Have courage, compassion and wisdom

In contrast to all the external complexity inherent in solving the puzzle of educational inequity, I have come to believe in the simplest internal solution. Have courage, compassion, and seek wisdom.

This idea came to me 10 years ago as I was writing Maya, the story of a shy princess and her journey in search of her light, the same light I have always believed exists within every single child.  In order for Maya to achieve her greatest potential she would need to discover her own courage, have a chance to come to know her own capacity for compassion, and thereby develop her own wisdom.

As I lived the Maya journey with our children, I found these values emerge time and time again.

They are the same three values that the Scarecrow, Tin man and Lion go in search of in the Wizard of Oz. They are the values the Buddha practiced. They are what Confucius believed to be the three universally recognized moral qualities of Man. They are the values represented by Gandhiji’s head, hand and heart. And in the recent Disney film, on her death-bed, Cinderella’s mother imparts her final words of wisdom to her daughter  – “remember to have courage. And remember to be kind.”

I have come to believe that every great story – the Ramayana, the Bible, little Red Riding Hood, Oh the Places you’ll go.. come down to this simple truth:  Be courageous. Be kind. Be wise.

When I look at our Teach For India Fellows working relentlessly towards our vision, I see the same story.

In their story, courage looked like joining the Teach For India movement, despite the world around saying no, the most illogical thing you can possibly do is to spend two years teaching. Courage looked like that first day at summer school, when they had no idea what to do, but needed to do it anyway. And soon, Courage became belief:  my kids will reach their greatest potential despite staggering academic gaps, severe behaviorial issues, and complex home problems.

In their story, compassion came with understanding things they never thought they could ever understand: entering secondary school to find many children at a pre-emergent level, a mother resorting to the worst form of violence against her daughter, a teacher beating a child with a stick, a child’s serious medical issue. In their story they learned not just to feel for the child – but for the teacher, the parent, the broken system.

In their story, with wisdom, they have had to make impossible choices. The choice of learning what one must accept, and what can be changed. The choice between understanding someone’s pain, and taking on their suffering, between pushing hard and being gentle.

In their story, courage, compassion and wisdom are intricately linked.  Courage kept them going, enabling them to discover their own capacity for compassion. Through the experience of working with their children their compassion deepened, and through this they developed the wisdom to see just how broken the lives and educational standards of their children can be, but also the wisdom that comes with bearing witness to the brilliant, unexpected, the unprecedented successes of their children.

With the wisdom of their children, they are armed for the next step on the path, the Alumni movement. They tread that path with courage, compassion and wisdom – the courage to confront their fears, the compassion to love, and be gentle, and the wisdom to make right choices. Through this lens, they see the potential in every child and in the country. They make a life long commitment to realize that potential in themselves, in the future of the nation, and in solving for educational inequity.

This is our collective potential.

Written by Shaheen Mistri

Authors Note: This post was originally a part of my graduation speech for our 2013-15 Teach For India cohort.



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