HomeStandard EducationPut the shoulder to boulder

Put the shoulder to boulder

By Tim Middleton

Many of us will have at some stage come across the powerful story of the king of old who decided to put his people to the test. This king worked hard to have his subjects develop good habits, in particular those habits of working hard and serving others, as for the most part his subjects all loved to complain and expected others to do things for them. As a means of finding out just how successful his efforts were, he devised a test and put it into action by placing a large boulder in the middle of a road and by hiding himself nearby to watch what his citizens did.

Many people came by and ignored the rock, simply going round it as they walked on; others muttered loudly at the inconvenience and complained about the state of the country before they proceeded with their journey; others still bumped into it and cursed profusely. Just before nightfall a poor labourer came along carrying a load of vegetables and saw the boulder in the road. He was confused as to why it was in the road but was equally concerned that with darkness approaching others may be severely hurt so he put down his load and with enormous effort managed to move the boulder to the side of the road, out of harm’s way. As he went to pick up his vegetables, he noticed a bag was lying in the road where the boulder had been so he picked it up and discovered it to be full of gold coins. On looking more closely, he came across a note from the king declaring that the bag was a reward for the person who removed the boulder from the road.

This story may well contain valuable lessons at many different levels within the world of education. There are many, many pupils who have the expectation that others, in particular teachers, must do things for them, from providing them with a pencil if they are to do their work to providing the actual answers for the questions posed. Teachers in turn may well expect their headmasters to provide them with all the resources necessary for them to proceed, complaining when obstacles are put in their way to prevent them from moving forward smoothly in the journey of educating the pupils. Then there are Heads who may well sit back and moan that their hands are tied and they can do nothing unless they are helped by those who are responsible for them. Those responsible authorities may well in turn complain about the massive challenges that hinder their progress. Thus, people do nothing to change the situation but simply complain.

What then might we say to all such folk, with reference to this story? Firstly, we will do well to remind people that those people who do things without seeking any reward (but rather simply for the reason that it is the right, practical and helpful thing to do for all concerned) will often find that they are indeed rewarded well beyond their own, and even others’ expectations or dreams. We must raise up children to serve, to think of others, rather than simply do things only if it will benefit them (and them alone). Our society is going nowhere when people simply complain and move on.

Secondly, we need to get the message across that we should not wait for others to do what we could do. Too many people have the attitude that “it is not my job” so wait for others to do something, while the only ones who will do anything like that are those who will only do it if there is something in it for them. We will do well to reflect from the story also that it is often the least expected people who actually do the noble and right deed, especially without seeking recognition or reward. Those who have the means, responsibility and opportunity to do required tasks often do not do so, leaving it to those who have a heart for others to act. We need our children to be like the latter.

By all means, we need to share and educate our children that good things do not always come lightly or easily — removing the boulder was no slight task but it bore dividends. We would be wrong and irresponsible to suggest that rewards come easily, that even rewards should be expected. We should be teaching more and more the necessity that we should all be doing for others what we would desire them to do for us. We will do well if we, like the king, not only give others the opportunity to show their concern for others but also reward them for their selfless actions. The message from the boulder in the road is that we need people to be bolder in our efforts to take the initiative, to see opportunities all around us and to serve others. In such a way, society will truly be bowled over.

  • Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS. 
  • email: ceo@atschisz.co.zw
  • website: www.atschisz

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