Wednesday, July 24, 2013

[Children] are vulnerable to everything dangerous around them. They are concentrating on the busy task of growing up. They aren't yet aware of the hazards on all sides. Looking out for them should be our job.

Every day there seems to be a new tragedy making headlines. So many that I am afraid that the world's citizens are becoming desensitized by the constant barrage of Facebook posts, petitions and general mudslinging that accompanies them. There is a war being fought in our society, not one of guns and air strikes, but rather one of vicious anonymity. All over the world, we sit behind our computers, laptops and smart phones, slinging words in a way that has made them more insidiously dangerous than bullets. 

We all sit in high school classrooms at some point or another, listening to teachers go on about great leaders. We pass (or don't pass) the tests, put in the time and then promptly forget everything that we learned. As a teacher myself, it hurts to know that the same is more true today than it was ten years ago. John F. Kennedy urged us to "accept responsibility for future." He told us "Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men." When confronted with the evidence that words can be overwhelmingly positive in their power, I have to wonder, when did it all go astray?

In the wake of Trayvon Martin's death, I saw something magical. I saw something that could almost make up for the loss of a young life. I saw my students, many of them broken, angry and violent, come together with hoods up in a day of remembrance. Was it politically correct? Maybe not. Was Trayvon an innocent bystander? We'll never really know. But somehow, in that moment, I saw a flicker of hope, a connectedness, in a generation of children that live their lives behind a computer screen.

Yet in the year that has passed since the shooting, I have witnessed a movement that began so compassionately turn negative. Suddenly it was less about the death of a 17 year old boy and more about the "biased media." On social media, anonymous floating faces typed harsh words about a boy that can not only no longer defend himself, but who will never have the opportunity to correct his mistakes. 

In Trayvon I see every student that I have ever taught. In my students I see the faces of millions of children who were born so disadvantaged, financially and socially, that for many the strength required to rise above will prove to be too much. And through everything, I see a society of people who are relaxing behind the wall that social media has created. People who have good intentions and bad intentions. People who bully and those who are dying from being bullied. Enough is enough.

When did it become enough to sign an electronic petition? Is sharing that link enough to change the world? I am in no way innocent of doing those things, and lately I have reflected on my own online choices. And so I have made a mid-year resolution. It is not enough to berate those whose faces I can not see. The only real thing that I can do is set an example. I am going to make every effort to live my words.

Recently I read a book that was given to me by Robyn Barberry, a fellow teacher. It was Just a Minute, by Wess Stafford. Granted, it leaned a little too much toward the religious side of things for me, but its message was overwhelming in its poignancy. Stafford asked the reader to take a moment to remember a person who had an affect on their life, whether it was good or bad. How long did it take for that person to affect your whole being? In many cases it can happen in just a minute.

I believe that many adults fail to realize that they are capable of affecting the children in their lives. Stafford states that "any of us can wield a powerful effect, if we simply care and stay alert to the opportunity." Who knows what might have happened in Trayvon's situation if someone along the line had taken the time to say a kind word, to discourage violent tendencies. Maybe the Sandy Hook shootings could have been avoided if Adam Lanza's mother, or teachers, or friends had taken more of an interest in his life and mental health needs. 

I ask only that you go into the world with a positive attitude. Smile at the person passing you on the street. Hold a door, utter a kind word. None of us know what is happening in the lives of those around us, and that smile could make or break that person's life. 

I hope that we will someday cease to lean upon the anonymity given to us by the Internet. I hope that we can curb the bullying that brings only death and violence to our children. Most of all, I hope that you, whoever you are, will take the time to affect someone's life as others have affected yours.

I leave you with one last question: What has become of our free society, that we hope each day for the safe return of our children just as we hope for the return of our soldiers?

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