The bad and the good teacher

I was distressed. Shortly after a rage in which I accused the accountant of the advertising agency, which I owned, of embezzlement, I determined his dismissal from the company was necessary, only to find out a few days later that he was innocent. Another employee, who disliked the accountant, had misled me. On the verge of a crisis of sadness due to the harshness with which I treated the man, a long-time employee, who, even under swears of innocence, was condemned by me for having broken an irreplaceable bond of trust. I declared myself disappointed in him, dismissing the tears in his eyes. That was the storm brewing inside me when I arrived in the small and charming town that lies at the foot of the mountain that welcomes the monastery. As my annual study period in the Order would only start in a few days, I went on my way to talk to Loureiro, my shoemaker friend, lover of books and wines, who had the gift of sewing both leather and ideas with same mastery. A melancholy spread with great strides within me and I was hoping that it would help me understand the process, preventing me from falling into the abyss of depression for having hurt someone who had always been honest. I confessed that I had not taken the care to learn the facts with the depth that the case demanded, letting myself be carried away by first and superficial impressions. That’s what I told Loureiro right after being greeted with a big hug in his workshop. 

The shoemaker went to make a fresh jar of coffee, as he knew our conversation would be long. He promptly made a comment that I have taken with me ever since for the revelation it brings: “The first impressions we have of others usually reveal the amount of shadow and light that inhabits us.” Although hard, the earful I received was well deserved. As he rested the two steaming mugs on the old wooden counter, he asked: “Have you already apologized and invited him back to work at the agency?” I replied that I had discovered the truth just two days ago. I confessed that I lacked courage. With a tone of voice that mixed sweetness and firmness, Loureiro reminded me: “The same courage that you had when accusing him must exist to redeem your mistake. Along with the humility in recognizing your wrong decision, the act of exposing yourself in full will help in understanding the feelings that touched and enveloped the fired accountant.” I nodded in agreement and said I knew that. However, I feared the way Carlos, as the accountant was called, would receive me.

Loureiro warned me: “Although sorrow is not appreciated, stimulated, or applauded, it must be understood with patience. Depending on Carlos’ level of consciousness and his ability to overcome, expect the best and the worst. Certainly, only be sure that the situation must be faced in order for peace to be restored within you. It is impossible to be at peace without being dignified in dealing with others; dignity is established as we treat others in the same way that we would like to be treated.”

“Otherwise, we will remain trapped in the wrong situations of the past, making happiness an unattainable target.” He took a sip of his coffee and said: “Do you see that we are talking about peace, dignity, freedom, and happiness encompassed in one single moment?” I nodded and the shoemaker concluded his reasoning: “They are available to us, but they will only be possible if we ‘love others as we do ourselves’. The good old summary of all the teachings of light. We always return to love as the heartwood of all matters.”

“Some religious traditions speak of an ‘intimate reform’, while other philosophical schools teach about the ‘overriding need for evolution’. All are very correct but, in truth, the fullness of being goes through the indispensable learning about love, in all its depth, breadth, and variations. In perception and in practice; both in crucial moments and in everyday ordinary situations.”

“Life has provided us with a toolbox so that we can turn on the light inside us and, consequently, in the world. The virtues are these tools. The usage of each of them requires different degrees of skill. Likewise, it requires the love to handle them properly. Some are simple; others, sophisticated. Learning to use them all is essential. Regarding the case in question, it will be necessary to take humility out of your toolbox in order to look for Carlos and apologize; simplicity to expose the situation without subterfuge; sincerity with yourself and honesty with him so that it is possible to dispel the lie and bring fairness into a relationship in which harmony and balance have been lost. Be patient if he is hurt; show compassion to understand each difficulty, whether yours or his; and above all, don’t forget to use mercy in the sacred dimension of forgiveness. Forgive yourself and ask Carlos for forgiveness. Forgiveness is the road to love. Without going through forgiveness, we will never know love in all its beauty and breadth. Without love there is no way to be free, dignified, happy, and to live in peace. Without love, there is no way to achieve the fullness of being.”

I mentioned that I had to take into account the possibility that Carlos would not forgive me for my mistakes. Loureiro explained something important to me: “Of course, it will always be wonderful when the person forgives us. However, it is not essential. The important thing is that you recognize and repair your own mistakes. In your case, I suggest you look for him, apologize, and invite him back to work at the agency. The possibilities for action exhaust at this point. He may not forgive, but at that point it becomes an internal matter for him and has nothing to do with you. No one can be an eternal claimant of others’ mistakes. A sincere apology and an honest attempt to repair the error completely acquit the situation. In truth, forgiveness is unilateral to both sides. The insensitivity on one side and the victimization and hurt on the other are shadows that must be worked and illuminated in a personal and independent effort. Each person with themselves, without any right to demand repentance, understanding, conditions of any kind, or to outsource suffering. Sorrow is an exclusive prison for those who feed into it. Forgiveness is an act of liberation and dignity, very personal and inalienable, not requiring permission to be completed.”

I confessed to him the inconvenience caused by the situation. The shoemaker pondered: “Good. For discomfort makes us look for a new position; pain leads us to seek a cure. Do you understand why ignorance is the greatest of shadows? As long as our consciousness remains dormant, there will be no evolution. The suffering caused by error becomes a good teacher if it is involved by love, a driving force of the desire to transform oneself, an efficient method of changing our reality. Without our conscious being aware or our heart resonating love, an error will continue to be just an error, an eternal source of recurring conflicts; sufferings will perpetuate as mere sufferings with no regenerating content.”

“Another good thing about mistakes is that only they are able to teach us to forgive; there is no other teacher. When we forgive, we manifest the divine that exists in us.”

We talked some more, and I said that since there were still a few more days before my time staying at the monastery, I was determined to return to Brazil immediately to talk to Carlos. By my calculations, I would have had time to return to the Order before I started my studies. So I did. Upon arriving in Rio de Janeiro, I went from the airport directly to Carlos’ house, in Vila Isabel, a pleasant neighborhood in Rio. When I arrived, he was watering the plants in the small front yard facing the street. He had a sad look on his face and was surprised to see me getting out of the taxi. Before Carlos had any reaction, I said that I had made a huge mistake and was there to ask for forgiveness. I asked him to open the gate and give me a hug. Carlos’ response may have taken a fraction of a second, but it seemed like an eternity. His features changed. He smiled, opened the gate, his arms, and his heart. I don’t remember a more comforting hug in my life. In the end, we had tears in our eyes. Forgiveness heals; love will always be the best medicine.

Carlos was a pure and simple man, pillars of his immeasurable value. We sat in the kitchen of his house to talk. While we chatted, his wife, very kind and without any trace of resentment, served me a cup of coffee accompanied by a slice of delicious homemade cornbread. I asked him to accept the invitation to return to work at the agency. The position was and would always be his. Carlos thanked me for being there and said he never lost hope that the truth would be revealed. However, he confessed that he did not expect it so soon. I added that, if he wanted to, I could give him a vacation so he could recover from the fright before returning. His eyes shone with infinite kindness when he told me it was not necessary, that the next day, at the usual time, he would be back to his duties at the agency. I thanked him and apologized again. He said I didn’t need to apologize anymore, what was important was that I had reshaped my life trajectory to join his. He thanked me for this. In silence, I realized that the lessons allowed to me were many in one single situation. In the exercise of a gesture of greatness, I came across an even bigger one coming to meet me.”

We talked about some changes that were necessary in the company until I had to touch on a delicate subject. I remembered that the employee who schemed against Carlos, also working in the accounting department, still worked at the agency, but that I would fire him that same day so that there would be no embarrassment for the accountant.

As if the lessons were endless, Carlos told me it wasn’t necessary. He informed me that the boy was responsible for his mother’s support and needed the job badly. He added that he would work with him without any problem. We should not think of punishment without an educational element; and reminded me that we only educate through good examples. Firing him was what almost everyone would do; rescuing the boy was being given the chance to become better people. To everyone, without exception, especially to him, Carlos, it was an opportunity to overcome, a possibility to do different and better. He added, with sincere humility, that he would like not to waste that moment. I said that it was up to me to at least give the employee a warning. He said that there was no need to say what was already said. Everyone at the agency already knew the truth; his return would be the appropriate punishment for the boy. Therefore, any additional word on the matter would be an excessive and useless penalty. There were already elements for a lot of reflection. I supported the hypothesis that the boy did not have the sensitivity to understand the extent of his own mistake. Then Carlos showed the beauty only possible to great souls by reminding me: “In that case he will be a bad teacher to himself. And he will also be the biggest loser for not understanding the class provided.” Then, the reasoning ended: “Evil is temporary for those who suffer it; larger are the marks on the one who practices it.”

The following day, the usual routine was reestablished in the company. I crossed the ocean and climbed the mountains again to spend my study period at the monastery. However, the greatest lessons of those days were offered “inside the home”.

Translated by Julia Reuter e Carvalho

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