Sunday, 1 October 2017

Raising up humanitarians - Leo Fernando.

How do you ensure that your kid ends up a humanitarian, and not just successful or smart? 

Today's papers pay tribute to a lawyer who had practised law for 45 years, and he died at 85, leaving behind his 85-yr-old wife, 7 children and 16 grandchildren. 

His name is Leo Fernando, and he is known as the "Lion of the Criminal Bar". 

His career as a lawyer is well known and well-recounted. One senior lawyer remembered his simple motto as "Never fear, just do your best."
He had fought countless of criminal cases and had seen many acquittals with justice being pursued right to its deserving end. 

But what captured my imagination this morning is an account his grandson gave at his funeral last week. 

Ryan Yuen, 29, said: "I remember walking with my granddad as a kid. He once passed a barefoot beggar and he looked at his own feet and shook his head, and then gave him some money and walked away."

"Later, I asked him about it (why did he look at his own feet) and (granddad) said his shoes were too small for the beggar or he would have given him his shoes."

"I said the shoes were expensive leather shoes and he replied: "The greater you become, the more humble you should be.""

That encounter kept me thinking about a news yesterday about parents sending their kids to Mensa at a young age in the hope that they will grow up smart, excelling in academic tests, and find the right high-paying career.

It reports that "more parents are enrolling their children - some are tots as young as two - into the organisation, which has an active membership of about 1,300 people, a quarter of whom are 12 or younger."

I guess these kids will be groomed for great things and a bright future. It is undeniable that a handful are prodigies of some sort and "gifted kids need an environment to discover their potential." 

Parents naturally want to help them flourish. 

However, there are some parents who enrolled their kids in Mensa in the hope that such a felicitous environment would rub off on their kids. 

It goes by this logic: if you want to grow smart kids, you don't mix them with the average crowd, but let them mingle with the top crop. A challenging environment would somehow create an intellectually stimulating one for their academic flourishing.

Lesson? Just one, and it brings me back to what Leo Fernando told his grandson about giving his own expensive shoes to the barefoot beggar. 

He said, "The greater you become, the more humble you should be."

And I really don't think such values can be taught in a classroom alone, however gifted or intellectually stimulating it is. This is where the parents come in. 

One observer, Dr Timothy Tan, director of SIM Global Education's academic division, urged "parents to consider giving their children a holistic childhood with diverse experiences, where they can pick up in-demand skills such as perseverance. IQ scores have limited use today. And that number can hardly predict life outcomes. It is more important for kids to grow up with the experience of interacting with peers with different backgrounds, abilities and personalities."

While it is undeniable that our schools and enrichment classes systematically excel in preparing our kids for every academic hurdle our education system can throw at unwitting parents like PSLE, O and A levels and IB exams, the only school equipped to prepare our kids to persevere, be hopeful and resilient is the classroom of experiences. 

It is usually out there that they learn such values, and it is seldom nurtured in a classroom, which is feverishly beating the clock to fill up blank boxes and dotted lines on perforated paper. 

And you can't expect the precise generation of structured lessons with a series of time-based tests alone to suss out and inculcate such values in a child.

The truth is, our kid's epiphanies (or transformations) come in so many unseen, unexpected life's corners and bends. They are mostly unplanned. 

Short of experiencing failures, emerging from a financial or physical setback at their age, our kids' crossroads of growth and maturity are lifelong, and most times, being smart alone doesn't cut it. 

Most times, empathy, personal sacrifices, kindness, humility and generosity have to be seen, and an example set by us adults, for our kid to process, assimilate and cultivate. These are the little moral bricks they pick up from us and their environment to build their own character over time. 

While schools can ensure that smart kids jump over academic hoops of all shapes and sizes, heights and depth, with effortless panache, they cannot possibly nurture character, integrity and faithfulness by making sure they score "A" for social, moral and religious education. 

A life takes much more than just being scripted into an assessment paper. 

At the end of the day, my fear is that our kids' education may be skewed towards one trait (academic giftedness) as the gold standard to the neglect of the rest, whether through a spirit of competitive obsession or systematic auto-piloting. 

Alas, let me end with these words that started off the tribute this morning to Leo Fernando as reported in the papers:-

"Mighty oaks, it is said, from little acorns grow."

Indeed, an oak tree grows tall because of deep roots. Enduring time and weathering countless of storms build it up to shelter, protect and bless others. 

My point is that the "greatness" of a human being (for a lack of better word) is not so much hallmarked by the awards he/she gets in a lifetime. 

But it is always an inner beauty that quietly shines brighter than all the earthly accolades the world can bestow upon that life. 

And such a person is well-loved and well-remembered because he/she is selfless, encouraging, courageous, loving and generous. His worldly achievements, if any, often come in at a distant second to his/her timeless legacy left behind. Cheerz. 

Ps: I was having breakfast with my wife this morning at McDonalds, Elias Mall. After that, I walked pass a signboard (see photo below) and it reads: "Nurture a beautiful life with children." 

I thank God it did not read: "Nurture a beautiful education with children." 

Indeed, character is a lifelong interaction, and the seeds are our words and deeds.

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