I listened to the NPR podcast TED Radio Hour on a run a few months ago on the topic of Disruptive Leadership. Bunker Roy, an Indian social activist and educator, gave a talk titled Learning from a Barefoot Movement; I highly, highly suggest popping over to YouTube for a look.

As Roy was tackling the problem of launching a credible education system fit for those with little financial means, he discovered the almost immeasurable benefit of employing grandmothers; an often overlooked demographic.

“One lesson we learned in India was men are untrainable. Men are restless, men are ambitious, men are compulsively mobile, and they all want a certificate. (Laughter) All across the globe, you have this tendency of men wanting a certificate. Why? Because they want to leave the village and go to a city, looking for a job. So we came up with a great solution: train grandmothers. What’s the best way of communicating in the world today? Television? No. Telegraph? No. Telephone? No. Tell a woman.”

Roy goes on to describe the wisdom of the grandmother demographic. They have the experience with selflessly devoting a significant portion of their lives to investing in the life of their child; that ability to be so selflessly devoted still exists in the grandmother but without the commitment of a child at home. Women after becoming mothers develop an intense sense of protection. Who are the animals to avoid? The mother bear. The mother hen. The mother duck. If a mother believes in something, you better believe that she is going to do beyond her power to protect it.

Furthermore it is almost poetry to watch some women in the grandmother category interact with their husbands. The husband tends to be a bit older, a bit rougher, a bit more distracted by life; the grandmother takes all of the energy that previously went into her share of raising their child and inputs it with warmth and delicacy into the care and upkeep of her husband.

Obviously this is not in every case, and this is also not meant to be a feminist or anti feminist critique. It is mere blanket observation. I find that as a society we tend to place grandmothers in the unidimensional box of “jolly grand baker”. This is a serious under representation of the kick-ass-ability of some grandmothers out there.

Down with putting people in boxes!

This TED talk has stuck in my mind since I first listened to it. It’s true, grandmothers have an incredible amount of potential to fix our broken, angsty society and should be utilized for more than flakey apple pie or good hugs.

Bunker Roy’s wisdom came back to my mind today as I was walking home from a hiking day with my buddies. I ended up walking behind this elderly couple for quite a ways; the woman had a deep hunch and a significant limp and used a gnarly cane to swat the ground in front of her. Clearly she had pain in her joints and an aching body. The man on her arm fared slightly better; his limp was smaller and he carried no cane or hunch. While he protected her outwardly from the cascading people swarming around the city square, she was the one who would swat the legs of the pesky oblivious teenagers who would mindlessly get to close to her or her husband. It was a very subtle and private action that carried more weight than the protections of her husband.

Why do we think older women like this can’t protect themselves? It was clear to me that had she a husband at her side or not, she would not have been bothered by the hoards of people.

Down with putting people in boxes!

Bunker Roy puts societal problems in such a beautiful conclusion when he says:

“I’ll just wind up by saying that I think you don’t have to look for solutions outside. Look for solutions within. And listen to people. They have the solutions in front of you. They’re all over the world.”

Peace and Blessings,


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