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.
December greetings to my blog readers! I posted the blog below a number of years ago during this time of year. It still tends to be one of my most popular blog entries — people read it throughout the year! Thus, I decided to re-post it during this holiday season. I am thinking a great deal about the time of political turmoil in which we are living. I am trying to encourage my students in teacher education to always remember that we always have the power to influence everyone and everything around us. Even as we seek to filter and recognize the incendiary and sometimes misleading information circulating on the Internet, we must have the courage to find and act on what we believe is true and right. Every day, where we live and work, there are countless opportunities to light the way for others by directing our thoughts, our words, and our actions toward the common good . This is a really great time of year to take advantage of those opportunities!
The Christmas Mouse in the Calendar
When I first began working at my current university, we had a department secretary who sold Avon products. This was something very new to me; I was adjusting to a lot of new things after moving from New York City to the hills of Western Pennsylvania. However, as soon as our secretary handed me the Avon catalog, I decided that a purchase was in order. Perusing the section on Christmas items, my eye fell on a cloth Advent calendar with a cute little mouse that moved daily from the first pocket at the start of December all the way to pocket 24 on Christmas Eve. It’s been a long time now since I bought that calendar, but I continue to greet it fondly each year as I hang it in its customary spot. Placing the little mouse in pocket number one, I anticipate its all-too-rapid speed to number twenty-four. As much as I try to treasure time and hold on to it, especially during the holidays, it continues to rush by. Today, it seems impossible that the little mouse is once again resting in pocket twenty-four. Very soon now it will return to the box where I keep my Advent collection, and rest quietly in the basement until Thanksgiving weekend next year.
As we all know, life like time moves only in the direction of forward. We can’t slow it or stop it, but we do have a lot of control over what we do with it. I think that one of the most important things that we can do with time is work as hard as possible to enhance the lives of others. This belief of mine is affirmed every year during the holiday season. Much of December can seem blurred with the sense of an overwhelming rush of time and expectation. Yet, it is a month that provides us with the priceless opportunity to remember that each day can be filled with small greetings, gestures, and kind acts that cost us nothing but make life so much better for others. Our own daily intention to live in a way that helps others to live in peace may well be the key to our own happiness and satisfaction.
Many of my experiences as a college professor remind me of the importance of efforts to enhance the lives of others every day. For example, toward the end of the semester in mid-December, I was having a conference with one of my students and the cooperating teacher with whom he had been placed for a field experience. Sitting in an empty classroom as we talked together, I could hear the voices of many children in the other classrooms and in the hallways. During the meeting, the cooperating teacher shared what it meant to him now to look back on a career that provided the opportunity to have had a genuine effect on so many people. When the meeting was over, I stayed to talk for a few more minutes with my student. I wanted him to really think about what the words of his cooperating teacher had meant in terms of his own career. It would be very important for him to also be able to look back one day and feel wonderful about his impact on others. He might accomplish some big things – graduate degrees or awards or promotions. But ultimately the “big things” would pale beside the knowledge that, every single day, he had done everything he could to enhance the lives of as many of his students and colleagues as possible.
I think that’s the most important lesson that I learn from my calendar mouse every year. December will rush by for sure! But every day of the holiday season is rich with the opportunity to think of others and to act with intention to reduce suffering and increase justice and peace wherever possible. Knowing that the days will inevitably pass, the opportunities to do good become even more precious.
Peace and love!
Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator focused on advocacy and social justice for all children
If you have never taken a look at the Bank Street Occasional Paper Series (OPS) this is a great time to do it! The theme of the newly published OPS # 35 is Progressive Practices in Public Schools; editors Jonathan Silin and Meredith Moore provided all the authors (including me) with an exciting opportunity to shine light on the many ways in which progressivism can continue to be a powerful force in public education today. My essay is called Say That the River Turns: Social Justice Intentions in Progressive Public School Classrooms.
The title and focus of my essay was inspired by this beautiful line from the poem The Sermon on the Warpland written by Gwendolyn Brooks: “Say that the river turns, and turn the river.” I am grateful to the graduate student in my summer course Young Children and Social Policy at Teachers College in 2010 who focused her creative project on this line of the poetry. Since then, I have re-read and thought about the poem many times. I believe Brooks truly captures the powerful role that language must play in resistance to social injustice. We first have to say that something can be done and then we have to do something to start to turn the injustice around!
I hope you will take some time to read the entire OPS #35 and share it with others. Here is the link:
Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator focused on advocacy and social justice for all children