personal reflections on human rights...and other stuff

A Letter to My Sons: Three Questions


Dear Alexandre, Dear Sam,

Last week I spoke to some university students about poverty. Only a few students showed up, but when I think back to my days at university, I probably wouldn’t have gone to any talk about poverty. As I struggled to think of what to say to them, I thought back to a book Mommy read to you a couple of years ago: The Three Questions. In the book, a young boy goes on a journey to find answers to three questions. He finds the answers he needs by meeting friends along his journey.

These are the questions the boy asks:
Do good for the person next to you, now. That's it.
  1. When is the best time to do things?
  2.  Who is the most important one?
  3.  What is the right thing to do?

As he nears his journey’s end, one of his friends offers these answers: "Remember then that there is only one important time, and that time is now. The most important one is always the one you are with. And the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side.  For these, my dear boy, are the answers to what is most important in this world."

I never thought of these three questions before reading this book – at least not the way the boy asked them. By the time I finished university, the question I asked myself – which I never really shared with anyone – was “Is this all there is?” And by “this” I basically meant the life I was leading and the purpose I had for being on this earth. The answer was simple enough: “No.” But that kind of answer didn’t tell me what I should be doing.

I found some answers to what I should be doing by seeing more of the world. As I began to travel I realized that there was so much of the world that lived a harder life than mine. Before traveling, I’d seen images of poor people on TV, but that was the extent of the poverty I faced. The more I learned about the world, the more I realized not everyone went to school, not everyone lived in a nice house, not everyone had enough food to eat, not everyone had enough clean water to drink, not everyone was healthy, not everyone felt safe and secure.

The more I saw of the world, the more I hurt. The more I thought of that question – Is this all there is? – the more I felt I should do something.  Like the boy in the story, I learned that the time to do things was right now. Not later, not when I felt like it, not when the world would get better because it wasn’t. There was no waiting, it was just now. As for the answer to the boy’s second question: “the most important person is always the one you are with.” The one next to you. Nowadays many people will tell you that the world is a lot smaller. Our phones, computers, airplanes, and other technology have brought many of us closer together. If this is the case, then isn’t it true that the person “next to you” can be anyone in the world? The answer to the third question is to “do good for the one who is standing at your side.” In an increasingly smaller world, this means you can do good for anyone, anywhere.

But there comes a point when you have to make choices. I decided long ago to try to help people in many places, and that’s what still takes me away from you. Before leaving a few days ago, you asked again, “Why do you have to leave?” Leaving you is hard for me, harder than you can imagine. But as much as my love for you compels me to stay home and be with you all the time, the same three questions the young boy asks himself are always on my mind. The answers to the boy’s questions also compel me to “do good,” or at least try to help others. Whether you “do good” by teaching kids in school like Mommy, or by becoming a Lego Master or a rock star/dog babysitter like you want to be one day, you end up making others happy, and you’ll make a difference in this world.

Je t’aime Alexandre, Je t’aime Sam.
Daddy



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