3 Words That Need to Be Taught to Make Your School (and the World) Better

Houston Kraft · August 14, 2018

Words are important. I’ve always believed in their ability to change the way we interact the world around us by unlocking a new understanding or perspective that, previous to having language for it, we couldn’t fully comprehend.

Words have the power to ignite change, break hearts, start revolutions, and lift spirits; words have an equal ability to help and to hurt. Words can help clarify - I revel in great words that help deepen my understanding of something that was in my heart, but not yet in my vocabulary.

So, here are 3 words that you MUST share with your students (and staff!) that we believe provide powerful conversations and activities! They come from different religions, cultures, and backgrounds and, when combined, create a rather beautiful recipe for a better world.

  • Muditā (Pāli and Sanskrit: मदिता): Vicarious joy. Pleasure that comes from delighting in other people's well-being. “I’m happy because you are.”

There are two important conversations to have here. The first is about how we define “happiness” and where we find it. One of our favorite educators, Brent Grothe, wrote a beautiful post about the 4 Levels of Happiness here. The second conversation is about how to create joy in others so that you can regularly experience muditā yourself. If you are talking about creating a positive school culture, student leadership, or putting together a Kindness assembly or week - a conversation about muditā is a great foundation to build from. Learn more about the word and its history here.

  • Agapè (agápē, Greek: ἀγάπη): Unconditional, selfless love. Loving others regardless of circumstances. The capacity to choose to love someone even when we don't feel like it.

One of our favorite words at CharacterStrong is agapè. For many students, the whole concept is a huge paradigm shift because 1) they’ve always thought about love as a feeling and 2) they unconsciously allow their feelings to control their actions. A simple exercise to walk students through:

  • Have them fold a 8.5x11 piece of paper into 4 columns

  • Have them list some feelings they experience on an average day in the first column (stressed, excited, anxious, grateful).

  • Have them list how those feelings might have them act in the second column. For example, when I am feeling tired, I sometimes act grouchy or short with my peers or teachers.

  • In the third column, have them articulate choices they could make in spite of those feelings. For example, even though I am feeling excited, I can choose to have self-control in class and pay attention. Even when I am feeling tired, I can choose to exercise Kindness and smile while walking down the halls.

  • In the final column, have them go back through the list and rank which feelings they struggle to overcome the most.

  • Explain that agapè is our ability to choose against even our biggest, most challenging feelings to show up for people with love, compassion, and care even when it’s challenging, inconvenient, or scary.

Agapè is a skill that can be taught. In my recent blog about being Nice versus being Kind, I shared that Kindness is proactive - it is agapè in action! Learn more about agapè here.

  • Ikigai (生き甲斐, pronounced [ikiɡai]): "A reason for being." The source of value in life or the things that make one's life worthwhile.

The word translated to English roughly means "thing that you live for" or "the reason for which you wake up in the morning." Ikigai is personal to every person and, when what we pursue is in alignment with our purpose, it allows people to feel and act at ease (an anecdote to our culture of anxiety!). Angela Duckworth, expert on grit and resilience, says there is a direct correlation between grit and the clarity and depth of one’s purpose. In other words, purpose fuels resilience (and resilience fuels success in and out of school!) Use the following image as a guide for some powerful conversation about purpose, need, and ikigai! Learn more about ikigai and it’s history here.


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Houston Kraft

Houston Kraft is the co-founder of CharacterStrong. He is a professional speaker and kindness advocate who has spoken at over 600 events internationally. Student Body President in High School, Class President at Bowdoin College, Leadership Camp Staff for 14 years in Washington - he is a lifelong learner of character, culture, kindness, and leadership. He was featured in 2019 on BBQ Lays Potato Chips and his mom's lasting life lesson is "Hug like you mean it."