I have been thinking about the impact of the recent La Crosse Compassion Project and of our goal to sustain a level of awareness and investment.
I recall the remarkable leadership of our art instructors, when more than 6,000 students completed canvas tiles depicting their own interpretation of compassion. Community activities and gatherings, school assemblies, plus the tremendous exhibit of student artwork at The Pump House Regional Arts Center truly inspired us all.
Through the efforts of individuals, organizations and classroom teachers, the message of compassion lives on. Further, the continued actions of dedicated groups, such as those at Gundersen Health System and members of our local media, have perpetuated this project in their own, amazing ways.
It is a reality of human nature that we do not act or behave as though we are robots. We have a free will and judgments to make at each turn — and we would not want it any other way. But it is our actions and behaviors toward others that define us, that creates our image and our reputation. It creates the legacy that remains when we are no longer here.
Sometimes it’s difficult for young people to understand, to consider that our lives have a span, that there is a beginning and an end. That one day, we will not be present with those who now envelope our daily experiences. That it will be, at some point in the future, only our legacy that sustains the picture of who we were.
Occasionally, I ask students — those who have made poor judgments or choices — to consider their actions. I ask them to think about the words that they use and their behavior toward others.
I ask, “Is this how you want to be viewed — how you want others to identify or remember you?”
Truth be told, I frequently ask myself those very questions — to remind me of the ways that my own words and actions affect those for whom I care.
Our goal should not be perfection, for that is impossible. We should seek to improve what we have, to be a person who may lighten the load of others, to encourage those who are adrift, to live as a compassionate person.
There is a story of a young woman that has been told, countless times, in gatherings and rallies, school assemblies and corporate trainings around the world. The story of this individual — and her legacy — has endured. Rachel Joy Scott, a 17-year-old at the threshold of a vibrant, adult life, was the first victim in the horrific 1999 Columbine High School shootings. In a fleeting moment, her life ended.
A reflective writer, Rachel kept a journal of her hopes and dreams to change her school, her community and beyond. She imagined creating a “chain-reaction” of kindness and compassion, to reconsider relationships that we have with people on a daily basis. Shortly before her death, Rachel wrote, “I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness can go.”
Realizing the impact of her writings on friends and classmates, Rachel’s family created a public presentation to inspire others and to spread Rachel’s vision. To date, in 15 years, this program — known as Rachel’s Challenge — has been heard by more than 21 million people.
A Rachel’s Challenge presentation will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Lincoln Middle School auditorium. This program is made available through a generous grant provided to our student council by the La Crosse Public Education Foundation, a remarkable group that provides tens of thousands of dollars yearly to fund myriad educational projects and needs.
We would be honored it you would join us in a simple community gathering — it’s free and open to the public — to remember the life of Rachel Scott, to consider the insight contained in her writings, and to reflect on ways that we — as a community — can truly accept Rachel’s Challenge.