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Human Potential

I havenâ??t been writing a lot here lately. Iâ??ve been involved in a personal project that has thrust me into idealistic mode. Or rather, what might seem incongruous to some, my realistic/practical idealistic mode. I donâ??t believe in a material utopia in our imperfect world. Yet, I have always felt an inexorable pull of the Ideal in the sense of human potential for good, where, practically, in our world of becoming, we can be informed by the Ideal. In any case, I thought Iâ??d spare readers here what could come across as a squirrelly visit back to naïve pie-in-the-sky, adolescent meanderings,... well, to even a greater extent than usual.

But then I read todayâ??s local paper and changed my mind. Columnists were writing about the larger picture, about altruism and working for social change. I had recently engaged in discussion about educational opportunities in the U.S. with one of my pragmatic idealistic friends. Money handouts, public education, college quotas are ways to provide opportunity. However, potential can be suffocated, in spite of good public school teachers, before even considering any future opportunities by way of college admissions policies, if, for example, a young student comes home after school to a mom on crack and her boyfriend who beats the child.

Americans have a heritage of individualism, but the ability to express uniqueness becomes compromised if we ignore public ills that affect all of us as interrelated members of society. This is nothing new, but what cure might seem obvious philosophically isnâ??t always translated clearly to satisfactory action. Social workers and other professionals have their hands full. They need continued caring, loving support from individuals, families and neighborhoods by way of community involvement and early intervention.

In todayâ??s Detroit Free Press, Rochelle Riley talks about second chances.

What if our corrections system were changed to punish those who are violent and rehabilitate those whose crimes should not preclude them from voting, becoming part of a neighborhood, teaching others to not do what they did?

What a sensible thought.

Imagine what would happen if we pledged to spend more on public and life education on the front end instead of prison on the other. Maybe we'd stop making killers of inmates who had no such tendencies before entering prison.

The front end. Exactly. And I particularly appreciate Ms. Rileyâ??s mention of not only public, but also life education. Consideration of a personâ??s whole environment, not just one aspect is imperative. Too expensive a venture? Consider that it costs $4 million a day to run Michiganâ??s Department of Corrections. How about emphasis on â??correctingâ? by offering more alternative sanctions for rehabilitation of nonviolent offenders and additional, effective â??front endâ? education? There is work in this area and hopefully weâ??ll see more.

David Crumm also comments in his Detroit Free Press article today about a retired businessman, Leon Tupper, who volunteers in his community and helps nonprofits, â??from groups combating bigotry to groups aiding battered women and the homeless.â?

The idea is that life should have three phases. First, there's growing up. Then, there's establishing a career and home.

And then? Well, Tupper and a growing number of other people think life's third phase shouldn't be limited to fishing or golf. Or, as Tupper puts it, "In this third phase, we should use the talents we have accumulated to give back to the community."

With any luck, not all of us baby boomers will end up too senile early on in our upcoming retirements to preclude helping and mentoring others. We shouldnâ??t expect perfection. The mundane world is not the ideal one. Nonetheless, whether motivation is viewed as coming from a spiritual source or not, the sensible action of giving to oneâ??s community can enable the flowering of noble, gracious human potential.

And, hopefully, more and more people who believe in good human potential will keep talking about this and matching deeds with words. This path often involves struggle. Another alternative is to give up. I donâ??t choose to follow that particular alleyway to agony.

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