Michael Obi in Chinua Achebe's story “Dead Men's Path” has plenty of ideas. He wants the school and its grounds to be “a place of beauty,” filled with gardens and flowers and hedges, just right to instill in students and villagers alike a sense of ordered elegance and refinement. His dream comes to life through plenty of hard work, and he is proud.
Then one evening, Obi sees an old woman from the village walking across the schoolyard, straight through a hedge and a flowerbed. He examines the area and finds a faint, almost invisible footpath that crosses the school grounds. Another teacher explains that it is the path between the village's shrine and burial place. There was “a big row” the last time anyone attempted to block it, the teacher remarks.
Obi will have none of it. That path will not be used again, he decides, and he has it blocked. His action leads to a visit from the village priest who explains the significance of the path to Obi. The villagers believe that the dead walk that path as they depart and visit and that children about to be born also come along that path.
Obi tells the priest that these are just the ideas he wants to get rid of in his students. He refuses any compromise, citing school rules and suggesting that the villages build a detour for their dead. But Obi's stubbornness leads to serious consequences, for the villages destroy the school gardens and even pull down one of its buildings, and Obi himself gets a nasty report from a Supervisor about his “misguided zeal.”
Indeed, it would have been a simple thing for Obi to allow the villagers to use the path. He could have compromised. He could have respected them. He could have set aside his own ideas just that much, and even though he didn't share the villagers' beliefs, he could have refrained from scoffing. He could have treated them with dignity. Perhaps he would have found that one little path would not have made such a big difference.