It is sometimes said that the truth should never be allowed to get in the way of a good story. Sometimes, however, it is the true events that turn out to be the stories that tell us the most. This is the case with the story of my friend's cat.

My friend, Rachel, has a cat. Nothing special about that. But this cat – let's call him "Harry"– is not known for being particularly bright. He is prone, from time to time, to taking short jaunts and becoming hopelessly lost (even if it is only in the back yard). A few weeks ago, Harry disappeared for a number of days, unusual even by his standards. Rachel, quite distressed, photocopied hundreds of flyers and posted them around the neighbourhood, inviting people to call her if they found Harry. She then waited. And waited. And waited.

Meanwhile, two young teenagers wandered the streets. Dressed in the typical "gangsta" clothing the two boys – let's call them Michael and Peter - looked like a couple of boys on a mission for some serious mischief. Passing by a drainpipe in a local park, Peter swore to Michael that he could hear a cat meowing. Climbing down into the pipe they discovered Harry: wedged up in an outflow pipe. Wet and hungry, having now been missing for four days, Harry was in extreme distress. Not sure how to get him out they went to find a public phone.

"Who should we call?" Michael asked Peter. They remembered seeing a "reality show" on television about the rescue work that the major national association for animal welfare does. "Let's call them." After being put through to their animal rescue hotline, and explaining that they had found a cat stuck in a drain pipe, the boys were told "We don't believe you, stop bothering us."

Undeterred, the two boys then phoned the local government animal ranger services. "We'll be there in 10 minutes" the boys were told. Two hours later, no-one had shown up.

By this stage, the boys were becoming increasingly worried. Harry's condition was deteriorating. So – in a flash of brilliance – the two boys then phoned the local water authorities. It was their pipes after all so, surely, they would be able to help? Having being put on hold and transferred across numerous departments, the boys were finally told "Stop placing prank calls" after which the staff member hung up on them.

The boys decided to change tack. They began knocking on doors, asking for help. Most people said they were too busy to help, and a few even slammed their doors on the boys before they had a chance to explain what was happening or to ask for help. The boys did not give up and, after knocking on about 30 doors, a man agreed to help the two boys.

People who are engaged in purposeful activity often have a certain "look" about them. They carry themselves as if the cause they have is more important than any awareness that they might be being watched. However, parks and drainpipes are not normally the place of purposeful activity on a Sunday afternoon. I wonder what these unlikely three must have looked like? Obviously, the residents adjacent to the parkland wondered the same thing as me. Before long there was a small crowd of about 12 neighbours, who had never spoken to each other before, gathering around and working together to solve the problem of Harry. Upon learning what was happening, someone mentioned they had a crow-bar in their shed. And with that organised, the group had Harry free, and returned to my friend Rachel, within a short time.

The story of Harry the cat has a thousand morals and just as each reader of the story will draw their own, each teller of the story gives a slightly different emphasis. When I first heard this story, I was reminded of a quote a psychologist-friend of mine once showed me that summed up how children and young people are often understood:

"The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they alone knew everything and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for girls, they are forward, immodest and unwomanly in speech, behaviour and dress."

Imagine my surprise when my friend revealed to me that this statement had been written by Plato, some 400 years before the birth of Christ. It appears then, that humanity has a long history of devaluing its children. Was it courage and dedication – or foolishness and lack of restraint - that saved Harry? The difference between courage and foolishness is, at best, a fine line between something that ultimately comes from the same place - the only difference being the value that we place on them. In any case, it was the "foolishness" of these boys that not only saved Harry, but that also built a community. There is, in my mind, few things of greater value to the world today than being able to bring diverse strangers together and these boys succeeded in a task that most politicians and diplomats have never been able to achieve.

This story makes me wonder what sort of world we might live in if we dared to be present for children, if we dared to listen – seriously – to what they have to say about matters of importance. What would the world be like if we understood the foolishness of children as courage, their lack of restraint as creativity, their playfulness as an intuitive understanding of what really makes life worth living. Harry's story caused me to reflect on all the things we may have missed out on because some child, somewhere – perhaps because of the way they dress, or the nature of their dreams, their disposition, their inability to "fit in", or simply because of their age – is assumed to have nothing of worth to offer at all. How often are our interactions with a child about "making" them understand our world view, rather than making room for theirs? Above all else, however, the story of Harry, Michael and Peter also reminds me of how powerful just one adult can be when they dare to show up and make space to listen to a child.

Author's Bio: 

For 18 years Mary has worked with communities, families, schools and organisations affected by poverty, war, child abuse, torture, geographic isolation, natural disaster and displacement to transform their futures. She is the author of The Ten Principles of a Creative Life and the creative life website.