how a five-year-old taught me to be a better person

my favorite thing about working with kids is that i have learned that sometimes the kids that you want to dismiss the most turn out to be the most amazing people. the best example of this is a five-year-old boy called adam (not his real name so it's all good) in my school's kindergarten. he is not one of the (at least in terms of "books smarts") smartest kids in the class because a) he doesn't talk much, but more importantly b) he always seems like he's zoned out and not aware of what's happening around him and c) he actually is way behind other kids his age when it comes to writing, reading and math. 

also, this particular kid happens to have a disproportionately large head and always seems to be falling over. during my first two or so months here i kind of started to regard him as an amusement, not in a mean-spirited way, but just in the sense that all i knew of this kid was that he has a huge head and was falling over every other time i looked over at him. he's also a bit taller and more rotund than the other kids his age, so he looks a little goofy by comparison.

he doesn't speak to me much. i realize that this is in no way any reliable indicator of his intelligence level or anything else, because english is a second language for him, so all bets are off. some people are just not gifted at languages but are otherwise really smart.

anyway, the question at hand is: how has this kid become so important for me in the past few weeks and taught me so much about being a human being? 

the first thing i started to notice was how compassionate, caring and affectionate he is with the other kids. if another kid is injured or upset, adam is the first one there to put his arm around their shoulder and comfort them. for me this is maybe especially impressive, because i have never been sure about how to comfort people when they are upset and have mostly felt really awkward in these kinds of situations. this kid is five years old and he does it like it's meant to be done. like it's the most natural thing. like no one has ever done it before. like you couldn't do if you were trying like your life depended on it!

i think this kid is kind of an emotional genius. he just FEELS shit. he feels the pain of his comrades fallen in the fields of play. he just intuitively knows how to comfort. and even if he isn't "book smart" maybe what he has is more valuable than book learning. no, it definitely is more important.

the turning point for me, the point when i ceased seeing him as just a silly kid who falls a lot and has a huge head from being possibly one of the most amazing people i've met in my life happened about a week ago. 

(side note: a lot of what transpires between the kids is a complete mystery to me since i don't really speak their language aside from a few key words and phrases. if a kid starts crying, i usually have at least a vague idea why if i have been watching what happened up to that point, but the kids cannot explain the finer points to me, so a korean teacher is needed if things get too intense.)

okay, so a little while ago i was alone with adam's class. no korean teachers. it's 9 ~ five-year-olds. i could tell that some of the kids were getting a bit bossy in telling the other kids where to sit. that's all i could discern about what was happening. since i don't understand what they're saying, in these situations my current default mode is to kind of sit back and let things unfold... 

well, i guess for some reason, adam felt slighted or left out (from the, rather ridiculously overdrawn seating negotiations for the 25 minute class.) before i knew it, little adam was crying, and i had only a vague idea why... it was the first time i'd seen him cry. and it stood out all the more starkly since i'd been used to seeing him comfort others while they were doing so.

mostly i think it was shocking to me because he always seems to be barely aware of what's going on and kind of just goes with the flow. the other kids weren't being mean to adam in this instance. i think what happened was they overlooked him or the bossy kids wanted to sit by people other than him. 

at any rate, i think he felt left out. and i know that feeling. i felt for him in that moment. that was the moment when not only my opinion of adam, but really my whole view of what i'm doing here and what i'm meant to do changed. 

before this incident i didn't worry about adam getting hurt because he seemed so oblivious, but now i see how wrong that was of me.  he is such a sweet kid-kind of a gentle giant. he never does anything mean to the other kids. there is no reason why he should ever be treated poorly or feel sad. now i feel like i just want to protect him and all the other kids from anything that i can. i think that if i try to see the little gentle giant in everyone i meet, i will be a kinder person.