Sunday, December 21, 2014

I go.

A few years ago, I was taking a busman's holiday from archaeology (you know - taking a trip to an archaeological site as a break from working on an archaeological site).  During the field season in Yucatan,  I drove the crew over to visit a site called Mayapan.  It is a well-known, if not terribly ostentatious, site in the Puuc region of Yucatan, Mexico. 

But the signage to it is not great.

Since part of the fun in taking a busman's holiday is just spending the time getting lost, finding new places, and not being terribly worried about anything.  The people are wonderful in this part of the world, and so when I had my north arrow hopelessly turned around, I stopped and asked a little old Maya lady for directions.

"Excuse me, Senora, I am looking for the archaeological site called Mayapan.  Do you know it?"


"Wonderful.  Can you give me directions, please?"

The wrinkled face beamed at me, and then she turned to face the direction we were to go.  "I go down this road, and then I turn right at Sr. Paco's store...."

She gave me wonderful directions, all of which I immediately, joyfully, forgot.  Because I had found something new.

She gave me directions in the first person.

"I go."
Photo: Kathe Lawton

I have loved that expression, and I think about it often.  Partly, it speaks to the desire of the people in Yucatan to be polite - they would never dream of ordering a complete stranger around (Go here!  Do this! Turn here!) Instead, she told me how she would do it.

But she didn't say "I would go".  She didn't even say "I went".  It was in the present.  Her internal map told her which way she takes when she walks that road.  And she gave it to me in those terms.

This past week I have had the delightful opportunity to spend time with my two grandkids, Gabi and Remi.  They are smart, talented, nice kids with amazing manners. Unfortunately, they also have a very narrow palate - there is a huge list of things that they will not eat. 

I have a much more adventurous palate: I will try anything.  Well, almost anything: I think it would take a bit for me to work up my courage for balut.  But it is hard for me to recognize that at one point I, too, was limited to peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. So having patience with food preferences is not easy for me.  Real allergies, ethical or religious dietary restrictions, and sensitivities are different - I get that.

It finally occurred to me that maybe I should simply say "I go" rather than taking my dad's approach (my brother sat through four consecutive meals with uneaten beets on his plate).  I'll eat those Thai chocolate-covered silkworm pupae.  I'll eat the armored-tail scorpion. I'll set the example.  I go.

It is a silly example.  But isn't that the best kind of leadership? Isn't that the best kind of parenting? Don't we respond to a leader who 'go'es, rather than commands? Don't we love those people best who walk the road with us?  Don't we willingly follow those who lead by doing?

Isn't that why we are so pleased with what the pope is doing?  He seems to be more intent on saying "I go" than "Thou shalt not", and we are much more inclined to follow.

Of course, the end of the Mayapan story is.... that I got lost again.  It was certainly not her fault; I simply can't keep more than one turn in my head when people are giving directions.  And we eventually got to Mayapan, and wandered around there.  I do not, however, remember the next person I asked for directions.

But I will never forget the woman who told me "I go".


Daimon said...

This reminds me of one of my old Platoon Sergeant's training philosophy of "I do, we do, you do." Too bad more leaders/management don't use this philosophy.

Susan League said...

Your story is wonderful, as always. The part about your brother reminds me of myself as a kid sitting at the dinner table with a timer being ordered to eat vegetables that I did not like that my Dad had grown in our garden. I was normally a pretty compliant kid, but that is one battle he never won. He eventually gave up and let me eat what I wanted.