The Shield of Kindness
Narrated by Abebe Kebede
Once there was a man with three sons. He looked after them well and brought them up to being fine young men. And the good old men in those days were able to foresee their death. Therefore, when he realised that his days were numbered and he was going to die, he called his three sons and he split up all his wealth between them, the cattle, the land, the inset (false banana) crop, and gave them his blessing. The only thing he kept for himself was his shield.
Now the shield in Sidama culture is very special. It’s the family heirloom, handed down from generation to generation. But it doesn’t go to the eldest son, but to the son which the father thinks will be the greatest man among his sons. So this man didn’t give his shield to any of his sons.
He said, “Look, my sons, I’m going to give you some time and I want you to go away and do a good, kind deed, because kindness in our culture has great value. Then come back and tell me what kind deed you did and whoever has done the kindest deed will get the heirloom shield.”
So they all wanted the shield and went off to do their good deeds.
They came back, and the first said, “Dad, I did something very kind. Be the judge. There was a small crawling infant and he fell into a creek. His mother was beside herself with terror and sorrow. I risked my own life. I jumped into the creek and saved the child.”
His father said, “That’s not really kindness. That’s just being humane. Saving a small child is humanity. I’d expect it of anybody.”
The second son said, “Father, a lonely traveller came and he was going to go along the road, and he said, ‘Please take care of my money.’ He gave me 100 silver dollars. And he went away. I could have stolen all that money but I kept it safe for him and when he came back I gave him his 100 dollars. He wanted to give me 10 silver dollars, but I said, ‘No, this money’s yours. I only kept it for you. So I won’t accept a reward.' Isn’t that kindness?”
The old man said, “No, I’m afraid not. It simply shows that you don’t have a love for money. It’s a good quality, but it’s not kindness.”
The third son, called Kayam, said, “OK, let me tell you what I did. I was walking along the road, and all of a sudden I saw our great enemy, that we’ve had a feud with for such a long time. He was sleeping at the edge of a cliff. I could have gone and pushed him over. Or all I had to do was wake him up, and when he saw me, because our two families have been feuding for so long, he would have turned over and fallen off the cliff. But I woke him very gently and took him to a flat field where he could sleep without danger. I let him sleep there and went away.”
His father said, “Yes, my son. That’s real kindness. Because he’s not only your enemy. He’s the enemy of the whole family. But you have saved his life. So I’ll give you the shield.”
The moral is, “Don’t seek revenge on your enemies.”
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