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Sosu’s Call considers questions about fairness, prejudice, and individual and social responsibility through the story of a disabled boy’s heroism.
Sosu is a young boy who lives in Africa and who cannot walk. When a storm approaches, most people are in the fields; but the sick, very young, and elderly were left behind in the village with Sosu. He must figure out a way to warn the people who are working in the fields. Some people aren’t very nice to Sosu, but he shows them that being different can mean being important in unanticipated ways.
Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion
Like many children who have disabilities, Sosu deals with ignorance and intolerance from the villagers. Most of them are mean to Sosu, but when he successfully warns people of an approaching storm, the villagers rush to evacuate and Sosu becomes a hero. He then gets a wheelchair so he can go to school. Sosu’s Call addresses issues of fairness, prejudice, self-esteem, and respecting differences.
One issue raised in Sosu’s Call concerns ways in which people are valued or not valued as participants in society, which leads to the question of what constitutes fair treatment. In disability theory, some argue that the basis of inclusion can be disingenuous. In the traditional Christmas song, Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, while Rudolph is allowed to play, his inclusion rests on assumptions about his special abilities and his “use to society.” Without his useful glowing red nose, would his difference be respected? Likewise, if it were not for Sosu’s drumming and ability to warn the villagers, would his disability be as welcomed at the end of the story? Some would argue that productivity is essential to personhood. The more able-bodied and able-minded a person is, the more valuable that person is to society from the standpoint of productivity. Therefore, it was justified for Sosu to be more valued and further included after he demonstrated productivity in society, and it does not follow that his inclusion was necessarily associated with prejudice.
An issue debated in social and political philosophies that arises in Sosu’s Call is prejudice. Specifically, there are questions of discrimination based on social identity prejudice. Because of Sosu’s disability, the villagers treated him with disrespect, causing him to question his worth. If Sosu did not warn the people, he would not have been rewarded with a wheelchair; once he got a wheelchair, he was able to go to school. Some philosophers argue that Sosu was more valued after he saved the village, because prior to that his identity as “disabled” stigmatized his existence as futile. This social identity prejudice, rather than the disability itself, is arguably the root of his systematic exclusion from education. If human dignity is not contingent on ability, but on due respect as a human being, then Sosu’s “reward” could be construed as a form of discrimination on the basis of disability. Some argue that this gesture was not an act of discrimination, but an act of appreciation. Moreover, it was not until Sosu saved the village that people who could afford to help found out about his circumstances. It is not a matter of people thinking he did not deserve a wheelchair or an education prior to his receiving them, but a lack of means. He was not, therefore, excluded on the basis of his disability, but because the villagers had no way of including him in daily activities.
Another topic raised in Sosu’s Call is social responsibility. This debate concerns whether or not it is morally obligatory for more advantaged people in society to provide for less advantaged people. Some philosophers argue that individuals are only morally obligated to themselves. This claim proposes that advantaged members of society have no obligation to improve the well-being or circumstances of less advantaged members when it is within their power. Are individual members of society supposed to look out for others or only themselves? One way to answer this question is to say that if everyone has an equal chance, then if a person succeeds, he or she does not owe others anything. Additionally, if a person obtains something fairly, that person does not have to give up what they have for anyone else. Other philosophers argue that whenever it is in our power, we ought to minimize suffering. Sosu’s family cares for him, attempting to minimize his suffering. Other villagers reflect the former argument; they did not improve Sosu’s circumstances until he performed an act that contributed to their preservation.
Questions for Philosophical Discussion
“Now, he too goes to school, pushed proudly in his wheelchair by the other children of the village.”
- What was the difference between the way people treated Sosu before he helped save the village and after?
- Why didn’t Sosu have a wheelchair before he helped save the village?
- Why did Sosu get a wheelchair?
- Was it fair that Sosu had to do something very special in order to get a wheelchair? Why or why not?
“It is bad luck to have the likes of him in our village”
- What does it mean to be prejudiced?
- Why did the villager say Sosu was “bad luck”?
- Was the villager prejudiced against Sosu? Explain.
- What are some ways other students are different than you?
- If other students are different than you, does that mean they should be treated better or worse than students you think are more like you? Explain.
- If someone is different than you, how can you show that person you are not prejudiced?
Social and Individual Responsibility
“Through the rain and the wind, they all came rushing to Sosu’s village.”
- Why did people in the fields race back to the village?
- Do they have a responsibility to help the people who couldn’t get out of the village by themselves? Why or why not?
- Do you think you have a responsibility to help other people? Why or why not?
- Do you have a responsibility to make life better for other people?
- Does society have a responsibility to make life better for people?
- Does society have a responsibility to give more to people who have disabilities? Why or why not?
Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion archived here. Edited June 2020 by The Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics.
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