The Bus Driver’s Gift


Our default way of being-in-the-world is to deny our freedom. Which freedom?  The freedom to choose.  Whilst I can talk about this philosophically, I prefer to point this out using a story.

The Bus Driver’s Gift

One afternoon a bus driver was taking 40 children home from school. As the bus made its way down a steep grade, the brakes failed. The driver was unable to steer the bus to the left because of a high embankment or to the right because of a steep cliff.

As the bus hurtled down the hill, the driver recalled that there was a narrow gate at the bottom which led into a field. He decided to try to steer the bus through the gate and into the field, figuring it would eventually come to a safe stop.  He hoped that no cars or other obstacles would get in his way before he got to the gate.

When the bus reached the bottom of the hill, the driver saw the gate approaching fast. But to his horror, he noticed a small child sitting on the gate, waiving at the bus.

It was too late to change plans now. If the driver tried to avoid the gate, 40 children would die. He cried out in anguish as the bus slammed directly into the game. The innocent child died instantly in the collision, but that bus and all of its passengers were saved.

Emergency vehicles were the first to arrive on the scene, followed shortly by relieved parents and grandparents. Many of them wanted to show their appreciation and gratitude to the driver who had kept the bus under control long enough to save their children. But the driver was nowhere to be found. They asked the police officer where he had gone.

“They’ve taken him to the hospital,” the officer said. “He’s suffering from severe shock.”

“Well that’s understandable, ” they replied.

“No, you don’t understand, ” said the officer. “You see, that little boy on the fence was his own son.”

To be human is to be be free, condemned to choose

We play little, we find excuses, we pretend that we are merely ‘victims’ or ‘passengers’ in the game of life. What this story does is to remind us of a truth that we’d rather not see nor face up to. Why?

Because with this truth, comes responsibility: responsibility for the way our life is, responsibility for the way our community is, responsibility for the way our organisations are, responsibility with the way life is.

Stuff happens, that is simply the way the universe works.  Sometimes, even often, we don’t get to choose what happens.  And always we get to choose how we will respond to that which the universe puts our way.  This is the essential truth that this story brings alive for me.

On freedom, choice and responsibility


A conversation with a young woman

I was in communication with a young woman recently and the conversation went something like this (this is the best I can do from memory):

Me: “Is the light on inside?   Is joy present on the inside?”

Her: “No.  It hasn’t been present for a long time.”

Me:  Why not? What is getting in the way?”

Her: “I feel trapped – living this life, here with my parents, my family. Sometimes, I think about running away and starting a new life, my life.”

Me: “What is preventing you from taking that step, moving out, living your own life?”

Her: “The impact it will have on my parents, what it will do to them.  Sometimes, I get so angry with them that I hate them for keeping me here, living this life.”

Me: “I see, you get that you have choice and you have made the choice to live with your parents and the life that goes with that.  I don’t get why you are blaming your parents.  Your parents are not responsible and do not deserve your blame/bitterness/anger. You are free to leave any time you wish.  Yet, you choose to stay.  So you are the person who is responsible for the life that you live and your experience of living.  You are responsible for your unhappiness, you bring this on to your self.”

Her: “Don’t say that.  If  believed that then I’d want to kill myself!”

Freedom, choice and responsibility

Yes, we are thrown into this world and we don’t get a say in where we are born, whether we are born male or female, healthy or unhealthy, who are parents are, what kind of circumstances we are born into, what culture we are born into, what schools we go to (if we go to school) etc.   Yet at some point we grow up and are no longer children, no longer dependent and at the mercy of others.  Like this young woman we leave home, we go to university, we get an education, we dabble/experience the bigger world, we get to stand on our own two feet….

I say that the process of ‘growing up’ is coming face to face with freedom, choice and responsibility. As beings-in-the-world we are faced with choice.  You could say being confronted with choices and making a choice is the evidence of our freedom. Even in the most difficult of circumstances where what we can and cannot do is severely limited we still get to choose: we get to choose our attitude towards ourselves, others and the circumstances in which we are embedded.  Put differently, sometimes we get to choose between two flavours of ice cream say chocolate or vanilla.  And sometimes life presents us with only chocolate and even though we get only chocolate we are free to choose  our attitude, our stance towards chocolate being present in our lives.

With choice comes responsibility.  Put differently, we are responsible for our lives and our experience of living – just as it is and just as it is not. Look, sometimes I feel sorry for myself when I look at how my children behave.  And when I look at the situation honestly/courageously I see that I am totally responsible for what is so.  When my children were younger, many people – wife, parents, parents-in-law, friends – pointed out that I was allowing my children too much freedom, not setting strong boundaries, not being controlling enough.  And I ignored all of them. Why?  I was committed to allowing my children the widest degree of freedom. And I reasoned that as they got older I could talk with them, reason with them and they would regulate their behaviour so as to get on/along with the people around them.  My theory did not work out as I had anticipated that it would work out.

What is the ultimate choice that confronts us?

I say that the ultimate choice that confronts us is the choice of owning our lives or not.  Owning my life is owning freedom, choice and responsibility.  I am free to make choices and I am responsible for the choices that I make and that which flows from and shows up from the choices that I make.  So, ultimately, each of us takes, is taking a stand towards freedom, choice and responsibility – whether we are present to making this choice or not.

You and I can look honestly at lives and face up to/get that we are the authors of our lives:  that we get a say in how we live our lives, how our lives turn out, our experience of living.  As such we can invent/project/live from and live into possibilities that move-touch-inspire us.

Or we can pretend that we are victims (like this young lady) and when we are confronted with ownership/authorship of our lives, our experience of living, we can strive to shut out this conversation  that confronts us with our freedom, choice and responsibility.

What choice are you making?  Are you owning your life and your experience of living?   If you are owning and being responsible for your life just as it is and just as it is not then who is owning / being responsible for your life?  

I know where I stand: the most powerful place to stand for me, is to own my life and my experience of living just as it is and just as it is not.  And being the owner, the author, of my life I am free to imagine and take different paths through it. This matters because it puts hope, possibility, new worlds into my life, my living. It is this stance that opens up a transformation in our living, in our world.