10 Lessons From Bertie’s Grandmother…

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Bertie always wondered whether anyone else had had an upbringing like his. Yes, many people had been brought up mostly by their grandmother whilst their mother worked but perhaps not quite like this. His grandmother had the reputation of being a problem solver.  Everyone in town brought their problems to her, and she would listen carefully, and then dispel some words of advice.  Bertie was privy to many of these moments. On his way back home, from as early as lower school, at the tender age of 6 years, he first made a stop to see his grandmother.  He would lay in her bed, as she was bedridden, and listened to the steady stream of those seeking her advice. At his age, Bertie could not quite recollect many of the questions, or indeed the answers, but the look on the faces of those seeking her advice was always precious.  Everyone left looking better than they had arrived.

One day, a rather slim man called Ijos of about two score years came to visit Bertie’s grandmother.  He was a somewhat handsome man but, perhaps, what was most striking was that he carried a cane at his side that had a bear’s claw at the end. Ijos did not need the cane but it was a kind of affectation, to, perhaps, command more respect than he deserved. He worked for a rather wealthy man in town who was seldom around but somehow carried himself as if he was the owner of the business.  Not many could see through Ijos’s deception as he always seemed to maintain an air of pleasantness; however, the seed of deception is always hard to hide from the noble. He had all the hallmarks of a conman, which Bertie’s grandmother seemed to despise, but she never denied anyone an audience, and you would never have known her true feelings by her demeanor.

Bertie’s grandmother had an important tradition when anyone visited.  It was the offer of sweet meats, chocolates, and a blended tea with condensed milk.  I loved the tea! The sweetness blended with the tea so well – seemingly to produce an altogether different beverage more like a flavored honey drink.  Bertie’s grandmother always said that anyone with something sweet in their mouth usually found it hard to be anything other than polite and receptive. As Bertie’s grandmother would say, “Even if the words, that come out of your mouth are not always sweet, your guests must always leave remembering that they experienced something sweet at your home”.  Long after the memory of what you said had dimmed, they will remember the sweetness (Lesson 1).

As Ijos settled into his chair and started to recount his tale, Bertie shuffled restlessly beside his grandmother in the bed – something was not quite right.  Ijos started: “I agreed to buy a plot of land to build my family home from a really nice doctor in town.  Everyone knows him, and his patients love him, and he seemed to treat everyone equally well”.  “Umida”, Bertie’s grandmother interjected and Ijos nodded. Ijos continued: “I did not have all the money at the time so I agreed to pay him slowly. Then a curious thing happened, the plot next door also came up for sale, and Umida, also agreed for me to buy this over time.  It was a gentleman’s arrangement and he did not even ask me for the money for almost two years.  At the end of 2 years, I still had not paid him and he decided to charge me interest.  I was not too happy because it was a lot of interest.  I ended up paying him almost all the money and interest but he insisted on getting all the money before he released my land.”  My grandmother interjected: “So did he have a right to all the money?” “Yes” replied Ijos “but I reckoned he needed the money badly so if I offered him a little less to see if he would take it”.  “Go on,” said Bertie’s grandmother.  “And worse still, when he would not agree, I got angry and called him a thief,” said Ijos.   “What should I do? I am sure he hates me now, and I still do not have the land” finished Ijos.  Bertie’s grandmother fell silent for some time and she took a hard and long look at Ijos. She started to speak … “Ijos, why did you steal money from your boss who seems to have been good to you all these years?” Ijos looked terrified and started to cry – “How did you know he said?” My grandmother replied – “there are always 4 sides to a story.  In this case, yours, his, what really happened, and most important of all, what is being hidden.  The first three are usually not too relevant but the fourth is where the truth usually lies” (Lesson 2).  Ijos’s terror was magnified. Was it so easy to find him out? What clues had he left unattended to? If the old lady could work it out could anyone else? As Ijos combed his mind through all the possible scenarios that could have revealed his true intention, Bertie’s grandmother started to speak again.  “it is not for me to comment on the wrong you have done stealing from your boss, and only you can repair that, but I do want to speak with Umida.  Why not return the day after the next and we will talk again?”  Ijos got up and left hurriedly with his face staring at the ground, wishing it would open up and swallow him whole.

Bertie was puzzled – why on earth would my grandmother need to speak with Umida? Surely, this was an open and shut case of theft that was found out? Surely, he was just an innocent victim?   The next day, Umida came calling.  He was the kind of man who usually had a presence and an air of confidence about him.  But today was different. He had been summoned by Bertie’s grandmother, and he knew not why.  After Bertie’s grandmother had made Umida feel most welcome, and he had seemingly had his fill of the sweet meats and chocolates, Bertie’s grandmother started to speak.  “Do you know a person called Ijos?” she said.  Umida nodded. “He came to see me yesterday and told me how the two of you had got into some unhappiness about a plot of land.  I was sad to hear of it” Umida responded by retelling most of the story but left out that he too had called Ijos a thief, and more to boot.  Bertie’s grandmother pressed on “And did it end well?”  Umida felt sad he had let anything get out of hand. After all, he never had a crossed word to say about anyone.  He replied: “I knew he was trying to cheat me without paying for the land. What was worse is that I could see through his nervousness that his behavior was not right. Indeed, the sudden shift was quite bizarre.  Moreover, I had helped him the past with seeking medical help for the child of a friend of his; indeed, I helped so save the boy’s life.  And then for him to start this nonsense and get me angry.  It was ungrateful and ridiculous!”  Bertie’s grandmother stared a little at Umida and said: “Had it occurred to you that it was not you he had truly stolen from but someone else, and all the kerfuffle was a cover up so that when everyone heard the story, they would not think he had stolen money elsewhere?”.  Umida felt like a veil had been lifted over his eyes.  He was embarrassed the thought had not, at first, occurred to him.  Bertie’s grandmother continued – “always think of what is being hidden before matters get out of hand (Lesson 3).  Umida, have you heard of the rule of 3 turns?”  “No, ” said Umida.  Bertie’s grandmother leaned forward to press the point – “any discussion about a single thing that has three replies from each of you without resolution probably has a hidden agenda. So, the next time you are in this situation Umida, before you continue, ask for a short break to review the 3 turns.  When you resume, start with talking about the 3 turns, each in turn, and if the matter still remains unresolved, simply walk away.  More talking at that point is unlikely to help” (Lesson 4).  “Umida, I like you so I will tell you more. Anger and name calling does no good unless you want to start a fight.  Anger gives control to the other person (Lesson 5) and wrestling it back usually requires force. To win a battle by force, especially if your adversary climbs in the gutter means you have to climb into the gutter after him.  When in the gutter, now you can only fight as if for dear life – even if it was over nothing at all (Lesson 6). Do you really want to spend your time in the gutter Umida?”  Umida shook his head violently.  Bertie’s grandmother continued –  “Love on the other hand, especially for yourself, keeps you in control.  Your peace is always yours. Never give it away (Lesson 7). Umida was not persuaded entirely. He responded – “Surely there is always a right and a wrong. The wrong always has to be punished and the truth always needs to be revealed. The truth sets us all free. How else can we get justice?”.  My grandmother thought for a while and stroked her forehead.  Bertie had never seen her quite like this. It was as if there was more she wished to tell but was deciding on whether or not to hold back.  Before Bertie could wonder some more, his grandmother started speaking.  “There is an old folklore, told through the ages in my hometown, and I am told this legend has worked its way in some form into different civilizations.  Here is our story. Once upon a time, there once were two princes.  The first prince had stolen the second prince’s wife and a duel had ensued. Clearly, the first prince was in the wrong. During the duel, the second prince was beheaded. Indeed, the same fate happened to all his fighting men.  How could he lose? He was in the right.  Legend goes on to say that the forces of nature felt sad and helped the second prince and all his men to put their heads back on, but they got all their heads mixed up. To this day, all the descendants of the second prince, and of his soldiers do not look like their ancestors. Indeed, the fit of the heads was so haphazard that they all look a bit ugly to this day.  The first prince, gloating over his victory, celebrated a bit too much and was drowned at sea, and perished with all his men. So, Umida, what did you learn?”  Bertie was enjoying this story of sword fighting of good and bad princes and wanted to know what it all meant.  Umida, a thinking man, knew this was a riddle. He thought deeply.  Umida started to talk – “there really is no justice, at least not the sort that comes from a meeting of force with force. The only way forward is mercy and forgiveness. That way the second prince would have avoided his fate borne out of revenge (Lesson 8)”.   Umida continued – “I have the head of an African proverb which says that even a glorious and pure lion can be brought down by a dirty mongrel (Lesson 9).  So, the Lion needs to be wise to avoid a mongrel. Bertie’s grandmother smiled – “please finish your sweet meats and chocolates, I am sure you know what to do”. Umida got up and said –“I will give Ijos the land, and chalk up the rest to experience”.

Bertie’s grandmother, as promised met with Ijos the following day. Ijos was impatient as he walked in and left most of his sweet meats and chocolates untouched. He was nervous.  Bertie’s grandmother remained as polite and as courteous as ever.  Bertie really wanted to know how this would end. She started to speak – “Ijos, I have thought long and hard about what you told me.  It seems strange that you would come to tell me a story that cannot truly be resolved as there was nothing for me to do. It seems you did not come to me for advice but to draw me into the same confusion and consternation. Misery will then pile upon misery.  I do, however, have something to give you, that may help you the next time”. Ijos craned forward as if to expect a gift to be handed to him. Bertie’s grandmother leaned back and started to speak – “the gift I have for you is the rule of 8. It goes like this. Whenever your path starts to stray, and some unfortunate thought comes into your head, before you act on it, think of 8 good things you can do that day.  The same goes for when you speak (Lesson 10). I bid you farewell”.