In this post, I would like to share two communications that we all can learn from.
The first is a comment left on the change.org petition by a former student of mine, and the second a response to that comment.
A number of individuals took great risks and displayed great courage participating in the campaign for my release. But one young former student of mine, Mohanad Rwaished, took an incredible risk and showed a level of courage that is uncommon in his age group. After signing the Change.org petition, he added a very honest comment detailing what he and his classmates put me through at Qatar Academy, what he thinks of me now and why he signed the petition.
And the text of the comment:
“Mr. Gurung taught me IB chemistry in Qatar Academy. It was his first year in Qatar Academy at the time, before him we had a very lenient teacher, who didn’t care about our attendance, or our performance, the class was getting good grades without really earning them. When Mr. Gurung took charge of my class, all of that changed. He was strict, and for that reason I didn’t like him nor did my classmates. To be honest, I gave Mr. Gurung every reason to hate me, I cheated in a test, I skipped his class, I showed no interest in chemistry what so ever and made that clear to him, I even blamed him for my failure. While I deserved his hate, i received nothing but love and support. He helped me as much as a teacher could possibly help a student. My classmate’s where getting bad grades, and retaliated by disrespecting Mr. Gurung, they mocked him, they laughed at him, yet he remained calm, he never once insulted any one of us or showed any hate. After all I put Mr. Gurung through; he was there after our final exams just to check on how we did! He is truly one of the kindest teachers I know. I never thought I would defend a teacher, who failed me, but I know for a fact Mr. Gurung could never have insulted these boys, we pushed him to the edge, and all we ever got in return was kindness. I wish I was a better student to him, and I hope signing this petition is the first step of apologizing to a great man that I have wronged.”
The second is an email from Michel Leroux. A fellow international teacher, Michel sent me the email to pass on to Mohanad. I share it here (with his permission) as I agree with his belief that we need to recognize teenagers for displaying such courage in the face of incredible pressure to conform as is the norm within that age groups.
My Dear Friend,
I do not know anything about you with regards to your social background, your age, your ethnicity or your gender. Though I can make some assumptions, I prefer not to. Yet, I call you my friend. I consider my friends to be people of courage, principle, and empathy. You may not know it yet but all three safely reside within you.
Like Mr. Gurung, I am an educator. I have spent the last twenty years teaching in international schools in eight different countries. I have met a fair number of students, some more memorable than others, for good or bad reasons. Most of my students have tried to find their sense of self by limiting themselves to the perceived norm of behavior and thinking that prevailed in the different environments. It is very safe to do so. For some reason, humans have a tendency to associate with the dominant behavior in order to avoid being different, perhaps a survival mechanism that may have served our species well a long time ago. Life is different now. Hiding with the herd in this day and age is proving to be quite destructive to the environment, society and even to our own personal lives. It takes a person of courage to speak out against what is destructive to others. The group mentality protects us from feeling the devastating effects of our words and actions. We hide and justify our actions by believing that if other do the same then it must be ok. It is not. We are discovering this more and more each day as our environment and social structures verge on destruction.
In your case, you chose the path less traveled: the path of courage. We live in times where true examples of leadership are rare. Leaders at all levels try to find blame in others, somehow believing that this will appease their inner discomfort. You my friend have decided to become an example for all to emulate. You have done something extraordinary in these times; you have chosen to take responsibility for your actions. That in itself, to me, represents a great man, a future leader that offers hope to any people you associate with. By taking responsibility for your actions, you have changed your life. You have forced the dominant group to reevaluate its paradigm of destruction. You are like a mirror that is reflecting a very powerful light of truth upon those who would rather remain hidden in their denial. Surely they will hate you for such an act of courage for they most likely want to continue to hide in the darkness of their misguided words and actions. It may appear safer for now but rest assured that before long, these unsettling thoughts that loom in the recess of their consciousness will demand to be acknowledge for what they are: words and actions that are destroying a man’s life.
The universe has a magical way of pushing the actors on the stage in order to produce the most dramatic effect on the play we call life. There is certainly a bigger hand at play here. What remains though is that you improvised your lines to empower yourself and as such, you have become a leading player in the game of life. To have faced the fear of reprisal from your peers will make you realize that the courage you have discovered within yourself is the same courage that can change the world for a better place. The stage director hides behind the curtain, speechless, awaiting your next move: one more human empowering him/herself is always a moment of rejoice behind the scenes. Where will your courage bring you, you who can now stand for what is right, principled and just?
I have worked in countries that offered tremendous mental, emotional and spiritual challenges. My most recent post was in Cambodia. One needs to live there to understand the depth of corruption and abuse that is possible. Even as I write this, I still cannot fathom how this can be possible while the world sits back and pretends that all is right. I have come to understand that one of the most destructive mindset on the planet is one of entitlement. Either through birth or social elevation, individuals come to believe that they are entitled to just about everything, from grades in school, land stolen from the poor to ultimately include human lives. There is no possibility of discourse with such people. To ask them to question the very foundation of their paradigm of reality is to threaten this very sense of entitlement that identifies them to the core. Consequently, they will stop at nothing to rid themselves of anything or anyone that reflects back the distortions of their identity. Many international schools have core groups of such students. If they are blessed enough, they will be given the chance to have a teacher who will have the courage to ask them to question such assumptions of privilege. Some will hear the message while most will do everything to cover their ears. You my friend have heard your teacher’s message. You were gifted with a teacher who wanted you to understand fairness, compassion, responsibility, respect, and patience. You must have understood his deeper teaching because its message gave you the courage to speak out against a massive wall of opposing energies. You were able to recognize within yourself that there was something not quite right in what was happening, that such a fair, compassionate, responsible, respectful and patient teacher would be in jail as a result of having been harassed consistently. You saw the injustice in what was happening and you raised your voice out of principle. This again warms my heart to know that not only you have courage, you are also a principled person. You will be a great leader.
Finally, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Your words “I hope signing this petition is the first step of apologizing to a great man that I have wronged”, you show that sense of empathy. You show an understanding that you did something that was hurtful and destructive to another human being. We all do such things at times but to come to the realization that we have wronged someone and then do something about it is perhaps the reason why such experiences exist in the first place. How else would we ever learn empathy? Empathy will change the world. Empathy brings about compassion and this energy has to be one of the most powerful energy on the planet to shift a flawed social paradigm to one where every life is cherished and respected.
So, we now have a young man who has had the courage to go against the peer group mentality – that of not taking responsibility for one’s actions, who has gained an understanding of fairness and acted in a principled manner, and finally can empathize with the victim of his destructive behavior: at such a young age, you have learnt extremely powerful lessons that many people will never get to learn in their entire life on this planet.
Feel proud. Feel your inner strength. Stand tall my friend. You are a great man in the making. You may think of yourself as a child but know that the world is desperately needing strong leaders like you. You have done something incredible by publically taking responsibility for your actions. Now let others follow in your step, and let that road less traveled become the norm for all to realize this desperate need to stop hurting and abusing others because of a misguided sense of self.
If you question the power of your actions, consider for a moment that a stranger whom considers you a friend is presently sitting in some remote part of the jungle on the island of Bali, Indonesia, taking the time to write to you in order that you realize how powerful your actions have been, and how powerful you are as a person.
I am so proud of you.