Long before he starred in his own movie, I knew Horton was on to something big and important. He might seem to be a simple soul with a single-minded purpose, but his compassion, his dedication, his tenacity and his sheer stubbornness to stick to his beliefs and principles are inspirational. I strive hard to be a Horton. And it’s not simple and it’s not easy. But saying that, Horton’s big idea does make it sound, actually, rather simple. In his own words, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” Despite the fact that Dr Seuss’ book, ‘Horton Hears a Who’, has been successful worldwide and across generations as a picture book, (and spin-offs including a movie) since it was published in 1954, it seems his message isn’t so palatable to us humans after all.
(Aside: If you’ve never heard the story of Horton, you should borrow a copy from the library or go and buy your own copy! You can also read a synopsis of the story of Horton but if you really have not read the book before … it is a must read!!!)
When the movie came to the big screen and then to DVD, I was given a gift of a special edition copy of book and movie, complete with soft toy Horton. He lives in my desk drawer at work and he comes out sometimes to entertain visiting children, but more importantly, I keep him there with me, to remind myself in a tactile way that, ‘a person’s a person no matter how small’.
It is so easy to say. It is so hard to practice.
In the last few weeks we have seen the issue of refugees hitting our NZ mainstream news. There have been a variety of issues and news articles which have potentially raised awareness and highlighted some real possibilities about large amounts of refugees actually trying to come to New Zealand. What? “Boat People” heading to NZ? Is it true? Would it really happen? Don’t worry, our government will keep them from coming! And if they don’t, it seems we can rely on the Australian’s to turn them back! So actually not super likely in the near future!
It’s easy for us here at the bottom of the world, to think ourselves far away from the problems in other countries. Our remoteness protects us from having to think too hard about people beyond our shores. We don’t have ever-changing border lines on a map. We are an island nation a long way from anywhere. And it appears that we are a complacent nation, for while we can speak words of compassion, while we congratulate ourselves on what we do on a global stage, we can also excuse ourselves from getting too involved with the needs of our neighbours. After all, there are plenty of people here in NZ who need our help before we help strangers from afar! Despite the fact that we are an immigrant nation, a nation where most of us can track back in time to when our ancestors first arrived here, in the hope of a better life from wherever they came from, we want to keep our borders closed.
I was in a group of people a few months ago, having a conversation with someone in the group about a mutual acquaintance who also happened to be a refugee to New Zealand. I’d just said something along the lines of not being able to imagine myself in the shoes of this particular person, when another person came into the room and joined our conversation, and said, “Oh here we go, she’s getting all political again!” It stopped me talking. Probably mid-sentence. I was, I confess, a little bit taken aback. Political? Me? I’ve replayed that conversation in my head numerous times since then. Okay, I have some strong views, but actually, in this particular instance, I wasn’t sharing them. All I was doing was talking about someone that I knew. A person. A real person. A refugee. “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” Don’t get me started!
This blog idea has been swilling around in my head for a couple of weeks and as per usual, hasn’t quite made it to the fully formed and published. (Here’s what happens for me – I have a half hour drive to work and another half hour home again… and I compose my writings in my head as I drive… and they just take a bit longer to make it to actual scribbles and then blog posts or whatever else it is I’m writing) I’ve been thinking that it is easy for ‘us’ to put ‘them’ into a labelled box, into a form that we can package up and hide away somewhere out of sight. To think of ‘them’ as individual people with feelings, abilities, hopes, dreams, needs, fears… it just isn’t tidy, and so ‘we’ work hard at our passiveness, our remoteness, our distance.
But it’s not what Horton would have done. It takes courage to be a Horton. Courage and compassion and maybe in the face of public opinion, a sizeable dose of craziness. I was surprised then this week when I was working on my computer at the table, away from the television screen and I heard the on-air host give her ‘opinion piece’ on refugees. It was a Horton moment. Her views did not provide me with new information, she didn’t open my eyes, but I knew when she spoke that her words would impact. No surprise the next night to find that she’d had plenty of naysayers ranting at her opinion! Not a popular viewpoint then. You can watch it here. The follow-up reaction is worth watching to see how some people reacted to this simple idea.
I was also privileged to read a blog post from another Horton of our time. I have only just discovered the existence of her blog, through this particular piece and it is so beautifully written, that I thought I’d share it here as she says everything I want to say so much better than I could! http://sacraparental.com/2015/06/18/refugees-welcome/
My prayer is simple. May we all remember that ‘a person’s a person no matter how small’ or in the words of Jesus told in a story in Matthew 25, “My father has blessed you! Come and receive the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world was created. When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat, and when I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. When I was a stranger, you welcomed me, and when I was naked, you gave me clothes to wear. When I was sick, you took care of me, and when I was in jail, you visited me.” and then, “Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me.”
And if we are not brave enough to be Horton’s ourselves, to be clarion voices heralding the way for others to follow, then may we quietly listen to the words of the Hortons of our time and may we follow their lead, quietly encouraging our friends, our neighbours and our family to listen too. And more, may we change and adjust our own attitudes, our perceptions and our behaviours… and in the process of living out a simple and big idea, may we surprise and be surprised by our own Horton moments. Because they will happen.