“The function of freedom is to free someone else.” Toni Morrison – Responsibility
How do you know when to put other people’s needs above your own?
Students of every age struggle with moral decisions about how to balance their own individual needs with the needs of others. Either way they decide, there is sacrifice. Focus on the individual and they must sacrifice others. Focus on others and they must sacrifice the individual. What’s important is that students make a commitment to reflect deeply on ethical decisions before they make them and take responsibility for their choices.
Join Dan and Steve Fouts for a conversation about responsibility using the Teach Different 3-Step Method.
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Image source: Wikimedia | Angela Radulescu
Steve Fouts: 0:03
Hey everybody, Steve and Dan Fouts here. We are teaching different with American novelist Toni Morrison with a quote about responsibility. “The function of freedom is to free someone else.” Here’s a great quote that gets to the heart of what our responsibilities are to other people. When you think about freedom, it seems like it’s a personal quest, or a personal goal for people. African Americans all struggled with this individually. The way this quote is written, Morrison is saying that freedom itself is something that can be appreciated by individuals, but you also have to think of others when you think of the importance of freedom. What would you say the claim is?
Dan Fouts: 1:19 – Claim
When you have something of value, in this case, freedom, it’s important to give it away. You shouldn’t hoard the things in life that are most valuable. You have a responsibility to give that is just as important, if not more important, than the responsibility to take and receive. I read this quote, and immediately thought of the Harriet Tubman conversation we had on dreams. Harriet Tubman was the embodiment of this. She escaped from slavery, and rather than take freedom for herself, she ended up leading 300 other people to their own freedom, giving it away. That’s the best example of this.
Steve Fouts: 1:58
I think we have another conversation with Elizabeth Cady Stanton about the women’s rights movement. She takes a different tact, and talks about the importance of self-development.
Dan Fouts: 2:16
Right. That it’s a higher duty than brothers.
Steve Fouts: 2:18
Yeah. We’ll get to that in the counterclaim for sure. How do you think we can get the conversation going with the students? What’s going to be a good way to get them engaged?
Dan Fouts: 2:32
If this is a virtual environment, then type out things that they have that are of value and that they can share with others. It could be anything. Some kids will immediately go to money as something of value that they have that they can loan to others. How about their time? If you have time for yourself, you can give some of that time away to other people.
Steve Fouts: 3:07
Yeah, that’s good. Getting them to think of things that they value. Maybe they can give their time to volunteer. I like the word function in this quote, because function is like the purpose of something. She’s saying that the purpose of freedom is to help others achieve it. It’s not to get it for yourself. I think the generosity of young people is palpable and untapped. They’re going to have a lot to say about this.
Now, let’s push back. Freedom is a worthwhile thing. It has a lot of value. It’s a nice sentiment to think that you need to make sure other people are free. It really shows how important freedom is and why it should be valued. What’s a counterclaim against this?
Dan Fouts: 4:12 – Counterclaim
Well, it’s the idea that your first duty should be to yourself, not others. That you have to take care of yourself. Going back to the Stanton quote, “self-development is a higher duty than self sacrifice.” It’s that idea that you have to take care of your own needs, otherwise you’re not going to have the strength to live. If you spend your time giving away everything of value, you’ll have nothing left for yourself. That can be dangerous depending on what you’re talking about. I mentioned time as an example of something of value that kids could give to others. If they spend all of their time with others, they’re going to go to bed at night feeling impoverished, like their needs are not taken care of, which will weaken them. That’s not good, either.
Steve Fouts: 5:16
It’ll be interesting to see what the students have to say about the counterclaim. I think that the older you get, the more you appreciate some of the downsides to giving away everything, and not having anything for yourself. When you become a parent, you have to sacrifice every day. A lot of times your tank is empty, and you lose your sense of well being and happiness because you sacrificed too much. I’m not saying that doesn’t happen to younger people, but it does seem like something you evolve into appreciating.
Dan Fouts: 6:07
To get the kids rolling with this, have them talk about something of value that they keep to themselves. Something they decide not to share with other people. That would be interesting to see what they write down there. Follow that up with, what discourages you from sharing something that you value? Why don’t you share it?
Steve Fouts: 6:32 – Essential Question
I think that would be good, because some may end up saying that no one else is sharing around them. It feels like they’re in a dog eat dog environment. It’s a rational decision to make sure that you’re taking care of yourself in certain environments. If you’re sacrificing yourself, and no one else is, you’re going to be taken advantage of. No one’s going to be looking out for you.
Here’s an essential question you can use to wrap up this conversation. How do you know when to put other people’s needs above your own? Getting the students to acknowledge that they have both of these sentiments in them. You have to take care of yourself, but there are also other people that you need to take care of, at times. What criteria are they going to use to know when they should be a little bit selfish, and when they should be thinking of others?
Dan Fouts: 7:47
It’s a gamble. It’s going to be a balance and it depends on your own life situation, and what resources you have. It’s always a moving target, but an important one to commit your energy to.
Steve Fouts: 8:05
It should be a really good conversation. We hope you enjoyed Tony Morrison. Make sure you visit our Conversation Library where we have many conversations like this, each with a different quote, a sample claim, counterclaim, and an essential question to get you started.
Take care, everybody. We will talk to you soon.
Dan Fouts: 8:40
Okay, take care.