I had the opportunity to teach a social work class for my friend who was on vacation. The class is about diversity and I was to watch a documentary called “A Path Appears” and then have a discussion. Easy enough right?
Have you ever seen A Path Appears? It is seriously powerful. It is the follow up to Half The Sky. Both of these documentaries were first books by Nickolas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn who are my favorite, authors, journalists and activists in the world. But don’t take my word for it, read the books, watch the documentaries, follow them on social media. They are fantastic.
As I was watching the documentary (and I have seen this a handful of times) I was taking notes to make sure we would have a good discussion and I starting noticing that I was not jotting down the stories of the people, or the atrocities of the laws, or the lack of prevention services. I starting writing down words.
Unworthy, Alone, Scared, Hurt, Shame, Degrading….
These were the words behind the girl whose parents sold them into slavery in Haiti and when they escaped and found their way back home, the parent turned away from them again. These were the words being the young mother who grew up abused and neglected and now was trying to do the best for her child when she has no experience, education or resources to raise her child in the way she hopes to. These were the words of the pregnant 16 year old, who turned to prostitution in order to help pay for the funerals of there 2 brothers; one who died from AIDS and the other from Gang violence.
But this documentary is about success, not despair. And the success that was found was not necessarily in the programs or opportunities provided, but the meaning behind them. As I talked with the students I wrote the following words on the board:
Worth, Respect, Dignity, Value…
And as we talked and as I processed these stories of young women from West Virginia, to Haiti, to Colombia, I realized what is so important is not what we give people, but how we make them feel.
When we provide education for children, but don’t invest in them personally, the education is meaningless. When we provide equality by law for different races, or LGBTQ or undocumented immigrants, but do not treat them with respect what good are the rights of these marganalized groups? When we give someone a tangible service, without an opportunity for them to feel respected, valued, appreciated or loved, that service is wasted.
True success, cannot be measured by the number of people who graduate or who don’t get arrested or who are middle class. True success is measured by how a person feels when they have interacted with us. It is measured by their feelings of Worth, Respect, Dignity and Value. And this does not happen by voting for the right candidates or supporting the right programs, I happens by truly believing that all people in the world have value and deserve respect. We cannot assume policy and law and limiting programing are giving people what they need. Each one of us, as a person, a human being, has the responsibility to see beyond the surface of opportunity and focus the psychological needs of those who our world has made to feel shame and worthlessness.
If we truly want to see success for each person, we need to face them with love and acceptance. Without judgment or superiority. We must focus on the core of their humanity and give them worth, respect, dignity and value.