The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Under Pressure

My wife and I went to my high school’s Operation Snowball event this weekend. It is something I have done nearly every single year since 1998 (excepting only the two years that I was serving a mission in California), so this was my fifteenth such event at Washington Community High School. Gretch started going in 2008, shortly after we’d started dating, and has been six times now. (She didn’t go last year due to medical circumstances.)

The theme for Washington’s Snowball this year was “Under Pressure” and thus it has been on my thoughts a lot the past few days. It seemed particularly appropriate for these students whose lives have been under immense pressure over the past couple of months. You may be aware that there was a massive tornado that blew through a few communities in central Illinois this past November. What you may not realise is that the community that was hit the hardest was Washington. The town is still struggling to recover and rebuild, but they are doing it!

There are many times that I hear others describe social/emotional pressure as a bad thing: peer pressure is often associated with negative choices, such as consuming alcohol, experimenting with drugs, and participating in risky behaviours. But there is positive peer pressure: pressure to do well in school, to have good friends who lift you up, to follow rules. Too much pressure, whether positive or negative, can break you. Not enough pressure, though, can leave you weak. The challenge is to find the right balance of positive pressure.

The t-shirts printed for this weekend’s event had a statement printed on the back:

“When we long for life without difficulties, remember that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure.”

This quotation is properly attributed to the Rev. Peter Marshall, former pastor of New York Avenue Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and two-time Chaplain of the United States Senate. However, what I know him for best is this other quotation of his:

“Let us not be content to wait and see what will happen, but give us the determination to make the right thing happen.”

Interestingly enough, this quotation from Rev. Marshall’s US Senate prayer on 10 March 1948 is sometimes misattributed to Horace Mann. Although spoken at different times, both statements have related themes. We should not, we cannot, run away from difficulties, from choices, from living! Life is hard; life is messy. It is full of opportunities to make choices, and it is up to each of us to make the right choices so that we will be strong, emotionally, mentally, intellectually.

Earlier today a friend of mine shared a brief conversation she recently had with a college athlete on Twitter. She made a comment about athletes being role models, to which he responded that he does not think of himself as such, nor do most athletes. (And, by extension, it is true that many athletes and celebrities feel the same way.) Here’s the thing: You don’t get to choose whether or not you are a role model. Once people know who you are, once they know what you do, there are going to be others who use you as their example. Whether you are an international celebrity or just an older brother or sister, you are a role model to someone. That isn’t the choice you get to make. The choice you get to make is what kind of role model you are going to be. Are you going to be a positive role model who lifts others up or are you going to be the kind that becomes the butt of late-night television jokes and social media derision? We all live under pressure; we all have choices to make. You can’t always change what happens to you; you can change how you respond to it.

This year’s Snowball event was a good one. I learned a lot and I have a lot that I will take with me as a move forward and contemplate how I will respond to pressure and choices, as a husband, as a brother, as a son, as an uncle, as a teacher, as a leader, as a friend, as a role model.

[NOTE: This has been cross-posted on my blog.]


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