In one of my favorite Depeche Mode songs from the 80’s Martin Gore sings the chorus, “Everything counts in large amounts,” but I would amend those words to “Everyone counts in large amounts.” One of the easiest things to do in life is to focus on self and one’s responsibilities. Not only is it pleasurable, and, potentially profitable to do so, but also doing so is easy to rationalize: “I don’t have time for the news of the world or even my community: I have to take care of my family and me. Charity begins at home.”
I would not disagree with those words, but in focusing on self and personal goals, I do hope that we all take the time to recognize the people around us. I hope that we understand that no matter where we are, we are a part of a community, even if there are only two of us. Each one of us in that community is worth our attention. Henry David Thoreau recognized the importance of each person in his seminal writing, Walden: “I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.”
People often refer to schools and work places as families. I am unsure if any school or workplace is a family, but I am confident that each one is a community with a wonderful opportunity. Community’s origin arises from Latin: “Com” means “with” and “munis” means to fortify; community then, means “with fortification.” In a community we have the opportunity to strengthen or fortify one another through working together.
And each person, from the president to the janitor, is important and worthy of support, praise, respect, and acknowledgment. A story I once read illustrates this point:
“During my second month of nursing school, our professor gave us a pop quiz. I was a conscientious student and had breezed through the questions, until I read the last one: “What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?” Surely this was some kind of joke. I had seen the cleaning woman several times. She was tall, dark-haired and in her 50s, but how would I know her name?
I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank. Before class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our quiz grade.
“Absolutely,” said the professor. “In your careers you will meet many people. All are significant.
They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say ‘Hello’.”
I’ve never forgotten that lesson. I also learned her name was ‘Dorothy’.”
The point of this story is clear: everyone matters, everyone is important, everyone deserves acknowledgment. Everyone counts in large amounts. We need to respect everyone we meet along the way and to take care of every one. Realize that each person you meet is a part of our community as well. The Roman statesman Seneca wrote that wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness. No selfless act is insignificant. Every day counts, every moment counts, every person counts. Everything counts in large amounts.
In the communities that we inhabit, we should take advantage of every minute we have seeking to fortify and build the community. Take care of one another, respect each person, and support each person. A community, like a chain, is only as strong as its weakest link.
Of course, this philosophy of caring for the least among us belongs neither to me nor to sweet stories. In Matthew, Christ says, “Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison and go to visit you?” The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was ill and in prison and you did not look after me.” ‘They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or ill or in prison, and did not help you?” He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”
How we treat the least among us speaks volumes about what is in our hearts. As Depeche Mode also queries, “People are people so why should it be / You and I should get along so awfully?” Almost a decade later, after riots nearly decimated Los Angeles, a sad and confused Rodney King queried, “Can’t we all just get along?”
If our hearts are pure and full of love, then we can treat one another well, we can get along. I posit that as long as we treat every single person as our brother, that we treat every single person with respect, with dignity, with care, that we believe that everyone counts, that the least among us deserve our attention and respect, then we shall find that we will all just get along.