During my most recent journey to the location where I have the greatest amount of clarity and inspiration, I repeatedly heard a message that consisted of the question, “What is important?” This is not as simple a question as it might seem. Quite a bit of the answer depends on your age, background, current status, and a vast quantity of variables.

If you’re a small child, the answer is toys and friends, along with frequent interactions with parental figures. Once you become a tween or teen, the importance factors change. Toys are replaced with electronic devices and social media; cohorts are still friends but less so parents. And once we enter the twenties and thirties, what’s important consists of jobs, earnings, homes, vacations, and other adult desirables.

It seems to me that we have a crucial responsibility to teach what is important as soon as children are able to comprehend the abstract. Whether we are parents, grandparents, or educators, it is our profound mission to teach those concepts that really are important. These include family, respect, consideration, kindness, integrity, and all those other characteristics that we value in each other.

My job as an educator is quite a bit more than teaching math, science, writing, reading, and social studies. When children are squabbling, they must learn negotiation and compromise. They must learn that yelling and screaming doesn’t solve anything. At the same time, we must let them know that the feelings and priorities of others are as important as theirs.

One way or another, kids will learn how to read and how to complete math problems. Whether in person or online, our education systems are sufficiently sophisticated to accommodate all levels of accomplishment and proficiency. But they can’t teach helping a classmate who has fallen in the playground. And they can’t emphasize how important it is to submit your own work rather than copying someone else’s.

Sometimes I worry that many of us have totally lost track of what is important. It’s not elections and campaign bluster. It’s not the size of our homes or the years of our family’s cars. It’s our ability to interact with each other on the basis of honesty and good intentions, rather than bravado and empty pledges. Shalom.

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