Esteemed thinker: Anne Sullivan

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The alphabet is one of our most progressive inventions, a unique concept with such profound implications. The act of stringing together characters to create a word, which has the ability to change meaning by the mere manipulation of its placement in a row, is indeed extraordinary. The word “but” is a conjunction, however switch the letters and we get “tub”, a noun.  Then if we add a few letters we can have the word “cat” and with the addition of an “s”, placed before or after the word, we get two distinct words and two different definitions,  “cats” or “scat”. Put them together with a space between and we have a sentence “scat cat!”

One can all agree that the inventions of the 21st century certainly have improved our lives, but let us not forget those that came before us… the offering that has most likely contributed most universally, impacting and influencing effects on civilization to the greatest degree… the alphabet.

Today’s blog brings you the esteemed thinker: Anne Sullivan (1866anne sullivan-1836) (Born Johanna “Anne” Mansfield Sullivan Macy). An accomplished American educator, she is best known as the teacher and companion of Helen Keller. Anne was born in Feeding Hills, Massachusetts to Irish immigrants who came to the United States to escape the notorious potato famine.  Sullivan and her surviving siblings grew up in impoverished conditions, and struggled with health problems. Anne contracted an eye disease, trachoma, at the age of five and nearly caused her to lose her sight. Her mother suffered from tuberculosis and died when Anne was eight years old.

Left with an abusive father, she and her brother were sent to live at an almshouse for the poor, however after a short time the younger brother dies and Anne is left alone.  Wanting to get an education, she convinces a prominent group of inspectors of the almshouse to allow her to leave and she is sent to the Perkins Institution for the Blind. Having never attended school, she proves that she is intelligent and quick learner, tutoring other students at the school. After undergoing surgery, she regains some of her own vision back.

sign language

Overcoming her own disabilities, in 1887, Anne Sullivan accepts a positon of teaching six-year-old Helen Keller, who lost her sight and hearing after a severe illness at the age of 19 months. To prepare herself, Sullivan studies the case of a former Perkins student who was also blind, deaf, and mute who had been taught to communicate through the use of raised letters and manual language.

Under Sullivan’s tutelage, including her pioneering “touch teaching” techniques, the previously difficult and defiant Helen Keller flourishes, eventually graduating from college and becoming an international lecturer and activist. Sullivan, later dubbed “the miracle worker,” remained Keller’s interpreter and constant companion until the Sullivan’s death in 1936.

 

First image: Photograph of sculpture by Robert Indiana, 1970

 

Esteemed thinker: Dian Fossey

gorialla baby

Popularity is not always an indicator of the best nor should we assume that the most popular were raised to the top on account of an even start. An example of what one may considered “a staked deck” is the phenomena of voting for your favorite singer or dancer via social media (which includes television). Isn’t it likely that the winner may indeed have generated their own pool of supporters who may have “turned the tide”?

So it is here where I take us to the animal kingdom where there are animals that have always been considered ‘the most popular’. The giraffe, the tiger, the lion, the elephant, the gorilla, and of course the ever-adorable panda are just among the few that lead the pack in popularity. Even the dinosaurs, which have never been seen nor heard by anyone, ranks highest in the list of “favorites”. So why is it that the tapir, a most unusual looking fellow, the mountain bongo (a fancy looking antelope), or the red river hog (who makes a pig of himself at night) haven’t been able to tip the scales in their direction of popularity.  Perhaps it just might be that they need to get a new “press agent”!

Dian fossey  Today’s blog brings you the esteemed thinker: Dian Fossey, (1932-1985) American primatologist, zoologist, and naturalist was born in San Francisco, California. She is noted for her tireless and heroic struggle to preserve, protect and study the mountain gorilla.

Fossy grew up aspiring to work with animals however, after changing her major in college, she earned a degree in occupational therapy. Working in this field for several years, her restless spirit and affinity for animals drew her to the continent of Africa. In 1963, after taking out a bank loan and spending all her savings, she traveled to Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and the Congo. In her travels she meets the renowned archeologists, Mary and Louis Leaky. It is here where Fossey learns of Jane Goodall’s research with chimps, which was at this time in its infancy stages.

Dian Fossey founded the Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda’s Virungas Mountains in 1967 with a main goal in mind: to protect and study the endangered mountain gorillas. Fossey not only observed and studied, but she lived a secluded life among the mountain gorillas. She brought over thousands of hours of new information to the scientific community.

In 1983 she wrote and published her autobiography Gorillas in the Mist. Fossey’s research and conservation efforts for the endangered gorillas of the Rwandan mountain forest from the 1960s to the ’80s brought her life to a tragically early end when she was murdered presumably by poachers.

I now bring to the profound words of the late Dr. Dian Fossey; a simple lesson for all of humanity.

“When you realize the value of all life, you dwell less on what is past and concentrate more on the preservation of the future.

 

 

Esteemed thinker: Albert Einstein

the thinker There is a notion that the intellect of men and women are determined by the dominant part of the brain they favor, the right or the left. According to some, people who are right- brained thinkers are those that are more creative in the arts, more intuitive and subjective; while the left- brained people are those that are gifted in the sciences and mathematics, more logical and analytical. This simple division has made for wonderful excuses not to perform certain tasks… for those who find calculating the sales tax a burden or drawing a map on a paper napkin excruciatingly painful can simply flit their hand up and smile, blaming their inadequacies to their lop-sided brain.

On the other hand, just like the color wheel is not just black and white; in between the two extremes we have hues of grey. And though we often think of the color grey as so distasteful when we find it upon the head, that we wash it away as soon as a single strand appears, we should think not negatively of this color.

On the contrary, a person who uses both the left and right side of his or her brain is to be thought of in a positive light, which I will now coin as “grey brained” ….one that utilizes all senses to accomplish what ever task is at hand. Perhaps if everyone thought with their “grey matter” all the time, what a rational world we might have!

Einstein Today’s blog returns the illustrious, esteemed thinker: Albert Einstein (1879- 1955) born at Ulm, in Württemberg, Germany. A man that needs little introduction, he is one of the most important and influential physicist of the 20th century. Well acknowledged for having developed the special and general theories of relativity, in 1921, he won the Nobel Prize for physics for his explanation of the photoelectric effect.

And so, I have snipped a most profound statement from his book titled The world as I see it (1949). Upon reading his words I believe you will agree that both the left and right side of the brain, if you contend we favor one to another, are both essential…! And who can argue with his genius?

“…The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. He who knows it not and can no longer wonder, no longer feel amazement, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle…”

Second image: Turner, Orren Jack, photographer, c1947.

Esteemed thinker: Clara Barton

nurse Responsibility comes in sizes that mimic the food containers we have become so familiar with at the grocery store. Some are jumbo, too large to be consumed by an individual and therefore must be a shared by many; some are large, big enough for many to par take in; and then there are the individual snack packs, where like some responsibilities they are owned by a solitary person.

Responsibility comes to us by choice, such as when we purchase a dog we take on its care, and other times it falls upon us not by choice but rather by doing what is right, as when a community is befallen by a disaster such as a flood. When responsibilities are considered mammoth, such as housing for the displaced after the aforementioned flood, we generally find an orchestrated group who takes charge; individuals that we trust to coordinate a successful course of action towards recovery, whereby the group’s responsibility can be whittled back down eventually to the individual. Sometimes these “persons” in charge are successful and other times it results in sheer abomination.

We often feel most vulnerable when responsibility is out of our personal control especially during times of catastrophes such as pandemics, war, or earthly disasters. And it is during these times that we either band together in positive support or disband in chaotic turmoil. Along with responsibility comes its nemeses, blame and for some it is an excuse that sweeps responsibility haplessly away as one would sweep dirt under the rug. Do we walk away from responsibility because its original liability was not ours or do we accept it because regardless of its size or source, we know the best way to manage and control is with dependable and trustworthy character.

And so we must ask the question does blame come first or responsibility…but like the age old query ‘what came first the chicken or the egg?’ we must respond with ‘does it really make a difference’?…

Clara Barton Today’s blog presents a most courageous woman who channeled the power of creative responsibly; a woman who took on her nation for the good of the entire population. This most remarkable woman is the esteemed thinker: Clara Barton (1821- 1921) Born Clarissa Harlowe Barton in Oxford, Massachusetts, she began her career as a clerk in the U.S. patent office.

At the beginning of the Civil War she witnessed the early horrors of combat. She realized an immediate need to assist and aid the federal soldiers by collecting food and supplies to soldiers. Though not affiliated with any group or agency she also began to collect relief articles by appealing to the public and prodding government leaders and the army until she was given passes to bring her voluntary services and medical supplies to the scenes of battle and field hospitals earning her the name “Angel of the Battlefield”.

In 1869 she visited Europe where she was introduced to the Red Cross in Geneva, Switzerland. Its founder, Henry Durant, called, “for international agreements to protect the sick and wounded during wartime without respect to nationality and for the formation of national societies to give aid voluntarily on a neutral basis,” This gave Barton the initiative to appeal to the U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes that the United States needed to sign on. However, as much as it seemed like a good idea it was turned down. His successor President James Garfield was supportive but was assassinated before his final approval. It was however Chester Arthur, in 1882 who finally signed the agreement and a few days later the Senate ratified it. The American Red Cross was formally started.

So, let us give a few moments to read the words of Clara Barton, educator, nurse, and reformer. From her work The Red Cross in Peace and War we read first hand her compelling appeal. I now give you the “angel of the battlefield” …

“Every civilized government is financially able to provide for its armies, but the great and seemingly insuperable difficulty is, to always have what is wanted at the place where it is most needed. It is a part of the strategy of war, that an enemy seeks battle at a time and place when his opponent is least prepared for it. Occasionally, too, an attacking commander is deceived. Where he expects only slight resistance, he encounters an overwhelming force and a battle of unforeseen proportions, with unexpected casualties, occurs. This is the universal testimony of nations. If it were not so, all needs could be provided for and every move planned at the outset.

It was for these reasons that a body of gentlemen, now known as the International Committee of Geneva, aided by National Associations in each country, planned, urged and finally succeeded in securing the adoption of the Treaty of the Red Cross. For these reasons the Treaty of Geneva and the National Committees of the Red Cross exist to-day. It is through the National Committees of the Red Cross in each treaty nation, that the people seek to assist the government in times of great emergency, in war or other calamity. It is only by favoring the organization of this Auxiliary Relief in times of peace, encouraging its development to the highest state of efficiency, preparing to utilize not only all the ordinary resources, but also the generous support of the people, through the Red Cross, that a government may hope to avoid much of the needless suffering, sickness and death in war…”

First image: New York : Published by Puck Publishing Corporation, 1914
Second image: Clara Barton print 1904

John Burroughs and time

strata zion national park_ burroughs post There is little doubt to most of us that the things we do and the pace we live continues to accelerate, and when simple actions and events come to a stand still for reasons that we have no control over, it creates disappointment and frustration. Individually, one cannot be at blamed for having taken on these feelings, for as our everyday rate of interaction speeds up, it has become quite clear that one has to hang on or be left behind.

However, within all this acceleration and an often self-imposed race to the top, it is most interesting to observe that our planet Earth has maintained an even and steady course, while continuing to change, evolve, and exhibit stunning effects. Slowly, very slowly, very methodically she turns rocks into sand and mountains into valleys. Her time is geological and as the saying goes, “has all the time in the world.” And though humans have journeyed a parallel road, our existence is as brief as a flicker of light.

Take witness to Earth’s miraculous changes and transformations within the sights and vistas; the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, the Cliffs of Dover. All are a product of time which needs no calendar to interpret age, but rather the striations on rocks or the rings within a tree trunk.

And though we find that we must keep up and maintain the haste of each day, our time is akin to a footprint on the ocean’s shore…so take the advice of Mother Earth and enjoy the caress of the water, and make as deep but kindly impression as you can within the sands of our time….

John burroughs 2 Today’s blog has invited back the esteemed thinker: John Burroughs (1837-1921) best known as one of the literary caretakers of nature. And though he lived in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, his philosophy for everyday life has maintained its value. We are fortunate to be able to read and observe his work, a tribute to his writing that he had the foresight to document the beauty of nature and its symbiotic relationship with man, Earth, and the surroundings.

From his book, Time and Change (1912) I present to you a short but poignant piece extracted for your reading pleasure. Here are the words of Mr. Burroughs…

“… I am well aware that my own interest in geology far outruns my knowledge, but if I can in some degree kindle that interest in my reader, I shall be putting him on the road to a fuller knowledge than I possess. As with other phases of nature, I have probably loved the rocks more than I have studied them. In my youth I delighted in lingering about and beneath the ledges of my native hills, partly in the spirit of adventure and a boy’s love of the wild, and partly with an eye to their curious forms, and the evidences of immense time that looked out from their gray and crumbling fronts. I was in the presence of Geologic Time, and was impressed by the scarred and lichen-coated veteran without knowing who or what he was. But he put a spell upon me that has deepened as the years have passed, and now my boyhood ledges are more interesting to me than ever.

If one gains an interest in the history of the earth, he is quite sure to gain an interest in the history of the life on the earth…”

First image: Strata in Zion National Park, Utah, 1946: Carol Highsmith
Second image: John Burroughs in rustic chair, c1901

Esteemed thinker: Jane Addams

garbage city In our diverse and independent lives men and women, regardless of ethnicity, religion, political affiliation, and economic demographics, in spite of our similarities, differences of opinion, or attitudes; we all own a common annoyance… that of garbage. Trash, waste, compost, rubbish, and even sewage; we produce and eventually must dispose of it. Just the mere mention of the word makes our nose wriggle with anticipation of a most unpleasant, if not putrid odor. It produces some of the most adversarial thoughts, so much so that entire towns have come together keep it at bay. And so; the elimination of our combined garbage can become a most problematic undertaking…what to do with it?

For many, we take our garbage for granted, walking it out to a bin or trash can …and for a nominal fee, often included as a tax, it is whisked away by the first light of the morning without us having to worry about its next resting place, or we flush it away where it becomes part of a larger entity known as “the sewer system”. Some of us take a more devoted interest in our refuse sorting it into categories; arranging assigned bins such as glass, paper, and plastic where we feel wholly satisfied that we are part of a solution. Though minimal in the enormity of our disposal problem, it is a help.

Yet garbage was and is not always as simple as ‘taking it out’ like one takes a dog out for a walk. Historically, garbage gradually become an increasing problem with the onslaught of higher density living. Those who resided in sparse settlements could manage its elimination more easily, though maybe not ecologically sound, they rid themselves of the “nasty stuff”. However, as towns grew into cities, lack of sanitation control manifested itself into random distribution of filth and the contamination of water supplies…creating such horrific epidemics for humanity such as the Bubonic Plague in the 18th century, and our own modern 21st century out breaks of cholera.

Even today we are still cleaning up the environmental mess that garbage and the thoughtless disposal of waste created in earlier decades; rivers are unfit to swim in, fish and wildlife have unhealthy habitats, and beaches are often closed due to encroachment of sewage by illegal dumping by ships or coastal communities. It was not until 1979 that the United States took sweeping steps to limit open dumping. However, on the more positive note, little by little we have made progress and new laws for the disposal of our trash along with an international consciousness and home-grown grass-root efforts are exerting a forward momentum.

Alas, we need not despair for garbage, as big a problem as it is, has a way of uniting us…after all, how else would you get to meet your neighbor if it wasn’t for the fact that sometime…at the exact moment… they too will be carrying a similar plastic tie-wrapped bag out from the house…for as we all know, everyone has their own form of “garbage”.

jane addams. Today’s blog bids you to take a few moments of your time for the esteemed thinker: Jane Addams (1860-1935) born in Cedarville, Illinois; she was a pioneer for social reform, insisting that the fullest possible good be required from public and social agencies for the poor. Her name is attached to Hull-House, a settlement house founded in 1889, Chicago, to improve the living standards for recently arriving European immigrants. Miss Addams became politically involved; she made speeches about the needs of the neighborhood, raised money, convinced young women of well-to-do families to help, took care of children, nursed the sick, and listened to outpourings from troubled people, and actively involved the suffragette movement. She was jointly awarded the 1931 Nobel Peace Prize 1931 on behalf of her work in diplomacy and peace.

I now bring you the words of this legendary change maker; from her essay of 1915, “Why Women Should Vote”.

“… A woman’s simplest duty, one would say, is to keep her house clean and wholesome and to feed her children properly. Yet if she lives in a tenement house, as so many of my neighbors do, she cannot fulfill these simple obligations by her own efforts because she is utterly dependent upon the city administration for the conditions which render decent living possible. Her basement will not be dry, her stairways will not be fireproof, her house will not be provided with sufficient windows to give light and air, nor will it be equipped with sanitary plumbing, unless the Public Works Department sends inspectors who constantly insist that these elementary decencies be provided. Women who live in the country sweep their own dooryards and may either feed the refuse of the table to a flock of chickens or allow it innocently to decay in the open air and sunshine. In a crowded city quarter, however, if the street is not cleaned by the city authorities-no amount of private sweeping will keep the tenement free from grime; if the garbage is not properly collected and destroyed a tenement house mother may see her children sicken and die of diseases from which she alone is powerless to shield them, although her tenderness and devotion are unbounded. She cannot even secure untainted meat for her household, she cannot provide fresh fruit, unless the meat has been inspected by city officials, and the decayed fruit, which is so often placed upon sale in the tenement districts, has been destroyed in the interests of public health. In short, if woman would keep on with her old business of caring for her house and rearing her children she will have to have some conscience in regard to public affairs lying quite outside of her immediate household. The individual conscience and devotion are no longer effective…”

Hull house

Esteemed thinker: Jacob A. Riis

Jacob riis “A picture speaks a thousand words…” An adage that we have all heard, all recognize by its metaphoric content; but I wonder… is this the rallying cry of the photojournalist? For when we are witness to that “split second” moment caught on film, it is forever documented. With the camera being in our hands as early as the 1800s, we are able to step back in time and literally spy upon our days-gone-by; often its effect has the ability to embellish or diminish our perception of the past.

Early photographers like their counterpart the early journalists and writers often became the champions of the disenfranchised; describing and photographing parts of society that were often ignored, brushed aside, or even invisible to the public who were not in immediate contact of those less fortunate.

And so, today’s blog introduces the esteemed thinker: Jacob A. Riis (1849-1914) social reformer, writer, and photographer that brought to light the plight of the city’s poor. Riis himself was an immigrant that arrived in New York City in 1870 from Denmark. Having taken many different jobs, he became a police report and began to document the slums of New York City. Through his writings and photography he became a change agent, fighting for reform, for better housing, sanitation, care for the poor, and especially the children. He believed that all men who were moral citizens, regardless of economic status, should have an opportunity to better their lives and break free from poverty. His book of 1890, How the Other Half Lives created public uproar and intitiated a movement for change.

huddle riis From one of his many works titled, The Battle of the Slum, we cannot help but be moved by his firsthand account. Here is Mr. Riis in his own words….

“… The slum is as old as civilization. Civilization implies a race, to get ahead. In a race there are usually some who for one cause or another cannot keep up, or are thrust out from among their fellows. They fall behind, and when they have been left far in the rear they lose hope and ambition, and give up. Thenceforward, if left to their own resources, they are the victims, not the masters, of their environment; and it is a bad master. They drag one another always farther down. The bad environment becomes the heredity of the next generation. Then, given the crowd, you have the slum ready-made…”

“…High rents, slack work, and low wages go hand in hand in the tenements as promoters of overcrowding. The rent is always one fourth of the family income, often more. The fierce competition for a bare living cuts down wages; and when loss of work is added, the only thing left is to take in lodgers to meet the landlord’s claim. The midnight visit of the sanitary policeman discloses a state of affairs against which he feels himself helpless. He has his standard: 400 cubic feet of air space for each adult sleeper, 200 for a child. That in itself is a concession to the practical necessities of the case. The original demand was for 600 feet. But of 28,000 and odd tenants canvassed in New York, in the slumming investigation prosecuted by the general government in 1894, 17,047 were found to have less than 400 feet, and of these 5526 slept in unventilated rooms with no windows. No more such rooms have been added since; but there has come that which is worse…”

housing riis

Esteemed thought: Peace… if not now, when?

Today’s blog is a thought; a sigh of words to be scattered and retrieved; an invitation for the undertone of the day…
I give to you my poetic rendering… Peace; if not now when?

*****

Esteemed thinker: Abraham Lincoln

gettysburg 150 years ago beginning July 1 to July 3, 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg took place in Adams County, Pennsylvania. For three hot and treacherous days this most famous and most important Civil War Battle occurred; and although it started out as a skirmish, its fierce battles ended with 160,000 Americans involved and nearly one-third of the forces engaged resulted in casualties. Noted as the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, it was also the force behind the immortal speech of President Lincoln.

On Nov. 19th, 1863 President Lincoln went to the battlefield to dedicate its “hollow ground” as a military cemetery, the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg, whereupon he delivered his monumental Gettysburg Address. This brief speech of only 272 words still rings as loudly and as eloquently today; for the vision he saw for America, his vision of a new birth of freedom continues to resonate… and the famous phrase ”government of the people, by the people, for the people” demonstrates his democratic principles. His challenge to the American people a century and a half ago continues to be an inspiration; holding true “that all men are created equal”, wherever they may reside.

So in remembrance of this somber occasion I introduce or reintroduce to you to the timeless words of the 16th president of the United States, my hero, the esteemed thinker: Abraham Lincoln. I wish that my blog gives you a moment’s pause, to reawaken your memory with these most famous words. Here is President Lincoln….

Dedication gettysburg Gettysburg, Pa. November 1863. Dedication of Gettysburg battlefield

GETTYSBURG ADDRESS” (19 NOVEMBER 1863)
[1] Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

[2] Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

[3] But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate-we can not consecrate-we can not hallow-this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us-that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion-that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain-that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom-and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

blue and grey and tent gettysburg

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s thoughts on history

The nature of our spirit can be seen as a connection of events collected through time. To this writer an essential element in the development of creating idea, either consciously or unconsciously, is urged along by the products of the past… “history”!

In my earlier blogs I offered to the reader what Bertrand Russell had to say on the matter of “history”. Today we will lend Ralph Waldo Emerson a moment of our time.

history Greek “There is one mind common to all individual men. Every man is an inlet to the same and to all the same. He that is once admitted to the right of reason is made a freeman of the whole estate. What Plato has thought, he may think; what a saint has felt, he may feel; what at any time has befallen any man, he can understand. …Of the works of this mind history is the record. Its genius is illustrated by the entire series of days. Man is explicable by nothing less than all his history. Without hurry, without rest, the human spirit goes forth from the beginning to embody every faculty, every thought, every emotion, which belongs to it in appropriate events…This human mind wrote history, and this must read it. The Sphinx must solve her own riddle. If the whole of history is in one man, it is all to be explained from individual experience. There is a relation between the hours of our life and the centuries of time. As the air I breathe is drawn from that great repositories of nature, as the light on my book is yielded by a star a hundred millions of miles distant, as the poise of my body depends on the equilibrium of centrifugal and centripetal forces, so the hours should be instructed by the ages, and the ages explained by the hours…Each new fact in his private experience flashes a light on what great bodies of men have done, and the crises of his life refer to national crises. Every revolution was first a thought in one man’s mind, and when the same thought occurs to another man, it is the key to that era…