27 February 2015

What kind of friend do you want to be?

This is the twenty second article in a series I am writing for the JEANS section of 'The Nation'.  The series is for children. Adults consider yourselves warned...you might re-discover a child within you! Scroll down for other articles in this series. 

There are good teachers and there are not-so-good teachers.  There are teachers who mean well but somehow do more harm than good to their students.  Our story begins with that kind of teacher.  She probably meant well, but ended up encouraging students to acquire bad habits.

She was in charge of a bunch of four year olds.  The children were regularly given tasks to perform.  They were asked for example to color circles.  The object was to train the child to keep the crayons or pencils within the circle.  Some were good at it, some were sloppy.  This is the story of one of the sloppy girls. 

She hadn’t acquired control over her fingers.  The crayon crossed the line several times.  The resultant picture was not neat.  Now a teacher who is patient and understands that children are not equal in skill and that some learn fast and some are slow, would probably have said something like, ‘this is very good…you are getting better…soon you’ll be able to color the entire circle without crossing the line even once.’  Unfortunately for the little one, her was different.  She put a big cross indicating ‘wrong’ next to the work of the child. 

Half the time she didn’t even understand the instructions of the teacher.  So this was not the only ‘wrong’ that the child did.  Very soon there were ‘wrong-marks’ all over her books.  She was sad.  She was upset.  Naturally she desperately wanted to get it right.  She found a solution.  She copied from the girl seated next to her each time she was asked to do something. 

Now this girl had a sister who was a couple of years older.  One day she was gaily telling her akki how she copied from the girl seated next to her. The older girl was appalled.  ‘Copying is wrong!’ she exclaimed.  The little one was clearly unhappy because the last thing she wanted to hear was her sister saying she was wrong for the sister, in her world, was her greatest hero.  She didn’t cry.  She became defiant.  She responded quickly, ‘Copying is right!  Friends have to help friends!’ 

She was right and she was wrong.  Friendship is a good thing.  A loyal friend is a treasure.  Friends must help friends.  But a good friend will always ask himself or herself a question like this ‘would I really be helping my friend if I let her copy my answers?’

The little girl’s father who overheard the conversation between his daughters remembered an incident that took place when he was a child.  It happened during a term test.  The children were required to write down four types of bones.  He didn’t quite understand the question.  He asked his friend, who was seated next to him.  The friend, who happened to be the brightest child in the class, knew all the answers.  

He said ‘diga-eta, keti-eta, ravum eta’ (long bones, short bones and round bones).  It was duly pointed out that he had mentioned only three types.  The boy responded, ‘you should be able to figure out the fourth’.  The fourth was pethali-eta (flat bones), the opposite of ravum eta.   It was all cheating, no doubt.  But the ‘helper’ helped the boy who made the request in a way that was better than giving him all the answers.  He made his friend think.  He could have done better, but he was just a little boy.  He could have refused to help and later explained why ‘helping’ wasn’t really a help.  In time the other boy would have understood and appreciated. Their friendship would have become stronger. 

The little girl was absolutely correct when she said ‘friends have to help friends’.  A good friend will know the difference between right and wrong.  A good friend will know that cheating never amounts to helping. 

So there are good teachers and bad teachers. There are teachers who have the best of intentions end up harming the children.  It’s the same with friends.  There are good friends and there are bad friends.  There are friends who mean well but end up harming someone even as help is offered.  When you think about right and wrong, the chances are you’ll be a better friend.  When you think ‘a friend must always do the best to help someone when help is needed’ and don’t think twice about it, you can do a lot of harm. 

We can’t pick our teachers. We can pick our friends.  And it is up to us to think about what friendship is and what a friend should and should not do when asked to show friendship. 

Other articles in this series


Anonymous said...

The little girl reminded me of my own little girl as a four-year-old who drew pink trees, green pigs and triangular-shaped cats! Her nursery teacher's day began and ended with her mismatched colors- siding me at the gate to comment on the same.
I had a hearty laugh over the childish behavior of the teacher with none other than Sybil nenda who told me 'puthe one needs imagination to visualize triangular-shaped cats and pink trees!" Today the four-year-old who was labeled 'color blind' is a promising young artist!