A Letter to My Sons, Part 4: The Trouble Tree

Dear Alexandre, Dear Sam,

It’s Friday night and the rain is coming down in sheets. We had the last day of our workshop yesterday, and worked as hard as we could in order to finish before lunch. The main thing the participants were supposed to do was to write a list of things we call “good practices.” They used to be called “best practices,” but I guess that put too much pressure on people making them up, so they went from best to good.

At any rate, a good practice in human rights – the stuff participants do – should essentially be a good example of things people do so that other people can learn from them. For example, if you wanted to share with other kids some “good practices” on making your parents happy, you can read through the examples that Alexandre started in his new book, like:
  • Making your bed every morning to make your parents happy.
  • Doing your homework to make your parents happy.
  • Eating your food to make your parents happy.
  • Going to bed when you’re told in order to make your parents happy.
You get the point. Examples of bad practices are like the ones you have in the book you’re writing, Sam, “How to Annoy Your Parents.” I won’t go into details, but you get the point.
“Good Practices.” artwork by Lucille, Bernat, and Madan.
At any rate, the participants had to write up good practices related to their work. Specifically, good ideas for planning, doing, and evaluating their human rights education activities. As a head start, we gave them the notes from another region around the world that did the same exercise.

Something didn’t rest well with me. I felt like I was asking them to add on to someone else’s work and that it would be boring. So they did something different: instead of writing down things in a computer, they split up into four different groups and all came up with different ways of showing their good practices. Aruna and Khan made a PowerPoint presentation; Father George, Maria, and Lal (the guy with the umbrella) pretended to do television interviews; Samson, Hameed, Saru and Banasree wrote a nice story about friends who meet in a magical place called Dhulikhel; and Bernat, Lucille and Madan created a tree out of paper and cardboard to show their good practices. You would have liked helping them out with their tree. To me, it was one of my happier moments in any workshop, because each group came up with something fantastic and creative in the space of one hour. It was a great way to end the workshop.

There are a number of things my friends said over the past few days that have stayed in my mind. One is a story from Sam in Pakistan. His organization’s website has a news item of a woman named Asiya Bibi who might die because of something she said. There’s a law in Sam’s country called a “blasphemy law.” Blasphemy is when a person says something bad about a god. This woman, a mother to five children, said something against the Holy Prophet Muhammad (the things he said a long time ago helped form the basis of Islam, a religion). She was jailed for saying those words, and under Pakistani law, she has to be sentenced to death. Writing this to you makes me realize even more than before how utterly ridiculous something like this is. You may be wondering how such a thing could possibly happen in this world, and yet unfortunately it is happening. At least there are some organizations like Sam’s which are trying to tell people that the woman deserves the chance to live.

The story of this woman is still in my mind, and it will likely linger there for a while. To be honest with you, it sometimes gets to the point when listening to bad story after bad story brings me down. I try to find hope in the stories from friends like Sam and the others at this workshop, but it’s hard. I basically have a job because this world is not a happy place for the thousands of children who have to act as soldiers, the millions of women who are hurt by their boyfriends or husbands, the hundreds of millions of people who live in poverty or who have never been to school. It weighs a person down; well it weighs me down, anyway. There are times – lots of times – when I come home from work and all I want to do is to forget about the world outside. I want you to show me the goofy pictures you drew, or show me your latest LEGO creation, or see the homework you’ve done or just read a story. Someone, I can’t remember if it was your mother or not, told me the story of a man who was not happy with his job. His work depressed him a lot. However, every evening before walking through the front door of his house, he hung up his troubles on his trouble tree and left them hanging. He walked into his house and greeted his family with a smile, having forgotten about his troubles. More than once I’ve had to remind myself to hang up my troubles on my tree and walk into the house knowing that what matters to me the most is waiting to hug me before I take off my coat.

Je t’aime, Alexandre, je t’aime Sam, bonsoir.



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