One important aspect of self-care lies in our responsibility to continue to develop our intellect beyond the four walls of the classroom.
Wheels of Freedom
I remember my first bicycle—a shiny green Huffy with a saddle seat and coaster brakes. The back wheel had a set of smaller training wheels attached. I eventually learned to ride by myself (thanks, Mom and Dad), and experienced new freedom. I cut pieces of cardboard and attached them to the bike frame with a clothespin. As the wheels went ‘round, the cardboard would strum against the spokes with the thwacking sound of summer and freedom.
I remember my parents instilling in me the importance of always wearing shoes whilst riding. They told horror stories of a boy they knew who rode barefoot. His foot got caught in the wheel and chopped to pieces by the dangerous spokes.
My parents taught me the rules that went along with my freedom. How to use hand signals and to not ride down the middle of the road. At times, I used my freedom irresponsibly. I stole money from my mom’s purse (sorry, Mom), and rode to the store to satisfy my cravings for Three Musketeers and Snickers. I loved my bike, and nothing could beat its one gear and coaster brakes.
Until I outgrew it and had to make the transition to a bicycle with three gears and hand brakes. I remember resisting the change because it required me to learn new ways of doing things. Once I mastered the coordination required to switch gears and stop with my hands instead of my feet, I discovered I could ride faster and farther. My freedoms expanded, and I rode to school and zoomed around the neighborhood.
Eventually, in college, I purchased a bicycle with my own money—this one had 18 gears. I also learned that 18 gears don’t exactly give you 18 speeds. Some of the gears have the same cog combinations, so they provide the same ‘gear’ as a different combination. But I digress.
Our first year of marriage we purchased matching mountain bikes—and we’ve been riding trails together for almost thirty years. I still learn new things about technique and skill. Occasionally, I still take a tumble and end up with bruises and scrapes. This usually happens about the time I congratulate myself on my riding prowess.
I have learned that I need to keep learning. The world of bicycle mechanics continues to expand, and I need to keep up with it if I want to continue to ride well. I can enhance my freedom to ride by wearing protective gear such as helmets, shin guards, and arm guards. As a child, I never wore a helmet. Now I understand how a helmet can save my life.
I can use my bicycling freedom for transportation (I don’t steal money from Mom’s purse anymore), entertainment, or education. Sure, I could still ride a fixed-gear bicycle with coaster brakes, but I wouldn’t go as far or have such a wide variety of experiences.
Riding a bicycle reminds me of the academic freedom that we enjoy in this country. We learn to read, take in information, and categorize it in our minds. When we leave school—whether after high school or college—we have a choice. We can continue to operate at the same level—with our ideas in fixed gear, or we can use the brains God gave us to continue to learn and expand our horizons.
Sometimes, the learning pains us—but nevertheless, we have a responsibility to grow, expand and seek understanding. I have learned that change doesn’t come easily. Those entrenched ideas often need excavating in order to replace them with better thoughts, attitudes, and actions.
For example, when I was a kid, I told jokes about people from Poland. Not because I didn’t like people from Poland, but because I could remember the jokes. As I grew, I realized that the jokes made fun of a segment of the population. Although they made people laugh, they also fell into that category of ‘tearing someone down to make yourself feel better.’ And now, I know that the word I used is extremely offensive to people of Polish descent.
I’ve also realized that I held some entrenched ideas about people who don’t look like me or share the same religion that I do. When I was a kid, I met a Filipina lady who jumped on our dining room chair when she saw our cat, spoke loudly, and bossed me around. This encounter shaped my feeling for all Filipinos—without me even realizing it. Because she was different, had some personal characteristics that I disdained (fear of cats), and bossed me around (definitely something I hated), I associated her negative characteristics with all Filipinos.
I hesitate to admit that it took years for me to get over this negative attitude. Not until I had a Filipina teacher’s aide did I really get to know someone from the Philippines. I loved her gentle acceptance of all of our students. She always had a sweet smile and never bossed me around. I realized that my prejudice stemmed from an encounter with a single person. How many potentially enriching relationships had I denied myself over the years?
Bike Riding, Freedom, and Responsibility
You’re probably wondering what bike riding, freedom, and responsibility to learn new things all have in common. The things we learn as children need excavation as adults. We need to dig through our feelings and analyze our negative thoughts.
For example, I recently overheard a conversation about the illegal immigrant crisis, and one of the parties stated, “Illegal immigrants hurt our country and our economy because they just come over and live off welfare.” For accuracy’s sake, the United States does not have a ‘welfare’ program. It has a bouquet of programs that help people who live below the poverty line.
Pedro and I had to accept public assistance in the form of food from the Women with Infants and Children (WIC) program. And this despite the fact that we owned a home and both had college degrees. We moved to a state that ended up paying me considerably less than I expected because it didn’t accept my years of service teaching at a private school—which would have put me in a higher pay scale.
Pedro had enrolled full-time in night school to earn his teaching certificate and stayed home during the day with our daughters. I made $12.00 too much a month to qualify for Medicaid and Food stamps (now known as SNAP—Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). When he finished school (around the same time the girls started school), we no longer received WIC.
Pedro and I belong to the class of people who use ‘welfare.’ His parents immigrated to the U.S. his sophomore year in high school (from Cuba, and via Jamaica and Puerto Rico). Pedro received his U. S. citizenship in 1988. So, I guess that makes him part of that perception that all Hispanics go on welfare.
Listen to the Facts
Statistically speaking, though, as a Caucasian, I am more likely to be in need of public assistance. Thirty-six percent of food stamp recipients are Caucasian, 25.6 percent are black, and 17.2 percent are Hispanic. The statistics for Medicaid recipients show 43 percent are white, 18 percent black, and 30 percent Hispanic.
Since 1996, even LEGAL immigrants can’t receive all welfare benefits until they have lived in the United States for five years. Exceptions for emergency medical services and nutrition for pregnant women and small children. These statistics bear out what I learned back in the 80s about Hispanics and their use of public assistance.
Just like my resistance to riding a bicycle with gears and hand brakes, our minds automatically resist new information that presents contrary evidence to long-held beliefs. Likewise, a bicycle that has 18 gears doesn’t necessarily have 18 speeds. Politicians sling ‘facts’ around like desperados at a shootout. It doesn’t matter what flavor of politics, either. Politicians use rhetoric to make points, not to point out facts.
I, for one, want to use my academic freedom to seek out information and facts. For example, I will commit to not reposting rhetoric on social media before checking the facts. I will remember that 18 gears don’t mean 18 speeds. Fair isn’t always equal. Not all Filipinos are bossy. One person does not represent an entire race.
Most of all, I will remember the words of Peter in talking his fellow Christians:
But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.
And along the way, I need to study my Bible to make sure I know what God’s work looks like, sounds like, and feels like. I’m pretty sure, it looks like love, sounds like love, and feels like love.I'm pretty sure God's work looks like love, sounds like love, and feels like love. If it doesn't, it's not God's work. #immigration #love Click To Tweet
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