It was the end of playtime and the children were quickly, quietly and happily heading back to the classrooms. The building with its stairs and corridors was full of life and a high level of energy and contentment.
I walked along with a group of boys just enjoying the company and the conversation. As we approached the classroom there was a sound of an adult voice, a sound of exasperation (with a touch of anger). It was a stand-off. Two seven-year-old boys were at the desk of the teacher. They looked ill at ease. The teacher clearly had had enough. “Very pleased to see you headmaster. Look at this.” He handed me the well-formed picture of a butterfly. It had a jagged scribble etched across it in black felt pen. He explained that at the end of break he had found the two boys in the classroom. They had returned from a music lesson and so had not been in the playground. He had also found the damaged painting. One of them was responsible. Neither would own up to the crime. The tension in the room was high and rising, fed by the condition of the two boys, the teacher and now the head.
It seemed right to remove the boys for the sake of all. We went to the library where it was quiet and ordered. The three of us sat down. Two troubled faces looked in my direction. The boys were called Arjun and Ben. Without any sense of judgement or anger I asked them politely whether either of them had defaced the painting. Both looked blank and ill at ease. “Sometimes if you just sit quietly and keep your heart open and your mind quiet the truth just appears,” I said. “Let’s just stay silent for a while.”
The second ticked by and the boys followed the instruction.
From deep within himself Arjun suddenly spoke. “Well sir it was not me who scribbled on the butterfly but Ben is my friend and I will say it was me to make things better. I will take the blame.” Ben immediately burst into tears and said, “It was me. I’m sorry.”
I looked across at Arjun, his face was bright and open. His innocence was remarkable and his compassion without limit.