Sipho’s adoption meant that the lily-white Coats herd now acquired its own resident ‘black sheep’ – a literal rather than figurative turn of phrase, naturally. Of course Sipho’s presence in the family has given us our own unique insights and laughter. And of course there have been a few tears along the way as well.
I remember once asking Sipho what he wanted to be when he grew up. Over the years there have been a variety of answers from doctor to chef, president to Olympic swimmer. The one I remember best was ‘Zulu’. Sipho wanted to be a Zulu when he had finished with growing.
There was also the time when we were sitting on the beach together. Looking around he said, ‘You know, dad, there are a lot of black people on the beach today.’
On one occasion Vicky was bathing Sipho’s brother and sister when Tamryn asked how we were going to tell Sipho that he had a black skin.
Kids see colour, yet somehow they don’t.
I remember hearing the following story at a leadership conference during which we were invited to ‘tell a story’.
A mother went shopping with her daughter who was about four or five years old at the time. There was a blind man with a white cane in the shop. In a piping voice the little girl asked why the man had a white stick.
‘The man can’t see,’ said the mom. ‘He’s blind.’
‘Does that mean he can’t see anything?’ said the daughter in the same penetrate-through-walls voice.
‘Yes dear,’ her mother replied, ‘but keep your voice down.’
By this time the blind man himself decided to answer the child. Bending down to her level, he told her that he had never been able to see because he had been born blind. Undeterred, the little girl asked somewhat incredulously if that meant that he had never seen any colours.
‘Yes,’ the man responded. By this time, much to the mom’s embarrassment, a fair crowd had gathered around to listen to the enchanting conversation taking place.
And then it happened. The bright little person asked if he would like her to explain to him what colours were like.
‘Yes please,’ said the willing student with a patient smile on his face.
‘Well,’ began the little girl, ‘have you ever been inside where it is nice and cool and then walked outside and felt the sun shining on you, warming your cheeks and face and then slowly warming your whole body?’
‘Yes, I have,’ answered the blind man.
‘Well, that is what yellow is,’ said the little teacher.
‘Have you ever been to the beach without shoes and had to dance on the sand because it was so hot?’
‘Yes, I have done that,’ chuckled the student, clearly enjoying the conversation.
‘Well, that is what bright red is like.’
Then came the last question. ‘Have you run into the sea and felt the cold water on your burning feet?’
‘Why yes, of course,’ said the blind man.
‘Well, then, you know what brilliant blue is like.’
And so it was that a child unravelled the mystery of colour to an unseeing but willing student by some way her senior.
The best leaders are those who are willing to learn from unlikely sources. The tragedy of leadership is that all too often it carries with it the expectation that all learning has already taken place, all expertise is already locked in. The result? Little or no room for questions, explorations and discoveries. Life is much more interesting if it is an ongoing quest for knowledge, if we remain curious rather than certain.
Who will help you to see the colours?