One beautiful day, not too long ago, I was browsing around my local Books-A-Million and stumbled across the book Flowers for Algernon. In the back of my mind I vaguely remembered reading a snippet in a Literature textbook in high school, but I had no idea it was actually an entire book! I remember loving it for some reason. At the time I couldn’t put my finger on why I was so attracted to it, but now I do. It’s so (hang with me through this cliche) beautifully tragic.
The story starts simple. Now, when I say simple, I mean SIMPLE. The narrator, Charlie Gordon, has an I.Q. around 70 and struggles to read and write. For me, it was a little difficult to understand at first. Seeing such simple words spelled so incorrectly confused my brain. It was as if I knew exactly what he was trying to say, yet (as an English major obsessed with grammar) my brain couldn’t compute it.
Charlie undergoes a surgery to make him smarter. He grows quickly and all at once afterwards it seems like. Even though his intelligence has surpassed that of the ones who performed his surgery, he struggles emotionally. He falls in love, but that little piece of abused child still lives within him. He makes friends, but is so skeptical if they are genuine or not that he ruins it. I don’t want to spoil anything about the growth/journey Charlie takes, but I would like to go over some of the lessons I picked up from it.
To me, Flowers for Algernon taught me that intelligence is not everything. It’s definitely a plus, but it’s not everything. Human contact is important. It’s important to have family that loves you and friends that support you, especially when you’re going through so much change. It made me thankful to have a family that supports my ambitious dreams and friends that give me confidence when I need it the most.
The biggest realization for me came when I read the following sentence:
How strange it is that people of honest feelings and sensibility, who would not take advantage of a man born without arms or legs or eyes — how such people think nothing of abusing a man born with low intelligence.
How many of us have made fun of someone (not to their face) that said/did something that didn’t sound too intelligent? Or maybe you just make assumptions about people without knowing anything about them. I try my hardest to have an open mind and not assume things about someone based on how they appear, but it can sometimes be hard. I am only human after all.
It is in our nature to instinctively judge, but it’s a decision to think openly and consider other people. Did someone cut you off in traffic? Maybe they are in an emergency situation or just didn’t see you. Does someone not agree with your opinion? That doesn’t make them wrong or idiotic. Maybe they have different experiences than you. How boring would it be if everyone thought that same way? There would be no competition, no intellectual thought, no… well… fun.
So next time someone does something that you don’t really understand, take a step back and put yourself in their shoes. Don’t automatically assume something about someone else. Get to know them, or just let it go. Life is too short to judge others (that’s not our job anyway). Love others. Everyone is human and has feelings. Flowers for Algernon just reminded me of that.
Hope you enjoy!