The Wisdom of Dr. Seuss

image credit to Dr. Seuss

image credit to Dr. Seuss

On Wednesday nights during the school year, my daughter and I lead a class for kids in kindergarten through 6th grade.  This week, as part of our discussion of caring for others who have trouble taking care of themselves, we read the Dr. Seuss classic, “Horton Hears a Who.”

In case you’re not familiar with the story (gasp!), Horton the elephant is the only creature that can hear the cries of an infinitesimal being who is part of an entire civilization living on a nearby dust speck. Horton takes on the task of caring for and protecting these tiny people in spite of the derision of his neighbors, who neither hear nor believe in the dust civilization. As Horton repeats throughout the book, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”

I’ve read “Horton” aloud many times, and have had it read to me plenty of times, as well.  Every time, I get a little choked up as I consider the beauty of Horton’s belief.  A person’s a person, no matter how small.

On this occasion, my daughter read the story aloud. As she shared the illustrations with the kids, she insightfully pointed out that the people on the dust speck had flowers, families, and homes – just like us.  They were tiny, they couldn’t help themselves, but they were actually just like us.

Marginalized humans the world over – the poor, the outcasts, the disabled, and yes, the mentally ill – are made to feel they’re so small they’re not worth listening to and helping.  We ignore them.  We stigmatize their problems so they’re afraid to admit to them.  We callously tell them to “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps,” to “be accountable” to “not expect handouts” (or in the sickening modern terminology, “entitlements”).  We don’t have the imagination and empathy Horton had, which allowed him to hear someone tiny, picture what his life might be like, and reach out to help.

There are other important messages in “Horton;” standing up for your beliefs, believing in yourself, joining with others to make a difference and be heard. As I have found over and over again in my work with children and families, books that are nominally meant for children often contain great wisdom.  It’s my hope that one day we’ll all recognize those tiny marginalized people who hover on the fringes of our world, and we’ll all take the responsibility to stand up for them.  A person’s a person, no matter how small. Thank you, Theodore Geisel.

-Amy

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2 Responses

  1. I thought this was a really interesting (and insightful) post. Actually, I think children themselves have things grown-ups can learn from too – they are pretty patient, and tolerant, and accepting of differences. It’s only when the filters of the adult world start to interfere that people start to make judgements about what makes a person valuable, or acceptable. We lose something as we grow up, and our minds narrow however liberal we might think we are! Perhaps we could all do with adopting a bit more of the childlike (rather than childish) in how we deal with the world.

  2. I agree – 100%. Well said!

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