Eduardo Galeano spoke one of the most important truths when he said, “I don’t believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is so vertical. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other person and learns from the other person. I have a lot to learn from other people.”
In a capitalist society there is entirely too much vertical thinking. We rank every one according to their wealth and/or power. Business magazines list the wealthiest. Personality-oriented magazines list the most popular. We have the top 40 songs and the list of best selling books. Everything tends to be vertical.
You may be thinking, “It is inherently that way in a capitalist society. Why fight it?”
It is not inherently that way. If one person in our society is able to think horizontally, then anyone can. Capitalism exists because creative people come up with new ideas and products and that creativity needs to be expanded to find solid ways to rescue us from the tragic downsides of vertical thinking. We need a new breed to say, “Enough! Let us break our lockstep habit of seeing everything vertically.”
We can start in our personal lives by insisting on finding the special gift of everyone we meet. Every person can do something we cannot do. They can see things we do not see. They have ideas that have never entered our minds or personality traits we would love to possess.
There is a bible story of a man who wrestled with an angel all night long and refused to turn him loose until the angel gave him the gift of his blessing. Do not release people from your circle of acquaintance until the reveal their special gift to you. Never doubt that each person has one you will need, even if it is nothing but a unique perspective that can save you from a bad decision.
I have often written of the semi-illiterate Baptist minister who did as much as anyone to civilize me during my turbulent teen years. He showed me that you can save a boy by letting him know he is important and his gifts are appreciated. This can clear up a ton of rebellion. He literally cured me with friendship and trust.
Learning some of life’s greatest lessons from a man who had to drop out of elementary school and milk cows for a living caused me to resolve to learn from each person I was around.
I also thought it wise to from those who supervised me. I was extremely fortunate to work under Dr. Bennie Carmichael, one of the most creative and hard-nosed educators on this planet, Dr. J. Earl Williams, a renowned labor economist, two mayors and two county judges. I watched them all like a hawk, carefully noting their strengths and sometimes their weaknesses.
The co-worker who taught me the lesson that probably made my life was Frances Wyatt. I worked with 80-100 troubled children a year and met with her to make plans to help them with all kinds of severe problems. Pure anger often welled up inside me at parents and other people who were destroying these children or were completely indifferent to their welfare.
I cloaked my anger as righteous indignation. She constantly made the point that all forms of anger are still anger and its only worthwhile use is to be channeled into creative plans of action. When I’d throw a fit over a mistreated child, she would calmly say, “I’m sure that outburst made you feel better but did it help this child? Do you just want to vent and make yourself feel better? Are you intelligent enough and creative enough and man enough to turn that anger into constructive action?”
No matter how many degrees you have when you break the grip of one-way of thinking your education will begin.
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