Guest Opinion: It is the whole person who matters in Newtown | January 11, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - January 11, 2013

Guest Opinion: It is the whole person who matters in Newtown

by Samantha Suyon Woo

I grew up in Newtown, Conn. It was so painful to watch the aftermath of the tragedy there last month. Yet seeing the graciousness of the town even through the pain reminded me of the aspects I loved about Newtown growing up — a small town where everyone was known for who they were as a whole, in context.

I love that the parents courageously and beautifully honored their children as whole persons, not just victims, not just as students. They told us of their children's laughter, their willingness to help their siblings. I love that caring Newtown residents offered hot cocoa to the media people...after all, aren't they people too? People with feelings, who could get cold being outside all day, maybe with families of their own waiting for them at home? I love that even through grief, the people of Newtown saw a bigger picture, beyond the slice of the awful, painful event, and showed an understanding of the concept of "the whole."

Growing up, I remember how integrated the whole community was in Newtown. "Mr. G" was not just my fifth-grade teacher, but also a husband to Mrs. G, and a loving father to Trina, another schoolmate. He was also a helpful handyman/neighbor to my elementary school music teacher and her husband who happened to be my piano teacher. Everyone knew everyone, their families, what they were going through, and seeing a person was not through a slice of their functional title, but as a whole. It was a package deal. People saw one another as whole persons with all that followed. Newtown's grace and strength came from residents' ability to see the whole of a person, and a situation.

I wonder what would happen if more of us could learn from Newtown, and see individuals in context?

Unfortunately, these days we tend to see people through the specialized functional titles we attach to them. We live in a highly compartmentalized 21st century society where even the kids have to answer to the unspoken scrutiny: "What is your specialized identity? Are you an athlete? A computer-genius? An entrepreneur? A musician?" The workplace poses many forms of the question, "What specialized function do you serve?" In trying to answer these questions, young athletes suffer repetitive use injuries, many professionals at work feel desperate to remain functionally significant, maybe ironically resulting in the workplace becoming a feeding ground for the insecure ego, rather than a place of true progress and productivity.

What if we learned of Newtown's grace in seeing the "whole" context of a person, beyond the functional specializations? Where the co-worker is seen as a husband, father, son as well as an expert in their field? Where the child is a daughter, neighbor, friend, more than just number in the sea of students in the school system? Where that annoying person in the community can be seen as someone who is going through a rough time in their personal life?

Two of the recent mass shooters this year were given the "genius" label by some. In their knowledge and areas of expertise they certainly were highly specialized (especially the PhD candidate in the Colorado theater), yet both were completely maladjusted as whole persons to their community and society at large. I wonder the consequences if the shooters had been thoroughly taught the absolute whole value of every person including themselves?

The grieving people of Newtown seemed to understand the dignity and value of a person beyond a person's actions and what they did — they included the shooter and his mom among the remembered in their grief. What unfathomable grace. That is the graciousness of my hometown that tugs at my heartstrings. I have never been prouder to see the old Town Hall on Main Street.

What if everyone treated themselves and others as if they had absolute value as a whole? Beyond the slices of compartmentalized accomplishments, pedigree and expertise. We once dreamed with Martin Luther King Jr. that we wanted to be judged by the contents of our character, not the color of our skin, which is basically to treat a person as a whole, right? I wonder if we still judge ourselves on the skin of specific accomplishments. Could it be that we are still at the epidermal layers, still not at the essence of a person? Do we still struggle to see the whole person?

What if we can learn from Newtown's integrated attitude of seeing "the whole" individual in our daily lives in Silicon Valley? One professional at a time? One parent at a time? One student at a time? One company at a time? One community at a time?

Thank you Newtown for showing so much grace, and for raising me.

Samantha S. Woo lives in Palo Alto with her husband and three children.


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Posted by Palo Alto resident
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 11, 2013 at 12:33 pm

Thanks for the writing. It made me think...

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Posted by village fool
a resident of another community
on Jan 12, 2013 at 5:09 pm

Thank you!!
Your writing reminds me the thread started by - midtown resident - just post the Newtown's tragedy, stating he/she had enough.
I believe the ending of this local posting is very true:
... , I feel that the problem runs much deeper. We have to look, not at Adam Lanza but in the mirror.

I dare add that we need to look not only in mirror, but also at some local cultural consensuses, taken for granted by the powerful ones - those who unfortunately sometime impact the ability of some to name, identify the mirror reflection for what it really is.

Web Link

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Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 12, 2013 at 5:44 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by village fool
a resident of another community
on Jan 12, 2013 at 5:55 pm

Sadly, Palo Alto presented nationally unique consternation of tragedies - kids choosing to go to the train.
Seems to me that midtown resident and others suggesting to look in the mirror may agree that a direct, open discussion in long overdue.

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Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 13, 2013 at 9:20 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by Chuck D
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 14, 2013 at 1:07 pm

A couple points:

History has shown us that whenever Sharon uses the term, "the evidence is overwhelming", she in fact has no evidence. Over and over, when asked to document or substantiate a claim, she refuses, or fails miserably.

I will agree with one statement: "Up until the late 70s such people were locked up in mental hospitals..." Yes, then Gov Ronnie Raygun shut down the hospitals. Shotly thereafter, the homeless in Palo Alto become significantly more visible. Thanks, Ronnie!

Lastly: someone was in her cups after the cocktail hour?

- "We never had this problem in the US" Uh, really? Never, ever had mentally ill folks in the US before?

- "non drug gang massagers" ???????

- "and the other LSD soaked clowns" ??????

Followed by Sharon's scientific analysis: "their un-scientific/ political theories about serious mental illness."


That's pretty unbalanced.

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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 14, 2013 at 1:37 pm

We need not only better mental health screening, but also much better access to mental health professionals AND mandatory insurance coverage for mental health issues. Even here in Palo Alto, there is a very long wait, 3 weeks to several months, to see a psychiatrist. And what many people don't realize is that medical insurance coverage and mental health insurance are often different. While insurance companies are required to cover mental health issues at the same levels as other health issues, that is only if they actually cover mental health issues. They are NOT required to cover mental health care AT ALL. Obamacare will not change that.

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Posted by Newtowner
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 15, 2013 at 7:44 pm

I, too, am from Newtown and now call Palo Alto home. I find I must agree with the situation as described by Samantha in this article. It is not just that there are fewer people in Newtown (Newtown is over twice the geographical size of Palo Alto but has far fewer than half the population). It is not just that people are not in such a hurry over there (although that is likely a factor). People in Newtown do seem to be more about the "whole person" than status, etc, as Samantha rightly states in her article. I believe that there IS something we can learn from this. There is nothing WRONG with status, money, "specialized identity"... But hopefully the whole IS worth more than the sum of its parts and we can recognize the value of the "whole person."

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.