I was surprised by the knock. It was late at night and I was the only guest.
I opened the door. It was the manager along with the cook.
“Sir, we wanted to ask you something that has been troubling us for the past few days.”
“Sure,” I replied, while asking them in.
The guest house belonged to Dr. A. Q. Khan Research Labs (KRL), where I had come to conduct a workshop.
KRL is Pakistan’s nuclear research powerhouse with some of the finest scientists that you can
find under the sun.
After sitting down, the cook spoke: “Sir, our scientists have brains so big that it would take us a few lifetimes to have our brains grow to that size!”
I was amazed at the clarity of the expression, knowing that here was an unschooled young man with his whole world limited to his village and now Rawalpindi, a town next to Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan.
“You are right,” I said, knowing that I had in my workshop seasoned PhDs in subjects such as nuclear physics, power electronics, vibrations and vacuum systems. And these scientists know how to make things happen; just ask Dr. ElBaradei, the former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
“Sir,” the cook continued, “daily these scientists spend the whole day in your class. We don’t understand what is it that you are teaching them?”
I was stumped. What a wonderful observation!
And what a wonderful predicament!
How do I explain to these simple folks that I teach organizational restructuring based on strategic visions and then introduce the framework for converting these visions into short term actionable and quantifiable plans?
I was pushed into deep thought.
“I cannot teach anybody anything,” Socrates once said, “I can only make them think.”
Socrates believed that people can’t be taught; rather, people can be facilitated to discover what they already know. I disagree with him. It is only partly true. Through prophetic revelations, we learn many things that we didn’t know before.
Socrates was known to exaggerate. I believe that he was purposely exaggerating to provoke people, because provocation forces people to think; for this, I respect the guy for his noble agenda to force people to examine their beliefs, assumptions and paradigms. No wonder he made so many enemies.
I have come to believe that sincere people, who disbelieve us and challenge us, are among our greatest assets. Professors know it. Teachers know it. Trainers, like I, know it. We all know that one of the best rewards of teaching is to come across a sincere, naïve and aggressive man or woman, who doesn’t buy into what we hold to be correct or believe we know well. And if that person happens to be your spouse, then all the better!
On that cold winter night in Rawalpindi, I realized that I had come across such people.
In the few moments of silence that followed, by the grace of Allah (swt), a thought came to me, which has indebted me to those simple men forever.
“You know,” I carefully picked my words, “these scientists have knowledge much greater than mine. They are experts in their fields. I can’t teach anything that is related to their area of expertise.”
I could see that they felt relieved. How can someone much younger and an outsider teach their scientists? It just didn’t make sense to them. And now I had vindicated them. They were right after all.
I looked into their eyes and said: “You know what I teach?” I held their attention: “I teach people that if what you do today – however big or small – doesn’t impact the world a hundred years later, then doing that is plain useless. It is just a waste of time.”
I sat back.
Amazingly, their eyes glistened with understanding and smiles erupted.
“You are right. This is absolutely true.” They were in complete agreement. I had told them something that they knew all along.
“We now understand what you teach. That is something good that you are teaching. Keep it up.” Saying this and with satisfaction written all over their faces, they left me to rest. Not realizing that they had left me exactly the opposite: restless!
I thought about it for many days. I pondered and reflected, and agonized. “In my urge to make things simple,” I questioned myself, “had I lied to them or misled them?”
Then it dawned upon me that just like them, I had also known this all along my life. I had never clearly articulated it to others and, most importantly, to myself. All I needed was an innocent question from those innocent men, who had no fear of being called naïve, with no reservations and no artificial persona of ‘look we know’!
And they taught me something that I had not been able to learn through books or by my travels across the globe.
Look deep inside your heart and you will realize that you know it too: if what we do today doesn’t impact this world a hundred years down the road, then it is simply a waste of time!
Dr. Yousuf Al Qardawi writes that there are people who die before their death, while being counted amongst the living. Others, however, continue to live after their death, because they leave behind good deeds, beneficial knowledge, pious children and able students, who keep increasing their life. In the words of William Wallace, the character in the movie “Braveheart”: “Every man dies, but not every man really lives!”
Please reflect on things that you know. Seek people who will challenge you. Hear them out patiently. Cherish them. You may have some valuable knowledge that is waiting to be discovered by none other than yourself.
Keep in mind the words of Socrates: “An unexamined life is not worth living.”
And my advice to you today: please dare to think!
Suleman Ahmer is the Founder and CEO of “Timelenders.”