not even realize what you are saying until it is too late, and then you brood over what was said for the next couple of hours, days, even weeks. People will take proactive measures as well, such as setting up meetings, making big announcements, or going to local authority figures, like the school principal. This is how the ideas surrounding the difference spread.
At my school, we have a bulletin board called the Opinion Board where people in our community can share their thoughts. One day, someone posted on it the statement “Black Lives Matter” to go along with the movement. Another person responded with the words “All Lives Matter” right next to this. These two comments sparked an extreme amount of controversy in our school, and many unkind words and phrases were spoken throughout the campus. To move forward with this conflict, a group of students organized several meetings for business to talk about the subject. The group also brought the issue to the principal, a move which sparked more talk and direct action throughout our school. These words and actions represent phase one of when a new difference or conflict comes up in my community.
This is then soon followed by phase two, which begins when each member finally gets everything out of their system and is able to take a breath, relax, and really put some thought into the subject at hand. It is during this time of discussion that we are then able to accept the difference or solve the conflict that has been tampering with the gears that run our community. We responded with everything needed to solve any problem: honesty, patience, openness, kindness, unity, and energy. We expressed these through talks, kind words, and apologies. And it worked! This is how the “Black Lives Matter” versus “All Lives Matter” conflict was solved at my school. We sat down in a room together and created a safe space where each person was allowed to openly state all thoughts, opinions, and emotions on the matter. Together, we were able to overcome this struggle. In the end, the conflict was overcome peacefully, and our community is stronger because of it.
- Option 1: What are the important elements of building a loving, safe, and supportive community?
- Option 2: What are some ways to support and care for each member of your community?
- Option 3: What happens when there are differences or conflicts within a community?
- Option 4: Share an example of a community working together to accomplish a greater goal.
- Thanks: Thank you to all of the participants of the third annual Student Voices Project!