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Turn It Up.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Back to School, Students' Council, and Small Good Deeds

In less than eight hours from now, I will begin another day of normal school -- the same old 7:45 to 1:50 routine, studying, socializing, Students' Council work, and keeping a lookout for inconspicuous opportunities to affect other people's lives in a positive way.
Since the day I became Head Girl of HSMS, life has been... well, pretty much the same really. Mostly, I go around setting straight things and people that stray, or go askew, or make mistakes, or get hurt, or cause hurt to other things and people that matter -- which I've been doing since last year (and that is just in this one school) and has simply become official and organized now. My day consists of making the most of class hours, and then in the breaks, aside from eating, I try to utilize the time to make a difference in the HSMS experience for my fellow students.
Students in the school tend to think that being Head Girl (or anyone in the Students' Council, but especially a Head) is all about power trips, power walks, power talks, power yelling, power play. The older students do somewhat appreciate the discipline and streamlining we bring to the school, but that is hardly everything. As a leader in my previous school and in this one, I have tried, in every working hour, to inspire goodness in my fellows and juniors -- especially my juniors. I don't know how much I've succeeded, but the journey hitherto has been amazing, and continues to be so. Every day I deal with volumes of troublesome kids and friends who refuse to listen or understand, and sometimes I have to take action to extents that break my heart. But from time to time, there's that kid who comes up and asks me how someone can become the Head Girl or Head Boy, and I tell them about being true to oneself, about sincerity, loyalty, dedication; and also about time management, compartmentalization, innovation and self-discipline. Whenever I can, I try to dispel from the minds of children the image of a leader who is nothing but an authoritarian -- which is difficult to do in a day and age of rebellion against all forms of authority. Having passed through such a rebellious phase myself, I continue to strongly believe that rebellion, in essence, is indicative of free thinking and intelligence: qualities that, if channelized, can make marvellous grown-ups out of children, which is why I, self-punishingly, make those kids, the problem kids, my business.
Ask any kid who has ever been yelled at by me (individually, that is -- crowd management is a different story), and they will tell you how their first offence has been handled discreetly, and as far away from the public eye as possible. I strongly believe that a calm voice and an explanation, instead of shaming, can go a long way: Mother always explained to me what I did wrong, and so, unlike my classmates, I never resented my mother for a single moment of my life. Annoyed with her, maybe; angry, maybe; disappointed, oh yes all the time: but I never doubted her loyalty to the cause of my betterment, as opposed to what most grown-ups prioritize -- their authority, their pride, their public image and not the child's. Children need that -- they need to trust someone to be truly dedicated to their cause, their life, their hopes and dreams. So when kids act out, I try to apply my mother's methods -- I try to seek the root of their rebellion and do my bit to repair it. Sometimes it is, unfortunately, out of my hands: factors like home conditions and peer groups have influences greater than mine, at times. But at other times, kids have changed because of things I told them, which is a rare beauty in my life given the fact that I, myself, am essentially still a kid. It is cause for great thanksgiving, and a deep satisfaction that many adults never get to experience.
Back in Carmel, there were countless juniors and peers who were brought back to the mainstream of school life after I spoke to them, and they continue to keep in touch and thank me from time to time -- I feel immensely humbled to have touched their lives. There are also children who were always in the mainstream, but lacked confidence or organization, and I could, if not for privacy concerns, name a handful who claim that they learnt those missing skills because of me. One kid told me almost a year back that I changed her life, which is when I first thought of penning this post. My teachers in Carmel have praised me for creating more leaders before I left, and hopefully those leaders have created more. In Hem Sheela, the task is more uphill, given the larger body of students and the shorter time I had here for groundwork. But still, I persist to do leadership differently. The kid from above is in Hem Sheela now, and she reminds me every day of the gift that I must share with all: the gift of integrity, passion and kindness, which I learnt from my mother and some unsung stalwarts in my family and among my teachers.
The things I do differently are simple, really: in fact, by the book, they should not be different but normal. First, aside from doing this for myself (which I don't mind admitting I do), I also do this for others. Specially, I do this for those kids who are invisible and cannot stand up to miscreants and bullies. Sometimes they are too scared to make formal complaints and they come to me, and I coach them in making compact, logical and believable complaints to their teachers, with courage, composure and willpower, which will ensure that their message gets across. Many have reported back to me that they were no longer scared of the authorities, and they managed to approach their teachers and get problems -- bullies, thieves, evil twins -- sorted to their satisfaction.
Second, I go to great lengths to make sure that I'm fair, and that I don't overstep my bounds. People may have cause to complain that I'm cruel, but they will never, ever be able to complain that I'm unfair or against the rules. If I'm cruel, I'm equally cruel to all, as a leader should be. Third, I know when to swallow my pride and get help. My friends sometimes resent me for reporting problems to teachers and getting someone in trouble in the process, but I know when something is out of my league. And so yes, I run to momma. Things get done, don't they? Fourth, I don't do things just to show people who's boss. I don't hit people, I don't curse at people, I don't loudmouth people into submission. The things I yell are logical -- always. Simple, don't you think?
Yet these simple, textbook, rules of leadership are considered unnecessary, ridiculous, outright weird even. Still I try, and I attempt to instil the same in the budding leaders who work under me. I must reiterate here that among all the kids I meet, the few that change positively because of me are the beauty and joy in all of this. They are my fuel, my inspiration, my light. They are the real strong ones, because change is scary, submitting to help is scary, facing your problems is scary, but they have done it. They have learnt confidence, defeated bullies, controlled tempers, quit vices, improved in academics and co-curriculars: and so much more -- which they claim, is all because of something I said to them someday, but is really because they always had inner strength. Granted, ninety percent ignore what I say and move on, but the ten percent is my reward. And friends, I'm not the only one with this gift. Clichéd as it may sound, every person can influence others positively. And if you try, you will feel the same joy that I feel as I write this. I swear, people, at this point if I were speaking to you instead of committing my thoughts to this piece of plastic and glass, chances are I would cry. I would cry out of sheer happiness and gratitude that I have seen things grow and bloom under my touch. It's wonderful, beautiful, transforming!
Which is why, people, I go back to school tomorrow despite the dreariness and the monotony. I go because of the sheer addiction of doing something good, bringing some change, showing people what leadership can be. I go for the hope that when I'm done, the people who went to school with me will not just remember my power walk and ninja plaits and loud voice (though I would love it if they did!), but also my smile, my jokes, my help, my hand on their shoulders in troubled times; and I also go for the hope that all of this will earn me a few, if not many, hands to hold and shoulders to cry on when I will need them. Because that's what we mean when we speak of humanity, don't we, people?
I must mention here a quote that caught my attention because of how perfectly it captures the philosophy behind my style of Students' Council work:
“Discipline without freedom is tyranny; freedom without discipline is chaos” -- Cullen Hightower.
Hence, people, I believe in the kind of discipline that fosters the freedom of mind, body and emotion in a way that this freedom is organized and equally distributed -- hence the tough love, hence the rules, hence the power walk.
I will leave you with a plea to wish me (and our Council) luck for restarting work after the Durga Puja holidays (work, unfortunately, will be in suspended animation till then because the junior Council members still have exams). Unfortunately, the last kid I tried to inspire disappointed me terribly, and I have, sadly, identified the factors at work to be beyond my influence. Hence, I'm a bit down on the good feelings. Therefore, let this post be a reminder to me and to all of you that despite the failures, touching even one life just a teeny bit is more than what most people ever get to do, and that it is the most beautiful and humbling feeling ever.
Peace out!


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