When disaster strikes, the first statement we hear is something like, “No one was hurt or died. Things can be replaced, but people can’t.” I have often pondered if people really believe that saying, and do they practice it in their day-to-day life?
Just how does one teach the philosophy that people are more precious than things? I’ve asked myself that question over and over. We don’t hear parents telling their children that people are more important. However, parents do teach things such as "Don’t point play guns at people." And parents will have their children take their anger out on stuffed animals, pillows or punching bags. Children are told to hit things, not other children.
My mother taught that people are more important than things by example on a daily basis. When we broke a dish or one of her treasures, she did not get upset. She quietly got the broom and dustpan and cleaned up the mess. There were no comments about how bad or stupid we were or how valuable the broken item had been.
One Saturday morning Mama visited a friend in her home. Her friend had a daughter the same age as my sister and me, so Mama had us accompany her for the visit. While the ladies were visiting, the daughter served a cake that she had baked for the occasion. The cake was in a 13” x 9” aluminum pan. The mother scolded her daughter for baking the cake in a bread pan. On the drive home, Mama said, “The mother should have been thankful that her daughter had baked a cake. It didn’t matter what pan was used.” It was also embarrassing for the mother to scold her daughter in our presence.
Another time, my sister and I spent the night with a friend from school. While the three of us were washing dishes after dinner, our friend dropped a dish and it shattered. Her mother came in and scolded our friend very harshly. My sister and I didn’t know how to respond since our mother did not yell at us for breaking dishes.
Through the years the subject of people vs. things has come to my attention when some circumstances occur. One such incident was during a class of six senior boys. I have a problem staying awake and a doctor had told me to drink coffee to help with the difficulty. Therefore, I usually had a cup of coffee to combat the sleepiness. My classroom had a shelf attached to one wall, and I sat the coffee cup on the shelf when it was empty. One of the boys walked by and knocked the cup off the shelf. The cup shattered when it hit the floor. I looked up to see terror on the face of the six senior boys. I guessed that they were expecting to see a teacher screaming at them and handing out punishment. The looks on their faces were extremely disturbing to me and caused me to respond with, “It’s just a coffee cup, and I should not have left it close to the edge of the shelf.” The students were able to relax while I swept up the remains of the cup, but the looks on the faces of those young men stayed with me.
So, again I ask, “What is more important – people or things?” If you answer people, then are your actions speaking louder than your words every day? I challenge each person to practice the philosophy that people are more important than things every day, not only when disaster strikes.