It is so much easier, and far more enjoyable, to be
May 14, 2004
Most of the stories I read at school in Iran seemed
to end with a moral conclusion. Unfortunately, only some of those
wisdom have stayed with me. The following story is one.
A father asked his four sons to each bring him a stick, about
the size of a cane. He put the sticks together, tied them, and
asked the boys to try and break the bundle. As expected, they failed.
Then he asked each of them to take one of the sticks and break
half. Strong men, they did that without difficulty. "You
see my sons, this should teach you the importance of unity," he
said. "As four brothers, so long as you stay together, no
one can break you!"
Recently I am reminded of this story on a daily basis, in particular
while reading some of the articles written by my fellow Iranians.
I wonder why we are so critical of our own, why are Iranians so
divided? I am not aware of any studies to back up my theory, but
perhaps the roots of this problem are in our culture.
This occurred to me years ago when my daughter -- who attended
kindergarten -- invited me to her singing performance. Remembering
my own childhood concerts, I felt proud of my child for keeping
the family torch aflame.
"What will you sing?" I asked.
"It's a secret! We're
not supposed to tell."
So I dressed up for the occasion and my husband
and I made sure to arrive early and take front row seats.
Before the program started, all classes -- all two hundred
students -- marched in accompanied by their teachers. They
sat in rows across from the audience and took turns to sing group
songs. As I listened to the soft melody I found it hard to hold
back my tears. My daughter wasn't the star. They all were.
That marked the beginning of yet another cultural awareness. I
became conscious of a distinct difference between my children's
education and mine. They form groups and achieve their goals as
a team, while we longed to be the best, the one who stood
out, the top student. We worked hard to be recognized as exceptional,
not to mention that our parents bragged about us being so, even
when we weren't.
As a minority in this country -- or anywhere else
in the world -- it is of vital importance to practice unity. It is so much easier, and
far more enjoyable, to be a team. Why be singled out? If we
can succeed to achieve something, who cares under whose name it
is done? Why can't we grow together? The world seems to
have put us under an unkind magnifying glass. Do we have to add
to their insults? How easy it is to break us when we have grown
apart. How tragic it is that we are in fact willing
to break one another!
I look at some of the articles and wonder where
will our strive for attention take us? Who is better? No, I'll
that. Are any of us any better? Are we not all the same? Can our
education, wealth, or other achievements transform us into Europeans
and Americans? Or are we all, as Khayyam put it, made of the same
The discussion may never end. At least not unltil the
significance of "we" versus "I" is learned.
Cultural awareness, and the knowledge of how we were brought up,
should help. Innocent children, we did as told. Our parents pushed
us and we competed. In the end we either enjoyed the glory or suffered
the humiliation. Grown up as we may be, deep down there's
a child who continues to look for that recognition. It's
time to realize that pointing out other's flaws is
not going to make us look better.
The way we are growing apart, it won't be hard to
break us. True that unity is not learned overnight. Also true that
will take time. But isn't it also true that a strong community
needs understanding, unity, and compassion?
Forget better. Can't we just be good?
Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani is a freelance
poet and artist. She lives in San Diego, California.