Just the other night my husband and I were talking about the people who inspired us to become people of initiative. We are both natural competitors. Neither of us can stand not to do a job, even the smallest one, well. Initiative is one of our natural traits: We see something falling through the cracks—we do something about it, even if it is not our responsibility. These things are inherent within us, but along the way, people in our lives have nurtured this trait.
If I said to you that this person’s work ensured that 10 years in the future your community would continue to be a safe place to live and work—that crime rates would continue to be low. You would probably say that person’s job was important.
If I said to you that this person’s work meant that we could continue to enjoy litter-free sidewalks, the beauty of fresh streams to fish in, woodlands in which to camp, hike and hunt, the majestic flight of the bald eagle, clean water to drink and fresh air to breathe, you would probably applaud that person’s work.
If I said to you that this person’s work meant that technological advances to improve the lives of the vulnerable, injured and sick would be possible, that your community could be the birthplace of inventors, scientists, engineers and lawmakers, you would be excited to meet that person and call her “neighbor”.
If I said to you that this person has the job of preparing the conscience of the human race to meet the challenges of the future, you would probably say “Wow, that person has a big job. We better get the best person we can in the position, and support her as much as possible.”
We had just passed a road construction site on the small two-lane state highway on the way from our hotel to my Dad’s house. The new road cuts and construction revealed bright red dirt— really red dirt, even by the standards of the Piedmont Plateau in Georgia.
From the back seat my daughter asked, “Mom, what kinds of worms do they have here in Georgia?”
“The same species that we have in Wisconsin, why?” I answered.
There was a thoughtful silence, then “But they poop out red dirt?”
It is truly a miracle that my husband managed to keep the rental car on the road.
Over the years, my daughter and I have engaged in several entertaining conversations about school and homework. However, a conversation took place this week that will be told around the dinner table for years to come. It went something like this:
My daughter: Now, I need to color the state flag.
Me: Wow, the flag will be difficult to draw. It has the state seal on it.
My daughter (coming to my chair with a copy of the state flag): No Mom. That’s a badger, not a seal. Wisconsin doesn’t have any seals.
She was so earnest. She was so polite, but there was just this little edge of “I can’t believe my mom doesn’t know the difference between a seal and a badger” in her voice. Just a touch of patronage.
She was right of course, the animal depicted on the state flag is a badger, and Wisconsin doesn’t have any seals.
There are few things in life that can truly give a person power. Learning to speak multiple languages is one of those things. Becoming comfortable with mathematics is another, and learning to read is another. And one more: being able to read. There is incredible power in being able to read. In this era of technology, screen media, and audio and visual stimuli, we often overlook the power of simple literacy.
However, ask the parents of the four-year-old who can suddenly read the signs on the vendor carts at the State Fair—how hard is it to redirect the little blossoming literary critic to the parents’ agenda now that she can read “ice cream”? Just that little bit of knowledge has given that child new power and her parents new headaches. Continue reading “Literal Power”→