Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


Joshua Nelson Mongezi  Platt

Oakland, California, USA

August 10, 2010



This essay, Joshua Nelson Mongezi  Platt, is the fouth in an octology about my son Joshua:
  1. Joshua Is Doing Nothing
  2. Two Human Beings One Heart
  3. You Can't Hold On To A Wriggling Puppy
  4. Joshua Nelson Mongezi  Platt
  5. Source Of Action
  6. The Magical Breakfast Burrito Assembly Line
  7. Return To The Creek
  8. The Magical Breakfast Burrito Assembly Line II
in that order.

I am indebted to my son Joshua Nelson Mongezi  Platt who inspired this conversation, and to Kerece Mahlahla Morrison and to Fundiswa Regina Nofemela who contributed material.




My first child, my daughter Alexandra took twelve months to conceive. My second child, my son Christian took six months. But he, my third child, conceived instantly. He couldn't wait  to be born, to get out there and throw himself into his adventures in the world.

I named him Joshua Nelson Mongezi. Joshua is after Joshua of the Old Testament, the slayer of the demon Amalek. Nelson is after Nelson Mandela of South Africa, the slayer of the demon apartheid. Mongezi  is his tribal African Xhosa  name. It translates to "the one who brings goodness to the family".

Enter stage front and center:  Joshua Nelson Mongezi  Platt, the one who slays demons and brings goodness to the family. That's who he is for our world ie that's who he was born to be  for our world. It took another five years before I realized who he is for me is who I say  he is for me.

On the day he was born I made the same financial  promises to him as I made to his sister and to his brother before him, one of which was to enroll him in an exceptional private school. He would be there from his pre-kindegarten  years through his sixth grade year. Given his school hours and my grueling business travel schedule, his teachers spent more time with him than I did. Allowing this, I gradually slipped into a mode of letting his teachers to speak who he is  for me. Accepting whatever they said about him without questioning and without challenging  when their experience of him differed markedly from mine, was a mistake in retrospect (and retrospect is always 20/20 vision). It was a big  mistake. An innocent mistake maybe, but a mistake nonetheless. I let it happen. It was a lapse in taking charge for which I'm responsible.

You find out about a lapse after the fact. Here's how I found out about it.

He's a brilliant child. I already knew that. Not just because he's my boy. These aren't simply the words of a proud papa. Not just because I want the best for him. Not just because I'll stand up for him no matter what. I knew it like on a hot summer's day I know the sun is hot. I knew it like on a rainy winter's day I know water is wet. When he learned to read, we loved sitting together, both of us cross legged on the floor of his room as he carefully (and accurately, I might add) read out loud from his favorite book. So when his teachers called me in for a meeting one day after school and told me he was having "difficulty"  with his reading, I was surprised - to say the least.

I told them of him and me sitting cross legged on the floor of his room reading. I told them how much he enjoyed reading out loud. I told them he read carefully and accurately. They looked at each other, then looked at me as if they were about to break some bad news  I may not understand and they were preparing  me for it. Then it came: "He's not reading. He's just reciting off by heart. He's memorized  it.".

* * *

Two things happened next. The first was I noticed I wasn't believing his teachers anymore. At least, not on this particular point - it simply didn't jibe  with my experience. The second was I noticed how firm they were in their assessment (which I later called their interpretation)  for which they already had a remedy: a lot of extra hard work teaching Joshua to read. At the end of the meeting, I thanked them for their time, for their concern, for their diligence, and left.

I didn't say anything to Joshua about their interpretation. I was concerned their judgement, as dubious as it was, would unnecessarily hurt him. Instead, at the first available opportunity both of us sat together cross legged on the floor of his room as he read carefully and, again, accurately from his favorite book. It was time to put my theory to the test. I said "Josh, how about reading me this  one" passing him Curious George. Without missing a beat he took it from me and started reading - again, carefully and accurately. "Very good. Now what about this  one" I said, passing him Goodnight Moon. Again he read carefully and accurately.

That's when I realized he must be brilliant  enough to have memorized all the books in his library! 

And then the second part of the double whammy  hit: how could he memorize all the books in his library if he can't read to begin with? 

What I got from this epiphany, if you will, is who my son Joshua is for me is who I say  he is for me, not who other people say he is or how he is or what he is. It's the special connection  he and I as son and father share. I'll never betray it. It's more than I'll never betray it actually. It's I can't ever betray it because it's who I really am.

There was a lot of talk at his school which lingered on after the "Joshua can't read"  incident in which people said Joshua needed this and Joshua needed that - all of it assessment, all of it interpretation, all of it (it turns out) ridiculous, none of which had any sway over me anymore. I did note enough of it to speak with a friend of mine who's regarded as one of the top children's education councilors in the nation. She knows Joshua. She told me "Joshua is brilliant. There's nothing wrong with his skills, nothing he's lacking.".

What Joshua got from this was the unswayable, unswervable support of his father for who he really is. When others misunderstand him and even mis‑characterize him to slot into their own interpretations ignoring who he really is entirely, he knows I'll always see him for who he really is.

I want to say one more thing about the teachers who misunderstood him and mis-characterized him. They're great teachers. Their school is, in my way of seeing schools, one of the most extraordinary schools I have ever seen. Having had my three children invest a total of thirty child years  in their school is one of my proudest accomplishments. However this essay isn't about Joshua's teachers and nor is it about their school. This essay illustrates a pertinent moment in Joshua and my life together when I had to choose between an interpretation  of my son, and who my son really is. And, regardless of the agreement around the interpretation of my son, I choose who my son really is.

I choose Joshua Nelson Mongezi  Platt, the one who slays demons and brings goodness to the family. And one of the myriads of ways this slayer of demons brings goodness to the family is sitting cross legged on the floor of his room with his Dad, carefully and accurately I might add, reading (yes, really  reading) out loud Curious George  and Goodnight Moon.



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