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Two priests

Two priests

Recently, I had a conversation with a principal about a particularly challenging situation. We were considering options for a possible resolution when I grabbed a small note pad from my jacket pocket. I drew two lines with a circle in the middle (| O |). The circle was to symbolize an impediment (either a wall or a huge sink hole) blocking the principal’s path. I had never done this before, but we both saw value in the exercise. As we concluded, I asked, as I almost always do, how the conversation had been helpful. In response, the principal said, “It reminded me that we choose how we’re going to respond to challenges. We have choice. We choose how to respond.” As I drove from the school, I thought of a story told to me by my father-in-law, a wise man who grew up in Shanghai, China.

Two priests (one young and one older) were walking through the countryside. During their journey, they happened upon an old woman standing at the banks of a river. She didn’t know how she was going to cross the river becuase it was much deeper than she had expected. As was customary, one of the priests, the older one, offered to carry the woman across the river. She accepted and he began carrying her. What was probably only a five-minute venture seemed, at the time, to be interminable. The entire trek across the river, the woman scolded the older priest. She complained that he was going too slowly; he wasn’t carrying her high enough; he was hurting her legs and he was worthless, stupid and weak. The younger priest just watched in disbelief at the treatment being directed at his traveling companion. When they reached the other shore, the older priest put the woman down, fixed his robes and bowed before returning on his journey.

As they walked, the younger priest remarked, “I cannot believe the way she treated you!” The older priest said nothing.

Another five minutes passed, and the younger priest piped up again, “I mean it. If she had talked that way to me, I would have been tempted to drop her into the water. How ungrateful!” The older priest said nothing.

The younger priest kept mumbling and agitating about the old woman for another 30 minutes. Finally, the older priest, turning to his companion, said, “My friend. I stopped carrying the old woman more than half an hour ago. Why, my dear friend, are YOU still carrying her?”

There are so many times as a parent, a spouse, a friend and a colleague that I find myself distracted by something I should have just let go. This couldn’t be truer now. After being named the next Superintendent for the Columbia Public Schools, I have begun working with Dr. Belcher on a transition process. I am hopeful that my actions and reactions to the many challenges I face will resemble those of the wise priest: patient, thoughtful and empathetic.

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