Martha Henley

As a young college student in the early 1960’s I accepted the myth that my professional choices as a woman were limited to secretary, nurse or teacher. Since teacher was the only choice of the three to which I was remotely suited, I received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1963 and began my career as a teacher. Young, compassionate and eager to contribute to society, I chose to teach in Oklahoma City’s inner city.

The late 60’s and early 70’s were tumultuous times for students and teachers alike, as the school population was becoming diversified. As I observed the interactions among the various cultures and personalities of my students, I wished to increase my knowledge of human nature.

I enrolled in the Human Relations program at the University of Oklahoma and began the pursuit of my Master’s Degree. Within the first few months, my eyes had opened to an entirely new world. I was surprised to discover there were other people in the world who thought like me.

I learned that human compassion was a fundamental concept in the program’s curriculum. As a result, I found that I was more comfortable with my fellow students and instructors than I had been during any other public school or college experience.

Throughout my studies, I recall several instances where people from various cultures and lifestyles shared their testimonials to the class. Women – Homosexuals – Blacks -- all telling their personal stories. This is where I learned the word sexism and realized that societal barriers can be broken.

While I was extremely successful in my teaching career and was very happy developing young minds, I wanted more from my own life. I’d always had an interest in the field of Law, but considered that to be only a dream. After all, I was a female.

By the time I completed my Master’s degree in Human Relations, I was convinced that I could pursue a career in anything. So I enrolled for a third time in a higher educational program. I went to Law School.

After passing the bar exam, I established my own law practice. I found myself representing lower income clients. People who couldn’t afford the big firms, but who still needed legal representation. People who just needed a hand up in life. While these clients did not generate lucrative fees, they fueled my compassion and enriched my life while I, in turn, enriched theirs.

There is no other purpose in life but to make life better for those who succeed you. Not only did my studies in the field of Human Relations raise the awareness that I, a woman, could pursue any career; I instilled that same awareness in my daughter from her childhood on. She is now a successful executive working in a male-dominated industry. I believe her success is attributed to her compassion for her fellow workers and employees – behaviors that I modeled as a result of my studies in the Human Relations classes.

My son continues his education to this day, and is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Marine Biology. His studies on our coral reefs will improve the planet for those who succeed us all.

The concept of compassion is the unifying element in the Human Relations program, and it is critical to the survival of our society, if not our entire species. While it is encouraging to know that any child today, regardless of gender or ethnicity can become president, our society must continue to progress. We need to educate individuals who will develop human compassion, model compassionate behavior, and enrich the lives of future generations.

-Martha Henley