Regardless of age, religion, gender, address, and language, all people are the same in their want and need to love and be loved, said Scarlett Lewis, a Darien native whose son Jesse died in the Sandy Hook tragedy in 2012.

Lewis recently spoke to more than 130 people at the Noroton Yacht Club in Darien about the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement.

The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement is a charitable organization whose mission is to ensure that every child has access to Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) in their classrooms, and to help facilitate this teaching within their families, schools and communities.

It’s now being taught at five percent of U.S. schools in all 50 states and 90 countries. While it’s not taught in the Darien school system, it is being taught at the Darien Youth Center for seventh and eighth graders.

Lewis received a standing ovation to her talk at the event, which was sponsored by the Darien Youth Center and The Darien Foundation. It was made possible through a grant by the foundation.

Social and Emotional Learning

SEL is a mental health initiative that strives to reduce and prevent mental illness, and improve school climate and culture.

Components of SEL include self-awareness and recognizing one’s emotions, values, strengths and limitations, managing emotions and behaviors to achieve goals, relationship skills, dealing effectively with conflict, and social awareness, as well as showing understanding, empathy, awareness and compassion for oneself and others.

According to Lewis, SEL is for everyone.

“These are skills that we practice every day, all day long,” she said.

“We are born wired to connect but we are not born with the skills and tools we need to have healthy, meaningful relationships,” she said. “That’s what Social and Emotional Learning teaches us.”

Nurturing, healing, love

Lewis wrote a book called Nurturing Healing Love, which were the words Jesse had written on the kitchen chalkboard at their home shortly before he died.

Lewis finds her son’s words to be a “message of comfort” and an “inspiration for the world.”

“I knew I would be living the rest of my life spreading this message,” she added.

Gratitude, forgiveness

Lewis said when people realize they’re in control of their thoughts, it makes them want to be mindful of what they think.

Since people can’t have an angry thought and a grateful thought at the same time, “we can use gratitude to shift our thinking into a better way of thinking if we want to.”

Forgiveness is the number one way to have healthy relationships, she said.

“Forgiveness is a skill that you can learn how to do,” she said. “Forgiveness means cutting the cord that attaches you to pain.”

The Sandy Hook tragedy began with an angry thought in the murderer’s head, according to Lewis.

She said if the Sandy Hook murderer had been able to “give and receive nurturing, healing, and love,” the tragedy would never have happened.

When people react with anger, hatred, and revenge, they’re giving their personal power away, according to Lewis

“We’re becoming victims and we know that that is the definition of loss of control,” Lewis said.

However, she said when they choose love, which is kindness, caring, and compassion, “we’re taking our personal power back,” she said. “We’re making the world a better place.”

People can’t always choose what happens to them, she said, “but we can always choose how we respond and we can always respond with love,” she said.

School safety measures

SEL is the number one way to have a safe school, according to Lewis.

“When we’re looking at school safety, most people focus towards hardening of schools,” she said.

However, she said the most important part of keeping kids safe is focusing on school culture.

“External safety measures — arming school resource officers, single-point entries, are very important,” Lewis said. “However, none of those address the cause of why a child would want to harm themselves over someone else.”

SEL cultivates safety from the inside out of every child by teaching them how to have healthy relationships, manage their emotions, make responsible decisions, and be resilient to the issues they are going to face, according to Lewis.

Children who have those skills and tools are not going to harm themselves or others, she said.

“If there is a grievance, when you have a loving, trusting, grateful culture in your school, you’re giving kids the skills and tools they need to handle that grievance,” Lewis said.

For more information, visit jesselewischooselove.org/.

sfox@darientimes.com