Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Small Things With Great Love

Mother Teresa told us that "we can do no great things, only small things with great love." This is a concept I've been thinking a lot about lately and a statement I've been repeating to myself like a mantra: small things with great love, small things with great love, small things with great love, small things with great love, small things with great love. It's what I focus on when I'm near the edge.

Because, you know, the world needs saving and I'm just a regular old person. In the last ten days alone I have been urged, via email, to:

  • call for a Congressional debate on Iraq,
  • save the Chesapeake Bay,
  • sound the alarm on fake women's "clinics,"
  • tell Fila to support the rights of workers in its factories,
  • speak up for the oceans,
  • save NPR and PBS,
  • save internet freedom from AT&T,
  • resolve the crisis: don't shut down the UN,
  • stop global warming,
  • stop the Arctic refuge drilling.

Obviously there's a lot of stuff that needs to be saved or stopped. And these are just the alerts from the organizations I've asked to hear from. Who knows what other calamities are befalling the world as I sit at home sipping my cabernet? It gets overwhelming.

This is where "small things with great love" comes in.

I can't end the war in Iraq, but I can call for that Congressional debate. I can't ensure equality for women the world over, but I can treat everyone I encounter fairly and equally while donating to Planned Parenthood. Acting alone, I can't save the Chesapeake Bay or the world's oceans, but I can pick up trash whenever I'm on the beach and refrain from pouring toxic chemicals down the storm drains. I can't guarantee that Fila or any other company pay its workers a living wage, but I can refuse to buy their products if they don't. I certainly can't single-handedly stop global warming, but I can do my part by walking to most places (unless there's a tropical storm blowing through like there was today) and by scowling at anyone with the audacity to drive a Hummer.

Lately I have found the "small things with great love" mantra most helpful at school. I am (in case you hadn't picked up on this) pretty passionate about what I do for a living. A big part of the reason I became a teacher is because I want to make the world a better place and because I want to inspire others to want to make the world a better place. I am an incredibly idealistic person, and there are occasions on which I actually begin the school day thinking, "This is it, this is the day I change the world. Because this is Lorax day, this is the day my kids find out that 'UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.'" But that's not the way things work. Lorax day doesn't change the world, but it's a small thing I do with great love.

So I keep reminding myself that, as a teacher, I "can do no great things, only small things with great love." Sometimes my kids inadvertently remind me of this too. It would be a great thing if I could completely eradicate racism and bigotry, but I can't. However, one of my students recently told me that, as a result of my class, “a lot of people became more accepting, or less willing to laugh at other cultures’ traditions or rituals" and cited as an example "the chant with those men."

The chant with those men is the Ramayana Monkey Chant, native to Bali, that my students watched in the film Baraka. When they first saw the monkey chant, they laughed and thought it was "weird". . . in a cultural-superiority kind of way. Then I made them watch it again (and, um, maybe again) and they ventured that it was "sorta cool." Over the course of the year, the monkey chant became cooler and cooler as my kids grew more and more tolerant. If we finished class a few minutes early, I could count on someone asking, "Hey, can we watch the monkey chant?" and the rest of the class responding, "Yeah! Monkey Chant!" Right before any test. . .monkey chant. Somebody's birthday. . .monkey chant. Minutes before their AP exam. . .monkey chant. Last day of school. . .monkey chant. One of my kids even downloaded the chant and set it as the background music on her MySpace page. Dude, the monkey chant ROCKS!

Here's the thing about the monkey chant: it's a small thing. It's certainly not a thing I ever anticipated being a vehicle of tolerance and acceptance. But here's the thing about great love: you can't underestimate it. Teacher who really really wants you to appreciate and respect other cultures + heartfelt cultural ritual that happens to be pretty cool + curious students = great love. It's powerful, that great love, no matter how small the thing.

And, for your enjoyment, the monkey chant:


Anonymous said...

Trust me, you are saving the world one Crème brûlée latte at a time. Namaste.

lulu said...

Thank you for reminding me of why I teach.

Melissa said...

I saw Baraka several years ago, while in college, on the recommendation from my boyfriend at the time. I was an anthropology major in school, and movies like this are right up my alley. Want to show your kids why we should care about the environment? Show them Microcosmos.

Megan said...

Lulu: you mean it's not for the summers off? :)

Melissa: thanks for the recommendation. I'll check it out.

lulu said...

Summers off do rock, and the monkey chant rocks as well.