A lesson in life

I offer two loose threads from my psychic sock drawer this morning.

First, with graduation staring us in the face later this week, the IB2’s will soon pick up their yearbooks. When they look back on their final year of high school in 25 or even 50 years, I wonder just what will they remember about the year 2009? My hunch is they will recall two things: Barak Obama’s becoming President and the economic meltdown. The first is about optimism and idealism and the fulfillment of a promise. The second is about selfishness or short-sightedness and the deleterious impact both have had. It is the best impulses of democracy competing against the dark side of capitalism, and it will be interesting to see how these two movements, the ying and yang of 2009, will play out in the future. (By the way, if you pushed me for a third world event from this past year, it might be the Phillies’ winning the World Series, thereby restoring the moral order of the universe, but you probably have that on your list, too.)

Second, a colleague who noticed my poster of Mahatma Gandhi, the great advocate of non-violent civil disobedience, gave me this story. I’m passing it on to you today because while we talk about “compassion, integrity, and innovation” in our mission, it’s rare to come across all three virtues in one short narrative.

Dr. Arun Gandhi, Gandhi’s grandson recently said: “When I was 16 years old, I lived with my parents 18 miles outside of Durban, South Africa, deep in a remote part of the country where we had no neighbours.  One day my father asked me to drive him to town, and I jumped at the chance. Since I was going to town, my mother gave me a list of groceries she needed, and because I had all day in town, my father asked me to get the car serviced. When I dropped my father off that morning, he said, ‘I will meet you here at 5 pm, and we will go home together.’

After hurriedly completing my chores, I went straight to the nearest movie theatre, and got so engrossed in a John Wayne double feature that I forgot the time. It was 5:30 before I remembered my deadline, and by the time I finally got to where my father was waiting for me, it was almost 6:00 pm. ‘Why were you so late?’ he asked me. I was so ashamed of telling him I was watching a John Wayne movie that I said, ‘The car wasn’t ready, so I had to wait.’ not realizing that he had already called the garage. (A quick side bar: How would your father handle something like this? Better yet, how would you respond if someone had lied to you like this, and left you waiting for an hour?)

The father said, “There is something wrong in the way I brought you up that didn’t give you the confidence to tell the truth. In order to figure out where I went wrong with you, I’m going to walk home 18 miles and think about it.’ So, dressed in his suit and dress shoes, he began to walk home in the dark on mostly unpaved, unlit roads. I couldn’t leave him, so for five-and-a-half hours, I drove behind him, watching my father go through this agony for a stupid lie that I had uttered.

I decided then and there that I was never going to lie again. I often think about that episode and wonder, if he had punished me the way we punish our children, whether I would have learned a lesson at all. I don’t think so. I would have suffered the punishment and gone on doing the same thing. But this single non-violent action was so powerful that it is still as if it happened yesterday.”

The father’s response to his son’s lie caught me off guard. I confess that taking a 5 hour walk through the night might not be the first consequence I’d consider when dealing with a son’s lie, but there is something about the dad’s depth of understanding, about his inclination to look first at himself as a possible cause of the problem, and about his willingness to suffer for the wrong of another that makes me think that Arun’s father may have been, in his own quiet way, as extraordinary as his grandfather.


One thought on “A lesson in life

  1. What a parenting story. We are supposed to be the servant and the child the master but even these words are difficult to grasp fully. This story tells it all and will be inspiring me during exam studying time…

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