This post has been rolling around in my mind for a month now, but today seemed like the right day to put the thoughts on paper. Today is the beginning of our Advent season – the weeks of waiting and preparation that bring us to Christmas. Last night we lit the first candle of the wreath for hope, and all of these thoughts came swirling together …
For many years I have worked in the same school. It’s a very small school – just one class of each grade – but it has always been filled with some very big ideas. We work hard as a community every day to teach the values and processes of social responsibility, although the result of this work is harder to see than the memorization of times-tables and spelling words. In our school the acceptance and celebration of others has traditionally been held in very high regard – what good are math facts and scientific details if we can’t work together at the end of the day?
Valuing the diversity in humanity seems like a simple thing. From where we stand, in the comfortable western world, there is no question that each of us are deserving of respect. And yet we don’t have to look too much farther before that assumption starts to fall apart. In the last month – ironically dedicated to Remembrance – there have been dramatic demonstrations around the world of intolerance and aggression – how do we make sense of it all? How do we carry on?
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring)
In these times of dangerous and seemingly mounting confrontation and confusion, the need for accepting – for celebrating – differences becomes even more vital.
In my small school there are almost 250 students. Each one of those little people is unique and unrepeatable. Each one of them has abilities that are absolutely necessary to help our community be complete, and each one of them has challenges that are supported by the community too.
“I can do things you can not. You can do things I can not. Together we can do great things.” (Mother Teresa)
In a community that not only accepts but values differences, there is unending potential for achievement. I believe we are greater together, even in the act of accepting, valuing and appreciating each other. As adults/teachers/leaders in this community we bear the responsibility to create an environment that provides for and celebrates the differences…
“Fair doesn’t mean that everyone gets the same thing. Fair means that everyone gets what they need.” (Richard Lavoie)
In our tiny school community there are many with diverse needs. It is our absolute responsibility to embrace and support the diversity in our community: a responsibility that is supported by every reputable authority:
And yet there are still mixed feelings, even in our progressive, accepting developed world about understanding and accepting. There are still many people who are afraid of being perceived as different themselves.
“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” (Yoga, The Empire Strikes Back)
Fear of difference… fear of acceptance… fear of inadequacy…these are the very feelings that come between us and prevent us from being honest and genuine with each other. We are afraid to be seen as less or as different. We are afraid of not being good enough. As adults we can fall to the pressures we perceive around us. Children, though, can be more clear sighted. They have the ability to look into themselves and out again at the world. The simple honesty in these self-portraits, made by our sixth grade class earlier this year, have an honesty that makes my heart sing. It gives me hope.
Last night, as we lit the candle for hope, this prayer for reverence for all life came swirling through my mind…
Almighty God, giver of all that is good, we thank You for the precious gift of human life:
For life in the womb, coming from your creative power,
For the life of children, making us glad with their freshness and promise,
For the life of young people, hoping for a better world,
For the life of people who are disabled, teaching us that every life has value,
For the life of the elderly, witnessing to the ageless values of patience and wisdom.
Hoping for a better world, where diversity is defended and promoted. This is my responsibility, and yours. We can be kind to each other. We can be accepting of differences, and we can celebrate the different ways that each of us contributes to the world we all live in together…
Together, we have hope.
“Amid so much darkness we need to see the light of hope.” (Pope Francis)