Civic Responsibility and Consideration for Others
On this New Year’s eve our immediate neighbour hosted a party which commenced around 10 pm, time for many to go off to sleep. The houses in our locality are all clustered with connected, seamless terraces. The music played by the DJ blared away at the highest possible decibels, rattling doors and windows, discomfiting the residents including the sick, old and office-goers. It continued till 1:00 am. I wondered whether anyone present there thought of the torment caused to people around them. On earlier occasions also the residents had experienced the nuisance caused by Bhajans sung at loud pitch, almost throughout the night at ‘Jagratas’. On marriage celebrations also often, in addition to the band playing loudly, popular film numbers keep playing deafeningly into unearthly hours, insensitive to the comfort of others. People care two hoots about the law.
We notice this type of behaviour everyday in our lives – people hardly ever drive in their lanes, park their vehicles anywhere and at any angle, throw rubbish on roads or hurl polythene packets full of waste into the Yamuna, choking the river. They blow their nose or spit in public places. Most government offices are stained with ‘Paan’ spits. Men peeing by the roadside is a very common sight, jumping the queue is resorted to with impunity, public property is damaged wantonly. On my visits to Western countries I have seen nothing of the kind. Roads are clean, people are disciplined and courteous.
Youngsters removing the silencers from their bikes and driving full throttle, endangering their own and peoples’ lives is a common occurrence. They give a damn to the law enforcing authorities who themselves compromise their position for a suitable consideration. One doesn’t expect this type of behaviour from educated people. We are not an island. We live in a civilized community where others’ concerns have to be taken care of. Therefore, if things have to improve in the country, education must imbue in children civic sense and due consideration for others.
Scientific temper is an attitude of applying logic and avoidance of preconceived ideas. Many people in India are steeped in a plethora of superstitious beliefs due to their ignorance. It is only through education that they can be liberated from these deep rooted irrational notions. Therefore, I feel convinced that scientific temper should be an essential characteristic of an educated person. It is only the spirit of enquiry—why and how of everything which will bring them out of this abyss. The best teachers in life are how, what, why, when, where, who. When we take the help of these six learning tools it automatically leads to the development of scientific temper, which is essentially that disposition of mind which accepts nothing but the truth. An educated person refuses to accept anything without testing and trial. He is willing to change previous conclusions in the face of new evidence. He does not take miracles, godmen and fortune tellers at face value. He examines everything on its merits. To get the desired results we must engage ourselves in healthy discussions, debates, arguments and analysis. Asking of questions must be encouraged to get to the truth. Therefore, to be able to build up a prejudice-free, progressive and enlightened society we must encourage the development of scientific temper in our children. Once it is firmly embedded in our minds, all sections of our society will be less vulnerable to baseless rhetoric and machinations of vested interests.
Awareness and Appreciation of Indian Culture and Heritage
India’s rich culture has been shaped by its long history, unique geography and the absorption of customs, traditions, ideas etc. from all over the world. India’s heritage has continuously been enriched since the Indus Valley Civilization. There have been successive waves of migration from all over the world, for different reasons. Alexander’s Campaign, invasions of Huns and Kushans, Arab traders intermingling with locals, Mongols’ attacks, Portuguese, Dutch, French and English colonization have all influenced India’s culture and produced an eclectic mix and left a priceless legacy. Their music, architecture, poetry, art and craft, customs, beliefs etc. have had an impact on the social fabric of India. Although all human activities have been affected, there are patterns of continuity, an indefinable essence that is quintessentially Indian.
The Hoysala temples at Belur and Halebeed in Karnataka are poetry in stone. The Sun Temple at Konark (Orissa), conceived as a chariot with 12 pairs of wheels, is exquisite in its sculptures. The Dilwara Jain temple at Mount Abu is a masterpiece in marble, having incredibly intricate and delicate carvings. The Taj Mahal, with its perfect proportions and exquisite craftsmanship, is a dream in marble. Murals of Ajanta caves and temple-paintings, frescos, magnificent statues carved out of solid rocks testify to the glorious past.
All these are evidences of the genius of the bygone era.
From the avid observance of the Buddhist festival of Hemis in the highlands of Ladakh to the enthusiastic celebration of Ganesh Chathurthi of aharasthra, to the passionate celebration of Durga Puja of West Bengal, from the graceful Shikaras of the Dal Lake to the thrilling boat races of Kerala show the colour, variety and vitality of India’s diverse culture. From the vigorous Bhangra of Punjab and the spirited martial dance of Nagaland to the graceful Manipuri dance have all woven a tapestry of intricate designs. The classical dances of Kathak, Odissi, Bharatanatayam, Kathakali are unparalleled in their expressions and movements and are soul-lifting. The great variety and richness of languages, literature, music,drama, sculpture, cuisine, religion and philosophy have all created an ethnic diversity as intricate as the design of an oriental carpet, but essentially the carpet is one.
With such a hoary and glorious past of India’s culture and heritage, it is absolutely necessary that not only children but all grown-ups from all parts of India be made aware of their origins and great inheritance. It will make them aware of their roots, give them an identity and a link with a unique identifiable past. They can then legitimately feel proud of where they belong. In addition to helping in the preservation of ancient monuments it will spur them to further enrich the bequeathal by contributing to the world civilization.
“Experience is the key to greatness” –Arthur Williams
In the year 1965 I had an opportunity to go to U.K. on a work permit. I am from a middle-class family and am the product of a small town and hence my exposure was limited.
When I landed in England I was overawed by the broad roads, flyovers, tall buildings, big shopping malls, a variety of cars, technological advancements, the Tube (Metro) and many more such things. All this did not exist in the India of that time. It took me quite a while to regain my self-confidence. I felt that if I had been familiar with such things in India I would have settled in much faster, with ease and greater confidence. Being a teacher, my mind started connecting this with education. I felt strongly that growing children should be given as wide an exposure as possible. They should be taken on excursions, encouraged to interact with local people of the places they visit and learn about their traditions, culture, architecture, religion, race etc. Today international travel is not a rare thing for the middle class Indian. Rather than go only on shopping trips it may be better to take one’s family to an unusual place where there is say snorkeling or climb to the mountain top or something different from normal. It will become a precious family memory and teach the child a new skill. Even when we visit the usual places of interest we should encourage children to garner detailed knowledge of the monument / fort / cathedral / temple and the like.
“Experience is not what happens to a man: it is what a man does with what happens to him.” –Aldous Huxley
This exposure will prepare them emotionally, temperamentally, attitudinally and behaviourally to cope with the vicissitudes of life. We all absorb more if the process of learning comes alive for us as would happen if we globetrot. In fact we should all travel and meet different kinds of people which will help us in overcoming prejudices of caste, colour and creed. Henry Miller has beautifully put it thus: “develop an interest in life, as you seek it; the people, things, literature, music – the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people”.
Frequent exposure to unfamiliar surroundings, physical hardships and a variety of exciting challenges energises us and disciplines the body and mind. Adventure has a mysterious way of getting the best out of human beings. It reveals to the participants the level of their physical and mental potential. It also helps in developing individual leadership qualities. The more diversified the experience the greater the awareness of life. As we encounter different situations we come out of our comfort level and in the process develop strong character, enhance our self-respect and confidence. Our outlook changes and the mental horizon widens. Remember, what one has not experienced one will never fully understand in print. Excessive fear and self-doubt are the greatest detractors of personal genius. We all have tremendous potential and nature has bestowed on us numerous gifts. Yet, the one thing that holds all of us back is some degree of self-doubt. And this self-doubt can be overcome to a great extent by gaining varied experience.
“Over the years the content of experience will determine the quality of life.” – Csikszentmihalyi
We should all endeavour to meet successful people, listen to their experiences and reflect on how they have reached this position. While doing this we shall realize that they have feet of clay similar to ours. The difference lies in attitude. Once we realize this, we will be automatically exalted from the ordinary to the extraordinary level. Therefore, we should allow ourselves to experience life as much as possible, for each experience will make us bigger. Karen Raven says, “only as high as I reach can I grow, only as far as I seek can I go, only as deep as I look can I see, only as much as I dream can I be.” The following lines of Lord Alfred Tennyson’s Ulysses have constantly been inspiring me in life.
“drink life to the lees…
Keep roaming with a hungry heart…
Experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravelled world whose margin fades forever and forever…”
Even if a person possessed most of the ingredients of a good education, I would not call him ‘educated’ if he lacked in discipline. Every quality will come to a naught if he did not exercise self-discipline in life. If we are not disciplined everything goes haywire. An enormous percentage of our problems and suffering in life is caused by lack of restraint.
“ .......For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, He writes - not that you won or lost – but how you played the Game.” –Grantland Rice
The best discipline is that which is neither imposed nor is punitive: it has to be the assertion of will-power over more base desires. It is synonymous with self-control. It occurs when there is an inner longing to excel. Most schools maintain discipline by enforcing conformity: they expect the child to obey unquest¬ioningly. This type of obedience becomes compulsive to children and hence they get conditioned to conform which is a hindrance to independent, original thinking. What I am emphasizing is that discipline should not be that of a prison which is maintained with chains, batons or guns: it has to come from within.
If a person does not exercise discipline, it is clearly manifested in his personality, in the way he sits, stands, walks or talks. We should encourage discipline of the traffic light rather than that of the traffic constable, i.e. we all should do the right thing even when not being watched. Therefore, we have to evaluate the fundamentals of discipline: it should not entail the regimentation of the armed forces. In fact children should grow up in broad parameters of rules and regulations but not be scared. So long as a child does not hurt himself or others, he should be allowed to explore, experiment and reflect. If he is treated with respect – his self-esteem is not trampled upon – gradually he will develop self-control. I haven’t the slightest doubt that if he is given the freedom to ask questions, even challenge current paradigms he will become more of a pilot than a passenger. I have observed those who work the hardest, who subject themselves to strict discipline, who sacrifice cheap pleasures in pursuit of a goal, they definitely reach their destination.
Take the case of Narayan Murthy, who rose from humble beginnings by dint of sheer hardwork and leading a simple, disciplined life. Another example is that of E. Sreedharan, the “Metro Man” who with his work ethic and quiet discipline achieved what was considered unthinkable and unachievable in India. Most of us are anxious to improve our circumstances but are unwilling to exercise self-control to achieve it. Even great civilizations have fallen when laxity overpowered discipline. Society begins to suffer from violent crimes, robberies, rapes, brutal murders etc. when discipline is abandoned and human beings cease to be creative and productive. Perhaps this is what is happening in our country today.
Therefore, I feel one great aim of education should be to discipline the mind.
The various aspects of education elaborated upon in the preceding pages is only illustrative and by no means exhaustive. The reader may like to delete a few facets or add some depending upon how (s)he views life. But one thing is certain: education is like an orchestra: even one discordant note is jarring to the ear. If we leave out a feature or two of education, only a lop-sided personality will develop. That is precisely the bane of the Indian educational system. The malady is that it produces a society most of whose members have had amputation from the trunk and strut about separately as a good finger, an elegant neck, beautiful feet, comely hands, strong muscles but never a complete Man. Once I was discussing the introduction of the VSP (Virtual School Programme) in the school with four bright IIT graduates. During the course of discussion the redesigning of the website was brought up. I asked them to make it aesthetically appealing. I was surprised to hear their reply, “IIT has developed our analytical mind but the right side of the brain has remained dormant, completely untouched.” It is at variance from the real aim of education that is integrated, multidimensional growth of the child.
The present educational system quite often makes generic models out of unique individuals.
“It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.” –Albert Einstein
Education should be viewed as a totally creative activity which aims at furnishing the stimulus for the blossoming of that unique bud of individuality that nature implants in each person at birth. A sapling will grow fully and properly only when watered and tended to nicely; similarly children should be provided the fertilized soil where myriad varieties of flowers come to bloom with their own unique size, colour and fragrance.
Education should also embrace the western philosophy of encouraging independent and creative thinking: a fusion of western thought and eastern culture has to take place for holistic education. Unfortunately in India, learning by rote is an affliction which ails most schools. I have observed that many an Indian student is reduced to a blob of quivering jelly with a dread of getting 98% marks in the Board examination. It is pressure-cooker learning. Memorizing vast quantities of often useless information like plotting Timbuktu on the world map or to be able to tell where an inert volcano is located, to be regurgitated during examination makes them nervous wrecks. Some even commit suicide. How tragic!
I have often wondered, did all the successful people in the world score very high marks? In my many years of teaching experience I have observed that those who were good at life skills have done better in life than those who even secured 1st positions.
“Be less curious about people and more curious about ideas.” – Marie Curie
Charles Dickens was a High School drop out: Napolean was 42nd in his military academy class. I had the privilege of teaching Sanjay Dutt of Munnabhai MBBS and Tisca Chopra of ‘Tare Zameen Par’ fame and many others who have become chiefs of Multinational Companies or have risen to the rank of a General in the Armed Forces who, nobody would dispute, have done very well in life but they were average or at the most above average in studies. Yes, decidedly they were good in other fields. Every child cannot be a Dr. Radhakrishnan or Sir C.V. Raman.
“No educated population is ever poor: no uneducated population is other than poor.” – John Kenneth Galbraith
Each child possesses a set of attributes and talents wherein he or she can excel. If one is manually dexterous and skilful, the other may have an aptitude for fine arts and another may be endowed with musical talent. Who knows the academic grades of M.F. Hussain or Zubin Mehta or Yuvraj Singh, but they have all excelled in their chosen fields and are revered for the same. My own son, Mayur, was average in studies but very good at maintaining contacts with people. Obviously I could see that he was more of a marketing man than an academician. Because of his excellent public relations he is now a successful restaurateur, doing very well in life. Marks obtained in exams are not necessarily a barometer of intelligence. Our system mainly produces templates from which copies can be made but rarely an original piece. That is why there have been so few inventions in the country.
If we want our kids to be competent, confident in their abilities to think for themselves and be able to display good judgment we must entrust them with responsibility, allow them to take decisions and accept their mistakes while they carry out their responsibilities. They will then be empowered, self-reliant and autonomous. Schools will have achieved their purpose if formal schooling culminates in making every learner his own teacher.
As I see it, the aim of education is to bring about planned changes in the development of children. These changes may involve the acquisition of skills or knowledge: they may involve development of powers, attitudes, a strong understanding, a more subtle power of aesthetic enjoyment, a heightened moral sensitivity and an enhanced social consciousness. The changes may also be towards physical growth, intellectual stimulation or spiritual nourishment, leading towards inner solace and peace. When I look around, observe and reflect, I come to the conclusion that successful people possess a passion for learning that transcends the structured classroom environment.
“Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people.” – Leo Burnett
I know from personal experience, being the product of such a choking system, that love for learning was stifled. Instead of limiting their education to formal schooling almost all of them have been curious about the world around them and have always innovated in their ventures. We have not only to quench this thirst for knowing but quicken it also. In the new emerging world order we have to address the issue of freeing the minds of students to explore, experiment and even dissent, if necessary. The idea of education is not to constrict but to expand. This type of education will metamorphose the individual and hence the society.
Fast travel and easy communication have shrunk the world. International borders are dissolving. A sneeze in U.S.A. spreads bad-cold virus in Pakistan. A terrorists attack in Mumbai causes tremors in the world. Editorial cartoons of Prophet Mohd. published in the Danish newspapers and reprinted in other countries lead to violent protests in many countries. The slow-down in the economy in the West compels China to lay off 20 million workers. Therefore, it is imperative that we encourage our children to develop a cosmopolitan outlook. They have to become global citizens with universalist attitude.
These are times of fast changes. New technologies are making old job skills obsolete. Therefore, the best preparation we can give our children is to make them alert, observant, help them in mastering the basic skills of reading, writing, mathematics, logical reasoning, sense of discipline and hardwork. The actual learning of subjects does not matter so much as the development of attitudes of diligence, concentration, perseverance, desire for improving through the process of studying these subjects. What is important is, some words hurled forth or a seminal idea dropped for children to pick up. There is more to learning than tomes of text books. Life demands attributes beyond academic capability.
Dhirubhai Ambani, founder of RIL, Richard Branson, Virgin Atlantic boss, L.N. Mittal, steel tycoon, M.S. Dhoni and many others were perhaps academic drifters but well equipped in life skills. Therefore, I feel strongly that our education should help our children acquire life skills like listening, communicating effectively, empathizing, respecting others’ point of view, stress management, emotion management, time management, inter-personal skills, decision making, critical and creative thinking, social smoothness, public speaking, team work, polite disagreement and self-esteem. They enable individuals to deal effectively with life’s diverse challenges. It should not only enable them to earn their livelihood but make every mouthful sweeter. There are three essential ingredients of life i.e. earning, learning and yearning (3 ings): education should help them in achieving these three objectives. It should also equip them with the trinity of “Character Energy, Knowledge Energy and Spiritual Energy”. I subscribe to the view of Emerson that our children should not only become “Great Industrialists, Accountants, Attorneys, Engineers, Researchers, Space Scientists but should also be noble in their thought, earnest in what they do and become great-hearted human beings.”
Our life is not unlimited, so we should not waste it living someone else’s life. Let’s not be trapped in living with the results of other people’s thinking. Let not the blabber of other people’s opinion drown our inner voice. We should develop the quality of 3Cs i.e. Courage (conviction of our own opinion), Candour (frank & fearless to express our view-point) and Commitment (willingness to work hard and to give our time and energy to the task till the goal is reached).
“A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on”. – J.F. Kennedy
Once Aristotle was asked, “What is the difference between an educated and an uneducated man?” He replied,
“The same difference as between being alive and being dead”.
According to me an educated person is he who can, among other things, entertain himself (leisure pursuits), entertain others (sociable) and entertain a new idea (can think for himself and is ready to listen to others’ viewpoint). In my view the distilled essence of education is to instinctively do the right thing and uphold values of loyalty to noble ideals, rightful pride, and generosity of spirit. When we grow up ideals for living should flow out in our daily lives in the spirit of the above mentioned traits. We should have internalized the passion for pursuing excellence: the motivating force should be seeking of inner glow. Once Steve Jobs, CEO, Apple Computers, delivering his speech at Stanford University mentioned to the graduating students, “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish”. Without having access to these four words, all my life I have been wishing that for myself. Let us remain ‘hungry’ with a desire to learn and be a life-long learner. Let us remain ‘foolish’ with the desire to keep becoming wiser all the time. Often I have seen the sign ‘Work in Progress’ on roads. It very appropriately applies to human beings. We are never complete: we are always in the act of becoming. The human frame carries a unique energy, beyond the thought-mind level – deep within man. Education is to ignite the cosmic fire to release this energy. Let us keep growing throughout our voyage of life. Let us keep learning and honing life skills as these are the attributes which will help us navigate nicely through the tempest of life. Finally Are you at ease with yourself? Is your mind tension – free? Are you in harmony with the flow of life? If yes, you are an educated person ! If not, you need to work further on yourself.
Previous : My Idea of Education - Refinement & Spirituality