* Being authentic and helpful is influence enough *

There are those rare moments when you discover things for yourself and which then stay with you forever. I am talking of small, even insignificant things, nothing original or earth shattering. Just those moments when you are awash with that strange feeling that knowing for sure brings when you realise a small truth. One such moment for me was just after I had got introduced to birdwatching as a child. This serious pastime also involves, in the rather officious terms used by Wikipedia, ‘a significant auditory component’ because of the chirps, twitter, cheeps and whistles that birdcalls and birdsongs are made of. I refer to this because soon after I had been out on a few bridwatching outings I had gone to a hill-station on a family holiday when, one morning, I was drawn to a call which was new to me. It was coming from foliage directly above us and I sat down and craned my neck in order to spot the bird.

I was looking for a bird, so it took some time for me to spot the truth that had been staring at me intermittently as the call-giver flitted about, or rather, scrambled about on the boughs and branches high above. It was a squirrel! I remember the amazement when I finally had to conclude that the chatter – yeah it was chatter and not a typical birdcall! – I had been hearing was being made not by any bird but that little rascal up there. It happened when I had a clear view of the creature as it flicked its tail with every outburst of sound. Fortunately for me, none of my birdwatching outings had had a sighting of a squirrel so the connection between that particular call and its maker was done by me on that morning in the garden of a guesthouse. And we have read enough about the magic of such feelings and how they nurture Curiosity and foster Drive in the young. I believe it’s moments like these that have also driven me in my journey in the field of outdoor education… that urge to keep learning, to share the joys of outdoors through just making that wonderful world available through programmes, that awareness that I and we adults don’t need to teach everything to the young and just let the them be…

Even today, whenever I hear a squirrel chatter, I tend to make an effort to spot the animal, though there are times when I do wonder when that chatter will stop for God’s sake! So I must have spotted one just before receiving an email that the executive director of National Outdoor Leadership School, U.S.A. (NOLS) sent out to all instructors on his year-end wrap-up. On an impulse, I wrote back to him expressing my feelings about the impact that this wonderful organisation has had on me. Such is the power of stories as metaphors that he chose to cite this small but significant tale about a squirrel in his message in the year-end wrap-up.

The following is an excerpt from the messsage from Executive Director of ‘NOLS’ in the ‘2013 State of the School Report’:

‘A fine year it was. Each year I send a year-end wrap up and commonly receive a few responses, but this one in particular stood out. It came from Shantanu Pandit, one of our staff in India:

“In one of the two Indian mythological epics, there is a story about a God who built a bridge from India to Sri Lanka. A squirrel blundered in and started helping, carrying in pebbles. The God, pleased with that gesture, patted it, leaving imprints of His fingers on its back. And so we have the Indian Five Striped Palm Squirrel… in my native culture, we have an idiom referring to the “the squirrel’s contribution”, which is replete with all possible meanings and concepts.

I believe I play a ‘squirrel’s part’ in the bridges that NOLS builds in today’s world. I am proud to do my bit. I would have been anyway contented with just that. But I also feel acknowledged at various places and various times. And that makes it truly wonderful! I have no words to articulate the ways in which my association with NOLS has benefitted me. Thank you!”

The achievements this year are due to “squirrel’s contributions” from all of us. The scope and geography of our organisation means our organisational achievements go far beyond the achievement of any one individual or group of staff. Small things – squirrel’s contributions – add up, and they were a powerful force of change and achievement in the past year.’

We all know about Circles of Control, Influence and Concern, and how ever-expanding they can be.

Each one of us is an Influence Centre.

It is wonderful to be aware of this and let it influence our own thoughts and actions.

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