“Pick it up” said the teacher, exasperation furrowing her brow and losing patience through every pore of her being, like boiling cabbage water draining from a colander.
“But it wasn’t me Miss” said the little schoolboy again, the injustice burning a small blister of indignation on his innocent mind and hurting more than any physical pain.
“I don’t care” said the teacher, “it does not belong on the floor and I have now asked you five times to pick it up”.
“Four times Mi…” the word was not finished before a howl of anger overwhelmed the little boy…
…And so begins the parable of the schoolboy General Counsel.
The little schoolboy General Counsel always knew he had five groups of people to please. He must serve the head-teacher and her staff. He must not let the school down and wear the uniform with pride. He must be part of his class and play nicely. He wants his family to be proud of him and he wants to fit in with his General Counsel friends who go to different schools.
He also knew there was something else. Something in the background. Not everyone was called General Counsel. He wasn’t sure what it meant as descriptions were vague and only existed in partial stories handed down at gatherings of other General Counsel. He wasn’t allowed to go to these gatherings however because they usually fell on school days.
He did half remember one story. A story about a book of regulation that no one had seen or read. A book with a secret page about General Counsel. A page that spoke of higher duties and special rules. The story gave him a feeling that he was special, but without the detail he could not say why he was special or what it might mean. However, he noticed that General Counsel seemed not to care about the rules and simply relied on asserting exceptionalism to carry them through their school days.
Then one day, an older boy, no longer in school asked him directly about the secret page in the book of regulation that no one had seen or read.
“Why are you asking me?” shuffled the little schoolboy General Counsel “And who are you anyway?”
“I used to be a schoolboy General Counsel” said the older boy, calmly but with some sadness in his eyes. “In fact, I was here in this school, just like you.”
“What happened?” asked the little schoolboy General Counsel.
“I wanted to please everyone. I wanted to fit in; to be the teacher’s pet, and best friends with the cool kids, and accepted by the edgy kids, and not hated by the bad kids. I wanted to win the school cups and to beat the other schools when we played them. I loved the acceptance and needed more.” The older boy’s tone was almost wistful, like he was explaining things to himself.
“What’s wrong with that?” said the schoolboy General Counsel, “That sounds perfect to me!”
“That’s the problem” said the older boy, “…it isn’t ever perfect. We try to please five groups, but without the secret page in the book of regulation that no one has seen or read, we are not General Counsel.”
“What does it say?” asked the little schoolboy General Counsel.
The older boy leaned forward and spoke softly, but firmly, “The words mean nothing, and they mean everything. They are not remembered because they have not been read. They are not enlightening because we prefer the dark. The words do not provide direction, because instead we trust the people we want to please to know the way. We deny the value of the words because they add nothing to our fun. We ignore them because we are told by others that we are special. We diminish them because we tell ourselves we are exceptional. We do not challenge their meaning because we have grown comfortable with pleasing people instead. We accept compliments without challenge, awards with entitlement and winning becomes our reason to be.”
“I don’t understand” said the little boy General Counsel.
“You are not special or exceptional” said the older boy. Do not infuse being a General Counsel with those thoughts; but as a General Counsel you must know the secret page in the book of regulation. It is the only reason you can be here.
“You still haven’t told me why you left the school” the schoolboy General Counsel asked again…
The older boy looked down and took from his pocket a crumpled scrap of paper. As he smoothed the paper out on his knee, he started to speak…
“A teacher shouted at me once. She said I had to pick something up that others had left. It was a terrible mess. She wanted me to tidy it way like it had never happened. It was not my fault, but I saw the other boys who made the mess and I knew who they were. I didn’t tell the teacher who they were. So now I had to clear up the mess. It was not my fault. I cleared it away like nothing had happened. I cleared away the mess as if it was my mess. And now it was, always and forever, my mess too. The teachers thought I was silly, my family did not understand, the other boys didn’t like me anymore and I could not share with the other General Counsel in case they laughed at me behind their awards. The school was not the same again. I needed to leave, I had to leave.”
The older boy then paused to give the little schoolboy General Counsel the now smoothed out scrap of paper and he pressed it into his hands.
“Please do not let these words be a secret to you ever again”.