Why Should We Care?
by Mike Melie
I walked out of the tiny hospital room in what I later realized was shock. My brother, Stevie, who was ten, had suffered a stroke similar to the one that hit when he was three months old and that had rendered him mentally and physically challenged. Throughout his life, he couldn’t walk on his own and he couldn’t communicate verbally beyond some small words and sounds; he couldn’t dress or feed himself. For all intents and purposes, he was completely dependent on others. And yet he was, pound-for-pound, probably the happiest person I have ever met. As a thirteen-year-old, I had a limited understanding of mortality and how quickly things could change. Being told that my happy-go-lucky ten-year-old brother was not going to survive this latest stroke, that his thin and helpless body twisted on the hospital bed would be his final form, knocked me down in ways that still resound with me today. He was the one that I’d shared a room with, the one whose diapers I’d changed, who I’d helped to feed, and who had brought so much joy to those who knew him with his barking shout of a laugh.
He also taught me the truth about acceptance — taking people on with all of their flaws included, simply because everyone deserves a chance at belonging. Stevie needed someone to fight for him, and I now understand that his story crossed mine and changed it for the better. I have to honor those that I meet with acceptance and a belief in their basic potential for goodness. To not do so would be to dishonor my brother’s memory. It would also mean that hatred, weakness, and fear had conspired to take down another capable mind.
Why should we care? It’s a simple question, and one that’s now more urgent than ever. For me, it all started with my brother and his struggle, a sense that the first step in acceptance is not the act of shutting down but the act of reaching out. Sandra Cisneros speaks to this sense of social consciousness in her novel A House On Mango Street: “You must remember to come back. For the ones who cannot leave as easily as you…I put it down on paper and then the ghost does not ache so much.” My brother taught me that there are those who do not have a voice, but who need to be heard nonetheless. It took me a long time to figure out what this meant, and anger and fear have tracked me along the way. Every year that I teach Mango Street to my students, I try to help them to understand the idea that giving back is the first step in overcoming our own insecurities and in giving a voice to those who are not heard.
We live in a time of shutting down, of closing off, of refusal, of fracture; living in a bubble of one’s own beliefs means that anger and fear will burst sooner rather than later. My friend Regina and I both believe in reaching out, and our friendship has been about sharing our stories with others. As most teachers know, without a sense of connection with a student, our job of helping that student to grow is exponentially more difficult. Regina and I both share a passion for acceptance, as Glenn Singleton and Curtis Linton describe in their seminal book Courageous Conversations. “The essence of passion is engagement and willingness to change. There is little honor in holding back, limiting participation, accepting mediocrity, and finding comfort in the status quo…With passion, we will have the strength not only to stand up for what is right for our children, but to do what is right for them as well.”
This blog is our act of reaching out to you. Regina and I acknowledge our differences in race, gender, and age, and rather than see them as roadblocks or lightning rods for fear or insecurity, we address them with humor and respect. As I say to my students, you have to give respect to get respect, and Regina and I are trying to get that message of fundamental human decency back out there. We’re both frustrated with the polarization of our public discourse in this country, and we want this blog and site to be a safe space where all of us can wrestle with ideas of social justice, educational reform, and teaching practice (along with psychology, systems thinking, and any other crazy stuff that Regina and I — and you! — feel the need to explore!).
Why should we care? Because, as I learned from my brother Stevie, if we are unable to help others, embrace our own weaknesses and faults, and form connections with those different from us, we will miss a chance at true positive change. As they say, “It’s all who you know”, and I take that not just as an empty platitude (although it’s true, by the way). As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that relationships matter and without acceptance and honesty, we can’t move forward either as students within a classroom or as citizens within our nation.
I talk to my students about tone, or the author’s attitude towards their subject matter; so along with each entry, I’m going to add a song that hints at the attitude that’s dropping. If you listen closely, you might even pick up on my brainwaves while I was writing :).
If you feel the same as we do, then please join us! Add a comment answering the following question below:
Why should we care? Aren’t we in 21st century, post-racial and enlightened world? Why do issues of acceptance and social justice matter now?