Partner School Stories

My Realizations on The Positivity Project

By Joey Pagano

The “Other People Matter” movement is the foundation of The Positivity Project. This movement is an important part of society that too few people are familiar with.

I didn’t know about it until spring of 2017, when co-founders Mike Erwin and Jeff Bryan visited my high school, Fayetteville-Manlius. They introduced the ideas of the movement to a group of students, hoping that we would follow through and instill it in our community.

During their presentation, I knew that I liked the concepts they discussed, but, as time went on and I reflected back on the concepts, it opened my eyes. I recognized that I have valued the things that The Positivity Project emphasizes — without ever realizing it.

Having a disability has taught me a lot that coincides with this movement; particularly the idea that we cannot allow differences to impact how we feel about somebody. We should always strive to look at the things that we have in common.

Too many people don’t take the time to see the similarities they share with others, focusing instead on how other individuals are different than them. In order to have a successful society with successful individuals, you must have people who want to understand others — and interact with them.

The entire concept of the “Other People Matter” movement is about valuing relationships and looking beyond yourself, which is really what life’s all about. You can’t go through a day without interacting with another human being.

It’s one thing to hear your first-grade teacher tell you to “treat others the way you want to be treated” or to “be nice to people”. It’s another thing to learn about the scientific evidence that shows that we all share the same 24 character strengths, but are also unique in the ways that those strengths are organized in our personalities.

That’s why this movement will be successful in impacting students in middle and high school. Throughout those years of junior high and high school, students are finding their places in the world. The social aspect of that discovery is just as, or more, important than anything else students learn.

Simply stated, teaching middle and high school students to recognize commonalities and embrace differences prepares them to interact, and build relationships, with people in the future.

And that need is even more important today because of social media. You have to be able to identify those things that we all have in common and must always keep them in mind. You have to be able to disagree with something that someone else says or posts without ruining any relationships. 

That’s something that I have gotten better at since learning about the mindset. Before hearing Erwin and Bryan talk about the movement, I was very close-minded and wasn’t willing to think about opinions that differed from mine.

Once I started to force myself to see and understand both sides of every situation, I noticed that my relationships grew stronger. At first, it was difficult to branch off and act in a way that countered my natural tendencies. But, with practice and reflection, seeing others’ perspectives became second nature to me. Now, my natural tendency is to look at things from a variety of viewpoints — even when I think I have my mind made up.

That’s where the “Other People Matter” mindset becomes even more relevant. These changes aren’t confined to only me. Other students are beginning to process the idea that the motto isn’t just to highlight the importance of being kind to people. The idea is to understand others — and embrace our differences.

Joey Pagano
Student, Syracuse University

Building the Other People Mindset and remembering and emphasizing its importance is what I aim for day after day. As I continue to pursue a career in journalism and attend the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, I aim to show people that buying into The Positivity Project doesn’t mean you have to be happy and positive all the time, but instead means we have to work together more and build positive relationships. You can also find Joey on Twitter @WheelchairQB_ and at his blog