NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS FOR TIMES OF POLITICAL TURMOIL

Posted by: on December 26, 2016

Hello dear blog readers!

I offer you this re-posting of one of my favorite blogs, hoping that it will inspire powerful resolutions for the new year soon to come.  I attribute this folk tale to the  very wise and wonderful relative who first told it to me (partially in Italian) — but I suspect that it exists in varied forms  around the world.  I love this folk tale because it reminds me of the importance of “carrying heavier stones” for the sake of others.  Many years ago, when I  just started graduate school, I decided to spend some time thinking carefully of how a “good person” could be identified.  After some consideration, I decided to think of a “good person” as someone who carried much more responsibility for others than was actually required for their own success and personal satisfaction. Since then, I have asked many of my university students to give me an example of someone in their lives who was a really “good person.” Almost universally, they have talked about people they knew who made sacrifices for others — in their families, in their communities, and in their professional lives– with a generous eye toward the common good. At this time, many of us are aware of the depressed or even despairing ways in which some people around us might be  viewing the political state of our nation.  How can we all move forward together?  I  think we need a lot of citizens  who are a source of calm, of hopeful vision, and of dedicated service to the common good.  We do have a whole new year ahead — and it undoubtedly will offer all of us countless ways to ACT on our true dedication to justice, fairness, equality, and good will toward all.

THE WISE MAN AND THE MOUNTAIN

I think we all wonder at times if it is sensible to spend time reaching out to others and advocating for their rights and needs.  After all, we are truly very busy with our work and our families and other responsibilities. And, as we persist in trying to make a difference for others, we sometimes wonder what we are actually accomplishing!

We need some sources of support and encouragement to keep us going. I think we often need to return to our philosophy of life. What do we value and what is important to us? When I reflect on such thoughts, my mind often returns to a folk tale that a beloved older relative told me many years ago.  Here it is:

There was once a small village by the side of a tall mountain. The adults in the village were very worried about their young people, who they thought were becoming greedy and unconcerned about others.  They held a community meeting about this problem, and decided to ask for help from a very wise old man who lived nearby in the hills. He was said to have special powers to change hearts from absorption with self to love and concern for others. To everyone’s delight, the wise man agreed to come to the village to speak with all the young people.

On a warm and sunny day, the wise man arrived. He called all the young people to him and led them close to the side of the mountain. He explained that they would all climb up the mountain until they reached a fresh spring of water. There, he told them, they would all learn a great lesson of life. First, though, he pointed to the many stones of different sizes and shapes that lay all around them on the ground. “Each of you,” he said, “must choose a stone to carry up the mountain. Choose carefully! In life it is important to choose that which is worth carrying.”

As the young people milled around, considering different sizes and shapes of stones, they fell into three groups. The first group quietly laughed and said such things to each other as “Does this silly old man think we care about stones to carry up the mountain? What for! So what? Just find the smallest and easiest stones around here.” They all found stones so tiny they could barely be seen in their hands.

The second group looked around cautiously. As they spoke with one another, they said things like, “This man seems nice but strange, and we don’t want him to cause any trouble for us. Let’s find stones of bright color big enough for him to see but easy to carry.” They found stones that made a good appearance but weighed quite little.

The third and smallest group of young people talked seriously among themselves. “This man is very wise. We should respect him.  If he wants us to carry stones of importance, let’s pick the biggest ones we can carry. Surely we are doing this for some important purpose.” They picked up large and heavy stones.

Soon, they all started up the mountain with their stones. The climb became steep and the sun grew warm.   The wise men urged them on toward the spring.  The young people with the tiny stones were proud of themselves for being so smart and making their climb so easy.  The group with the stones of good appearance but little weight was glad as well that the stones were not a great burden as they climbed. The group with the larger stones was finding the climb quite difficult. Looking around and realizing how light the stones of many of the others were, they almost felt foolish for burdening themselves in such a way. Still they persisted, because they believed that the climb with the wise man must have some great purpose.

Finally they all reached the fresh spring of water. Now they could drink and refresh themselves and the descent from the mountain would be much easier. But, after they all drank the water, they realized that they were very, very hungry. “Wise man,” they called out, “What did you bring us to eat?” The wise man answered, “I have brought nothing. It is you who have carried the food.” Then he closed his eyes, reached out his hands, whispered magic words, and changed all the stones into delicious loaves of bread.

The sweet smells of fresh bread filled the air.  But the young people with the tiny stones now realized that had almost nothing to eat. Those with stones of good appearance but little weight had only a little more and it would not satisfy their great hunger. It was the group who had carried the largest stones who would have their fill. When those with the smaller stones began to complain, the wise man silenced them. “Listen carefully,” he said. “It is what you agree to carry in life that will sustain you. You must learn to carry heavy duties of responsibility as well as the burdens of others in your village. Reach out to all in need, and go to sleep each night exhausted from work and care. Then you will be greatly loved, and find the only true joys of life.”

I’ll leave you with this story and without further comment. I hope you will enjoy reflecting on it as much as I do.

Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore, a teacher educator focused on advocacy and social justice for all children.

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