SEEK TO UNDERSTAND RATHER THAN BE UNDERSTOOD! : Fr. Francis Fernandez sdb, Don Bosco University, Guwahati

It was nearly one and a half years since we had joined the aspirantate at Shillong. I do not remember whether it was in class VIII or IX that we had the science lessons on the spheres of Archimedes. The lesson was on how vacuum …
It was practically the first time that we had the chance to enter the science lab, and see for ourselves how real science was. Spheres were there. The hemispheres were joined into one sphere, the air sucked out of it, and catching on the rod at the opposing poles of the sphere, we were asked to pull asunder the hemispheres. The first attempt at this was to be by the “small boys”, a term used to denote the physically short among us, and naturally weaker than the bigger boys. Certainly, we had a try, but unsuccessful. It was the turn of the bigger boys, and there was a near unanimous shout for the strongest in the class to attempt to separate the hemispheres. I do not recall whether he succeeded in the enterprise or not. These are all faint recollections; memories nonetheless.

What, instead, is sharply edged in my mind is what took place after a day or two. I was called into the office of one of our superiors and questioned as to why I had supported the others in calling for our “strong man” to try his hand at separating the hemispheres. I didn’t really understand the hidden implications of this my support in favour of our “strong man”. I told the most evident motive that he, being the strongest among us, would be in a position to prove the spheres or to demolish it.

Soon it became evident that more of us, “small boys”, were being called for a similar questioning; but none of us could fathom the real reason for such investigation. Only by talking about it among ourselves and with the rest of the class did we come to know about the implications of such a line of questioning.

A week prior to this event in the science lab, another event had taken while the big boys were playing football. Our “strong man”, a good footballer, had purposely kicked the ball at one of our Brother assistants, a strict disciplinarian, and unpopular with some boys. The motives behind such a kick was not lost on anyone. We, “small boys”, had not heard about it, nor paid attention to any talks about it. However, when the science teacher heard us all supporting the “strong man” during the science experiment, he took it as a support to the “strong man” and his behaviour, and as an affront to the superiors. He must have reported this to the higher ups who began the process of investigation and suppression of the imagined challenge.

I spoke earlier about some faint recollections and some memories. Where does the preventive system come into play here? The problem is that the preventive did not come into play at all, when it should have. Reason was sidelined, loving kindness seemed to have been forgotten; instead, “teaching a lesson” seemed to have been the main motive. I probably would not have remembered this event if we were very nicely told that sometimes we can do harm even very innocently, without thinking, of course. We would have understood the plain language of the superiors and carried on peacefully and cooperatively with them. Unfortunately, I remember this event even after 45 years, because reason, one of three pillars of the preventive system, was not used at all.

The lesson for us all, especially the educators, is: first of all, take everything at their face value, without attributing any hidden motives. Hidden motives will be evident from the context of the incident and the way in which things are expressed or done. Secondly, understand that the younger ones are more open and less malicious than the older ones; consequently, they can be more easily persuaded to remain simple and straightforward. And finally, loving kindness will succeed where reason fails to gain ground. There is nothing like love and kindness that capture hears and make friends. Indeed, Don Bosco’s system of education, the preventive system, is a codification of his own personal experience in dealing with young people. It can, therefore, never fail, since experience is the greatest of teachers.

Fr. Francis Fernandez sdb, Don Bosco University, Guwahati