Jeromie Whalen, American
I woke up at 6:15 AM, took a quick shower, and headed off for school. As a high school teacher in Northampton, Massachusetts, it’s a familiar routine. For this early morning in July, however, it marked the start of another day I had the privilege of experiencing at the Jusoor Educational Center for Syrian refugees.
Our international entourage began every morning with a two-hour commute into the heart of Lebanon’s Bekaa region, a verdant agricultural valley nestled in the eastern part of country approximately 10-15 miles from the Syrian border. The ride, while long, gave me time to revise my Google-translated lesson plans created the night before and prep for the day.
My co-teacher Ibrahim and I started the day’s lesson by handing each student one of four colored cards with the a number between zero and three written in permanent marker on the front. One by one, the groups stood in line and received a number of ornate glass stones that corresponded with their card. The entire bag stones had been purchased from a discount store for 1,500 lira – the equivalent of one U.S. dollar – but in appearance and context they seemed priceless.
As they returned to their seats some cupped a handful of treasures while others, looking at me and Ibrahim, wondered if there would be a time where they too received the newly coveted prize. It was the end of our second week together, however, and the students knew me all too well. I cracked a smile, and some began to catch on. It was hard to get anything past this smart bunch.
After the students settled down, we began internalizing what had just occurred. I asked the students who received three stones how they felt, to which they responded with gleeful smiles and replies. Two-stones were next: how do you feel? Do you wish you had three stones? Of course. By the time we had gotten to the zero-stone students, each explained they would be content with even just one stone, a humble request for slightly more than their current situation allowed. I looked at Ibrahim and we both nodded.
“Now we will take time to trade stones,” Ibrahim announced. “You may share all of your stones, some of your stones, or keep them all for yourself. The choice is entirely yours.” After several minutes of deliberation, the students finalized their decisions. Glancing around the room, the distribution of the stones had changed. Many three-stone students, realizing their wealth could help those less fortunate, gifted one stone to a zero-stone student. Stuck in a situation where gifting one stone meant swapping the wealth dynamic between themselves and others, movement between the two and one-stone students remained stagnant. In the end, every group’s distribution was consistent with what one would typically expect. Every group, that is, except one.
When asked if there was any student who had zero stones, one student raised his hand. Out of the four students in his group he had been the only transaction, gifting his one stone to another who had none. The students looked on, a bit perplexed at his decision. “Why did you transfer your one stone?” asked Ibrahim. Without hesitation, he answered. “It was simple for me,” he replied, “I saw he was sad, and no one deserves to be sad.”
As a reward for his altruism the student was given a generous handful of stones. A river of jewels glistened on his desk from the sun entering the window. With the history of how he was treated by his peers still fresh in his memory, would he share his newly acquired bounty or spite those that had chosen to spite him?
He looked for a moment at his newfound position of wealth and began calculating. He would not, in fact, share his stones with the group. He would share them with the entire class.
Everyone deserves their own glass stone.