Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Federalist-Socialist-Democratic Republic of the Little People

Wow. That title is a mouthful, but it truly captures the essence of the last 6 weeks of my life.

All of our lives, we are taught to develop some tough outer shell of self-importance that will carry us toward the shining beacon of healthy adulthood. So we try, in our short time on the earth to accomplish an impossible (nothing is impossible really), rather unrealistic, To Do list that is often polluted with a number of self-serving items that do little more than give us something to talk about when we want to impress the pants off of people or a good opening line that ends with us passing along our business card. Little do we know, and few people discover that the truth behind living a good, worthwhile and healthy lies in the the small things that we do for others.

Ever since I finished with Jim Martin's runoff campaign, I've been searching (both my soul and the classifieds) for the NEXT BIG THING that would launch my career and the fast track to a Time Magazine cover shoot. I was waiting impatiently for my trip to DC for inauguration and looking forward to seeing all of my organizer friends. Little did I know that the NEXT BIG THING was working with little people. Not midgets. I now have a gig at a Christian Day School. Don't laugh. Because I it. If you know anything about me, you know that naturally, I protested a bit because I thought myself "not the kid type," through I suppose I was one at some point. But along the way, and by way, I mean 1 and a half weeks, little people have been the source of multiple epiphanies. While I've spent most of my life as a social scientist, studying people, systems and the behavior that connect them, working with these kids has been like a crash course in democracy, where the subjects include:

1) Relationships yield effectiveness in discipline- Have you ever listened attentively to someone you didn't like, didn't trust or didn't respect?? Probably not. What is that? I supposed it's because people require relationships, even kids. You must seek to understand them and then prepare to be misunderstood by them (kids). Nonetheless, legitimacy goes along way. They will only heed your correction if they know you care about them.

2) Monotony...Psh!! Discipline is important. Routines in life (get up, work, come home, sleep, repeat) aren't meant to such the fun out of life....they are, in my opinion, a way to get us to understand that the earth-shattering task of reform is based upon our ability to retain livelihood. Or, as my Deputy Field Director in MO would say, "Earth shattering things begin with the little things."

3) SELF IMPORTANCE. Why do we desire to be so gosh-darn IMPORTANT? It seems we are all in a rat race, so that we can spend our whole lives basking in the glow of...... ourselves. The political world lends itself to this. In light of such things, I asked God for little humility. A bit help me serve and a bit to keep me sane, and he sent me somewhere where none cared who I was. It didn't matter that I was a college grad...or a community organizer...or even that my name was Jonae. They're KIDS for crying out loud. I'm Miss Jonae that makes them snack and reads them stories. It's refreshing really. In conversation, I'm usually referred to in a manner that accompanies a litany of positive adjectives and before I know it, they began to define me. And while I don't protest having nice things said about me, we have to be careful not to be boxed in by our own ambition.

4) Civil unrest- I witnessed, last week, the purest form of civil unrest there is....a group of kids (4 year olds), totally unprompted, started marching around the playground chanting "No more babies." It was led by a little boy whom I refer to as the little Marcus Garvey. But this whole epidose made my heart swell. When you've learned to protest, you've learned democracy. :-)

5) We are shaping a movement for them, sowing seeds- Just like my time spent organizing in Southwest Missouri, I feel that my time spent at this school is another way to sow seeds into the community. What I've realized is that once you've been apart of the movement, you have an inherent responsibility to stand on the sidelines for a bit and guide those who are coming after. Instead of resenting their immaturity, teach them the way to go.

6) Fundamentals of communication- We must learn to communicate outside of our comfort. I'm used to striking up conversation about the latest post on Huffington Post or and anyone who could do so, immediately had my attention. These kids, much like most of the world, don't read blogs and don't spend nearly as much time on the computer as I do. I've had to bring my vocab down a couple notches and focus much more on the meaning. We should all try it.

7)Diplomacy- Negotiation is something that anyone, who desires to be successful at almost anything, needs to learn how to do. I swear, negotiating naptime, the dispensation of toys on the playground, and being an arbiter for 4-yo fist fights is sometimes like negotiating peace in the Middle East. Hilary Clinton could take notes.

8) Something out of nothing- Lastly, the thing that I admire most about these kids is their purity of heart. They see the world as we desperately wish we could. No one has (and I won't be the one to do it) told them how the world is and what it can and cannot be. They look at 3 hoola hops on the playground and imagine that it's a castle...or something. I wish I had that. Maybe you do to. While we may have the courage to remake the world, we must also have the imagination.

In short, I left the general election campaign and the runoff looking for hope that could sustain me a lifetime, I found it in the eyes of a child. I'm not trying to liken my experience at this school to the enormous, seemingly insurmountable obstacles that our society faces. I'm certainly won't try to sell you on my "change a diaper, change the world" brand of thinking but I can't help but think that the time and patience that it takes to rock a child to sleep, may just be the tenderness that we need to cure the world of it's ills. Surely, there's a direct parallel.

The world, as I alluded to earlier, won't be won through intense shouting matches filled with multi-syllabic words; it will be won by looking into the eyes of an individual, cynical or pure and of heart and asking them to make choices about their lives and the lives that are connected to them. That's the kind of stuff that I do everyday with people who are young enough to be my own children. I've spent my life, verbally or physically protesting, unjust and unfair authority. Now, I have a chance to be that authority and set that standard. But I'm careful with that responsibility because the tenderness of the heart and spirit of a child bears striking resemblance to that of an ailing nation. I am careful not to, even as I reprimand them, break their spirits. I simply can't. They may be the last hope to redeem the cynicism of a nation. And I could probably do this thing half- heartedly, but at this moment in history and at this moment it my life, I believe this job requires my complete, undying attention. So, I am momentarily pausing on my aspiration to be a politico.

To spare you a closing rendition of "We are the World," and for the sake of not making this entry any longer. I'll say this. Children, like the virtues of liberty, justice, and "the American way" are placed in the earth for us to steward, providing, sometimes forging an environment for them to grow and flourish. Therein lies the connection between me, Jonae, the community organizer and me, Jonae, the young adult that works with kids. So I'm not, just in case you were worried, CHANGING professions (once an organizer, always and organizer), I'm simply channeling what I have learned :-)

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