I am a very quiet person, hardly noticeable as I move through life. My voice is so soft that I have to exert myself to be heard at times. I tend to prefer being anonymous, not making waves. In many situations I would rather give in to another person’s demands, or perhaps compromise to keep the peace. I’m fairly easy going most of the time, but when I sense that a person or a group is being unfairly treated I rise up like a roaring lion to protest. I become a person who even surprises myself by my willingness to go to battle for what I see as a just cause. I suppose that I am an enigma in those moments because up until then nobody even notices that I am in the room.
As a child I mostly blended into the woodwork. I obediently did whatever my elders asked me to do, and luckily all but one of my teachers was kind and gentle. That one teacher lost my respect because of the way she treated her students. I was not vocal about her, but I took notes and made promises in my heart that I would never behave like her. She was the first person who taught me how to be a better teacher simply by swearing never to do some the the horrendous things she did to her students.
In high school I had little need to move beyond my naturally easy going way of facing the world, but outside events were pushing me to a passion for standing up for those who are abused. I remember confronting a group of raucous boys who got carried away with taunting a female classmate and terrifying her in the process. I think that because I had always appeared to be a little mouse they were astonished when I raised my voice and stood up to them. They immediately stopped their abusive behavior without pushing back. Even I was stunned that I had so quickly and seemingly easily derailed their obnoxious game of inflicting insults on a sweet girl who did not deserve their terrible treatment. I felt proud that I had been unafraid to speak out, even though inside my heart was pounding and I worried that I might be their next victim out of revenge.
In college I continued the process of becoming the real me. I used the anonymity of a group to march for the civil rights of my fellow black students. I wrote papers outlining my concern with the way the war in Vietnam was being mishandled. I found avenues for expressing my views in an effort to foment change. I chose t0 practice my writing skills and enhance them for greater impact. I decided to become a teacher because I believe that it is a profession upon which our entire civilization is built.
When my mother became very ill with the symptoms of her bipolar disorder, keeping her well became another of my goals. For many years I silently sought help for her and devoted time away from my family and my work in search of treatments and therapies that might beat back the horrific side effects of her mental illness. At the same time I was afraid to admit to others that she was so sick. It was only when I had fully embraced the reality that her illness was no more shocking than heart disease or diabetes that I finally went public with the truth. Informing others about mental illness became yet another passion that has guided my life’s story.
Family and people are all important to me. Status, titles, wealth would be nice to have but those things have never been a driving force. My concern is always with the well-being of each human. It’s a demanding task that sometimes discourages me when I see entire groups of people behaving like those teenage boys from my youth who were bullying that girl. Somehow humans often so get carried away with their prejudices and faulty beliefs that they do ugly things. Often they simply join a crowd hoping to be part of a group without really thinking about what they are doing or how they are behaving. Theirs is a kind of ignorance that I have spent my life attempting to undo. My holy grail has been to show people how to suspend their judgements and critically assess situations on their own.
It is not always easy to move against the flow of a crowd. Sometimes when I do so I find myself wondering if I am the one who is wrong. Just as I ask others to do, I regularly question myself and analyze my reasoning to be sure that I am not just parroting ideas that sound warm and fuzzy, but maybe are not the right way to do things. I attempt to be flexible, understanding, willing to really listen to differing points of view. Mostly I try not to judge, because I have found that most people really do want what’s best for others, but they just have different opinions about how to accomplish that. I know that I need to hear what they have to say just as they should consider what my beliefs as well.
I often think of the founding of our country and how those men who came together to declare independence and create a new nation were often at odds with each other. Melding together all of their differing ideas was torturous and yet they somehow found ways to compromise even as they worried that those adjustments would ultimately be the downfall of the government that they created. The one thing that they seemed to share was a passion for freedom even as they did not extend those rights to all segments of the population.
I suppose that I share their passion and do not take lightly the fact that I was born in a time when women and minorities began to finally see those freedoms extended to them. I fight to protect those rights for everyone in a fair and just manner. I teach to provide everyone with the opportunity to learn and grow and represent themselves. I point out the flaws in our system, not because I am unpatriotic, but because I believe that our democracy dies in darkness. When those in power are bullying any group I find my voice once again and I roar.