This is an old picture of eldest son Rohan, his arrival into this world completely changed my life.
For the first ten years or so of his life Rohan and I were close, almost inseparable. Yet for the last five plus years we have drifted apart partly because I have labelled him as “inconsiderate and mean”. Yesterday, my son tore this story into shreds before my eyes.
I had just parked the car at the local fish and chip shop and Rohan went to buy fish and chips for the family. Whilst he was in the shop an old woman walked slowly with a stroller into the shop. In the car I could not understand what was taking Rohan so long as he had already been served.
Some minutes later he came out of the shop and walked with the old woman. When they got to the road, he checked for traffic, held her hand and then walked her across the road and toward her home.
I also found out that he had given the old woman some money as she did not have enough money to pay for her order.
When I asked him why he had done what he had done. He simply said that he felt sorry for the old woman. She was alone, she found it difficult to walk, she was partially blind, she did not have enough money….And that had upset him and so he set out to help her as best as he could.
I am so proud of you son. And I apologise for losing sight of the wonder that is you. I hope that you will forgive me.
I play the role of father to three children and of husband to my wife and from time to time they ask me to do things for them.
Rarely do I say “no” and leave it just at that. I often will say no in a way that shows either contempt, frustration or anger with the person making the request of me. If that is not destructive enough I accompany my “no” with some kind of reasoning that suggests that I am saying “no” because of some noble motive or because I believe that their request is not in their self-interest.
The other day when I did that I had a flash of insight: despite what I say, the real reason I say “no” is because I just do not want to do it – usually for purely selfish reasons. It could be because I am busy and want to take care of my stuff, it could be because I am in a lazy mood, it could be that I figure out that it would act against my needs….
Then I got that even where there is a good reason for saying no – such as not letting my ten-year old wear make up – it is possible to approach each request with the following attitude: “how can I help you achieve what you really want?”
For example, my eldest son has been ‘pestering’ me to get his uncle to give him photos and details of the stuff his uncle wants him to sell on ebay. My response to this ‘pestering’ was to become irritated with him and tell him off. Then I asked myself the question “how can I help you achieve what you really want?” As a result I have offered to take him to his uncle’s business and then he can take the photos of the items and place them on ebay.
When I have listened with this frame of mind I have found that:
- My wife simply wants to spend more time with me doing stuff together and there are various ways in which I can make help make that happen;
- My oldest son often finds himself bored and simply wants to be immersed in real world tasks that involve him in organising stuff, making stuff, buying and selling;
- My youngest son simply wants reassurance, help with his studies and lots of hugs, affection and kind words as he is a sensitive soul; and
- My daughter is simply growing up and needs some helpful guidance and lots of love on how to do that growing up.
By moving from simply saying “no” to the immediate request and looking at the need behind it I have found it quite easy to generate compassion and ask myself “How can I help you achieve what you really want?” And that has been really helpful to my peace of mind.
I was with my parent yesterday – enjoying their company in their home. One minute everything was peaceful and then my father launched his missiles at me:
- You have disowned our religion;
- You failed to marry within our own and according to our customs;
- You have wasted your money and not amassed riches;
- You have failed to use your intelligence, your promise, and convert this into status for you, me, us;
- Most of all we had such high hopes for you and you have abandoned us in our old age.
Ordinarily I’d get upset and walk out and go for a walk. Occasionally, I have launched my own missiles back at him. This time for some strange reason I just laughed. It started with a small laugh and I enjoyed that so much that I laughed more. And then more and more until my stomach was hurting from the laughter.
Then the most amazing thing happened: my father started laughing. And so there we were the two of us laughing together.
What was the source of my first laugh?
At some level I got that this was my father simply being my father rather like a rhinoceros being rhinoceros. And when I got this I started to laugh at my own stupidity: look I was about to get upset with my father for being himself, how foolish.
This week I got to spend some time with my youngest brother. When I look at him I see that he lives a difficult, demanding life and yet he lives it gracefully. As I reflected on how he has three set of competing demands – the business, his elderly parents who need care, his young family – I truly got how amazing he is. And how fortunate I am in being his brother.
When I got the beauty of my brother I told him:
- I love you;
- I am proud of you;
- I believe in you.
I know he was touched – I saw it in his eyes. And I was touched.
Maybe creating a better world is as simple as that. Reaching out to our family and friends and looking for the positive. By looking for and expressing the positive we can lift up oneself, one’s family, one’s friends, one’s fellow human beings.
In a world of 6 billion+ people I do not stand out and I am totally ok with that; I prefer to drive the Honda rather than the Mercedes.
Looking at my life I can honestly say that I have never have been the smartest, the most ambitious, the most charming, the best looking, the most athletic, the most generous, the best conversationalist, the most visionary, the best at promoting myself, the most ruthless, the boldest or anything else like that.
The only thing that I can say about myself that I am proud of is that I am kind-hearted. That I have taken advantage of opportunities to help my fellow human beings. That I have turned down opportunities to exploit my fellow human beings. And that my circle of concern extends beyond human beings to include animals and plants – life itself. I strive to live by the golden rule: to treat people as I would wish to be treated if I were in his / her shoes.
My most memorable moments are those where I extended a helping hand. And that is perhaps why when I read the local newspaper I was touched by the following quote by a quadruple amputee who runs a Limbcare ( a charity he set up): “The greatest gift in life is the ability to help another human being”.
It could also be the reason that one of the events that causes me the most pain is the memory of failing to do the right thing when I was some 12 – 14 years old. When an old blind lady stopped me and asked me for directions, I stopped and supplied them. Yet after I had left her to find her way to her destination, the inner voice told me that I had failed to do what I know was the right thing to do: to hold her hand and walk her to her destination.