Changing Mindsets on Disabilities

Thanks to Brooke Faison for sharing her thoughts on how important it is for society to change its view on people with disabilities. 

Why is it so important to accept people with disabilities?
I’ve grown up with an older sister named Brittany who has autism, and I’ve never thought anything of it. I loved her for who she was, and her mannerisms were always completely normal to me. But I learned from a very young age that she wasn’t viewed as being “normal” by many other people.

Whenever I would go out in public with her, I noticed how people would always stare at her with weird looks. I noticed that so many people would look like they were scared of her. It was almost as if people did not see her as being a person which is not okay at all.

As a society, we need to start accepting people with disabilities. We need to not shoot horrified looks in the direction of people who might not be able to control the sounds that come out of their mouth or the way they move. We need to treat them like we treat our friends, as human beings. But even more, we need to take the time to get to know people with disabilities, not because we feel bad for them, but because we realize their worth. We need to see that each person, regardless of their level of ability, has a unique story and a unique perspective on the world.

I have learned so much from my sister, Brittany. She is the happiest person I know, and I have had the opportunity to learn from her what happiness can look like and how not to care what other people think of you. Because of her, I am a much better person.

As the co-coordinator of Special Olympics, I am able to help bridge the gap between those with disabilities and those without. I feel lucky to be able to help address the misconceptions that exist. I encourage you all to learn more and rethink the way you view those with disabilities.

What if changing the world is as simple as listening?

Thanks to Rachel Lewis for sharing her thoughts on our personal responsibility to think about who we are and what we can do for the world. And a special thanks to Elon’s Dr. Jon Dooley for inspiring us all to think more deeply about our call to do justice. 

None of us got where we are today on our own.

No matter how much ideas of exceptionalism and individuality may permeate our thoughts, we got where we are today as a result of our relationships with the people around us. Think about it – the only reason that we survive past birth is become someone chooses to take care of us, even if only in the most basic of ways. As we continue to grow and develop, there are family members, friends, teachers, and mentors who teach us the skills that we need to continue surviving. There are people we don’t always think about, like those who work in the stores that provide us with food, the people who cultivate that food, or the people who give us clean classrooms to learn in, and the community members who fight to get the resources that our communities need.

And in that last line, we find the reminder that we are a part of something beyond ourselves. We are not individuals ambling along, free of connections with the people around us. We are members of societies; we are citizens; we are community members, and our communities in so many ways define us.

So what do we do when our communities begin to fail?

It doesn’t take much. Ineffective local government. Ineffective state government. Ineffective national government. (Do you see where I’m going here?) But it isn’t just the fault of government. Failings in communities very often come from apathy within the community. If people aren’t forcing the government to do something, if people don’t even seem to care about the people within their community, why would the government bother spending time and money to make a change?

When we think about service, many of us think about mission trips. We think about work abroad. We think about social change – we think about changing the world.

But rarely when we think about service, do we think about the people in our hometowns. Rarely do we think about our own communities.

In order to truly care for a community, we need to know its ins and outs. We need to know its needs. It’s impossible to be a total outsider to an area and to somehow know exactly what it needs. To know the needs of something, or someone, you have to listen to them.

This becomes more and more difficult as we begin to leave our own communities. We move away and go to college and university and, as we continue moving up in the world, we look down on where we came from. We see low employment rates and a rise in the need for free healthcare and food stamps, and if we aren’t impacted by these things ourselves, we may fall into the trap of wondering what those people are doing wrong.

We become distant from what we came from, from the people who cared for us, from the community that provided us with the schools and resources to get to where we are today. We wield our macbooks and our high GPAs and our knowledge of the global world, and we act as if we have some sort of inherent knowledge that the people around us somehow lack, thus deeming us superior.

So maybe some of us step forward. Maybe some of us say, “Okay, this isn’t right. I’m going to help out.” But when we think of it, like this, as helping, we are creating these power dynamics with us at the top. We are hopping into a community with optimism and this idea that we have all of the answers, somehow, at 18 or 19 or 20 or 21, and that if only these people in these communities that we came from (or moved to) would listen to us, all of their problems would be solved.

Someone deeply involved in service, learning, and justice is Dr. Dooley, the Assistant Vice President for Student Life and the Dean of Campus Life at Elon University. This past weekend while giving a leadership address, he stated,

…if you think the answer to initiating change is more well-meaning college educated Americans, look no further than Washington DC – our nation’s capital is filled with college graduates from the best universities in the world.  How is that working out for us in terms of action?  Look at the college graduates we send around the globe to solve world crises – how is America doing on the world stage?

I think sometimes that we are told too often that we are the future of this country. We are told, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” But we don’t think about what this looks like. We assume, again, that have this inherent goodness about us that gives us the ability to change the world without hard, painful, and sometimes miserable work. We get involved in helping, and we hear the word justice and we think that we’re doing it; we hear the word service and think, “Yes, I am doing service.”

But the thing about service is that it requires caring, and caring requires listening, and not just in the sense of listening to what is coming out of someone’s mouth, though that’s a start. Listening means hearing the entire story – it means thinking about where someone comes from, and how their identities and their environment shaped the life that they’ve lived. It means forcing yourself to get out of your own head and to recognize that not everyone has had the same resources that you’ve had, or the same level of care, that propels you to the top. Listening means hearing the sound of the glass ceilings and the walls that push some people so deep into the dirt that we hardly even see them as members of the community at all.

If we want to call what we’re doing justice, then our service must seek not just to change the world in some abstract, impossible to pin down sort of way; if we’re going to engage in justice, we’re going to need to think, really, really deeply, about who we are, and what we can provide to the world.

And here, in a final quote from Dr. Dooley, is your call to action:

So as you walk into your service site, do so with humility and respect.  Go there to understand more deeply. Go there to work on solutions to the problems the community faces, but do it alongside those you are serving. There is nothing worse than walking in blind to your own privilege and missing the point.

The world doesn’t need your service; the world needs justice – and your call to be engaged is not a call to simply do more service.  It is to do more justice. To work toward the full and equal participation of all groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs; a society where individuals are self-determining and interdependent.

What are the needs in our community and how do you work toward justice in the world?

Ending Hunger in Today’s Society

Abbey Riesset reflects on the issue of hunger, how she’s working to address it, and what she thinks can be done to combat it.

hungerinfo

Almost 1 billion people around the globe go to bed hungry every night, 200 million of which are children, as Stop Hunger Now shares. When most people hear the word “Hunger”, they think of starvation and one’s body consuming itself. But the term hunger encompasses much more.

Hunger is essentially the result of food insecurity- the lack of access to enough food to satisfy the basic need. Food insecurity is a major issue within the U.S. and often contributes to the high obesity rates. Most of the time, people who deal with food insecurity rely on food pantries and food stamps. It is extremely difficult to find healthy nutritious options from these resources. It is also cheaper to buy unhealthy snacks to help reduce the physical feeling of hunger. A Place At The Table  is an excellent film that discusses this issue further (and it’s on Netflix!).

As the Director of Campus Kitchen at Elon, I’ve had the opportunity to organize the annual Stop Hunger Now event on campus. Stop Hunger Now is a nonprofit organization based out of Raleigh that provides international aid relief in an effort to end hunger. They host meal packaging events throughout communities around the nation and educate people about Hunger. Each meal packaged can feed up to six people or one family, and the meals get distributed throughout orphanages and schools.  I love being a part of this event because it helps put Hunger into perspective. If Stop Hunger Now used machines to package the meals, they would be able to produce a greater number, but then the human element of people helping people would be lost. It is this human element that spreads awareness and leads to action.

In my opinion the way to end hunger is through education. I personally believe every elementary school around the nation should have a community garden. It is important to teach children at a young age how to grow their own fruits and vegetables. Educating children about nutrition and allowing them to eat the food they grow is just as important as being physically active. I believe community gardening in schools will give children a sense of pride and children will come to love eating healthy. I also think parks should have community gardens as well. The produce grown can be distributed to food pantries and reach those experiencing food insecurity.

A call to action for all of us… There are a lot of social issues throughout the globe which need our attention. At times, I feel overwhelmed by all of them. I desire to be a part of the change that needs to happen in order to improve education, eliminate homelessness, provide health care to all, end hunger, stop human trafficking, etc. I have come to the realization it’s impossible for one person to tackle all of these issues. Thus, I have devoted my time and energy to two specific social issues which are very important to me: hunger and homelessness. I chose these issues because food and shelter are the basic necessities of life. It is hard for me to image not knowing where my next meal is coming from or worrying about where I can find shelter for a night.

I encourage everyone reading this blog, if you haven’t already done so, to pick a social issue and become passionate about it. Devote your life to that issue(s) by spreading awareness and making an impact on those affected by it. In my opinion, Mother Teresa said it best, “I never look at the masses as my responsibility. I look at the individual. I can love only one person at a time. I can feed only one person at a time. Just one, one, one.”

Continuing the Discussion…

Welcome Back!

This semester the Awareness Blog will continue to serve as a place for meaningful discussion and reflection on social issues. We’re hoping to get a lot of guest writers to share thoughts on current events and various issues… which means we need YOUR help! Please contact me at rfishman@elon.edu if you would be interested in writing a blog post this semester. It can be on anything that you feel compelled to share your opinion on or spread awareness about– basically if you’re passionate about an issue, write about it!

If you want to get involved with one of Elon’s three awareness organizations, now’s the perfect time to do it! E-mail:

  • Amnesty International:  amnesty@elon.edu
  • Oxfam:  oxfam@elon.edu
  • Invisible Children:  invisiblechildren@elon.edu

Also, make sure to check out the Events page on this blog to see what our organizations are doing and what social justice-related events are happening on campus!

This year the Awareness Team is going to really focus on “Going Deeper” and challenging ourselves and the Elon student body to take action and to see awareness as the pathway to action. We can collectively create change because, as Nelson Mandela reminds us…

quote

The Artifacts of Community

T-Shirt Design

Sam Kwarteng

By: Mat Goldberg

What is a community? What does it mean that I never imagined being a part of a community of people facing homelessness? In leaving my internship this Wednesday with the Artifacts Cooperative, a collective of artists affiliated with the Interactive Resource Center (IRC), a homeless day center, I realized we had become a family. It was not always this way. At first, I was a stranger, met with a welcoming smile and a quiet voice of distrust. I was seen as an authority; not a friend. And me, I entered the doors of the IRC holding on to the iron sculpted handles shaped as spoons, with a questioning look, asking why. Nevertheless, I was excited and eager to make a difference. I remember the moments artists called me Mr. Mat or sir and would wait for my direction. Or the times I scheduled a meeting and all the seats were empty, but mine. Regardless of the challenges, I committed to being a constant and warm presence and strived to build relationships. Now almost two years later it felt hard to leave. I remember Sandra Luckey, an Artifacts artist’s words as I was saying my goodbyes “There are no shut doors and no noses in the air. We are free.” Together we had created a space, a community, free of judgment, for everyone to be seen, heard, and respected.

This experience has encouraged me to think a lot about the ideas of community. What changed from my first day to today? How did we create this community? How do we build community in the future? Liz Seymour, the Executive Director at the IRC introduced me to Scott Peck’s work and his four stages of community: pseudocommunity, chaos, emptiness, and true community.

  1. Pseudocommunity – An environment of fakeness. Members are extremely pleasant with one another and avoid all disagreement.
  2. Chaos – Conflict. Individual differences come out in the open and the group attempts to reconcile them. It is a stage of uncreative and unconstructive fighting and struggle.
  3. Emptiness – The way through chaos to true community is through emptiness. It is the hardest and crucial stage of community development. It means members emptying themselves of barriers to communication. It calls for vulnerability and ownership of our own biases, prejudices, and expectations.
  4. True Community – True community is both joyful and realistic. The transformation of the group from a collection of individuals into true community requires sacrifice and understanding.

Through my work with Artifacts I have been a part and seen our group progress through the stages of community. I did not realize this evolution until I was faced with emptying my own perceptions. It was in a moment of conflict when an artist raised his voice at me and said “You all must think we’re dumb, while you drive around in your fancy car with your college education.” His word stung. He saw through my effort of wearing bland t-shirts and loose fitted jeans. There were just some things I had little control over. So, he saw my privilege. What mattered more was that I realized my privilege wasn’t something I could deny or hide. This recognition signified my growing understanding of true community. I learned to appreciate the diversity of a community and acknowledge we each had unique strengths, roles, and stories.

In this process of empting myself and taking time to truly listen to the artists’ words and thoughts I learned the importance of dignity and respect. “We are not homeless, we are people” was the common phrase spoken. I realized in my effort to advance Artifacts forward I sometimes pronounced my idea without fostering collective ideas and decisions and unknowingly stunned voices and expression. These mistakes fueled my passion and my willingness to learn from the artists. I began to enter our meetings with white paper to take notes and jot ideas together rather than come and distribute set-agendas and plans. And what was amazing was the same person who yelled at me weeks before was now teaching me. “You see those doors. I helped design them. We chose spoons because were scooping out the bad and only leaving the good.” I smiled. I now understood.

As I stood readying to leave my last meeting. I was proud to call myself a member of this community. Becky, an Artifacts artist erupts with a smile “We are family. And you what I have your cell and email and I am not going to let you forget it.” This was no longer a weekly service site, this was a gathering of friends and family.

Why did I never image this could be a part community? This question and my experiences at the IRChas led me to believe there is a fundamental origin to community that Peck does not identify and discuss and that is the invisible community. I believe the invisible community is the stage of unawareness, a point of denying the potential communities that exist around us. I lived in a stage of unawareness. Living in Alamance County with 11% of people facing homelessness, I treated these numbers as statistics indicating a social issue, rather than listening and realizing these are members of my community. Until we are able to see the invisible communities we are unable to engage in the process of building a community and will continue to perpetuate a divided approach to solutions. The IRC has awakened me to reimagine community and to appreciate all the voices in room and to ultimately desegregate myself from the problem and solution and to just connect.

I still am uncertain of the definition, of what a community means. Nonetheless, I now understand that we all should take greater concern to broaden our definition and recognize the neighbors and people living besides us are a part of this. Community is more than people of shared values, religion, appearance, etc., it is a collaboration and sense of shared responsibility among all people.

 

 

Words and deeds to honor thee

10310614_10152201111644342_5876368115349440548_n

 

By: Kyle Whitaker

I’ve heard that it’s always good to start any kind of talk or workshop with a question. This strategy, in theory, immediately puts the focus on the audience instead of the speaker and, in doing so, gives listeners a chance to reflect and make a personal connection with the topic. As an Elon student, I’ve had the opportunity to use this approach in many different scenarios (with varying degrees of success, I must admit); I think it’s only appropriate, then, that I keep it up by starting this post in a similar fashion.

Question: Do you know Elon’s alma mater?

Let me begin by acknowledging a few things:

  1. This isn’t going to be a guilt-trip blog post. I’m not into guilt trips, and I don’t think they ever really work as well as we’d like to think they do. You can read on in safety and comfort, my dear friends—there’s no guilt trip here.
  2. The alma mater and the fight song aren’t the same thing, so. Let’s clear that one up pretty quickly ;)
  3. I recognize that this question can be answered pretty quickly, without much thought or immediate reflection. You can probably expect to give one of three answers: “Yes, I do!” or, “No, I don’t…” or (and this is maybe where many of you are), “Eh…I kind of know it? Does that count?” Either way, this isn’t exactly the kind of question that you would ideally want to open a conversation with.
  4. I promise I have a point, though.
  5. Lastly: I’m all about honesty and transparency in my conversations with others, especially when it’s something I care about. I’m therefore compelled to admit that my response to my own question falls somewhere between the “Yes, I do!” and the “Eh…kind of” categories.

In all honesty, Elon’s alma mater is a bit long, kind of slow, and actually pretty hard to sing along with. The tune is oddly reminiscent of an old church hymn, and the words aren’t exactly the most exciting pop lyrics to ever hit the Top 40 charts.

In short, it’s not surprising that many of us don’t know the alma mater. If we’re being honest, it’s often just another part of the Elon pomp and circumstance that many of us go along with half-heartedly, never giving it more than a moment’s thought during Call to Honor or Convocation or wherever it happens to pop up during on-campus events throughout the year.

I’d like to propose that we think about it a little differently, though.

I could spend a lot of time explaining what the alma mater actually is: how the words “alma mater” are Latin for “foster mother,” how the song is set to an old Latin carpe diem/ drinking song, or how the university recently added a new verse to celebrate the quasquicentennial (that means 125th, y’all).

But I’m not planning on doing that because you can just click the links and read about it. Instead, I’d like to focus on the one line that some of us actually know and remember from the alma mater, because I think it says a lot about our role as students and, for many of us, as soon-to-be alumni:

 “Alma mater, we will cherish thee.”

Despite the fact that these words contain the highest note in the song (and the hardest interval to sing, in my oh-so-musical opinion), I think their repetition is important. The refrain of our alma mater is a call to arms, a promise that we make to Elon whenever we sing it: “We will cherish thee.” The English major in me is fascinated by this word choice. William D. Ellis (the poet who wrote the original lyrics) could have chosen any number of words for this line—what led him to use cherish?

Aside from the obvious answer—that cherish is a sentimental word that happens to have enough syllables to fit the rhythm and meter of the line—I think we have a lot to consider when we say that we will cherish Elon, the place many of us have called home for the past four years. We’re not saying that we will honor Elon, or that we will respect Elon, or even that we will love Elon. To cherish is something entirely different, carrying with it a concept of love that moves beyond simply posting a photo of our oak sapling on Instagram or contributing to the senior class gift so we can take a photo in Fonville Fountain.

I’d like to argue that, when we sing about cherishing this place, this foster mother that has supported our growth and transformation for so long, we are committing to an active choice, one that requires we actually do something as alumni of this institution. To pull from a cliché trope that I typically try to avoid, I decided to let Mr. Webster do a bit of the talking. He says that to cherish means, “to hold dear; to feel or show affection for; to keep or cultivate with care or affection” (insert MLA citation here or just go Google it). To me, this means that when we promise to cherish Elon, we promise to hold on to our memories, to share them with others, and to ensure that future generations of students continue to make their own memories here. All of that sounds a bit hokey and intangible, but I think there are active steps we can take to make them a reality.

These steps are more obvious when we consider other perspectives on what it means to cherish. Some definitions include words like “defend,” “protect,” and “commemorate,” all of which imply a much more pointed and direct response. To some, cherishing Elon might mean that we continue to wear our Elon gear long after we’ve left, as a reminder that this place exists and that it has helped shape the path of our futures indefinitely. To others, it might mean that we stand up for our school when we read or see articles online that don’t seem to reflect the values we have come to understand here. And to some of us, it might seem that the best way to cherish our alma mater is by simply staying connected to the friends and family we have made during our time here.

I don’t pretend to be an expert. I’m sure there are hundreds of other ways that we can think about the idea of cherishing Elon, many of which fall far beyond my own understanding and capabilities. And I also don’t assume that all of us necessarily want to cherish this place; each of us has had a unique set of experiences as students at this university, some of which I’m sure we might want to change or forget about entirely. Elon isn’t perfect, and it isn’t always easy to cherish a place that hasn’t exactly lived up to our expectations.

I’d like to pose a challenge, then, particularly to the class of 2014. In nine days, we’ll gather together under the oaks to celebrate the end of our time at Elon. Part of the commencement ceremony will include, among other things, the singing of the alma mater. As you stand with your fellow graduates and sing along, think about the words you’re saying. What has Elon actually meant to you? How has it met your expectations, and in what ways do you hope to see it transform in the coming years? What are the values and ideals you take with you as you walk across that stage and into the next chapter of your life?

Elon, ever lead us on
To a bright and happy dawn;
Teach us still to love and pray,
Guide us to a nobler day.
Joyous music lies before us,
Memories to swell the chorus.
Alma Mater, we will cherish thee;
Alma Mater, we will cherish thee.

In the spirit of ending this post the way I began it, I have one more question:

How will you cherish this place? 

Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Penguins

Companions_adelie_penguins

By: Kim Lilienthal

Of all the things I tend to talk about and care about incessantly – education equity, words and language, writing, the environment, community engagement – there is perhaps one passion that has pervaded all of these interests; one love I’ve held close to my heart for my entire life: Penguins. I think being born in January had something to do with it. The remnants of Christmas and the two impending months of winter caused me to be born into a love for penguins simply because they were everywhere. I learned how to read when I was three or four and avidly read penguin fiction and nonfiction and learned about where they lived, how they formed communities, protected each other from predators, and suffered from human environmental impact. I used to tell people my career aspiration was to become a “penguin scientist” before realizing that science is actually really difficult for me to learn about and numbers aren’t my thing. Today, I’m still an avid reader and learner, and feel confident in my ability to say that humans can stand to learn so much from penguins.

Three recent experiences in my college life guided me to this conclusion:

1. I was visiting the Auckland Museum in New Zealand the summer after my first year of college and came face-to-face with a plaster replica of a prehistoric penguin that stood almost 5 feet tall and weighed well over 100 pounds. I cried. Penguins were once formidable creatures that would have been powerful predators of the sea (probably going after more than just krill). We should respect our modern penguins because of their awe-inspiring ancestors.

2. I was in a Barnes & Noble in Midlothian, Virginia after having been treated to my first legal drink in America. I was browsing the “Great Gift” books and came across a coffee table book by Jonathan Chester and Patrick Regan called Flipping Brilliant: A Penguin’s Guide to a Happy Life. I read it, naturally, and discovered that its pages contained everything I needed to know about leadership and service. I cried. I didn’t buy the book then, but later that summer a friend gave it to me, indicating that I was meant to do something with it. I brought it on Discovery, the First-Year Summer Experience I facilitated last summer and shared a bit of penguin wisdom with the group each night to kick off reflection.

3. Someone asked me what a feather-less penguin would look like. I Googled. I came across a story about a penguin born without feathers in a zoo in China whose parents rejected him. He had a condition where his body couldn’t absorb nutrients and was therefore unable to grow feathers. Zookeepers hand-fed him and took extra care of him until he was re-accepted into the community. I cried. Multiple times. In this moment, I realized that penguins were not perfect. They have the capability of hurting each other just like humans do, but are able to recover by showing compassion and acceptance. We, too, can recover.

Inspired by these three instances, I decided to explore how penguins are threaded through the social issues I care most about, and how they might be able to teach us how to alleviate them.

Penguins on Education Equity

Penguins don’t expressly teach their young the skills they need to survive. Instead, young penguins learn together in communities independent from their parents. Eventually, by observing examples and modeling behavior, young penguins eventually make the decision to jump into the ocean to search for their own food. They learn how to swim because they are empowered to discover it for themselves. This style of education allows penguins to learn at their own pace and to apply meaningful, real-world scenarios (like not starving) to their education.

After two years of research about critical thinking and education equity, it seems like our society needs a lot more emphasis on independent learning, student empowerment, and meaningful connections between school and real life. Everyone is capable of learning, but sheltered instruction might not be the best option. Human kids should get the chance to explore, take risks, observe numerous perspectives, and decide for themselves how they best can learn.

Penguins on Words and Language

Despite there being 17 different species of penguins living today, we tend to group them all together into their primary identity – penguin. We see a picture of a penguin and say “It’s a penguin,” not necessarily “It’s a Gentoo,” or “It’s a Humboldt.” Unless maybe you’re 6-year-old me glowing with delight at my new Penguin Encyclopedia.

HI_292876WHYMatter1 Humboldt_Penguin_Spheniscus_humboldti_Newquay_Zoo

Why don’t we do that with people? While embracing identity and celebrating uniqueness is essential to an inclusive society, at our core we’re still all people. Just because the Little Blue is a little less black and white than most of the others doesn’t mean it is less penguin than the ones we see in March of the Penguins (Emperors). There are far too many instances throughout history in which diminishing groups of people solely to one facet of their shared identity resulted in pervasive dehumanizing attitudes, violence, and overall social injustice. Let’s look at people as people first, and use our communication skills to discover what identities make them unique.

Penguins on the Environment

Unlike penguins, humans don’t necessarily have to worry about predators in the environment. Even in places like Australia where it seems like 90% of the wildlife could easily kill you we don’t actively avoid “predators.” Despite our privilege of being at the top of the food chain, there is a growing crisis surrounding Nature Deficit Disorder, an idea first developed by Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods. One of the key factors contributing to this deficit is the idea that playing outside is dangerous and risky, and children are much safer indoors. While it is certainly possible to get hurt outside by some unhappy accident, nature isn’t actively trying to eat us.

Penguins know nature is sometimes trying to eat them, but they choose to experience it fully. They know that whales, seals, or other predators are lurking in the water, but they also know they need to venture in anyway so they can eat. Sometimes, one penguin selflessly jumps in to test the waters and indicate to the others that it is safe to follow. At other times, a group of penguins may choose to sacrifice one to chance and push him in. Patrick Regan said it best in Flipping Brilliant: “It takes courage to be a leader. Are certain birds predisposed to take the plunge, or are they just unlucky enough to get pushed? We don’t know, but we do know that if no one leads, none will follow and all will go hungry.”

Animals___Under_water_Penguins_from_ice_floe_to_jump_into_the_water_043662_

Penguins on Community Building

Penguins are among the most social of all bird species and thrive on strong communities. They recognize that a community is only strong when its individual members are strong, so they try to accept all types. We all learned from Happy Feet that penguins mate for life, which is supposedly the traditional human ideal. However, many human relationships and family structures are changing, and penguins are way ahead of the times in realizing that is perfectly acceptable. Penguin parents frequently take turns raising their offspring, demonstrating that single parents, same-sex couples, or community parenting are all acceptable and valuable family structures.

gay_penguins_at_denmark_s_odensezoo2.jpeg.size.xxlarge.letterbox

Further, migratory penguins return to the same breeding ground year after year. Regardless of where their migration patterns take them, when it is time to reunite and settle down, penguins clearly have an investment in their communities. We should do the same with our communities and hometowns – explore them, know their geography and their culture, form relationships with the individuals living there and try to nurture and sustain them.

Our communities, our identities, and our relationships could all benefit from learning a little bit from penguins. Let’s see how it goes.

Humboldt_Penguin_Spheniscus_humboldti_Newquay_Zoo