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My Turn, Larry Efird: How about being pro-humanity?

By Larry Efird

I was rummaging through some old pictures while decluttering my classroom recently, and I came across a vintage campaign poster which silently declared, “Pro Life/Pro Bush.”   

I’m really not sure if it was for “43” or “41,” but it has managed to stay entombed with a number of other dusty artifacts I have collected through the years until I managed to disturb  its temporary resting place.   

The slogan made me think of similar ones I’ve heard during the past year and even long before. The “pro-life” catchphrase has been around for quite a while along with its antithesis “pro-choice.” Many evangelicals claim to be “pro-Israel” and claimed that worldview alone swayed their votes in the last presidential election. 

As Americans, we don’t mind letting people know what we are for, as well as what we are against. Our opinions are displayed on everything from bumper stickers to T-shirts. Most often, we proclaim our unwavering loyalty for our athletic teams. I personally enjoy watching the ESPN “Game Day” show on fall Saturday mornings  when spirited college students hold up a sea of colorful signs proclaiming their undying love for their own teams as well as their unabashed dislike for their opponents. 

The funniest signs show a great amount of creativity, which as a teacher, I appreciate fully. Usually, the smarter the kid, the more clever the sign. Rarely do you see a placard that simply reads, “Go Team!” That would make their opinion — and their school — look as generic as an unsalted cracker. 

I also like traditional university mottos because they tell a great deal about their respective institutions. Most of those classical mottos are in Latin, which the average person does not know how to read or translate. But they still sound classy because they’ve been around for more than a century or two, originating when college students were required to learn Latin, and the mottos actually meant something to them. 

I had the privilege of working as an adjunct religion professor at Gardner-Webb University for twenty years. I always liked their motto: “Pro Deo et Pro Humanitate.” In common terms, that means, “For God and for humankind.” Similar to that motto is the one at Wake Forest, which states simply, “Pro Humanitate.” I first spotted that strange looking phrase as a child when looking through my parents’ 1950 “Howler,” the Wake Forest yearbook.

I know enough Latin to be dangerous (as I would quickly tell my students), but I think the message in both of those school mottos is pretty clear. Whatever education is presented or offered, and whatever is done by those two universities, should be driven by whether or not it helps humankind and whether or not it can help the world at large, not just their own, close-knit campuses and alumni. 

If I’m “pro” anything as a teacher, it should be students. If I didn’t have any students, I wouldn’t have a job. Many administrators are often classified as “pro-student” or “pro-teacher.” The best ones in my opinion can be both. (I’ve walked in their shoes, so I know.)  If a principal is pro-student, it doesn’t mean he or she is anti-teacher, but that’s how it gets misinterpreted sometimes. Conversely, if a principal is pro-teacher, it doesn’t mean that he or she is anti-student.

The same confusion is apparent in our society today. I don’t understand why everyone who is human can’t be “Pro Humanitate.” It just doesn’t make sense that one group of people would want to favor their own culture and dismiss all other cultures as inferior. Even children would agree with me on this. 

All religions unashamedly claim to be “Pro Deo” — “for God.” But when we start dividing ourselves into various sects and allegiances claiming we are “for God,” we qualify that by thinking that anyone who doesn’t agree with our theological interpretations (and often political) is undoubtedly “anti-God.” Ironically, God is “Pro Humanitate” or we’d all be in trouble!

We share a planet. We share a country. We share cities. We share neighborhoods. We share schools. We are all human. 

So what’s the problem? Isn’t there a T-shirt slogan that everyone could wear that would not offend someone? “Pro Humanitate,” maybe? Perhaps that one would work because no one could read it. And then again, some people might be offended because they can’t. 

Larry Efird teaches at A.L. Brown High School in Kannapolis.

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