I’ve done some travelling in my time and have even helped to set up businesses overseas (in India and the Philippines). As a part of this my team and I attended some “cultural awareness” training. One of the things that we learnt was about the different value sets in the Far East. For example, when asked to list the most important personal characteristics in business, western workers answer with words like “energy”, “assertiveness” and “drive”. There is one word, however, that we in the west never use that is always on the list for Asian workers: “Humility”. On the course I nodded but in truth it was a child that taught me the importance of being humble.
I think that children do make us all feel humble. When I look at Arun and Meri and think that I had a hand in creating the miracle of new life that they represent, I do feel humble. The responsibility that comes with being a parent is at times scary and ultimately humbling. However, there is one incident in particular that really stands out for me; when the importance of humility was brought home to me in a powerful and profoundly moving way that changed the way I think about the world.
It took place about 18 months ago, just before Meri was born. Arun attended music therapy sessions at Keech Hospice which caters for disabled and “life limited” children (life limited is one of those awful terms that is meant to soften the blow that the children in question are very unlikely to survive to reach adulthood). Arun had formed a wonderful bond with his music therapist Anna and we would take him to the hospice and leave him with Anna for forty minutes or so to enjoy his therapy. Clare and I would sit in the lounge area and chat during this time.
Keech has a number of residential rooms used for respite and palliative care and whilst we were sitting in the lounge it became clear to us that one of the children staying with Keech at that time was desperately ill. The staff were running around anxiously wearing furrowed brows rather than the beaming smiles that we were used to. As we sat on the couch a family emerged from down the corridor with ashen faces and hugged one another in tears. Clare and I looked at each other in horror. It was pretty clear that a child had just lost the battle for life. I had never met this child but I had a lump in my throat.
Just at this point, Chris, one of the nurses at Keech saw us and came over to us. She was clearly moved and flustered by what had just happened but despite this, her first concern was for us. She apologised to us for not greeting us earlier and for not getting us a cup of tea. Clare and I looked at each other astounded by her compassion and spirit.
In that single gesture, in that simple moment, Chris taught me a life lesson. Despite the fact that one of the children she knew had just died, despite the fact that she was clearly upset and distraught, she thought about our comfort. I understood that Chris’s behaviour was more noble and worthy than anything I had ever done in my professional life. It took a child I never knew and the kindness of a relative stranger to teach me to put aside some of the hubris in my life and to find a little more humility.