This I Believe

Whitney - Edina, Minnesota
Entered on February 20, 2007
Age Group: 18 - 30
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I believe in the social contract. However, I believe that this contract is not just an agreement that requires everyone to follow the same rules, but is also about our duty to others. The social contract I believe in requires everyone to help each other, especially those who cannot help themselves. I once saw a film called Pay It Forward, and this film epitomizes everything I believe. According to the film, one person helps three people with problems they cannot solve alone; and in payment the person that has been helped must now help three people; and thus a chain is created. Last year I worked at Jefferson Elementary during the school year, and I also spent my junior may program as an assistant teacher in Mr. Harris’s classroom.

I remember my first time meeting Mr. Harris; he was a very unique guy. The first day I arrived, there were about thirty kids in the small classroom, all crammed together with their desks aligned edge to edge. But that’s not what shocked me. As my eyes scanned the room, they came to a short, chubby man with brown hair. Everything about the man appeared average, with one exception. He was wearing a bright orange Hawaiian shirt, and a straw cap. Who was this guy? It occurred to me that it must be Mr. Harris. He was giving a lesson on the geography of the Hawaiian Islands and I couldn’t help but laugh along with the students.

Mr. Harris had such unique ways of getting the kids interested in learning. He reminded me of the teacher from Pay It Forward. During one afternoon I was helping Mr. Harris correct math tests, I began a conversation about how difficult it was to be a teacher. Mr. Harris told me that no matter how difficult or aggravating his work was, he felt he had a duty to his students. Mr. Harris then told me a story about how one of his students lived in a poor environment. I learned about the court case he had initiated on behalf of one of his students, Bobby, who had serious psychological issues. It was obvious from Bobby’s dysfunctional behavior that he required special attention. However, Bobby’s mother refused to get the necessary treatment for him. Out of his genuine desire to see Bobby happy, Mr. Harris took the mother to court, and won the case. Today, Bobby has all the attention and medical care he needs, and will be enrolling in a special school for kids like him in the fall.

After hearing this story I asked Mr. Harris why he chose to sacrifice so much time, money and effort to help Bobby. Mr. Harris gave me two answers. The first was that he had a duty to help others. Also he told me that back when he was younger, he had an abusive stepfather. As a child, Mr. Harris was completely helpless against the adult. He told me that one-day his teacher pulled him aside and asked about his home-life. It was this teacher that helped to get Mr. Harris out of his abusive environment. Mr. Harris told me that he saw himself in Bobby: “Bobby is only a child, he’s helpless. Someone in his situation needs help, it’s our duty.”

It’s been almost a year since my conversation with Mr. Harris, and his words have stuck with me. I believe that people have a duty to others, and that if we all can pay it forward, our existence finally has a purpose. This is what I believe.