Celebrities have never inspired me. I may appreciate their prowess or art, their courage, discipline or tenacity, but I wonder why that somehow makes them more worthy of admiration than the hard-working people we meet in our everyday lives. Fame-seeking behavior is not the best attribute for those who would be leaders or role models for others. “Making it big,” “being a winner,” in a society that worships status at any cost doesn’t mean one is kind, generous, wise or compassionate. Those are the hard-won characteristics I value far more than media recognition and acclaim.
The greatest gifts in my life have come from thoughtful neighbors, teachers, friends, or random kindhearted strangers who shared their wisdom and kindness because that’s what they do. They give of themselves to others without expecting recognition or fame. I only hope that I can learn from their examples to be humbler, a little wiser, and compassionate enough to do the same. To listen, to care, to give what I can without expecting anything in return.
Yet if I were to choose a role model to admire, it wouldn’t be Steve Jobs, it would be Jane Addams. Steve Jobs made a fortune by developing technnological devices that have, over time, increasingly distracted people’s attention away from their immediate surroundings. (In class yesterday, many students pulled out their iPhones or iPads to look at pictures of trees for an assignment rather than gazing out the window at the tree-filled college grounds surrounding us.) Jane Addams, on the other hand, used her inheritance to live among some of the poorest immigrants in Chicago during the tumultuous years at the turn of the nineteenth century to address serious health and social justice issues. She, and her friend, Ellen Gates Starr, wanted to be good neighbors in their new home. They wanted to help build a healthier, more inclusive sense of community.
“The essence of immorality is the tendency to make an exception of myself” (Jane Addams).
“… the good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain, is floating in mid-air, until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life” (Adams, 1961, p. 76).
“Social advance depends as much upon the process through which it is secured as upon the result itself” (Jane Addams)
“Nothing could be worse than the fear that one had given up too soon, and left one unexpended effort that might have saved the world” (Jane Addams).
Addams’ work has been a beacon of hope to many. Following is a poem written by Gwendolyn Brooks, an award-winning poet and author, to honor Addams’ many contributions.
Jane Addams (by Gwendolyn Brooks)
I am Jane Addams.
I am saying to the giantless time –
to the young and yammering, to the old and corrected,
well, chiefly to the children coming home
with worried faces and questions about world survival –
“Go ahead and live your life.
You might be surprised. The world might continue.”
It was not easy for me, in the days of giants.
And now they call me a giant.
Because my capitals were Labour, Reform, Welfare,
Tenement Regulation, Juvenile Court Law (the first),
Factory Inspection, Workmen’s Compensation,
Woman Suffrage, Pacifism, Immigrant Justice.
Black, brown, white, red and yellow
Heavied my hand and heart.
I shall tell you a thing about giants
that you do not wish to know;
Giants look in the mirror and see
almost nothing at all.
But they leave their houses nevertheless.
They lurch out of doors
to reach you, the other stretchers and strainers.
Erased under ermine or loud in tatters, oh,
money or mashed, you
You matter, and giants
Whatever I was tells you
the world might continue. Go on with your preparations,
moving among the quick and the dead;
nourishing here, there;
pressing a hand
among the ruins
and among the
seeds of restoration.
In these times, US leaders whose ancestral roots originated in other “lighter-skinned” nations around the globe are spreading fear about newer “darker-skinned” immigrants, fomenting hatred and divisiveness. My colleague and I are countering those messages. We are asking our students to learn about their ancestral roots and the historical roots of the profession they wish to enter.
Module I – Exploring Personal Roots and the Roots of Social Welfare Macro Practice
How many of us wonder why people behave the way they do? Certainly as future social workers this is an obvious question we must answer. If we’re thoughtful, though, we quickly realize that there is no one easy answer. In a very real sense, how we think and behave depends on when and where we were born, what we experienced as a result of our inherited statuses in our particular social context, and how we have been socialized.
Understanding each client and colleague we encounter is only possible when we understand our own values and perspectives and how they were formed. Knowing more about our ancestral roots and how they have changed over time in response to changing circumstances provides a crucial foundation for beginning the ongoing journey of understanding who we are. The purpose of Module I is to help you begin to explore the importance of your ancestral roots within the context of changing historical environments.
Our work with clients is also influenced profoundly by the dominant values and beliefs embodied in the social institutions that prevail during our life time. Like the lives and circumstances of our ancestors, the values and goals of social welfare institutions have shifted throughout history. Changes in institutional values and beliefs have not always been beneficial from the perspective of social workers or the vulnerable clients they serve.
In order to assess where we are now, it is essential to consider the roots of social welfare and the shifting roles of social work in the US. The course readings for Module I describe the values and institutions adopted by the US in the early years, and the pioneering efforts of Jane Addams and the women of Hull House to address compelling human suffering, exploitation, and marginalization.
Perhaps your ancestors were among the thousands of immigrants who benefited directly from their work. Certainly all of our lives were affected in largely positive ways by the many policy and institutional reforms they inspired. It is our hope that a deeper understanding of your personal and disciplinary roots will prepare you to meet the challenges ahead in creative ways to foster healthy, inclusive communities as Addams and her colleagues did more than a century ago.
The work of Jane Addams, Ellen Gates Starr, and “the women of Hull-House” is an essential foundation for understanding how to build understanding and inclusive communities. No jobs were too demeaning.
“We were asked to wash the newborn babies, and to prepare the dead for burial, to nurse the sick, and to ‘mind the children.’” (Addams, 1961, p. 72).
Listed below are some of the resources my colleague and I have shared with students in case you are interested in sharing them:
“Publicly opposed to America’s entry into the war, Miss Addams was attacked in the press and expelled from the Daughters of the American Revolution, but she found an outlet for her humanitarian impulses as an assistant to Herbert Hoover in providing relief supplies of food to the women and children of the enemy nations, the story of which she told in her book Peace and Bread in Time of War (1922).”
Although my colleague and I need to rely, to a large degree, on technological innovations Steve Jobs made possible, we are using those tools to enlighten rather than to divide and distract. Our integrated learning hybrid program helps students who work, care for families, and commute to access college education that might otherwise be unattainable. I just wish education was more affordable, or preferably, free. Perhaps someday it will be…
After reading this post, my dear friend and colleague, Cynthia Donner, gave me permission to publicly thank her for being a supportive, inspiring partner in our ongoing experiments to make learning more engaging and relevant.
Tragically, Hull-House finally closed its doors in the spring of 2012. It was a warning sign of hard times ahead without the visionary leadership of gentle and unlikely giants like Jane Addams. (For more information, please visit the following link: World Socialist Web Site, wsws.org)
Jane Addams (1961). Twenty years at Hull-House. New York, NY: Signet Classic.
Two childhood dreams
One of darkness, one of light
One that freezes action in midnight terror
The other daylight freedom flight
A tender child then, perhaps by fate,
could choose to observe life as if from above
but is this really living love?
The reality now in the world today
reminds me of dark storm clouds rolling in
although this storm feels as if it’s here to stay
It’s time for us to stand alone, together, bearing light
to face these fearsome times come what may
August has been busy. Preparing to teach a research class, tending gardens, spending time with grandchildren and family, and taking time to simply live and reflect have kept me away from the blogosphere. Although my life will continue to be busy until the first freeze and beyond, I will try to stop by periodically to visit your blogs and share when I can. Your art and thoughts are thought-provoking and inspiring. Today, I’m sharing a few simple reflections recently penned as I send my best wishes to all.
August 9 2017
My heart is heavy as I think about my Native friends in Montana
Their incredible gifts and future visions palpable
They voiced so many hopeful possibilities
for the community health organization they guided
Valiantly, we faced daunting challenges
each carrying a compelling blueprint of what could be
We worked and laughed and cried together
as we overcame one obstacle after another
to help reweave an inclusive healthy community
In the end, I had to leave for my own survival
before our task was completed
Vultures descended and shredded our dreams
Over the years I have learned of my friends’ struggles
against political adversaries and serious health issues
I wonder if I helped make their lives more difficult
by inspiring hope, by believing their strengths
and visions would be enough to overcome resistance…
And what of the people I refer to as vultures?
Perhaps they’re unaware that their actions
as agents in status quo structures of oppression
appear to motivated by protecting their positions
at any cost, destroying lives and what could be
Their actions limiting healthier possibilities for all in the process
Perhaps I will never understand why
this was the path they chose
and where it will finally lead them
Yet, I still mourn possibilities lost
It makes me wonder if it’s wiser and more compassionate
to simply find and live my own truths
though the suffering in the world remains unabated
weighing heavy on my heart…
Sufi Poet, Jalāl ad-Dīn Rumi, offers an insight I continue to ponder:
“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”
Today, I also send prayers for the safety of my friends and all others in Montana as the Lolo Peak fire rages so close to their homes.
Reflections about Shifting Light and Shadow
August 12, 2017
gazing close at hand
watching light and shadow
move across the land
revealing a constant in my life
one moment knowing peace and joy
the next difficulty and strife
often shadows bring gifts despite our sorrow
sometimes unanticipated miracles appear if we’re patient
to reignite our gratitude upon the morrow
Just Here Now
August 19, 2017
so grateful for the peace and love in this “now”
a brief quiet moment as the day begins
sunlight filtered by leaves of rain-nourished trees
and muted by unopened window blinds
a little dog resting, curled beneath the bird’s cage
a parakeet silent and still beneath his protective night cover
dog and bird both patiently waiting for music to begin
so they can join their voices in song
greeting the peaceful morning
illuminating our shared place in the world
peace – a privilege so many are denied
sending blessings to all who are suffering
Ageist messages that I’m too old
at 70 to do simple chores
sometimes makes me hesitant to try
But my courageous daughter inspires me
and a funny thing happens when I do try anyway
I realize with the right tools
like my “new” $20 8-foot ladder
from Habitat for Humanity’s “Restore”
I can clear the gutters of
sprouting baby maple trees anyway
With my little green garden wagon,
work boots and heavy-duty gloves
I’m not too frail to haul and carry
landscaping blocks to upgrade gardens
and prevent continuing erosion anyway
I’m not ashamed to sweat buckets
in my raggedy work clothes
doing honest manual labor
It’s a gift and a privilege
to take care of what I can anyway
Privilege requires responsible stewardship
regardless of what others do and think
with simple tools to extend our reach
and help us carry heavy loads
‘though the efforts are always a work in progress
it’s important to keep shouldering what we can anyway
A cool morning breeze
touches my feverish forehead
while I watch the dawning
struggling to breathe
What is important in this moment?
Loving thoughts of the next generation
Gratitude for healers and visionaries
who stand together in solidarity for the earth
While I’m here, that knowledge is enough
Healing will come this time or not
There’s no time to waste worrying
Early afternoon layers of clouds rolling in
Lines of school buses leave the elementary school
signaling the beginning of summer vacation
My heart feels heavy as I wonder
what the next school year will bring
as politicians quickly dismantle hope
The cost of war and tax cuts for the rich
leaves the future for children precarious
without safe affordable housing, education, nutrition,
without adequate income, access to health care,
without assurance of clean air to breathe, safe water to drink
Will they have a chance to know joy rather than slavery?
All I can do today that feels real
is plant and water gardens,
feeling light energy flowing through me
a mixture of deep sorrow and certainty
that sowing love in all our actions
rather than fighting is the wiser choice
The moon offers her comforting light
Signaling that it’s time to rest
despite so many tasks incomplete
New responsibilities begin tomorrow
to preserve and share the healing work
of a wise and gifted Ojibwe elder
Last night before I fell asleep, I did what I usually do. Solved a cryptogram puzzle or two. Often the quotes in the puzzle books are silly, but on rare occasions they inspire deeper reflection like the one below.
“PGH OHMLI VGATLBAA GLIPGVJBIQU TA, LPJ JP ABB EYMJ QTBA ITFQU MJ M ITAJMLXB, VGJ JP IP EYMJ QTBA XQBMHQU MJ YMLI.” (JYPFMA XMHQUQB)
“Our grand business undoubtedly is, not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.” (Thomas Carlyle)
I have always loved solving puzzles and studying things around me. I didn’t realize, though, that the way I saw the world was different than the view others had. By the time I was in third grade, I couldn’t see what was written on the blackboard unless I leaned forward with my face cradled on my open palms with the outer edges of my eyes pulled taught by my fingers. By narrowing my visual field, I was able to see a little further. I thought that was “normal.”
Sadly, that automatic adaptation stopped working. I learned after a visit to an ophthalmologist that I had a case of rapidly advancing myopia. Until that visit, I didn’t realize that others could see individual leaves on the tops of trees, or stars in the night sky. The things I could see needed to be close at hand. Instead of looking through a telescope at the sky, I explored the wonder of life in the local pond through my microscope.
Microscopic Movie Stars
Myopia has taught me that I need to focus more intensely to see things. I’m reminded of the moral from a Sufi story told by John McKnight. “You will only learn what you already know.” As I listen to the obfuscating main-stream news reports, I wonder what is beneath the surface of the swampy non-issues that fill headlines, and then I let it go. I see it as “what lies dimly at a distance,” and focus on what I can do here and now.
The answer at the moment includes gardening, teaching, and writing among other things. Gardening has fed me during lean winters in the past and will hopefully do so in the future. Gardens have also provided a sanctuary for me and others throughout the years. It’s not something I “know” as an expert, but I do know the value of learning, sometimes through trial and error. Variable, unpredictable weather patterns and conditions make growing healthy plants a never-ending learning endeavor.
I work part-time as an educator. I’ve not been “trained” as a teacher, but from a framework of liberatory praxis, I know that having all of the answers, even if it were possible, would be of little real value to others. Without curiosity, I’m not sure learning is possible. Educators just need to be fully present to help people uncover who they are and what they already know, and encourage them to ignite their curiosity so they can continue learning – always.
And I write. The words that flow through me come from a source I can’t control or reach with my intellectual capacities. All I can say is that sometimes I am compelled to record what I see, hear, think or feel. And sometimes, like today, I feel compelled to share what I write.
Perhaps the answer to breaking the cycle of only learning what we already know is simply to admit what we don’t know. Perhaps we also need to let go of the illusion that we can ever know anything definitively. At some point we have to take the risk to do what we can anyway, even if we don’t know all of the answers. We’re bound to learn something in the process if we try things we’ve never done before, just as I did when I donned my first pair of thick coke-bottle lenses as a child. I already knew that pond-life was fascinating, but I learned that there millions and millions of stars in the night sky. Stars were here before humans and may well be here long after we’re gone.
Our insignificant lives will probably have little effect on how brilliantly the stars shine, although it will undoubtedly affect our ability to see them. But our actions do directly affect the life of all that surrounds us close “at hand.” Hopefully we will not be myopic in the choices we make about how we live with all the other beings who share our one precious planet.
I’ll leave you with a puzzle to solve if you are interested. I hope you enjoy the challenge and the message.
HWCA RCIRZC PJV, “YO QJA’O UC SIAC” IM “VIK SIA’O WJFC HWJO YO OJECP,” YO NJECP OWC OJPE JZZ OWC NIMC YAOCMCPOYAT. (ZVAA WYZZ)
A welcoming space for resistance to the forces of oppression and hegemony.