Education Plus

Snakes and ladders

Illustration: Satwik Gade  

Many years ago, a fellow colleague shared a beautiful story. A little boy wanted a red bicycle for his birthday. The family were going through a lean period and the desired gift was beyond their means. Every night, before bedtime, the boy would pray for a shiny red bike. On his birthday morning, there was a home baked cake, a note book and a box of pencils, all wrapped in shiny paper. Enveloping his son in a hug, the father tells him, “I am sorry. You must be disappointed that your prayers were not answered.” The boy smiled and said “Oh but they were answered. God said, ‘No!’

Work in progress

The story serves as a gentle reminder in an increasingly consumerist culture where instant gratification is the mantra of the day. Accepting a “no” has become a bitter pill to swallow and there is an anxiety to sweeten the least sign of discomfort. It manifests in simple things in our daily life and it is amusing to watch this, within ourselves, when we encounter a “No."

Many Christmases ago, a scene was being played out in a toy store. A five year old literally held her (highly embarrassed) parents, the shopkeeper and the other customers hostage in her exhibition of an exquisite tantrum. The story behind this exhibition being that while the doll she wanted was in stock, it did not have the particular outfit that she wanted it dressed in. We see this kind of behaviour playing out in various scenarios and, however old we are, somewhere we have that five year old waiting to stamp her feet and scowl at the first “no.”

A senior teacher observed that even a simple act of telling a student that she cannot have an extension for a homework assignment has to be cocooned in a language that minimises the “shock” of hearing a ‘no.’ Counsellors in schools and colleges see a trend where increasingly, people cannot cope with not getting what they wanted. Be it not getting the course of their choice or a relationship that ended, the ability to be able to step back and see it as a part of the flow of life is one that does not come naturally with the progression of age or experience. It is a work in progress, as we evolve in our own life journey.

Stories around us

One of the ways to reflect on this would be to look at the life stories of people who inspire us. Many of their experiences would have challenged them and their ability to accept the situation completely would have given them the strength to find ways to use them as a stepping stone to realise their own strengths.

Savithiri’s (name changed) husband was diagnosed with brain cancer and, for five years, she was witness to the devastating effects of the disease. Two years after he succumbed to the illness, she herself was diagnosed with breast cancer. Life continued with various other challenges. Her acceptance was not merely an intellectual exercise. From her, I am still learning the gift of accepting the inevitable.

Throughout the various obstacles, she did what had to be done. While there must have been many moments where she questioned the suffering, her ability to not resist the turn of events that life presented, she says in her own way, gave her the “greatest freedom.”

While in conversation, she would add that in many situations when one realised that there was no use fighting within herself that “surrender” gave her enormous space and in that space solutions presented themselves. This is often misunderstood as resignation or giving up. Often, if observed closely, resignation is our personal reaction to the ‘no’. It is a flag post to ourselves that we are not ready to accept what is.

A blessing in disguise

In the course of life events, always on hindsight, one realises the blessing a ‘no’ has been.

A student who had prepared for his journey abroad for further study found that he was unable to travel due to family circumstances. After facing the initial dejection, he decided to join a college and continue his studies in his hometown. Five years later, it was a pleasure to meet the young man who had now finished his degree and started an entrepreneurial venture with his network of friends in his town. He was brimming with enthusiasm and passion, exploring creative ways of expanding his ideas into other cities. During our conversation, he said that in so many ways it was a blessing that his earlier trip did not work out. In contrast, many of us get stuck to our ideas, beliefs and judgments. And this resistance, more than the situation, can be the root cause of our suffering. A colleague who is a passionate teacher, constantly exploring new ways to present concepts, said she was always grateful that she was not accepted into medical college. She said that the rejection led to a series of events which allowed her to take some time to explore what she really wanted to do. “Today, I can never imagine myself in a hospital,” she laughs. The classroom is like her second home.

It is not a cliché, the greatest unsolved mystery is life. When we meet each interaction or challenge, accepting things as they are and being open sans any preconceived belief, life becomes a wonderful treasure hunt.

We never really know where the next clue will lead us. It is definitely not easy as we have our own wall of ideas and beliefs to cross. There is no instant transformation either, nor do we need to struggle with it. Just bringing in a small awareness into our own reactions, will slowly and steadily help us navigate the course.

A great master once defined a problem as “Something that we perceive when life does not flow the way we want it”!

The best way to play life is like a game of snakes and ladders. While the head of a snake always brings you down, the bottom of the ladder always takes you up!

Play the game of life.

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Printable version | Jan 16, 2021 12:01:37 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/education/snakes-and-ladders/article6605144.ece

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