Dear TASIS Dorado Community, Friends, and Family,
As we approach Thanksgiving, have you wondered what there is to be thankful for in the midst of such hardship and suffering in Puerto Rico? No doubt, we are looking forward to a feast of food. Food and water were especially scarce in the first weeks after Hurricane Maria, before supplies started to arrive. One man said to me in the early weeks, "We had a can of corned beef last night. It tasted like churrasco!"
The best school in Puerto Rico
Shortly after the storm, one of our TD moms said to me as we paused during the herculean task of cleaning up the school, "Esto es la mejor escuela en Puerto Rico." I realized she was not talking about TASIS Dorado, but rather about what she saw taking place in her children's lives. She spoke of what they were learning by observing the adults in the community as they shared resources and worked together. Neighbors helping neighbors, neighbors talking to neighbors, neighbors meeting more neighbors in one week than in the previous ten years.
Her kids were also experiencing the difference they personally could make in the lives of others by their acts of kindness and service. Many of our TD families and teachers went to Corozal and Utuado and Vega Baja and other devastated towns to give out food, water, and supplies. More than ever before, our community was moving beyond the "Dorado bubble" to meet the needs of others.
Furthermore, without TV or internet or cell phone service, children were spending time outdoors playing games with friends and riding bikes, instead of sitting on the sofa or immersed in screens. What an unexpectedly positive benefit from such hardship!
The aftermath of Hurricane Maria has been teaching us and our children how to rise up in the face of adversity. I'd bet you never thought you had the inner strength to endure weeks and weeks without electricity. I certainly didn't. Of course, it has been challenging, but as Albert Einstein wrote, "Adversity introduces a man to himself." (The same applies to women!) The actress Mary Tyler Moore said, "You can't be brave if you've only had wonderful things happen to you." This whole experience has been a roller coaster of emotions and difficulties, but please take time to appreciate the ways that you have been brave in taking care of yourself and others around you.
Best-selling author Sebastian Junger writes in Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging (2016), "Humans don't mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary." His book is a fascinating study of how to respond to the "beauty and tragedy of the modern world... that eliminates many situations that require people to demonstrate a commitment to the collective good." With all our "creature comforts," we have become more isolated and alienated from one another than any society in history and we must choose to re-engage.
Junger cites abundant research that shows how people rise to meet challenges. "Social bonds were reinforced during disasters, and... people overwhelmingly devoted their energies toward the good of the community rather than just themselves." For a time, at least, people rediscover the significance of being human via a crisis.
One comment I have heard repeatedly over the past two months is, "I have learned that happiness does not depend on what I possess or conveniences like power and air conditioning. Happiness depends on things like friendship and family and giving and hope."
Since Hurricane Maria, many of us have realized how much we take things for granted, such as running water, electricity, air conditioning, washing machines, dishwashers, etc., etc. Not only do we take them for granted, we believe we deserve them! How easy it is to feel entitled!
Although Hurricane Maria affected virtually all of us in Puerto Rico, some people were hit much harder than others. Many have been moved to compassion and action by the suffering around them.
Hurricane Maria has offered the opportunity to connect with what the apostle Paul wrote 2,000 years ago: "I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need..." (Philippians 4:11-12)
Contentment, Complacency, and Resilience
Make no mistake—contentment is not the same as complacency, conformity, or resignation. A contented person is grounded in hope; a complacent person has essentially given up hope for change. Unlike the resigned, complacent person, a contented person knows that happiness is found not in the accumulation of possessions, but in a life of purpose, service, and the joyful use of one's gifts.
One more thought: In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, ("The Secrets of Resilience," Nov. 10, 2017), Dr. Meg Jay wrote the following: "Does early hardship in life keep children from becoming successful adults? It's an urgent question for parents and educators, who worry that children growing up in difficult circumstances will fail to reach their full potential, or worse, sink into despair and dysfunction." She continues:
Social scientists have shown that these risks are real, but they also have found a surprising pattern among those whose early lives included tough times: Many draw strength from hardship and see their struggle against it as one of the keys to their later success. A wide range of studies over the past few decades has shed light on how such people overcome life's adversities—and how we might all cultivate resilience as well.
Economists predict that it will take 20 years for Puerto Rico to recover from the effects of Hurricane Maria. We have the opportunity now to "cultivate resilience" in ourselves and in our children for the sake of the island's long-term common good, including its infrastructure, culture, and economy. If this island is to rise again as our slogan claims (Puerto Rico se levanta!), it will take the concerted and sacrificial efforts of many citizens over a long period of time. Puerto Rico will need skilled artists and engineers, researchers and teachers, visionaries, entrepreneurs, and builders, as well as wise and incorruptible financial managers and politicians to tackle the problems we share. Investing in renewable energy sources and in leadership training are just two of the many opportunities we must address. Our school's Strategic Plan already focuses on leadership development and the importance of science, technology, engineering, art, and math, but the need now is clearer and more urgent than ever.
So, on this Thanksgiving Day, as you gather with your family and loved ones, you might discover that you are more thankful this year than ever before. Let nothing be taken for granted. Think of washing machines and running water, think of electricity and air conditioning, think of good health, think of neighbors and grandparents and children and bicycles and laughter. Think of life.
And if you feel depleted and exhausted from the grind of weeks without electricity or from continuously giving, I hope you'll be gentle with yourself. We all need a break and the support of others. Take these days to recharge your resilience batteries. As passengers are advised on an airplane, make sure you connect your own oxygen supply first, then attend to the needs of those around you.
Thank you for taking the time to read this rather long message. I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving!
With gratitude for you,
Timothy Howard, Ed.D.
Headmaster ║TASIS Dorado