"A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed."
— Desmond Tutu

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Little Sparks

"A great flame follows a little spark." -Dante Alighieri 

For whatever reason, I have had an extremely hard time finding news stories about people who embody ubuntu lately. I thought with the 10th anniversary of September 11th last Sunday that surely there would be a flood of stories about people doing great things in memory of someone, or just because of the talk of "unity" and "solidarity" that abounded. And maybe there were, but if so, their news stories are hidden and buried under a pile of news stories about the 2012 election, trouble in the Middle East, and celebrity gossip. 

So I find myself extremely frustrated and discouraged today. After searching the news for what seemed like hours, and even after going to my standard "good news" sources, I was still coming up empty. Just when I was about to give up and spend the rest of the day, and probably the week, engulfed in the ugliness in the news, I happened upon this story of Heroreports. Under the direction of Yessica Guerra, and started through an initiative by MIT, Heroreports is "a non-profit project dedicated to crowdsourcing and mapping reports of citizen courage and positive social behavior."

The site is full of reports of "small" acts of kindness and courage, which, I'm sure, seem much larger in a city ravaged by violence. There are stories that range from something small, such as witnessing someone give up a seat to an elderly person, to reports of really grandiose acts of kindness. 

So, in a city full of terror and fear, if there are people who can still find heroes in each other, I think I can do a better job of finding the good and the courageous- even in the midst of the news that surrounds us every day. 

Here's the website for the Heroreports based out of Juárez. It's in Spanish, but it's still pretty powerful to see. (Also, Google translate.....)

And here's the project main page with links to other cities and partnership opportunities:

Friday, September 2, 2011

Immeasurable Good

My mom recently told me of a story she heard where a celebrity was describing losing his mother, saying that it is only when one faces a terrible tragedy that one really becomes an adult.

"Becoming an adult" is a phrase that I don't think people think about much. What does it mean? Turning 18? When I was teaching and one of my students turned 18, I would ask him what the first thing he was going to do would be. The inevitable reply: "I am going to buy a lottery ticket and some cigarettes!" Very occasionally, a student would respond, "I will also register to vote." 

I have never really thought about what it means to "become an adult." Our society makes it seem like it's a rite of passage where we can finally do all the things that we were not allowed to do as children. But is giving in to that self-indulgence really "becoming an adult?" Or is becoming an adult more significant than that? Is it taking on more responsibility like living on one's own, paying bills, getting a job, or becoming a parent, or is it even more than that?  

Perhaps it is realizing that the self-indulgence of childhood is over, and it is time to use whatever skills and resources we may possess for the greater good? The veil of "innocent childhood" is removed from our eyes, we see the world as it really is, and we declare, "I will do good here."

I found this story in The Huffington Post initially, and Susanne's story made me think even more about what it means to face loss and terrible tragedy. Instead of allowing her grief to consume her (and who could blame her?), she became more aware of the plights of others. Her own loss was a catalyst for her to do immeasurable good.

I hope, one day, to be an adult like Susanne Janson. 

Watch her CNN Heroes video here:

Learn more and/or donate to her orphanage:

Thursday, September 1, 2011

"What America Is All About"

“Our goal has never been to have things,” Powell said of himself and his wife, Dot. “We want to give back.”

Even if I were not a former educator, I think I would still be invested in education and educational policies of this country. Thomas Jefferson firmly believed that free public education was essential to democracy; a country cannot self-govern without an educated populace. And yet, the way this democracy now treats education seems to completely contradict Jefferson's ideas. Instead of supporting education at all costs, it is often the "cash cow" from which to pull money needed for other governmental functions. Ok, yes, it is important to have a functioning government, but how long will that government function if the people are not being educated?

My sister sent me this story about a true educator. A story about a man who believes in the universal right to free, quality education, and who is so devoted to his job that he is willing to do it for very little money. This certainly will not fix the problems that public education is facing these days, but it is certainly a step in the right direction. We need more people like Mr. Powell in order to ensure that everyone will be able to realize those all-American ideals of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Read his story here: