“A person’s a person no matter how small!”
As we close in on Dr. Seuss’ 109th birthday celebration, I’m reminded of how poignant, and how true, the words of Theodor Seuss Geisel’s stories are at every age. Thanks to an opportunity to read to the fifth grade class of Mrs. Beth Holcomb today, I revisited the strange, rhyming world of Horton Hears A Who. Delightfully entertaining and wonderfully clever, Seuss’ story about an elephant who discovers a city atop a clover does more than entertain; it inspires.
Whether you’ve read the book or seen the Jim Carrey adaptation, you know that this city of Whos, or Whoville, is threatened by drowning, fire, and cooking, and just about anything that could be minuscule to an elephant. But Horton is a noble elephant, and he battles back against the kangaroo who thinks that the clover on which Whoville rests can’t be home to anything important and that Horton must be crazy to claim he hears voices. Horton puts himself on the line to defend Whoville, and the Whos must find a way to make themselves heard. No matter what the Whos do or how small they are, their voices all matter in their efforts to be heard by those who hold their clover’s fate in their hands.
All of this raises several issues:
1- Just because someone can’t hear the truth doesn’t mean it’s not there. Just because one person doesn’t believe or lacks the desire to change, doesn’t mean that truth isn’t available for those who seek it. But when one person stands up for what they know is true, a whole community can be changed by their courage and bravery.
2-Some people’s value systems don’t account for things they can’t understand. For the kangaroo, the people on the clover are too small to be worth anything; for Horton, it doesn’t matter how small or different they are, they have value and deserve to be cared for by the community. When we recognize people’s importance just because they’re human, we can grow to understand our differences as things that make us special rather than things which tear us apart.
3- Insecure people bully those who they deem weaker. Horton Hears A Who is as much an anti-bullying vehicle as Bully (the movie) is. When Horton stands up to the kangaroo, he stands up to her for himself AND for Whoville. He redefines who is in control, teaches her a lesson, and changes the community of animals in the jungle of Nool. If everyone would speak up, step up, and make a stand, the world would be a better place.
4- No matter how small or insignificant a person seems, their voice matters. Without the slacker Who in the story, the kangaroos can’t hear the voice of the Whos. Martin Niemoller recounted how the Nazis came for different groups, how he didn’t speak up, and finally, how when the Nazis came for him, there was no one left to speak up. His voice mattered, and when he didn’t use it, it mattered then, too. Without the slacker Who, Whoville is an ingredient in Beezelnut Oil, but with him, the community survives. (The class today shared how they would use their voice if they had a message and the opportunity to tell the world– how illuminating to hear from tomorrow’s generation!)
I hope that you’ll find a Dr. Seuss story and celebrate it, with your child, some kids you know, or simply accept that there’s truth there we could all embrace. Reading the story is important; living it out is vital. Make a difference, embrace your inner Seuss!