Recently, I heard a story about Walter Payton, that he would take his whole offensive line out for dinner after every game in which he scored a touchdown. No chest thumping for Sweetness. He was part of a team.

I hereby propose that we give the moniker “Sweetness” to all the District 91 teachers who voted to approve the recent change in their salary schedule. What the teachers did was take money away from themselves and give it to new teachers.

To be more precise, they were willing to reduce the raises that veteran teachers would get so that the money could be used to increase the salaries of newer teachers.

When I was a teacher, all the veterans would watch the rookies during the August in-service days, shake their heads and use words like naive and idealistic to describe the newcomers.

“Remember when we were like that?” the old timers would say. “Wait until reality hits them right between the eyes.”

In this situation, it is the Forest Park old timers, the members of the teachers’ union, who might be accused of being idealistic – as if idealism were a character flaw.

Here’s what happened, according to my understanding. The racial makeup of the faculty and staff in District 91 does not match the diversity in Forest Park. Not even close. As the troubles in the middle school have revealed, it requires teachers and staff who know more than their subject matter to create a school environment where learning happens.

The rule I learned in 30 years of working in the church applies to teaching: the more diverse the congregation – or the classroom – the harder it is to create community. That’s why Forest Park schools need more minority teachers who collectively have an intuitive feel for the different ways of perceiving reality and responding to those perceptions in different cultures.

The teachers understood this and, for the good of the whole district and the Forest Park community, voluntarily gave up some of the money they had coming to them.

The Good Childhood Inquiry is the name of a recent study done in England with 30,000 respondents. Following is one of its findings:

Most of the obstacles children face today are linked to the belief among adults that the prime duty of the individual is to make the most of their own life, rather than contribute to the good of others.

Eric Weiner wrote a book entitled The Geography of Bliss in which he describes what, in his opinion, are the happiest countries in the world. In the cultures he judged to be happy, he sometimes saw that the citizens were paying high taxes, in part for their nationalized health-care system. When he asked various people why they were willing to pay the high taxes, he often got the response, “Because we want to take care of each other.”

In another chapter, Weiner writes, “Necessity may be the mother of invention, but interdependence is the mother of affection … We help other people because we can, or because it makes us feel good, not because we’re counting on some future payback.” There is a word for this: love.

The teachers and staff at District 91 get it. Sweet.

Tom Holmes has worked in Forest Park since 1982 as a pastor and as a writer. He is grateful that his children grew up in this town and finds inspiration in the personal relationships he has developed with so many.