At various times we can be asked what is most important or what we value or what is our religion. Depending on how and when it is asked, any of us can respond in various ways, often knowing that our answer in incomplete or partly inaccurate. I have recently realized the single belief that has been the foundation of my life and every action I’ve ever taken. It is this: every action I take, every word I say, puts something into the world, either positive or negative.
I could state this another way, that it is true for everyone, but that wouldn’t be the right way to respond, though it may very well be true.
I repeat: every action I take, every word I say, puts something into the world, either positive or negative. The constant effect of having this value is that I deeply believe in my responsibility to put good into the world, incrementally, not because I think I’m so important, but because otherwise, I’m adding ‘badness’ to the world.
Most of the time, my actions are small, but occasionally, I take an action with greater potential. We all know of buildings named for individuals who gave millions to an institution. Think about that, then think smaller.
I spent eleven years teaching Algebra to students with dyslexia at Landmark high school. It was a remarkable experience because of the students, my fellow teachers, and the administration, each of which I deeply respected. The teachers are paid far less than those in a public school. Because I taught after a lucrative career in the corporate world, I never had the financial burdens of most new teachers. Every spring there were a couple of grants of $1000-2000 offered to teachers who were willing to take on a special project, often developing a special topic.
It recently occurred to me that I am able and want to provide such a grant to a new teacher there. I called the school and asked who I should speak to about this. Michelle called me to discuss. She started there when I retired four years ago, so we did not know each other. She is in the Gifts department, you know, the group which solicits major donations. Although talking with her was pleasant and informative, I recognized that her job was to get as much money from me as possible, while making me feel good about it.
In our conversation, she helped me (made me?) realize that she would involve others to define how the money would be used. She also recognized my longtime personal commitment to social justice, suggesting that teachers with whom I have maintained a relationship in the international/ intercultural group might want to be involved. Just before our call ended, she was to investigate possible outcomes to focus on social justice.
Suddenly, something occurred to me. History. History has always been my least favorite subject and I am highly conscious of its importance right now. A shop in downtown Beverly has recently displayed a hand written poster: Black history IS American history! I asked Michelle if she knew anything about the history curriculum at Landmark. She did not. Then, Native American history occurred to me as an important topic deserving attention.
It would be ironic for me to sponsor a grant supporting history, which has never mattered much to me. Right now, I see clearly the power of accurate historical information. I want to put that good into the world.
After a couple more discussions with Michelle, we agreed that one way to contribute to Landmark faculty would be to financially support their personal choices for continuing education, which they must pay for themselves. Additionally, right now, so many continuing education classes are focused on the same social justice issues that I care about. So, I have made a financial contribution to Landmark School, to be used to support the continuing education of several individuals. That’s what I value.
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