-By Claudia Felske
How many of us woke up this past week feeling unnerved, fearful, distraught?
If the media (social or otherwise) has any remaining credibility, about 50% of Americans heard the trumpet of doom this past week. Half of this country is experiencing a crisis of consciousness, engaging in some serious soul searching, lumbering through the stages of grief.
I need not state the obvious reasons why because, well, they are obvious…and because regardless of whether you’re on the mourning side of that 50% or the elated side of that 50%, I believe you could benefit from three words:
Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
Seriously? What does Cinnamon Toast Crunch have to do with this…or anything?
See, a couple weeks ago, I received an unexpected email at school:
Subject Line: Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
It was an email sent by a former student of mine Let’s call her Alison. We hadn’t crossed paths for 9 years, yet when I saw the email’s subject line, a smile of recognition snuck across my face. I knew immediately what this was about.
Alison began the email with some context: “You might remember that you once purchased a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch for me. You also took the time after school to listen to my paper about my mom’s mental health issues since I wasn’t comfortable reading it in front of the class.”
She continued, “One day in class I was complaining about being hungry and never being able to eat breakfast since one of my parents always ate all of the Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Then, I remember coming to class one day and you gave me a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal. I was SO grateful, happy, and shocked that someone cared. I know I didn’t express much emotion when you did that for me but I cried later that day knowing that someone cared enough about me to do that. Back then I wasn’t very good at expressing my emotions and I’m pretty sure I did my best to avoid you from that point on because I just wasn’t used to that.
“Years later, especially after I graduated high school, I started to feel regretful about never really thanking you for that act of kindness and there were many times I started writing an email to you but would exit out. However, I couldn’t forget that day and how much that impacted me even years later. Thank you so much Mrs. Felske for the Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I will never forget that! I went through a lot while in high school and every act of kindness that I received really mattered.”
Okay, THAT’S Part I of this blogpost, and here’s Part II (bear with me, it’ll all tie together, I promise).
A week ago (pre-election Nov. 4th) the Dalai Lama wrote an editorial in the New York Times. He discussed the global anxiety running throughout the US and across Europe, and suggested a solution. He said we must do good for others; we must “be of use.”
He cited research showing that people who feel useful are three times less likely to die prematurely as those who don’t. “Americans who prioritize doing good for others are almost twice as likely to say they are very happy about their lives. In Germany, people who seek to serve society are five times likelier to say they are very happy than those who do not view service as important.”
This makes sense to me.
Buying that box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch for Alison years ago was a small act. At the time, what she had said in class reminded of the time I received a jar of applesauce for my birthday. Being one of eight children in my family, that jar of applesauce (my favorite food and a whole jar to myself!) was, for me, sheer jubilation. And it was that childhood memory that landed me in the cereal aisle grabbing a box of cereal for Alison, knowing that she’d appreciate it, but not giving it much thought beyond that.
What I now know is how much that box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch meant to Alison. Her email reminded me what all of those seemingly small moments we have with our students can potentially mean to them both in the moment and years later.
It’s what the Dalai Lama calls a “compassionate society” where ‘selflessness and joy are intertwined. The more we are one with the rest of humanity, the better we feel.”
Importantly, he reminds us that this is not a liberal or conservative cause: “What unites us…is not shared politics or the same religion. It is something simpler: a shared belief in compassion, in human dignity, in the intrinsic usefulness of every person to contribute positively for a better and more meaningful world.”
His solution for our anxiety and feelings of disconnectedness? Begin each day by consciously asking ourselves how we can be of use.
Like buying that box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Or one of a million other small acts of kindness there for the doing. For educators, there are countless such opportunities. For all human beings there are countless such opportunities.
The take-away here, pretty obvious. We need to remember the words of the Dalai Lama, to remember Alison’s email, to remember Cinnamon Toast Crunch…as a verb—the antidote to resentment, anxiety, and despair by “being of use” to those we encounter in and out of the classroom.
Now, back to Alison. Perhaps you are wondering what she’s up to these days? She is a Behavioral Health Social Worker, paying it forward, distributing her own metaphorical boxes of Cinnamon Toast Crunch to those in need.
As the Dalai Lama says, “The answer is not systematic; it’s personal.”
Cinnamon Toast Crunch.