Once upon a time, there was a beast. He chose to live on the outskirts of society; he chose to let his anger fester. He watched and he boiled as the people lived their lives, free and happy. One day, however, the people’s joy stabbed him so fiercely that he decided to strike back. He terrorized the people: he invaded their sanctity and tried to destroy their world.
What does the paragraph describe..? Osama bin Laden? A gangbanger? A bullied student who phones in a threat?
What’s crucial, though, is what happened next…
The people, realizing that they’d been violated, did not call for revenge. They didn’t arm the rocket-launchers, strap on the bandoliers, or place daggers between their teeth. They came together, and they sang.
Although told in a much plainer style, you may recognize the plot from The Grinch Who Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss, a book which holds a new place for me since the National Academy.
Rewind a few weeks. Drowning in Hobbes, yet still asphyxiated by Aristotle, the notion of Seuss crept into my swirling consciousness. Compelled (and newly-determined to be accurate to the text), I made my way to the Barnes & Noble in Marina Del Rey. It was a few days before the madness of Harry Potter 7. And July. As I slid the decidedly yule tale across the counter, I half-expected a smart-assed comment; but, instead, the bookseller urged me to look into Horton Hears a Who: her own personal fave. I assured her I would, but for now this was what I needed. Like oxygen.
I opened the text, and here we were: humans drawn as beasts. And there wasn’t much to separate the Grinch from the Whos other than the frown: he was clearly one of us. Here was Hobbes; here was the reality of what we could become. For, the Grinch has become a What. He’s lost his identity, his place of belonging amongst the Whos. He’s a creature without a country.
Now, I’m the first person to call for justice. I want to see wrong-doers put in their rightful place. And I get damn pissed off when Cindy-Lou Who gets her Seusscycle ripped off. However, I also realize that punishing someone doesn’t solve any problems: the Grinches of our people remain outside.
Those who commit serious offenses need to be brought to trial. But what of those who can be helped? What about the everyday decisions that I make: what are their consequences, their causes?
Surely, there’s a lesson in Seuss’s story. When disaster strikes, the people come together. They sing. And what, do you imagine, is in that song?
They reminded themselves of who they were, and who they were not. They joined in a union of discourse, and remembered who they could be.
The story had re-worked itself for me. Where once I saw a neat little anti-commercial tale, now I saw philosophy! What was the Academy doing to me?!
I began to re-evaluate the construction of our society. How did we handle our problems? Were we managing them? Sweeping them under the rug? Whatever the description, in most cases we weren’t making the sacrifices necessary to actually solve them. I began to seriously reflect upon how I dealt with conflict in my classroom, in my life.
Help means work and effort and time, while punishments offer an easy out. The temptation pulls, with busy life and bursting agenda. Anti-federalist feelings mount: fence off that creature, chain it.
As for the Whos, these are Federalist folks. In the end, they welcome the reformed Grinch to their table. And, appropriately enough, it is he who carves the roast beast.
The same reconciliation may not be true for how we feel about bin Laden; but, surely, we Americans don’t identify ourselves as the torturers at Abu Ghraib. That’s not who we are.
The National Academy showed me how crucial it is that we sing. That we remind ourselves of Who we are, and Who we are not. And, of Who we can be. Because looking through my new Federalist eyes, I’m seeing the Whats we are becoming.