by Malavika Eby
As SEL Day approaches on March 11, I find myself more excited than ever to dig into the theme for this year’s wonderful celebration: Finding Common Ground, Pursuing Common Good.
You might be a little confused. “What does this theme even mean?” “What is SEL Day? Heck, what is SEL?” “What does mental health have to do with community or common ground or common good?”
Let’s break this down, because step 1 of being able to appreciate social-emotional education (SEL) is learning what it is and what it does for us: the individuals and the whole.
Just as we might go to school to learn math or chemistry or English, SEL programs teach us important skills to be healthier and happier humans. According to CASEL, SEL is “the process through which [we] acquire and apply the [skills] to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve […] goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.”
Until I turned fifteen or even sixteen, I was sure that SEL wasn’t something I needed. It was for other students, who needed more help than I did. I mean sure, I was sleep-deprived, not particularly motivated about anything I learned at school, and stressed and tired most of the time, but that’s high school for you!
“If other people are going through it too, it’s okay, right? I’ll just outgrow those issues post-high-school!” After all, I knew each of my issues were shared by most of my peers and when something is normalized to that great a degree, how bad could it really be?
Oh, dear… boy, did I have a lot to learn!
From then to now*, through extracurricular activities and social media, I serendipitously came across many key mental health resources about topics like how to self-reflect and even how to become our own best friends. I began to take this advice the more I matured and found reasons to change my circumstances.
(*Though summed up in one sentence, in real life, this effort took at least two years. So for those of you whose progress is slow–hang in there, buddies!)
Now, I regularly check in with myself and practice positive self-talk, have a stronger sense of purpose and self-worth, understand how to better communicate with people, and feel secure the way I am. Now, I have progressed. (Though still imperfect, as I will always be!)
And being where I am, I know that getting the hang of effective social-emotional skills is not just a personal or individual triumph; rather, it is a shared win. It is not selfish or independent or an isolated process. Working on ourselves in the individual context of journaling or meditating is just half the equation. The “social” part of social-emotional learning means that the other half of the job is using those mental/emotional skills to better ourselves as friends, partners, family members, community members, leaders, and changemakers.
The benefits of social-emotional learning are not only personal—in reality, they are the sum of all the ripple effects from bettering ourselves. Ripple effects that touch everyone we interact with, whether minimally or deeply and intimately.
So why do we celebrate SEL Day? Because when we accumulate new social-emotional skills for our mental toolboxes, it’s like rising up to become wholly ourselves—not a shadow or a skeleton—but the best of who we could be and want to be: peaceful, healthy and thriving.
Let’s run through this list one last time:
Social-emotional learning empowers us to…
- Understand and regulate our emotions
- Build awareness around our thoughts and behaviors
- Take accountability for our errors and accept our humanness
- Improve our self-esteem
- Set realistic goals and steadily work towards them
- Empathize with others including those from different backgrounds than us
- Make caring and responsible choices
- Develop and maintain healthy, nurturing relationships
Before I sign off, I want to make good on my promise and come back to today’s theme: Finding Common Ground, Pursuing Common Good.
“Common ground,” common good”… what’s the common word here?
(Just to be clear, it’s “common.”)
Words like “common” and “community” come from the same root word in Latin, which tells me I might be onto something here when I’m reminded by the theme of togetherness and how it feels to be one with other people.
I think when we break down social-emotional learning, and how we can be better humans, it makes sense to take a moment to ask ourselves what humanness even is. Are we all just “human” at our core? If we are all inherently alike, then what sets us apart from each other? Does the humanness outweigh the differences? Does sharing a core nature mean we each have the potential to connect or relate to one another?
I think, yes. Despite how powerful or beautiful or kind or intelligent we are, though we might use each of these metrics to set certain people apart and above one another, inside we each feel the same range of emotions and are brought into the world and out of life in the exact same way. That didn’t used to matter to me, this acknowledgement of all that we share, that we have in common, but lately I’ve been thinking:
People are each constantly learning from each other and play extraordinary roles in enriching each others’ lives. And though we are enough for ourselves and it matters to be our own friends, a meaningful life is also a mosaic of the connections we make along the way, whether fleeting or forever.
We are much more alike in our vulnerability, intelligence, and goodness than we realize, and a lot of the differences we seem to have are made by ourselves. What can be good for us, especially those of us with the power to create good for ourselves, can also be good for others. Wellbeing doesn’t have to be exclusive, and common good does exist.
While we might think of taking care of ourselves to be in the opposite direction from developing our social and relationships skills, they go hand in hand with one another. Self-growth is energizing and empowers us with the capacity to open our minds and hearts to more than just ourselves and our day-to-day struggles. When we feel safe and secure, we can have awareness about ourselves and others and be sensitive to others’ needs, which is really the very foundation of empathy. See how everything connects?
So today, I wish for us to take a deep breath, close our eyes, and consider the two takeaways I wish to give you all.
- Social-emotional learning is beyond the self-help clichés we make fun of with our friends, or someone preaching to us about how yoga is the only answer.
SEL comes in limitless forms and encapsulates any form of education which can guide us to use introspection and skill-based learning to improve our self-esteem, relationships, motivation, and any other aspect of life that means something to us.
I promise, it is worthwhile to spend time to be better and to know we deserve better than the stress and self-hatred compounded by the rat-race lifestyle, but that is our individual choice to make and lesson to internalize.
- We are not just random specks in a meaningless and vast ocean of people. Our efforts are not in vain. We are reason enough to make changes for the better and improve our health, and here’s the cherry on top: our growth compounds and overlaps on each other’s to transform relationships, groups and communities.
I choose to believe we are each connected to one another, fingers of the same hand. Your progress is also my progress. Pro tip: Those of us who wish to change the world can begin with improving ourselves, and those who wish to focus on themselves can benefit knowing that they are also improving their community in the process.
So on this year’s SEL Day, I hope for one thing and one thing only: For all of you to feel happier, healthier, a part of something bigger than yourself, and supported from every direction, especially by your family here at Vivensity.