What does a pencil mean to you? Maybe you don't use a pencil, so let's make it a pen or your preferred writing instrument.
As I look around my desk I see 2 pens, and a few pencils plus a permanent marker. If I empty my pockets I find another pen and if I look at my daily backpack add a few more pens, pencils, and permanent markers.
For the most part writing instruments aren't things I hugely value. Even the $50 pen's I've purchased for their look and feel, really don't hold much value to me. I'd be disappointed if they got lost, but my life wouldn't change in any meaningful way.
It's not that way for everyone, and The Promise of a Pencil by Adam Braun, walks us through the change that the simple request of a pencil, by a child in a far-flung country, brought about.
That pencil request started Pencil's of Promise which educates children all over the world. It brings something we take for granted and deliver's it to those that had only dreamed that one day they'd get a chance to be educated.
Education is a complex issue, which requires a complex set of solutions. There is no silver-bullet answer to educating the children of the world, but the global education crisis remains the single most solvable and important human rights issue of our time.
The Promise of a Pencil follows the inception and growth of PoP (that's what they call it). From a scribbled idea on a notebook and a $25 deposit in the bank to make it a reality. To hundreds of schools and millions raised for kids.
Throughout the story, we get to see a young man fighting confirmation bias.
Rather than assuming everything I had been taught was true, I reversed my approach to challenge all of my existing assumptions and only decided to adopt that which I could believe on my own.
Many of us spend our entire lives in the same bubble -- we surround ourselves with people who share our opinions, speak the way we speak and look the way we look.
We see a young man dealing with new eyes as he looks at lavish spending after hearing that a single pencil was the dream of a child.
I could feel myself judging those around me, which wasn't fair because they hadn't seen what I'd seen, nor had I lived a day in their shoes.
We get some very deep insights that should make us sit back and think long and hard about how we act when we see injustice happening around us.
In any confrontation, most people focus on the perpetrator and the victim. There is an inherent expectation that had one of these two acted differently, the outcomes of a conflict may have been averted. But the greatest opportunity actually exists within the role of the bystander, the person who neither benefits nor gains from the event itself. When a bystander steps up on behalf of a potential victim, just as the Tuk-tuk driver did for me that day on the streets of Kathmandu, he or she becomes the very definition of a hero. We are more often bystanders to conflict than we are victims or perpetrators, and with that comes the recognition that we have a moral obligation to defend others, even when the crosshairs of injustice aren't pointed at us personally.
We even get to see a man struggling with things that are hard to do. They're vitally important but hard and thus easy to avoid.
I'd given up most of my social life and sleep to PoP - but I realised I'd been pouring the lion's share of my energy into the wrong things. The tasks I ignored were the ones I feared. How many times do you have thirty things to do and you focus on the twenty-five that matter least? How many times do you check your email and deal with what's easy, but not necessarily what's important? These small wins are easy to achieve, but they won't move the needle. In the end, the big wins, the most daunting tasks, are the ones that matter.
Pencil's of Promise isn't a great tome that will educate you on how to transform yourself along all the lines I've listed above, but it will inspire you.
It will inspire you to go try something you thought was hard. It will inspire you to find purpose in the work you do, instead of following the mindless path set before so many of us.
If you're in need of some inspiration and solid self-reflection, you should purchase The Promise of a Pencil.
photo by: jys07