My father, Harold Saye Sr., 87 now, taught me the single most important lesson of my life when I was a child. He taught it primarily through living the lesson out day by day, year by year–through a lifetime. He also imparted the lesson to me in simple words: “Neal, treat every person you come in contact with as if they are the most important person in the world. Because when you are with them, they are.”
I learned from my dad, for example, that old people should be respected, revered even, for the years they have lived and learned. For the truth they know. He showed me how to love his mother, my Mama Saye, by just listening to her talk as she neared her death.
My father taught me to smile kindly at Joe Junior Watkins, the man/boy in ever-present overalls who wasn’t quite right, who grew older but remained a child. “Don’t ever make fun of people, Neal. They’re doing the best they can.”
I learned from my daddy that if you allow yourself to hate somebody because he or she is different from you, the next step comes easy: you can ignore them or fight them or kill them even. “Don’t let that happen to you, Neal.”
He taught me that different is not bad. It’s just different.
I grew up in the tiny North Georgia town of Ball Ground, where there were no blacks. Not one. But my father had black co-workers in his job as a machinist in nearby Canton, and he would invite his black buddy and his family to our house. I learned early on that skin color is … skin color.
My father taught me to do whatever I can in my life to …
I certainly have not been 100% successful in this endeavor (probably not even 50%), but I am SO glad that I had such a wonderful model.
Now I try to teach my students that college should be an opportunity for them to embrace a diverse mix of people: different ethnicities and cultures, sexual orientations different from their own, different age groups, faiths, sizes, personalities, etc.
I want to ask you to do something. Watch the video below. Its a bit hard because it’s fairly long (about ten minutes) and it’s difficult to understand all the words of the speaker (but in a way, that difficulty is part of the lesson of today’s post).
(Monologue for the play Running Upstream, performed by Jordon Bala at my church a couple of weeks ago.)
I challenge you to develop a mother’s eyes to see, to see, to see.
I challenge you to join the crusade to Stop Stereotypes!
You and I– and the world–will be happier with the stopping. Below are a few of my buddies who want to join in on the StereoStopping:
Will you join us in the fight?