Saturday, March 12, 2011

Keystone Policies

Yesterday as I was walking in Delhi a woman walked toward me. She had a young girl with her and I was struck, as I often am, by the way that she was dragging the child, rather than walking companionably, as one might with a friend. I'm sure she meant no harm, but she was clutching the little girl by her wrist rather than her hand and pulling her along as she walked.

A small thing, hardly worth mentioning.

The title of this blog is "By Little and By Little." It comes from something Dorothy Day (my hero!) often repeated: "It is by little and by little that we are saved." I believe this with all my heart. What is life, after all, but a series of individual moments? In each one of them, we are making choices, developing habits, creating our lives. It is the tiny everyday things which we do over and over which define us.

When we started Karuna Vihar, one of my first resources was a simple, down-to-earth book called "Teaching Children with Mental Handicaps". It was written by a woman who had worked in Pakistan for many years and it was a warm, loving collection of commonsense and experience. I have never forgotten her advice to "always hold a child by the hand, not the wrist, and walk with her as you would with a friend."

Try it both ways and see what different messages your body sends you:  you clutch a wrist or you hold a hand. As my friend Rachel puts it, there is nothing quite like the feel of a little paw in yours. It evokes tenderness and regard and reminds us that there is a real person attached to it, however small, and that that person has thoughts and ideas and places to go, too. She's not just an appendage to be dragged wherever we are heading, someone we can commandeer simply because we are bigger than she is.

So we made holding hands, not wrists, a policy at Karuna Vihar. Old staff do it automatically, and remind newcomers until it becomes second nature to them, too. Soon it becomes so ingrained it just feels strange and awkward to do it any other way, like wearing your shoes on the wrong feet. And I notice that the children now do it too, taking their cues in this, as in so many things, from the grownups.

I think of this as one of our keystone policies - a simple rule that says it all, a rule that illustrates the principles we hold dear and which we can use to guide all our other actions: Be kind. Be fair. Remember the child. Go at his pace. By little and by little, we'll get there.


Kanica... said...

I completely second that Jo.. However sometimes the same policy can become an unfair yardstick when we meet /observe someone who is holding the child by the wrist and not hand..We automatically start assuming that person to be insensitive and not loving towards the child which may not be the case at all..And our field is such that feelings of 'i know it all' can creep in very easily undermining others.. So one should always move ahead wearing various lenses I guess other than one's own:))

Jo Chopra McGowan said...

Wow, GREAT point, Kanica! Can you post that on the facebook version too? It makes so much sense and it needs to be said!


Kanica... said...

Hehhee..I guess because I have been reading so much about policies,interventions and inclusion in the past few weeks that it automatically came about as a Freudian slip;)!

Anonymous said...

wonderful post Jo. one of the very simple and very rare things that make us human..