My son and I were recently discussing the current cultural fad of crying for tolerance while being completely intolerant of anyone who dares to disagree with an individual’s particular views, lifestyle choices, beliefs, etc. We were both explaining our frustrations with the immaturity that is so evidently displayed by those who demand that one think, act, or believe exactly as they do or else be given the moniker “Intolerant Bigot!” or the like. And then there’s the ever over-used, misquoted and misrepresentation of Christ’s words “Judge not” if one dares to speak a word of dissension with a popular opinion.
We both find it amazing that so many are completely blind to their intolerant “tolerance” and are so very narrow-minded and arrogant that they are unable to entertain, or even calmly listen to, a differing perspective – and will vehemently debate that theirs is the only right perception – all while hurling insults and infantile name-calling towards the offender who dares to not share their opinion. Simply, and discouragingly, amazing.
While talking about the increasingly argumentative nature of society and their intolerance for varied viewpoints, I said simply “Don’t cast your pearls before swine. It’s not worth the argument.” This got me thinking (a dangerous thing at times) about the nature of swine and what this portion of scripture could possibly mean.
Consider: Swine will eat anything. They have no discernment or discriminating tastes. Whatever is placed in front of the swine, if hungry, will be devoured. A swine will eat until he is full, but as soon as there is a vacancy in his stomach, he will devour whatever else is immediately available to satisfy his hunger urge. Isn’t this a picture of what has become of our society? Whatever is most visible, and touted as important most often, is grabbed hold of and devoured by indiscriminate people who swallow it all without question and then look round for the next great outcry that they can scarf up to feed their hunger for drama and self-importance.
The government says that an issue is critical (like, for instance, a flag) and throws out its “feed”, filled with vilifying language, particles of semi-true information, and subtle innuendos that all who don’t swallow the hand-fed swill are hateful and bigoted folk. So society gobbles it up without bothering to examine what they’re devouring for corruption, rottenness, or truth-vacant toxins.
“Religion” throws out the seeds of dissension and animosity, under the guise of “righteousness” and “favor”, and demands that others live up to impossibly perfect-looking standards created in the mind of a pompous (not pious) human who claims to be speaking for God. However, the example being set is a far cry from the examples of grace, love, humility, and even truly righteous judgment – given by Christ. Yet because it is peppered with improper scripture and seasoned with legalism disguised as holiness, it is gobbled up almost madly by those who are naive and emotionally vulnerable – only to be self-righteously vomited back out over others in an effort to obtain some sense of spiritual self-significance………… (Isn’t that kind of an oxymoron?)
The media feeds one-sided images of violence and controversy every few days, seeming to delight in the fact that their negative, offense-stirring, hatred laced “commentaries” do nothing to improve society or encourage unity in a nation that is torn. Instead, they throw around words like “bigots”, “racist”, “intolerant”, and “prejudice” with a glibness that testifies to their belief that society is but a mass of ignorant beasts who will fight and battle for a piece of whatever has been thrown at their feet to eat. Sadly, much of society has proven the media’s belief to be true by acting like mind-numbed, illiterate swine who cannot think for themselves and are too lazy to try.
For God’s sake. When did our society become so obtuse?
Is it not obvious that society is being led to the slaughter completely engorged on the tripe with which they have been slopped? Devouring the fecal matter that is being fed by a self-aggrandizing government, some very visible but very wrong religious charlatans, and an arrogant media – all while refusing to seek out the truth buried in the filth, or to graciously allow for differing perspectives, opinions, and choices – is the norm for most these days. The crude simpletons. The “swine” of our society.
How about wading through the waste that is being offered and digging through the dung to find some balance?
How about refusing to swallow the rubbish that everyone who disagrees with you is an intolerant bigot, and give tolerant space for differences? (I thought intolerance was the refusal to accept differences anyway. But I must have gotten that wrong somehow.)
How about having intelligent conversations about important issues instead of stale squabbles about things that will be nothing more than refuse in the grand scheme of things?
Here’s one. So many things go on around us while society gnaws on and feuds over the noxious and negligible filth that we’re being malnourished with to distract. How about actually reading and researching some of the real crises happening? Things like people being slaughtered for their beliefs. Children being sold as sex-slaves. Personal agendas being passed through government – riding incognito on the coattails of a bill – that take away more of those rights everyone so adamantly cries out for… the list is long when it comes to real things we should be feeding on instead of the tripe that is so easily accessible.
Refuse to be a swine. Read. Research. Entertain opposing opinions. Listen to perspectives different from your own. Seek out truth.
You might find some real pearls of wisdom amidst all of the rubbish.
Today marked the end of one often frustrating, yet fulfilling, leg of this journey called life. Today marked the official end of the Y.A.L.E. program (Young Adult Life Enhancement) where I have worked since October 2012.
For the last 2.5 years I have worked with 18-21 year olds, most of whom were considered “youthful offenders” or “at risk youth” when they were underage. I was their Leadership and Lifeskills Teacher. I was their Case Manager. I was their “don’t come to me with the same problems over and over… CHANGE things” advisor. I was their encourager. I was their “mama”. I was their friend.
“But you can’t be a friend to your clients”, the age-old mantra says. Really? You can’t? Oh but, there are times when you must.
You see, a friend loves in spite of………. They’re not a “yes man”, agreeing with everything that you do or say in order to stay in your good graces, but a friend will tell the truth, and often disagree, even when it’s most painful to hear. A friend sees through the bravado and posturing, listens past the words, and reaches in to get to the heart of an issue. A friend lays down his/her life for others. And a true friend sticks closer than a brother.
Many of the students that I spent the last few seasons with had no brother. Many had lost family at the hands of another through street or domestic violence. Some had lost family due to their own mishandling of life and they had shoved them away with their anger, violence, or drug use. Others had lost family to mental health issues – whether the family member’s or their own – it didn’t matter, they were lost. And then there were those who still lived at home with family. Or perhaps I should restate that… there were those who still inhabited the same four walls as those who have borne the same blood yet were not safe, nurtured, or appreciated there. They had no brother. They had no real “home”.
These were the lives of our students. And so we, the staff, became their friends who stuck closer than a brother.
There were the days when we got to celebrate with a student who passed a portion of their GED – or that all important final test was completed with a pass. Days when one (or several) completed a training certification, graduated from high school, or enrolled in college or trade school – and really attended. Perhaps it was that a student handled their anger in a more appropriate way, or approached a conflict with calm but direct words instead of weapons of flesh and steel. Or when one of our students got a job, drivers license, first car, or the keys to the first place of their own. Oh the celebration! Some students would quietly stand holding evidence of their accomplishment, but the grin that was spread across their face spoke so very loudly. Other would march proudly in the door, yelling loudly for all to hear “I passed!” or “I did it!” There were always high fives, “I KNEW you could do it”s, and hugs all around. We did know they could do it. Sometimes they didn’t know.
There were also the days when we cried with our students. Like when one had to bury her child and she was but a 21-year old mother. But more often there were the days that we cried FOR our students. When a student told us – after a few days with us – that he had been sleeping in a slide outside at a local park when he left orientation each afternoon. Or when another was a victim of domestic violence yet would not let us help for fear of being “alone again”. And I won’t soon forget the 6-foot tall, strong-in-body, young man who told us he was “lost” and had no idea where to even start to change his life, tears ran down his face, and ours ran unchecked as well as we talked about options for the taking, possible solutions, and hope.
There were oh-so-fascinating days when we were able to take our students outside of a staunch and stifling setting and get them out into the world, where many of them had never been. We laughed belly laughs when a student saw a real live cow for the first time and referenced a Wrong Turn movie when we took him to the country. We huffed and puffed and then watched faces light up in wonder when we hiked The Cascades. We walked and talked about futures and dreams when we took them to RU and VT campuses – places many had only heard tale of. We played basketball, served the community, saw the Globetrotters. Our students shone like stars with their talents and service at a local Black History celebration. And we whooped and hollered, with shouts and cheers, when some conquered their fears on ziplines, high ropes, and even in canoes.
But the most heart-gripping of all were those days – and sometimes nights – that were consumed with reading and watching the news, listening to the “street gossip”, making phone call after phone call, and waiting with baited breath to see/hear if any of our students was involved in a local news stories about youth who were perpetrators of violence or wounded victims of the same. Despite every effort made, pretty regularly, we would get the word that “one of ours” was making headlines in the news, or sick, or homeless on the streets.
It was always a heartbreaking thing when these reports came. Hard to hear. Often hard to understand. Because when you pour your life into someone, you want them to grab hold of the truth that – regardless of what they’ve done, or been, in the past – there is hope for something different. Something better. You desperately want them to “get it”. You want them to understand, without question, that there is at least one “someone” who believes in them, loves them, hopes for them. And you want that understanding to empower them to change… to choose a better course that may be difficult due to unfamiliarity, yet knowing that they can handle it because they are strong.
I’ve witnessed many a changed course while working with Y.A.L.E.. Many causes for grand celebration. I can list every success with absolute joy and pride for the young men and young ladies who did, indeed, “get it” and squared their shoulders and determined they were worth – and capable of – so much more than their past.
And I’ve witnessed many who, it seems, don’t have the strength to shake off the iron grip that holds them, like the hands of a captor covering their eyes and strangling the life out of them, pulling them back into their past. It’s life and comfort for them. It’s all that they’ve known.
One of my students shot another of my students last night. He’s one who can’t quite summon the courage to escape the fingers of the grip of his past to break free into something better. Something different. For some like this young man – although the consequences will be, ultimately, much harder to live with – the security of living what they know is much easier than risking ridicule and retribution with change.
So there’s a glimpse into my season with Y.A.L.E.. Celebrations and heart-breaks. Conversations and consternations. Graduations and GEDs. Adventures and awards. Courtrooms, jail cells, and funerals.
Given the chance I might do things differently. I would be more firm – or more gentle – with some. I’d try one more home-visit in an effort to get through to someone. I’d push for more outings and adventures where our students could experience things they hadn’t before. But one thing that I couldn’t change is how much I love and believe in each and every one of those 100 that crossed my path through this job.
Did it change things for them? Some it did. Others, I may never know. But what I DO know is that love never fails. And sometime, somewhere down the road, that love that was shown will come back to mind and maybe, just maybe, it will spark something in them where they can begin to fully recognize that they are valuable, capable, believed in, and loved.
2.5 years of my life as a teacher. I wouldn’t trade a minute of it.