“Everything speaks everything always.” That is the moral I try to convey while doing a breakout activity during District Kick-Offs. Over the past two weeks, I have spoken to approximately 1,000 FFA members through this activity. While I’m trying to send the members away with something to think about, they’re impacting me just as much as I hope I’m impacting them. Through the responses I receive in group discussion and the comments I get afterwards, I have seen the pain and struggles that many of the students face on a daily basis. But I also see the hope, joy, and determination they have learned through these struggles.
The activity I’ve been leading for District Kick-Off is called “Peasants and Kings.” In this activity, each participant is given a playing card they cannot see. These playing cards represent how the other participants are supposed to treat them. Aces are peasants and kings are kings, while everything else gets better in ascending order. I would instruct the students to completely ignore the “peasants,” while the “kings” were supposed to be given lots of hugs and compliments. After five minutes of conversation, the students then have to line themselves up in numerical order based on how others made them feel. Some groups did better than others, and there were a couple of groups who admitted afterwards that they had cheated in some way to get lined up. When there was no cheating involved, there were always several students who were out of order. Most of the time, a student would place themselves lower than what their card was. When that would happen, I would remind them to never underestimate themselves. After everyone lined up, I would tell them to look at their cards and then make a semi-circle around me. This next part is what makes the biggest impact.
When everyone is sitting, the discussion begins. The peasants and kings are given the opportunity to share how they felt during the activity. Some of the students don’t take this part too seriously, but the ones who do share things that make my heart hurt. Many of them admitted that they feel like peasants on a daily basis. One student shared a story about his experience moving schools and how he feels much more welcome at his new school. On the reverse side, the students who were given king cards explained that they felt weird being treated like a king because they never get treated like one at their school. After our group discussions, I give the members the opportunity to meet other members and ask me any questions that they might have. This is when the truly heartbreaking things happen. One night, I had a student who was in tears come up and thank me. English is a second language to her, so she struggles on a daily basis understanding and speaking to other people. She thanked me because I had given her a king even though she feels like a peasant at her school. Out of all of the students who shared their stories with me, hers hit me the hardest.
These interactions opened my eyes to the reality of exactly what I’ve been challenging the students to do. When I first started working on this activity, I thought that it would be a great reminder to the members. I never realized how much of an impact it would actually leave. “Everything speaks everything always.” The students began to understand what I meant by this when they were ignored. Not only do our words speak to those around us, but our actions do too. When we ignore people, we show them that we think they aren’t worthy of our attention. The more we show others we think that way, the more they believe that they aren’t worthy of anyone’s attention. The opposite is true when we show others that we care for them through our words and actions. If we treat people like they can conquer the world, they begin to believe that they can. And that’s all anyone ever wants: someone to believe that they can do great things. Now that I’ve shared my stories, I leave you with a challenge: Never ever treat anyone as a peasant and always, always treat everyone like king.
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