Sunday, June 30, 2013


About three weeks ago, I wrote a feature for Our Hen House called "Just a Joke."  It centered on how humor either includes or excludes others, and how we can react when the latter form is used to make light of animal abuse. A week or two after the feature was published, it was quoted in a front page Yahoo article. This was amazing and incredibly flattering, and yet a bit nervewracking at the same time. (I don't mean to sound falsely self-deprecating, but I kept thinking, "Why on earth are they quoting me? I'm just  ... me." I think I will forever feel like my dorky nine-year-old self.)

The article talked about a Red Robin restaurant commercial that had upset many vegetarians. (I hadn't actually seen the commercial at that point.) I vowed not to look at the comments section, as they can get notoriously nasty. But after only a few hours of being up, the article had garnered over 13,000 comments. Gulp. (A good gulp, but a gulp nonetheless.)

Some of the people followed the link to my original article on Our Hen House, and left comments. Let's just say most of them didn't agree with me. And a few were livid. Which is fine. I'm completely good with engaging dialog, as long as everyone remains respectful.

What surprised me, though, was my own internal reaction to someone's suggestion that I was acting enlightened. I felt my defenses go up at that word. "I don't act enlightened!" I fumed inwardly.

I thought about that comment off and on for the next few days, mostly because it bummed me out. I  really make an effort to not come across as Ms.-Buddha-on-a-hill-smugly-smiling-down-on-the-little-people, since I'm clearly bumbling and tripping along the path along with everyone else. (I just happen to babble as I bumble.) But the more I thought on it, the more I wondered about that word, what it really meant, and why its connotations were so negative.

Merriam-Webster defines enlightened as this: "freed from ignorance and misinformation." And I thought, "Well, hold on now. That's not so bad." I was ignorant before learning about what is done to animals. (Turning back to Merriam Webster, ignorant means "unaware; uninformed.") I wasn't idiotic, stupid, or cruel. I was just unaware. And misinformation? I was chock full of it. I thought humane slaughter was quick and that the animals didn't suffer. I thought cage-free meant beautiful pastures. Wool? A wonderful haircut in the summertime. What's wrong with that?

And I began to realize that I am enlightened. And that's not a bad thing. It's something we all strive for. Don't we all want to be freed from ignorance and misinformation? I took one of the best courses of my life recently, on teaching science to elementary grades. Upon learning oodles of great teaching techniques, I realized I'd been a woefully inadequate science teacher despite my best intentions. I immediately applied the newly learned strategies to my States of Matter lessons. The changes that took place in my students as a result took me by surprise. Suddenly they were enamored with the scientific process. Kids were voluntarily writing in their Science Notebooks during recess -- recess! -- expanding on their new ideas and questions. They'd lie on their bellies, tongues sticking out the sides of their mouths in great concentration, furiously writing away. And I wondered if one of these intent writers would someday discover the cure for cancer. Thanks to a terrific university teacher, I was enlightened, and now 24 kids were enlightened. I was grateful that he freed me from ignorance and misinformation. Grateful and humbled.

Being enlightened on anything means you know more than you did before. And then, if you choose, you can pass that information on to others! This is especially powerful when it means suffering for victims -- especially voiceless ones who need all the allies they can get -- might lessen as a result.

Enlightened doesn't mean "you're a complete ding-dong, let me explain things to you." It has nothing to do with being a more moral or superior person, if that is even possible. It's just mindblowingly cool. When you read a captivating book, you are enlightened in some way. You are changed. I started following a blog about a couple that has an adorable child with Down's Syndrome. It enlightens me every time I read it. My many misconceptions get an education. The way I view the world is altered.

So I'm fine with enlightenment now. And the amazing part is every person is enlightening in some way. We all have many things to teach or pass on.

There's this fun game we sometimes do at school in Morning Meeting. You start with your group seated in a circle and the first person throws a ball of yarn to someone else with one hand while holding on to the end of the yarn with the other. The new person holding the ball of yarn (who is attached to the original thrower by that long, connecting strand of yarn) holds her piece of the yarn and throws the ball to someone else. And the process continues until the whole class is connected in a cool, spidery web. It's that interconnectedness that really illustrates enlightenment. We learn, we share, we get stronger from each other.  

You bet I'm enlightened. Wouldn't have it any other way. It's a badge everyone should wear with pride.