Opinion & Essays -
Jul, 2000 Issue #71
The Importance of Relationships
Jodi Tuttle, Head of School
Academy at Cedar Mountain
Cedar City, Utah
Nourishment of the soul begins with the building of quality relationships—the
ones that connect a student to one’s self, to others, or to the world. Students today are desperate to be seen and heard. Research
is beginning to show that students who feel deeply connected through relationships are more likely to survive the temptation of risk
and the damage of stress. They are also more likely to discover and share the gift of themselves with the world.
We at The Academy at Cedar Mountain believe that the capacity to be in relationship
to one’s inner life is paramount to the development of a sense of identity, and establishment of a healthy set of values. Students
are desperately searching for answers to questions about themselves, but distractions such as television, video games, and the internet
are pulling them into an almost addictive outer-directedness. The need to belong may become so strong for these adolescents that social
life generally takes precedence over self-discovery. If students can find the time to connect with their essence and learn to know
who they really are, they can learn to express their true self. This process helps them to nourish their human spirit. Learning to
be more honest with themselves also enables them to view other people and the world around them with greater objectivity and openness.
Developing a deep connection to another leads students to authentic intimacy—a
deeply caring, mutual, respectful relationship with one other person. Students who don’t develop healthy relationships with another
person are more likely to seek intimacy through sexual relationships as they try to nourish the spiritual yearning for deep connection.
Most teenagers don’t have the ego strength, sense of autonomy, and personal boundary setting needed for healthy, intimate relationships.
Authentic, age- appropriate intimacy and bonding with an ethical adult are important ways to help ease the desperation that leads
many teenagers to premature sexuality. Profound nourishment can occur when students are given the opportunity to deeply connect with
an adult—a relative, a teacher or a mentor who is committed to guiding a young person in a personal way.
Students can connect meaningfully with a group or community if they are provided
group situations that encourage the kind of caring respect that fosters authenticity for each individual in the group. Students who
feel a sense of belonging, are loving, friendly, cooperative, and able to trust and form healthy attachments. Community building in
education can be developed through a holistic approach to social and emotional learning. Adolescents need to feel a part of something
larger than themselves and their families. Schools can create this opportunity by providing “morning meetings,” a weekly “council,”
or other forms of “sharing circles.” Authentic expression can develop only in a climate of safety, caring, and respect. It is through
cooperation, companionship, compassion, and communion that spirituality is nurtured in the classroom.
Connection to one’s lineage can begin to nourish the spirit. This can be
encouraged by helping students to encounter their roots—with the ancient place of their people or with particular ancestors who influenced
them. People who know something about their family history often experience great power in their sense of lineage. Students long for
a sense of connection to something larger than friends and family. By connecting to their own people, or perhaps an elder if students
don’t know their lineage, adolescents can find the faith and perspective that can make their daily fears, losses, and failures more
bearable and more meaningful.
The experience of space and freedom afforded by a natural setting provides
a deep connection to nature that calls forth awe and wonder to satisfy the spirit. Some students can develop a sense of participation
in a larger realm of meaning when they experience the rhythms of nature and the eternal cycles of the day and the seasons. A feedback
session around a campfire watching the setting sun or the stars aglow at night can provide opportunities for growth that are unparalleled
in any other environment.
Students rarely talk about a connection to a higher power at school, though
many teens wonder whether there is a higher source of power and meaning in the universe to rely on or relate to. They often perceive
fear or hostility if their thoughts are expressed. Adolescents need the opportunity to discuss their curiosity about a higher power
as well as to give voice to the comfort and joy they find in religion and in their relationship to God, however perceived. When students
have the opportunity to speak to a respectful group about the role of faith in their lives, they feel empowered because other people
have acknowledged and respected this important part of their lives.
Adolescents who feel deeply connected in one or more ways don’t need danger
to feel alive or guns to feel powerful. They become comfortable with themselves and don’t wish to harm others or themselves. This
deep connection to life develops both compassion and passion—for people, for students’ goals and dreams, and for life itself.
Copyright © 2000, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced
without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)