Choices and Circumstances in Life!!

A couple of weeks ago, I conducted a motivational workshop for the 10th grade students of a school.

I always start with a Reflection. This time I chose one of my favourite stories, “The Eagle and the Chickens”. This story is packed with messages and with each group I have narrated it to, I have learnt something new.

There are many versions of the story; however I use the one I heard more than a decade ago. I will now narrate the story.

One day when a farmer was out for a walk on his farm, he found an egg. He did not know which bird’s egg it was. Nevertheless he picked it up and brought it back to the farm house and kept it among the hen’s eggs. After 21 days the eggs hatched. There was one bird that looked very different, but the hen did not know the difference and so it taught it to scratch in the earth for its food and cluck like a chicken. One day a friend of the farmer while on his travels decided to spend a few days at the farm. After settling in, he took a walk around the farm and noticed the brood of chickens. On looking carefully he was astonished to find an eaglet behaving like a chicken. He asked the farmer what the eaglet was doing behaving like a chicken. The farmer replied ‘What difference does it make? It’s growing up nicely, and in any case I have no time.’

The traveller could not let it be. He knew that the eaglet’s true calling was to fly high. He picked up the eaglet and placing it on his arm told him, ‘You are an eagle, so flap your wings and fly’. The eagle was scared and did not know how. After a few failed attempts, he took the bird from its existing environment to a hillock so that it could feel where it belonged. He placed the bird on his arm and spoke to it, he told it to keep his eyes on the sun and flap its wings. And the bird did just that. Keeping his eyes on the sun it flapped its wings harder and harder till he was soaring high up in the sky.

What a beautiful sight to behold!!

Now for the discussion questions that I ask:

Who is the traveller in your life?

The answers are interesting. The answers vary — a teacher, a mentor, a friend or a football coach. And while these answers are flying around I generally notice puzzlement in the eyes of some children — Can a parent be the traveller?

Who is the farmer in your life?

Children generally relate the farmer with their parents. However children who are growing up in a home with strong family relationships do not agree as they see and realise that their parents do much more than giving them mere biological life.

Who is the hen in your life?

Generally children give the hen all credit as she is doing what she knows best to the best of her ability. Some children do relate the hen to ‘mother hen’ at home, busy with all that she has to do, cleaning, cooking, teaching, nagging, shopping etc. However strangely this question remains unanswered many a time and I must try to find out why?

Who are the chickens in your life?

The answer may seem obvious that it is siblings and friends. Some students look deeper and realise that the chickens could be media and social media.

Coming back to the said workshop, these questions opened up a forum for discussion and value clarification. I got two gems, one from each section. These messages are the reasons for the blog.

The first one — ‘You are who you surround yourself with’. This was from a boy who was known to be naughty in the class.

And the second one equally thought provoking — ‘We are defined by whom we are surrounded.’

The statements sound almost the same but I realised that they are different.

The first one is fairly straight forward and has to do with choice. If you surround yourself with chickens, then you are a chicken. Arising probably from the proverb “Birds of a feather flock together.” It could also mean that we get drawn to people whose qualities one wishes to have. Hence if I belong to the popular group, I will be considered a popular person. As a student once told me, that the Basket Ball players of the school were popular and they could do and say anything they wanted and get away with it. He also did not like being called a nerd, so he deliberately stopped studying and tried his best to be around the Basket Ball players, even though he did not have the makings of one — and all because he wanted to be popular. He was making a choice — right or wrong. And don’t we all make choices many times a day and all through the day. We use the opportunity and the power of choosing or selecting between options.

Let’s take a look at the second statement. “We are defined by whom we are surrounded.” Quite a profound statement for a 15 year old to make.

The more I mulled over the statement, I heard a plea for help — I am in this ‘circumstance’ and I do not know how to get out of it.

I think what the student was saying was that the eagle was defined as a chicken because he was surrounded by chickens. In this case there was no choice. It was a circumstance that put him among the chickens and he was doomed to live and die a chicken. (Most versions of the story say that the eagle lived and died believing that it was a chicken.)

At this stage of writing I must confess that I was getting a bit muddled in my objectives. Should I concentrate on ‘Being defined by whom we are surrounded’ or ‘Circumstances?’ I sat to reflect and came to the realisation that I can use ‘circumstances’ as a substitute for ‘whom we are surrounded by.’

Let us consider a few situations of students lamenting their circumstances:

“I used to be Brilliant in Mathematics but I now do poorly as I have a terrible Mathematics teacher.”

“I was born in a poverty stricken family.”

“There is politics in the selection of players to the football team. So there is no point trying.”

These and many similar examples of getting defined by circumstances lie most often in one’s own reluctance or inability to rise above the circumstance.

An interesting question to ponder on, are circumstances the result of our choices or are they not? Can we be in control of our circumstance?

I believe the answer is Yes and NO. And can be dependent on a variety of factors.

However we need not be defined by the circumstance and we have any number of examples of persons who have overcome their circumstance. This can happen in a number ways specific to the choices we make to rise above the circumstance.

It can start with oneself, using self-will, determination and resilience.

Or like for the eaglet, a mentor came into his life to motivate, develop confidence and self-belief. Of course, one has to recognise the opportunity –grab it or seek it and then use all that I have in me to soar above the circumstance. Some do and some don’t.

A kind man recently said to me, ‘I don’t know what we are doing wrong, despite all the help that we give, free education, food, clothes etc. these families remain where they are, and make more demands’.

Perhaps, they are making a choice to remain in the circumstance as life is comfortable.

Choices can change circumstances for the better or worse.

And finally not making a choice is also a choice!

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Phyllis Farias

Educational Consultant with 2 passions in life: the Child — from toddler to adolescent, and Education — education philosophy and psychology