On my way to work this morning I passed a student transport service that was broken down at a fairly quiet intersection. Young children aged 7 or 8 milled around on the pavement as the driver attended to the vehicle. As I slowed down I noticed one of the kids staring intently in my direction. Whether he was looking at me or the car is hard to say, but I wondered if that scene for him would prove to be inspirational in some way later on in life. Not inspirational in the typical sense of ‘I want to be like that when I grow up’, but rather in the sense that it represented certain goals for him.
If I think back to my time in school, I recall similarly poignant moments that defined my perspectives or my priorities. It wasn’t earth shattering moments of ‘Eureka’ but rather unexpected sights or experiences that left their mark. There was a time in school when we were preparing for the official opening of the new school premises that we recently occupied. I was in the 6th grade and normal classes had been disrupted for several weeks already as all the kids were involved in some or other project relating to the building of floats or other decorative items for the event. It was then that I learnt how to cut polystyrene, spray the index tab onto library books in bulk, classify books according to the Dewey Decimal system and so much more. At one point I looked up at my teacher and asked him why it was that we didn’t learn things like this more often instead of sitting in class and studying from books all the time?
I don’t recall his response, and his response was not defining either. What defined that experience for me was the practical knowledge and skills that I had acquired in such a short space of time as opposed to the endless boring sessions of indulging in theoretical and academic studies of subjects that would barely have any practical value in my life. I think it was then that my mindset shifted from the traditional methods of acquiring knowledge to one that is more experiential by nature. To this day I grow impatient and often abrasive if I find myself compelled to sit with textbooks or drawn out discussions about challenges that need to be resolved, and instead, I often aggressively prompt people in the direction of considering practical options or impacts around what we may be contending with. I think I’ve learnt to temper my impatience with some finesse more recently, although many would still disagree. Nonetheless, it has served me well, and if I had to try to pinpoint a time in my life when such an approach became tangibly attractive enough for me to adopt as my own, it would be that unexpected experience in school that was not shaped by the schooling system at all.
In a similar light I contemplated the thoughts that may have formed in that kid’s head this morning as he stood there in the cold watching me pass as he waited for the driver to repair the vehicle. With every scene or experience that we endure, we make choices. Some are conscious, but most are not. Most play out in our sub-conscious minds as we shape our characters and lives relative to the circumstances around us. That child could have been looking at me and thinking what a snob I am, while admiring the humility of the driver that made a living from ensuring that he got the kids to school and back safely, and hopefully on time. Whichever of those two perspectives appealed to him at that point, that is what he will find himself sub-consciously polarizing towards as he goes through life.
I think these choices that we make grounds us in our lives to the defining moments that informed our perspectives. The less mindful we are, the less likely it is that we’ll be able to identify these choices when we’re making them, and therefore the less informed our choices will be. While woefully simplistic as an analogy, it suggests some answers as to why some make destructive choices in life, while others choose more wisely. If anything, it prompts inclinations in us that we can choose to embrace or choose to question. Those that embrace without question are often victims to circumstance. They’re the ones that want to be seen as the brave ones that persevere in spite of their lot in life. They’re the martyrs among us. Always ready to assist even if such assistance enables dependence.
Then there are those that question before embracing. They’re the ones most often seen as cold and calculated. But it takes both types to make this world an interesting place. The ones most endearing would be those that have a healthy balance between these two extremes. That healthy balance would probably be reflected in those that embrace without question that which is confirmed (to them) to be wholesome, while being pragmatic and realistic before diving into a mess to help a victim. While the choices we can make are endless, I guess the point of this deliberation is that the choices that most often shape our lives the most are rarely the choices we made consciously. I think that’s an important realisation that, if we embrace it, will prompt us to be courageous enough to question why we are the way we are. This is needed if we ever hope to grow beyond just the cycle of evolution that our lives inherently dictate. If we don’t wish for such growth, then perhaps we’re the martyrs we spurn in others?