Growing up, I remember how integrated the whole community was in Newtown. "Mr. G" was not just my fifth-grade teacher, but also a husband to Mrs. G, and a loving father to Trina, another schoolmate. He was also a helpful handyman/neighbor to my elementary school music teacher and her husband who happened to be my piano teacher. Everyone knew everyone, their families, what they were going through, and seeing a person was not through a slice of their functional title, but as a whole. It was a package deal. People saw one another as whole persons with all that followed. Newtown's grace and strength came from residents' ability to see the whole of a person, and a situation.
I wonder what would happen if more of us could learn from Newtown, and see individuals in context?
Unfortunately, these days we tend to see people through the specialized functional titles we attach to them. We live in a highly compartmentalized 21st century society where even the kids have to answer to the unspoken scrutiny: "What is your specialized identity? Are you an athlete? A computer-genius? An entrepreneur? A musician?" The workplace poses many forms of the question, "What specialized function do you serve?" In trying to answer these questions, young athletes suffer repetitive use injuries, many professionals at work feel desperate to remain functionally significant, maybe ironically resulting in the workplace becoming a feeding ground for the insecure ego, rather than a place of true progress and productivity.
What if we learned of Newtown's grace in seeing the "whole" context of a person, beyond the functional specializations? Where the co-worker is seen as a husband, father, son as well as an expert in their field? Where the child is a daughter, neighbor, friend, more than just number in the sea of students in the school system? Where that annoying person in the community can be seen as someone who is going through a rough time in their personal life?
Two of the recent mass shooters this year were given the "genius" label by some. In their knowledge and areas of expertise they certainly were highly specialized (especially the PhD candidate in the Colorado theater), yet both were completely maladjusted as whole persons to their community and society at large. I wonder the consequences if the shooters had been thoroughly taught the absolute whole value of every person including themselves?
The grieving people of Newtown seemed to understand the dignity and value of a person beyond a person's actions and what they did — they included the shooter and his mom among the remembered in their grief. What unfathomable grace. That is the graciousness of my hometown that tugs at my heartstrings. I have never been prouder to see the old Town Hall on Main Street.
What if everyone treated themselves and others as if they had absolute value as a whole? Beyond the slices of compartmentalized accomplishments, pedigree and expertise. We once dreamed with Martin Luther King Jr. that we wanted to be judged by the contents of our character, not the color of our skin, which is basically to treat a person as a whole, right? I wonder if we still judge ourselves on the skin of specific accomplishments. Could it be that we are still at the epidermal layers, still not at the essence of a person? Do we still struggle to see the whole person?
What if we can learn from Newtown's integrated attitude of seeing "the whole" individual in our daily lives in Silicon Valley? One professional at a time? One parent at a time? One student at a time? One company at a time? One community at a time?
Thank you Newtown for showing so much grace, and for raising me.
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