Monthly Archives: April 2010

My Brother’s Keeper


Who is responsible for another?  I mean if Darwin is right, then should we just allow the weak to fall away?  Is it their choice to remain weak, or are the stronger responsible for all? You and I all know the great exceptions to the rules:  The star athlete who came from single, alcoholic mother and lived in the projects until he was able to get out with a huge Nike contract and a starting position on a professional team.  The circumstances were grim beyond belief, but he manages raise above the rest, because he chose to work hard and not sink like those around him.  Maybe he even gave a hand to a few who he trusted to step up with him.

There are “average” people in these situations too, people who rose out of a bad situation and became better for it.  Because really, you become stronger from the things you go through, you completely crumble, or some just continue on, unchanged.  The teenage mothers who go on to have teenage mothers who know how to live on and work “the system.”  They don’t leave their block, they don’t contribute, they just appear and disappear in numbers.  These are the ones who sink to the bottom.

I have been a Peace Corps Volunteer, an Americorps volunteer, an inner-city school teacher and a social worker.  I was under the silly impression that I could change things, make things better.  I have tried to give that hand up to many people in different situations, but there are some who are just not interested.  Change can be scary, leaving a comfort zone –no matter how uncomfortable- can be scary. Succeeding can be scary.  We see this resistance all the time.  The new Jamie Oliver show “Food Revolution” has illustrated it better than anyone can.  “You are unhealthy.  You are going to die.  I will buy you fresh food.  I will show you how to cook it.  I will educate you about nutrition.”  And, of course, behind his back, they are still eating fast food.

We know these people who have 1, 2, 3, heart attacks, and still eat lunch at McDonald’s, the smoker diagnosed with lung cancer who just can’t quit, or the student who gets a full scholarship, drinks too much at spring break and jumps off a hotel balcony, or the high school drop-out whose big accomplishment is to make it on the public-assisted housing list.  Please don’t get me wrong.  These programs have their places, but there are people who don’t use it as a stepping stone or a hand up, but as an entitlement.

But this is what I am struggling with.  I know two people.  One is a 30 year-old woman who had twin babies and developed pre-eclapsia.  She was in the ICU for 3 months, and in a coma for about 30 days.  This woman is a researcher working on a cure for AIDS and helping under-developed countries with women’s health issues and she speaks at least three languages fluently.  She is a very health-conscious person who eats well and exercises regularly.  I also know a 26 year-old man who was brought into the hospital with what they thought was meningitis, but it turned out to be a horrible infection created by something as small and simple as a toothache, or a cold.  When he came in the hospital he was lice and flea infested and his leg was gangrene.  He needed to be completely shaved and the leg will soon be amputated.  He had open-heart surgery.  He did not graduate, has never worked in his life, and spent his time sitting in his mother’s condemned home playing video games.

They both made choices in their lives.  And they will continue to make decisions.  The woman is undergoing intensive therapy that she is determined to progress at because she has two babies, and her research waiting for her.  It is my educated estimate that this is

not a life-changing event for the man.  He will not change anything, and will probably have similar problems until he dies, so goes my opening question.

Who is responsible?  I can only do so much for anyone.  “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink,” added to “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, if you teach a man to fish, he can eat for a lifetime.”  This is my dilemma.  You can teach a man to fish, but eventually, you have to wash your hands of it.

Now, with that said, as a teacher, can I stop teaching to the lowest level student in the room, and really push the highest?  Wouldn’t that be better for society as a whole?  Geniuses do not need to be lost in the shuffle because we want everyone to be equal.  We are not equal.  Maybe if we cater more towards the motivated, others will become motivated, rather than catering to the non-motivated encouraging others to allow themselves to be lazy.  As a teacher, as an aunt, as a friend, what is my responsibility?