Are you raising sheepdogs? What I stumbled upon as a parent.
One fine Sunday, my five year old daughter thrust a big size story book on my lap. And asked in her sing song voice, “Can you read this book for me?”
The cover of the book had the number 2 embossed in the center. Like a google landing page, rest of the cover was blank.
Well, I assumed my daughter was enticing her dad with a geeky book.
My assumption was wrong. This is how the story went.
1 and 2 were best pals. 3 [in color green] is jealous. And comes between them. And starts playing with 1. 2 feels left out.
Before turning the page, I asked my daughter, “what should 2 do? “
By then, my older daughter had joined in. She chipped in, “she should stand-up for herself and ask that she join.”
My five year old echoed her elder sister’s thoughts with one change. She put her hands on her hip with arms pointing like a V on the side.
We turned the page. That was what 2 did.
And 3 came swinging — “we odds play together?”
The pages rolled.
2 found new friends in other even numbers. Soon, odds ganged up against evens. Somewhere along the way, zero gave sage advice. Like any other children’s book — all numbers eventually danced together happily ever after.
I closed the book and asked, “Whose behavior are you most upset about?”
Both of them shared 3 in unison.
I did not say anything. Instead, I probed on — “what is the biggest mistake of 2?”
My older daughter parlayed an answer that aligns with this adage — “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold”
Then I added — “don’t you feel 2 should have looked at 1 instead of 3 when she asked to join the game?”
My older daughter let out a soft “ho.”
Her aha — she sensed the biggest culprit in the flock of numbers is 1.
And more importantly, she understood whose eyes she should lock-in as a 2.
Look at 3’s eyes, you get more of the expected. Look at 1 in the eye, you give the shy one a nudge to nip the bully.
There is strength in numbers, there is a bigger strength in knowing you are not alone when it matters.
Most importantly, if my daughter was ever in the shoes of 1- she would know what to do. And more importantly, what not to do.
Wisdom of Sheepdogs Among Sheep
Bullies like 3 are a minority in this world. They can create havoc like a few stray wolves attacking a flock of sheep. Many families take pride in training the sheepdogs to guard sheep.
Yet, the majority is more like sheep — the unspoken reaction built on their silence. Within those majorities, the remarkable words of Martin Luther King ring forever– “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
We are taught to confront the bullies, nip them in the bud and stand up for ourselves.
We are encouraged to be kind. We let our kids know how it is distasteful to be a bully. We frown when we observe such behavior.
How many times do we condone the silent behavior of the ones?
Somehow, somewhere we slip in our endeavor to inculcate the spirit of the sheepdog in every child –majority of the time.
The book did not talk explicitly about it. I bubbled it up.
After every school day, in the rarified moments we share, I often ask my daughters “When did you feel great today?” Their happy thoughts give me nuggets of bonding. And soon enough, I follow with the opposite, “When did you feel not so great today?” That window gives me a peek into their real world — not very different from our office rooms.
My first instinct was always and still is — to be my children’s problem solver. I resist the first urge. I hate to be patronized and I assume that resonates with most — including my daughters.
What the book did was something brilliant — gave a simple, raw context to spark a conversation that was lurking in the background. Something I found difficult to verbalize in ways my young daughters could relate — until that sleepy Sunday afternoon.
Who would have thought that a book with a number on its cover would spark conversations around social skills?
I leave you with this thought
None of our kids are bullies. We equip them with the power of self defence — find the words to stand up for themselves. And deftly handle the bullies. How many of them do we train to be sheepdogs — when the situation warrants it? Softly yet firmly speaking up for others may be a small act.
Inside the smallest of such acts simmers the greatest freedom of a life well led.
One kid. One colleague. One story at a time.
P.S. This blog is a tribute to all the sheepdogs — those who trounce the bullies, families with generations serving in the army, navy and airforce and all the first responders who run towards danger to save the world. You make me believe the words of unknown author — “People will hate you, rate you, shake you, and break you. But how strong you stand is what makes you.” Thank you for being you.