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         Volume 10 |Issue 23 | June 17, 2011 |


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Food for Thought

Doing Right and Being Wronged

Farah Ghuznavi

Most people have a strong sense of right and wrong. Seriously, almost everyone does. You might not think so, of course, given the outrageous (mis)behaviour of many that is all too often on display. But then, I never said that they had an accurate sense of right and wrong - they just think they do!

Responsible parents spend an inordinate amount of time trying to instil this sense of judgement in their children. They do it by lecturing, threatening, and if all else fails, by setting a good example. My own parents used all three tactics, to reasonably good effect. There are times when I wonder, though, if they didn't come up with a result that exceeded their expectations. That's not to say that I always do what is right; far from it, alas. It's merely that I suffer horribly from guilt when I don't do what I feel is right. And most of the time, the guilt is so bad, that it just seems simpler to do the right thing in the first place.

Sockless angels!

Take a recent example. I was staying with a friend in Germany, when two young girls came to the door collecting funds for some purpose. To be perfectly honest, the only word I could make out was "fund-raising", and I was knee deep in work on my trusty laptop, and somewhat impatient to get rid of them. To make matters worse, in the previous few days there had been two pestering visits from Jehovah's Witnesses, so I just didn't feel up to explaining in a foreign language that I wasn't in the mood to engage. So I brushed them off with a smile, wishing them good luck and sending them firmly on their way.

Within five minutes my friend arrived home from work and asked about the girls, since she had seen them as they were leaving the driveway. And of course it turned out that they were collecting funds to support a well-known development organisation, and they did not belong to any dubious religious sect! To make matters worse, I really respect this charity for their work, including their strong support for the Palestinian cause. And the British version of the same organisation had been my own employers for nearly 2 years, when I was working in London...!

Within 10 minutes my guilt had kicked in so thoroughly (here were these youngsters going from door to door, trying to make a positive change in the world, and I had been less than friendly, possibly traumatising and at the very least discouraging them - oh no!), that I persuaded my friend to come for a drive with me to try and find the two girls.

By that time it had started raining, and of course the girls were nowhere to be seen. But we did manage to find a teenage boy in a different part of the area collecting for the same charity. And as he looked somewhat confused - though he did say he understood some English - I explained that I hadn't understood what the girls were collecting for, and I strongly supported this kind of work and their involvement in it. Anyway, you would think that that would be enough atonement for most people. But not, of course, for me.

So let me come completely clean. After giving the boy some money, I actually went to the local community centre to find out if that's where the initiative to collect money for this development work had emanated from. It turned out to be the case that it was. So I had a long and probably somewhat garbled chat with the man in charge, explaining what had happened. He was a kind man. He looked at me at the end, and said, "Well, it is very good of you to make such an effort to put things right. I will definitely tell the girls." I hope he did…but then, if you can't trust a good samaritan, who can you trust?!

After the saga of driving through rainy streets to force my charitable donation on unsuspecting teenagers, most of the friends to whom I mentioned the incident made it clear that they considered this undeniably odd behaviour. So all in all, I was happy to hear from one friend, who insisted that she was just as capable of getting fixated on doing something, provided that she felt that it was - for whatever reason - the right thing to do.

In Kristin's case, she had gone shopping with her sister in one of the Swedish hypermarkets, when she noticed that her baby Oda (sitting in the stroller) had lost one of her socks. While you might not think that this was a crisis of monumental proportions, my friend felt mortified because these were special socks. For one thing, they had been hand knitted by a family friend, who had lovingly incorporated little rosebuds into the pattern; additionally, they had been worn by Kristin's older daughter, Andrea, before they were handed down to this little one, so they had great sentimental value for her.

She walked the length and breadth of the hypermarket, retracing her route, but was unable to find it. Very upset, Kristin prepared to give the baby her bottle in the car, in the hypermarket parking lot, before they headed for the ferry to return home. When the bottle was ready, she looked at her sister and said "We don't both have to be in the car in order to give her the bottle…Why don't you feed her, and I'll go and take another look for that sock"!

Once again, Kristin was unsuccessful. But just as she was leaving, she walked past two older women with a shopping trolley. Something made her look down at the trolley (she hadn't checked any of the other trolleys). To her amazement, she saw the lost sock stuck in the wheel of the shopping trolley - a little dirty, somewhat crumpled, but very much intact! To the women's amazement, she bent down, grabbed the little sock, muttered a few words and raced off, amazed at her luck…

But hands down the award for most tenacious person goes to my friend Sally. After her marriage, Sally was very pleased when, as a sentimental gesture, her mother-in-law gave her a wooden ice-sled which had belonged to her mother-in-law's mother. It was old but sturdy, and designed to allow one person to stand and manoeuvre it forward across the ice by kicking against the ground with one foot - similar to an old-fashioned children's scooter.

Sally had decided she would put a lock on it when she left it in the garden, but everyone told her it was too old to be of interest to any thief. They were wrong. And when she came out and found it missing, she was extremely distressed. Despite an exhaustive drive around the area, during which she stopped and accosted anyone with an ice-sled similar to hers, she had no luck finding it. She continued searching for another couple of months before reluctantly accepting that it might be gone for good. But she kept a lookout nevertheless.

Oddly enough, nearly 9 months later (the following winter), she was driving past a grocery store located next to an empty plot of land, when she spotted something that looked like an abandoned ice-sled. Upon closer examination, it did indeed turn out to be her lost treasure, but it was trapped under several inches of ice and snow. Not that that deterred Sally! She went into the grocery store and managed to charm the owners into allowing her to go back and forth 15 times with hot water in a container, until she had melted enough of the snow to liberate her beloved ice-sled. Since then, she and the ice-sled have been spotted all over town, gliding inseparably, happily ever after.

And the best part is, I now know I'm not alone in my need for closure!


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