Wednesday, January 25, 2017

How to Be a Hero: Lesson One

Before you can be heroic you have to see the need. If no one notices that something is wrong, it will never get fixed.

Do you remember the case a year or so ago of the young women who had been kept in a basement in a house that was surrounded by a neighborhood of houses? These women had been kidnapped as children and kept there for years by their kidnapper. He had chained them at times, locking them in the basement most of the time, and never let them out in the open .  The man who held them as captives had built a fort-like wall around the backyard with parts of it covered so he could take them outside occasionally without being seen. The neighbors didn't realize what was going on. But surely there were signs that it wasn't a normal family. Some, in hindsight, said they thought it kind of odd. But no one was curious enough to check it out.

And there are so many things that go "unseen" in this culture of electronics, fast pace, and "minding your own business." There are people who are clueless about other cultures living in their own geographical area. We keep to ourselves and don't see what is going on outside our own circle.

Much of what we don't see is there to be seen but we don't want to see it. We minimize it, devalue it, ignore it. How many of us don't really look at homeless people on the street? How many of us just don't go where they might be. If they show up in our neighborhood we do what we can to keep them away.

How often do you actually see hunger? Because we have plenty to eat and there are so many grocery stores with so much food it surely can't be in our environment. It must be in some other country. We might see pictures of it on t.v. or in magazines, but not in our neighborhoods. And if we don't see it, it must not be much of a problem, right?

If you aren't a public school teacher in poorer neighborhoods you won't see children who only get one meal a day - the one provided at school. Do you ever think about where those kids might get a meal when there is no school?  Malnourished children do not have the same chance of success as other children. Teachers see them underachieving because these children must use all their energy to  just survive.

When was the last time you knew a child who died of measles? Never? Then measles must not be a problem, right? Or what about malaria? Have you worried that your child might die of one of those diseases?

Do you use the water in your house? Do you know that there are people in our city that have no running water? They can't shower, bathe, or do laundry because the place they are living has no water. It may have been turned off because they couldn't pay the bill. Or it may have just deteriorated so badly that the plumbing can't be used.

I remember a housing inspector for the City tell me about a home he discovered where a mother and several young children lived that had no water in the bathroom. The bathtub was full of urine and feces, the toilet would not flush, the children were filthy, roaches were everywhere. He said that he thought the wallpaper was stained until he saw it move. The roaches were so thick he thought they were part of the wallpaper. Needless to say, he had to condemn the home, even though the family had no money and no where to go.

But if you don't have his job, you'll never see that need. And it will be easy to ignore the fact that people in the same city you live in may be living in such deep, deep poverty.

I've had the opportunity to travel to many parts of our country and am always eager to travel in Indian Country. I travel there as a tourist and see what they want tourists to see - their culture, their crafts, their regalia. But not all Reservations are the same. Some are in such deep poverty that they look like third world countries. The Rose Bud and the Pine Ridge Reservations in S. Dakota were a shock when I was there. Unlike other Reservations we visited, these didn't really have tourist sites. We traveled into the Reservation villages. Desolate. The land given to the Native Americans was, for the most part, wasteland, land the whites didn't want. Very little grows there. The unemployment is so high that there is very little money available to the people. After generations of unemployment and struggle to survive the people have little hope. They sink into alcoholism and drug addiction. Diabetes is rampant throughout. Health care is limited and hard to get to. The suicide rate for teens is extremely high. I continually marvel that these conditions exist in the wealthiest nation in the world!

I find it kind of unbelievable that there are still many people who think Indians live in tipis or wigwams. If you go there you will find houses that are falling apart, some are more like shacks. Many live in trailers out on the prairie where there is no electricity or running water. Many have no transportation and are quite isolated if they don't live in a village.

But if you haven't seen it, seen the poverty with your own eyes or the eyes of someone you trust, you won't know it exists. And even if you are told, you may not believe it could be that bad. And it is easy to forget about it if you haven't seen it yourself.

These are but a few of the situations we often don't see. And because we don't see them, we don't really believe the need is there. We seem to have to "see it to believe it". And how many things do we see but chose to believe we can do nothing about them?

I challenge you to start looking to see the needs in our world. Open your eyes and your mind to be ready for lesson two of how to be a hero. List what you see, so that in later posts we can explore how to be a hero in those situations.

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