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This Road, That Road!

I love Robert Frost’s poetry! His ease of thought, symbolism through nature and reference to an abstract depth make me feel like I am out on a treasure hunt with a gentle breeze behind my back. A famous poem of his titled, ‘The Road Not Taken’ appears to have been interpreted in many ways. No matter how one sees it, the words seem to leave readers with a sense of realism about the life they choose to live and the decisions they choose to make. Here is my perspective on it, with the original text in italics followed by my own thoughts:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…

            There have always been two roads, two paths to take in order to do anything. Little streets emerge out of those roads later, but at the broad, conceptual level, it is just two paths— one that appeals to the senses and one that is conducive for the spirit. In the rush of going ahead, we often do not take the time to think over which of the two roads we should take. We simply take the one that seems appealing to the outer senses. What our eyes show us is at the physical level. What our mind needs to see is at the internal— intellectual and spiritual level.

And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth…

            The fortunate few do see options. Choices. Alternatives. They do not get pulled into the popular paths. But at the same time, options are always hard. For the thoughtful mind, the world becomes a hard place to live in because on one hand, this mind can see the path that everyone sees, but on the other hand, this mind can also see a different path, one that is not easily visible to others. It can be hard to ‘see’ which path will indeed take us to our destination and be more valuable in our journeys. The monkey in our hearts wants to skip around on various paths, test all different directions and not really settle with anything, for the fear of losing something along the way. What is that ‘something’ and what is the ‘real thing’ that the heart wants—those are questions that we need to think through.

Then took the other as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same…

Who’s to say which path is the ‘correct’ path? It is inevitable that some great opportunities would be lost when giving up a path, but it is also true that some other wonderful things will be gained that would not have been possible otherwise. All the directions leading from the crossroads look ‘fair’. Standing at the intersection, the thoughtful mind looks. Looks long! Looks hard! Looks again and again! Some choose to take the road that is weary with use while others decide to take the path that seems less travelled. The latter are nowadays called ‘risk-takers’ or ‘alternative thinkers’. However they are also criticized as ‘delinquent’, ‘troublemakers’ or ‘subversive’. Since it is common knowledge that treading on less popular paths will lead to seclusion and criticism, those paths often remain ‘grassy’ and continue to ‘want wear’, while the most common way gets trampled upon by all and sundry.

And both that morning equally lay,
In leaves no step had trodden black.

‘That morning’ referred to in the poem seems to be the quiet moment that one rarely finds. Rarely does a moment arise in this fast-paced world, when we get some time to ourselves, when no one is running by us, pushing us, demanding things of us and imploring us. However, if we wish to, we can find that solace within ourselves, where we are able to get that moment— to think, to analyze and to make informed decisions. Those who are fortunate seize that precious time to objectively look at the two paths that lay before them.

Oh I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how one way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

And then comes the moment of decision! This is the moment on which our life hinges. What we do in the years ahead of us is based on which direction we choose when we are at crossroads. Often, this can be a long and tedious process. Several of us start wandering as we are thinking and before we catch ourselves, we are lost! Others take too long to think and the more they think, the more muddled their mind becomes. Some of us hurry and set sail a bit too soon, only to keep running back and forth and never really enjoying the journey. Only a few blessed souls seem to be able to choose a path, whichever it may be, and continue on it without regret, knowing that the gems gained will far outbalance the pearls that might have been lost. When we embark on a journey, we need to understand that it is not simply ‘a’ journey, but ‘the’ journey of our life and we need to make it count, remembering that once a crossroad has passed us, it is not coming back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Yes, we will sigh and perhaps even whine and complain every once in a while, because that is how life is. In the big scheme of things, however, our choice of path in life will determine our outcome. Others around us will make their own choices. We could either keep observing them with longing and with envy, or we could make our own choices— choices that would be worthwhile and relevant to us. We all have the power to do great things. If we do not choose to do things others’ way, it does not imply that we cannot accomplish great things. We just need to have the courage to make purposeful decisions and stick to them.

— Nivedita Shori

Her soul ever so gentle, easily she was pleased

Her heart in a cloud, singing out loud,

For her naiveté, sometimes teased.

Envious of her joyous mind, they sneered.

So much they spent— both time and strength,

While she cared not for trivia, they feared.

Oh, to ‘look’ beautiful! That’s what they all wanted,

Charming like all the rest, dolled up and dressed,

Gazing back at the world, unabashed, undaunted.

Simplicity— too hard to see, too much to bear,

They took it upon themselves, to be her ‘little elves’,

So she could be just another stone, not a jewel so rare.

They tranced her, tricked her, made her believe—

It is outer looks that matter, glitter and glamour,

To impress the world, that is what she would need.

Intently, she listened, and observed the contrast.

They caressed the mirror, scrubbed it clearer,

While their souls gathered dust, thick and fast.

Puzzling it was, for her to look at them

These fake fireworks, wearing scared smirks

When they could all have been radiant gems

Their inner beauty, forgotten and lost,

Covered in layers, the only thing that was theirs!

Sadly, she reflected, she pondered, she paused:

“They want you to be like them, in every way they can.

As soon as you follow, you start becoming hollow,

Forgetting what was your own, and where it all began.

You cease to be your true self, special and unique,

Instead of standing out, you become part of the crowd,

Dissolve in the wide world, without so much as a creak.

Content they are, having turned you around.

Your uniqueness gone, you are but another pawn

Whose music they silenced, without a sound.”

She who was courageous, she who was wise

Did not succumb. Did you? No, no. Come!

Down they’ll pull! Are you ready to rise?

~ Nivedita Shori

Just a Few Words

Natasha was flipping through a magazine in the waiting room of the dentist’s office. She stumbled upon an article that dealt with family relationships. As she skimmed through the main points of the article, she could not help but think of her own family relationships. The more she thought the more proud she felt of the open lines of communication that existed between her and her husband, Dev. The two of them could happily spend hours in each other’s company and even after ten years of marriage, there was freshness in their relationship. They were each other’s best friends in the true sense of the word. Each felt inspired by the other. Natasha wished Dev was with her as she waited for the dentist to call her. She had seen him not long ago. In fact, it was only that morning, when he left for work.  And yet, there was so much she needed to tell him, so much she wanted to talk about. Time always fell short for them.

Dev was about to leave work. As he was wrapping things up, he was thinking about all the interesting things that he had encountered that day. He could not wait to tell Natasha. Suddenly he remembered that Natasha was going to be at the dentist’s and might arrive late. He decided he would go meet her there. They could both then walk leisurely to the bank nearby, where Dev had some work, and then stroll home, chatting.

Natasha’s wait for the dentist was finally over. She was called in. It took about an hour for the dentist to relieve her of her tooth-concerns. Stretching herself, she walked out of the clinic into the waiting area. To her immense joy, Dev was sitting there waiting for her! She gave him a big smile and asked him how long he had been waiting. He looked at her and said with a frown, “Well, it has been about an hour. I am getting late to go to the bank because of you.” Natasha was taken aback by the response, but said nothing.

The couple started walking to the bank. Dev seemed to be in a hurry while Natasha was following him in silence. When they reached the bank, Natasha was very quiet. Dev asked her what was wrong. She said, “When I saw you, it was as if my wish just came true. I had no idea that you were planning to be there. Seeing you made me really happy. But, the first thing you said to me was that you were late because of me. You blamed me for something that I had never even intended to do. Is that why you came— to tell me how I was at fault for your day going wrong?”

“No,” said Dev. “I came so we could spend some time together.”

“Oh Dev, you know that I want nothing more than that either.”

“Well then, what is stopping us?”

“I think it is your words, Dev. Your words are betraying your feelings.”

Dev fell silent. He started thinking about how his mind was so occupied in looking at the time that he could not convey his true emotions when he saw Natasha. He held her hand in his palm and said, “Natasha, I wish I knew what was going on in your head at that moment. I would never have hurt you.”

As they both sat there hand in hand, they realized something powerful. Despite all the love they had for each other, they could still not read each other’s minds. While love can make life beautiful and smooth, yet, there will always be a limitation to human love— the limitation of communication. It is important to say what you feel. It is equally important to carefully select your words when you talk.

Sometimes, when we feel comfortable in a relationship, we start taking the other person for granted. We assume that he or she knows what we are trying to say. We forget that we have to actually say what we are trying to say. Often, people don’t take the time to say things that they are feeling or that they really do want to say. Even Natasha and Dev, who were accustomed to each other and enjoyed each other’s company, were carried away in a gust of improper communication. Thankfully, they found their way back. Not everyone can.

*****communication

Words are powerful. Just a few words are enough to turn around an entire outlook, an entire situation. The blame that Dev unknowingly inflicted on Natasha with his first words, “I am getting late to go to the bank because of you” instantaneously dissolved all the feelings of love that both of them harboured for each other. With all our good intentions, our ship can sink. A beautiful day can turn unpleasant.

          We urge you to take a few minutes and think of how the use of alternative words could have made the day as beautiful as it was intended to be? Think of how simple gestures and non-verbal communication like smiling, reading the body language and responding with a touch, a caress or a gentle nod can lead even unpleasant situations to pleasant conclusions.

          As we do this, let us also ponder over how just a few words, spoken thoughtlessly, have led to issues in our own lives— some big issues and some little, everyday issues. We are all intelligent people with wonderful brains. While we are sensible enough to know the right thing that should be said, are we sensitive enough to say it?

~ Nivedita and Prashant Shori

A long time ago, there lived a king. His huge empire demanded a lot of work. The king had all the resources he needed to run the empire but he still was never able to relax in peace. His mind was never at ease. The grandeur of his lifestyle did not give him any solace either. He was very unhappy.

One day, a wise saint was passing by the kingdom. The king immediately sent out an invitation to the saint requesting the honour of the holy man’s wise company for a few days. The king thought that this way he would have the opportunity to discuss his problem with the saint and learn the secret to be happy.

The saint agreed to visit the royal palace. The king showed great hospitality, as was befitting for both the king and for the spiritual visitor. In his conversations with the saint, the king told him that he was under a great amount of stress, with all the work involved in managing the kingdom. “My routine is very hectic. I have a lot of responsibilities and often I have to take care of multiple issues at a time. As such, I cannot relax and be happy. I am very discontented with my lifestyle and seek happiness. I pray you, O venerable one, to help me find happiness.”

The saint listened to the king’s problem patiently. He put to practice one of his many worldly-wise ways of teaching and said, “The solution is very simple, dear king. You will have to find a person in your kingdom who is leading a very happy and peaceful life. You will have to request that person to let you have his shirt. Once you will wear that shirt, all your sorrows and stress will go away. Remember that this individual should be someone who considers himself to be the happiest person in your entire kingdom.”

Although the advice sounded quite out-of-the-ordinary, the king was very pleased as he found the solution very simple. He thought, “I will get rid of such a huge problem so easily and I will not even have to lift a finger.” He thanked the saint and asked his prime minister to arrange a meeting of all the members of the senate the first thing in the morning.

The next day, the king was quite enthusiastic. For the first time, he reached his courtyard before time. Without proceeding to sit on his royal throne as was customary for him to do, he started to address the audience hastily. The hall was full and everyone was looking at the king, slightly surprised at his anxious behaviour.

The king asked, “Please rise if you consider yourself the happiest person in this kingdom.” To his extreme surprise he found that everyone kept sitting. He repeated loudly but nothing changed. He felt disappointed and adjourned the meeting, asking his team of advisors to stay back.

The king told his advisors what he was looking for. One of them said, “This should not be a big issue, my lord. I have an idea. We should make a call for the wealthiest one percent people of our empire. Those who are rich have everything they want. Undoubtedly, we will find several among them who will claim to be happy. We will thus find what we need.” The idea seemed quite logical. Everyone, including the king, liked it. Royal invitations were sent to the big industrialists, businessmen, landlords, merchants and all other wealthy inhabitants of the kingdom.

Next week, the esteemed elite class was at the palace. There were fabulous arrangements of food and other amenities in their reception. After a magnificent welcome party, the king asked the question he had been waiting to ask since the moment they all arrived. “My respectable friends”, he said to the whole crowd, “Which amongst you considers himself to be the happiest person in the kingdom?” Instead of loud cheers of “It’s me! It’s me!” that the king was expecting, there was a sudden, uncomfortable silence. The king’s question seemed to have thrown cold water on everyone’s spirits. Everyone froze. No one dared to meet the king’s gaze or even to look at each other. Slowly and painfully, it registered in the king’s mind that none of these people were living a happy, peaceful life. Dejected, he left the grand hall.

The situation was presenting a lot of difficulty. The king had not anticipated that the task that he had considered so easy would actually turn out to be so hard to accomplish. He was now losing hope of finding any solution to his problem and it was upsetting him even more.

As days kept passing, the prime minister noticed the king’s growing sorrow. He suggested one day, “Sir, you should not lose hope. I will order our soldiers to go out to each and every city, town and village of this kingdom. They will search for the happy residents of our empire and bring them to the palace.” The king replied, “We could not find a single happy person in our own royal administration. Nor did any of the wealthy people claim to be happy. I doubt that we will find the person we are looking for among the rest of the residents. But it seems like I am left with no other option. You have my approval to carry out the suggestion.”

The very next morning soldiers were sent out to all corners of the kingdom. They were instructed to first meet the rich people, then the middle class and then the poor people. They were advised not to waste much time in areas where there already was little hope of finding happiness, namely, the places stricken with poverty.

The soldiers searched for almost a month. Some of them started coming back to the palace empty-handed. The prime minister and the advisors also started getting worried. No one had thought that the situation would become so severe.

Then one day, one of the soldiers heard the first bit of positive news on reaching a village. The villagers told him, “There is a farmer here who always says, ‘I am the happiest person in the world’. Everyone calls him ‘Sarju’. Why don’t you go and look for him?” The soldier went where he was directed and found Sarju’s small, thatched-roof hut. He found Sarju’s wife making a watery soup in an earthen pot on the small fire in one corner of the hut. Remembering the royal instructions not to waste too much time in poor surroundings, he hurriedly asked the woman where Sarju was. She said, “He is always at the farm at this time of the day. Take that mud-path over there until you reach a clearing. That’s where the farm is.”

It was a scorching afternoon. The soldier took the path shown by the woman. When he reached the farm, he saw a man ploughing. He called out, “Hey, are you Sarju?” The man put his hand over his forehead to block the sun out of his eyes and regarded the soldier with curiosity. He answered, “No sir, Sarju is taking a nap under the bullock cart behind you.”

The soldier turned around and sure enough, under the bullock cart was lying a thin man, his face towards the soldier, eyes closed, and a peaceful expression on his face. The soldier bent down and tapped him on the leg a few times. Sarju slid out. He rubbed his eyes with surprise on seeing a royal soldier in front of him. “Welcome, sir”, he said, “What can I do for you?” The soldier asked him bluntly, “Sarju, are you a happy man?” Sarju was even more surprised at the question! But he smiled and said, “Yes, sir. The happiest in the world!” The soldier wanted to embrace him with relief. He said, “Okay then, my good man, the king would like to see you.

I am here to take you to the palace. Do you need to take anything from your house?” Sarju was reluctant at first, but realizing that these were the king’s orders, he obeyed. “Let’s go sir. No, there is nothing that I need to take.” He then called out to the other farmer, “Badri! Tell my wife the king has called for me. I will come back as soon as his majesty’s business with me is done.” So saying, Sarju accompanied the soldier silently.

Sarju was taken to the king’s visiting chambers right away. As soon as the news reached the king’s ears, he jumped up with joy. He left everything and rushed to see who the happiest person in his kingdom was. When he saw Sarju, he stopped in his tracks. This was certainly not what the king had expected to see. The tall, lean man looked tanned and toiled. His frail body looked like it could use at least a week of nutritious food. Yet, he had a pleasant face that smiled gently on seeing the king. The thing that perplexed the king the most, however, was that this man was not even wearing a shirt! Skipping conversational formalities, the king got straight to the point, “Why are you not dressed properly, young man? Where is your shirt?” Sarju bowed his head and said, “I apologize, my lord. I am not wearing a shirt because I do not have one, my respected sir. Neither can I afford to buy myself a shirt, nor do I need one.” The king stood stunned! All of his earlier excitement turned into bewilderment. He started to wonder how a shirtless man could be the happiest person.

Baffled, the king asked Sarju, “There seems to be a mistake. Did the soldier not ask you if you were a happy man or not?” “Yes sir, he did”, replied Sarju, “and I told him as I tell you now, that I am the happiest man in the world!”

***

I am told that the above story originated as an Italian folktale hundreds of years ago. Traveling through time and places, it has undoubtedly undergone several modifications. The crux of the story however, remains unchanged. I heard this story from my father almost twenty years ago. My childish mind could not then grasp the essence of the story. I could not quite understand why the wealthiest men were not happy and how the poor, shirtless farmer  was.

But now, having experienced some of the world’s ways myself, I have come to realize the enormous potential this story holds. We all seem to lead a life like the king’s. First we collect things and then we strain ourselves to manage and maintain them. No matter how much wealth we collect, it does not lead us towards happiness. None of us are able to say with confidence, “I am the happiest person in the world.” We are awed when we hear about the wealthiest, most influential people in the world and feel envious of what they have. Little do we realize that wealth has no connection whatsoever to happiness.

For most of us, happiness is a thing of the future. We think, “Once I have this or once I achieve that, then life will become comfortable and peaceful. Then I will become happy.” We keep running after happiness and it keeps eluding us. We are never able to catch it. It remains a mystery that we are never able to solve.

We have to stop chasing happiness and start feeling it. Happiness is right here, right now. It is in our minds. It is in the air that we are breathing, in the life that we are living every moment. It is not something that will happen ‘one day’. Whatever we already have is more than enough to keep us happy. If we cannot be happy in the present moment, then we never can be. If Sarju can be the ‘happiest person in the world’ without having proper clothes, housing or food, it is a wonder that we cannot be happy amidst the countless resources that we have.

We have all heard, “Very little is needed for happiness.” I have started to feel that ‘very little’ is actually a ‘pre-requisite’ for happiness. The more we have, the more troubled we are bound to be. 

 — Prashant Shori

No Excuses!

Several times in life, we make excuses to get out of things that we know we should be doing. Sometimes, it is just procrastination – putting important things off – and sometimes it is because we don’t feel that we can do it.

The following video is a commercial for the sports brand Nike. It features Matt Scott who is a wheelchair basketball player, a NWBA star and a national American champion. He was born with spina bifida, a birth defect in which the backbone and spinal canal do not close before birth. The video is a wake-up call for those who make excuses despite being healthy and having the resources. Here goes the script:

I’m too weak
Too slow
Too big
I ate too much for breakfast
I’ve got a headache
It’s raining
My dog is sick
I can’t right now
I’m not inspired
Makes me smell bad
I’m allergic to stuff
I’m fat
I’m thin
It’s too hot
I’m not right
I’ve got shin splints
A headache
I’m distracted
I’m exerting myself too much
I’d love to really, but I can’t, I just can’t
My favorite show is on
I’ve got a case of the Mondays
… the Tuesdays,
… the Wednesdays
I don’t wanna do this
I wanna do something else
After New Years
Next Week
Might make a mistake
I got homework
I feel bloated
I have gas
I got a hot date
My coach hates me
My mom won’t let me
I bruise easily
It’s too dark
It’s too cold
My blister hurts
This is dangerous
Ugh
Sorry, I don’t have a bike
I didn’t get enough sleep
My tummy hurts
It’s not in my genes
I don’t wanna  look all tired out
I need a better coach
I don’t like getting tackled
I have a stomachache
I’m not the athletic type
I don’t wanna get sweaty
I have better things to do
I don’t want to slow you down
Do I have to do this?
As soon as I get a promotion
I think I’ll sit this one out
And my feet hurt.

Does any of that sound familiar? Well, keep in mind, if he can do it, so can you.

 

The Richness of the Poor

(Based on a True Incident)

A retired couple, Mr. and Mrs. Sharn were living in a small town in India. The ancestral house they were living in was over a hundred years old. The walls of the house were falling apart. There were big cracks in the staircase and floors were unevenly inclined. Under the circumstances, they thought that it was high time to go for its repair. The job looked very expensive besides being exhausting and strenuous. But the condition of the house left them with no choice. They finally called for a mason.  He agreed to come the next day with two other labourers.

The workers started the job. On the second day the two labourers arrived to work fifteen minutes late. Showing her frustration, Mrs. Sharn asked them the reason for being late. Humbly and meekly, they said, “Madam, we both come from a village, twelve miles away from the town. Today the tire of one of our bicycles got flat. We usually aim for reaching to work fifteen minutes early. It takes us around one hour to cycle to the town. But today we had to get the bicycle repaired.” Mrs. Sharn shrugged her shoulders and left them to work.1

 In the afternoon the couple found that the labourers finished their lunch fifteen minutes early and got back to work. Perhaps they were trying to compensate for the delay which had happened that morning.

In India, the supply of labour is much more than the demand. Therefore people quite often change the labourers, depending on whether or not those workers are suitable for them. The worker often comes to know at the end of the day if he will be coming to work the following day.

So, at the end of the day, before taking their leave, both the workers came to Mr. and Mrs. Sharn to seek approval if they could continue tomorrow. Mr. Sharn nodded in consent and the labourers’ faces filled with relief.

The next morning the workers were at the site almost fifteen minutes early and started their work without wasting a single minute. Mr. and Mrs. Sharn were living in the same house during the repairs although they confined themselves to one portion to facilitate the repairs. Quite often, they would go and stand at the worksite to monitor and sometimes to supervise. The third day when Mrs. Sharn was at the site, she happened to notice the contents of one of the labourers’ lunchbox. There were two big and thick rotis (Indian home-made bread). That was it. When they were eating their lunch in the afternoon, she couldn’t help but take a peek. She saw that both of them had the same thing for lunch and they were dipping their morsels in water before eating them, perhaps to soften and to make them easier to chew. She came back to her room but could not stop thinking about it.

 While eating her own lunch with Mr. Sharn, she told him about what she saw. They looked at their own plates cooked vegetables, hot lentil soup, yoghurt, salad and fresh, buttered rotis. Two pieces of Indian sweets lay on the side for their dessert. It was their usual, delicious lunch. But that day, none of them enjoyed the lunch. The thought of what someone else was eating a few yards away from them seemed to have taken away their appetite.

In the evening when the two workers came to them for approval to continue the next day, the couple told them, “We are happy with your work. You won’t need to seek approval every day. You can continue until the renovations are over.”

Later that evening when the couple sat for their dinner, they were a little uneasy. There was an uncomfortable silence. All of a sudden, Mrs. Sharn said, “Okay. Starting tomorrow, I will be serving two cooked curry vegetables to the workers. I will also make a salad for them, and give them a bowl of yoghurt each”.

Mr. Sharn smiled. He said, “I was thinking on the same lines. It is as if you stole my words.”

Both of them seemed as happy as if they had just won the lottery. They realized in that moment how making someone happy gives more joy than anything else in the world.

The next day Mrs. Sharn woke up early. She went into the kitchen and started her preparations for lunch. She forgot to eat her own breakfast in the excitement. The lunch was ready before time and she served it to the labourers during their lunch time. Their faces lit up at the sight of the warm, fresh food. After they had eaten, Mrs. Sharn came back to her room, taking the empty dishes back. She felt some weakness in her legs. She sat on the chair, tired.  She had skipped breakfast and had not taken her usual late morning rest which her body needed at that age. At the same time, what she had done today for the labourers was not a one-day thing. She knew that they would be working for around two months and she wanted to serve them lunch every day.  The thought made her feel very strong on the inside. She felt a lot of contentment and the pleasant feeling of fulfillment. She promised herself that she would try and take care of herself as well, until the construction work continued.2

 Days kept on passing. The work was progressing well each day. The kind-hearted Mr. Sharn was also complementing his wife’s goodness by bringing the labourers some sweets or snacks every other day for their tea-breaks. The workers too put extraordinary efforts in return.

In a couple of weeks, the weather started changing, the winds started getting cooler and the days started getting shorter. Mrs. Sharn was more concerned about the workers now. She would say to them, “Why don’t you end your shift ten minutes early? I am worried about your travel back to your village on those bicycles during the dark, chilly evenings.”  Most of the times, they would listen. Sometimes when they were engrossed deeply in their work, they would still finish the task at hand before going.

The renovation was almost complete now. The work was in its last week and it had been done well. One day Mrs. Sharn expressed a desire to her husband. “I am afraid that the labourers might not have any warm clothes to wear. If they did, they would have started wearing them by now. It’s quite cold. I want to give each of them a warm set of clothes. Also, some of our grand-daughter’s toys are lying in pretty good condition. Even when she is here, she seldom plays with them. Why don’t we give some of those for the labourers’ children?”  Mr. Sharn liked the idea.

Without wasting any more time, they dashed to the market to buy clothes for their workers. The shopkeeper was a friend of theirs. He asked the purpose for the shopping. When he came to know, he started showing them clothes of an inferior quality, thinking that those would suffice. Mrs. Sharn did not like the shopkeeper’s intention. She said, “Please show us something durable and warm. You do realize that these workers have to stay out in the cold for most of the day, don’t you?” Finally, they got what they wanted.

There were only a couple of days before the work ended. Mrs. Sharn thought that it would be a pleasant surprise for the workers when she gives them the clothes and toys along with their final remunerations on the last day.

On the last day of work, she joined Mr. Sharn when he was about to give them their final payment.  As an ongoing practice, Mr. Sharn asked the labourers the number of days they worked during that week. Although he knew that he had to pay them for seven days, still he used to ask them about that every time, to ensure there was no oversight. The labourers looked at each other this time. One of them nodded. The other one cleared his throat and said, “Sir, we need to get paid for six days this week.”

3Mr. Sharn got confused for a moment. He took out his glasses from one of his pockets and a small pocket-notebook from the other. His wife was witnessing the whole thing silently. After turning a few pages forward and backward, Mr. Sharn said, “According to my records, you worked for all the seven days.” The workers confidently replied, “No sir, six days this time. Not more, not less.”

Mr. Sharn was also a stubborn man who wanted to do things the right way. In a firm, yet gentle tone, he said, “My friends, the information in my notebook cannot be wrong.”

When the labourers realized that the dispute is not going anywhere, one of them spoke hesitantly with his head bent down, “Sir, we know that we have worked for seven days. But… both of you have taken very good care of us, so we wanted to give you something in return. We didn’t have much to offer. So you can just keep our one-day’s pay.”

The couple was totally stunned and speechless. The labourers’ generosity of spirit had made the couple feel small. Mrs. Sharn, who wanted to surprise the workers by giving them their packages of clothes and toys, had no idea that such a huge and touching surprise had been awaiting her. She realized that the significance and worth of the gift which the workers wanted to give them was much more than what the couple had planned for them. Mr. Sharn managed to pay the workers for seven days despite their resistance. Mrs. Sharn now offered the gifts, pleading the workers to accept and oblige.

In the end, the couple was left with a strange feeling. The experience had moved them deeply. It seemed there were some inexplicable divine powers that make the poor so generous and large-hearted. The richness that they had just witnessed the richness of the hearts and minds, the willingness to give up the little that they possessed made the couple wonder,  “We are called ‘rich’ and yet, aren’t we poor? So poor! And they? They, in their tattered clothes, are ever so rich!

‘The word ‘rich’ pales in comparison to who they are. And yet, it is them that the society calls ‘poor’?”

~ Prashant Shori

Thousands of ca…

Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.

~ Buddha

I lived in a ‘hole’ once,

And the nicest hole it was.

At least that is what I thought,

Until something made me pause.

My hole looked big and pretty,

When I crouched inside it.

But when I stretched my arms wide,

I could barely fit.

It was not a problem of course,

For all ‘holes’ were like that.

‘That is how we are supposed to live’,

Everyone living in a ‘hole’ told me that.

One night I saw in a dream,

A bird! Soaring high! Spreading its wings!

Blissful, bold and free,

Majestic as the kings.

I woke up in my hole, stirred.

And forcefully shut the dream out.

‘It is what people do’, I thought,

‘They love their holes throughout.’

But alas, the dream had been dreamt!

Back into my mind it flew,

“You think your ‘hole’ holds you firm?” it said,

“It’s not the hole, it’s you!”

No longer did I want to waste

My days in this ‘tiny’ hole,

Blinded by what others do,

No wings! No joy! No heights to soar!

The treaded path of the ‘holed’ ones

Made them empty, blocked their vision.

Blowing kisses to my dream,

I surmised, made a decision.

I want the ‘whole’, not a ‘hole’

Why refuse to see beyond?

To stretch! To seek within!

To reach out to the magic wand!

The transforming wand is within

But leave the ‘hole’, you must!

See the ‘whole’, be the ‘whole’,

Shine like a gem! Why go for dust?

I  once read a quote that said, “Be willing to surrender what you are for what you can become!”

Change is exciting. And yet, it is fearful  for many. Fearing the unknown, we refuse to change. We close our eyes to the ‘wings’ change will give us to make us better.

I implore you to contemplate on your present and your past to make way for a better future.

If you think you cannot, you won’t! So think you can, and you will!

— Nivedita Shori

Try to be like …

Try to be like the turtle — at ease in your own shell.

~ Bill Copeland

In the olden times, the human race was hardworking, patient and tolerant. Whenever and wherever, whatever they did, they allowed the activity to run its full natural course, without looking for shortcuts. They did not rush through things hastily. They did not seem to be eager for results. The results came automatically. They were usually positive— an outcome of seemingly lengthy, natural processes. Those processes look cumbersome in today’s times, but they were not perceived to be so by those people. They were satisfied with their working. They enjoyed life as it was. It was fulfilling enough for them.

In the present ‘progressive’ world, that sort of lifestyle is obsolete and redundant. Life is fast these days. Technology has made us automated and daily routines have much more to offer. Outcomes are a focus. ‘Efficiency’ seems to be a key requirement.  We feel that we do not need to take weeks or months to do what can be done in a few days. The quality does not seem to be a big consideration.  Quantity and speed are the things that count the most. We are full of ideas and plans, and try to materialize them through modern means at the fastest speed. Technology has made it seem like everything is possible, rational and logical. Sometimes we do not know whether we have actually gained or lost on our way to ‘fulfilment’, but nevertheless, we do not question the process.

A growing wish these days, especially among youth, is to look attractive. The readymade answer to this wish initially comes in the form of clothing, cosmetics, and accessories, to name a few. People try to look impressive by showing off the things they have, for instance, fancy-looking electronic devices.

After trying these things, they often realize that something is still missing. They feel their goal of impressing others has not been fully achieved. So, they start focussing on their bodies. Boys decide to show off some muscles and the girls concentrate on losing weight to look prettier. Some youth even resort to artificial, chemical means of achieving this. However, those who consider themselves more aware and health-conscious opt for exercising. Lots of gymnasiums and health centres have cropped up as a result of an increasing trend to ‘look fit’.These centres have grown like mushrooms within the last ten years.

The tendency of the individuals going to these gyms is, as described earlier, to get the maximum results in a minimum amount of time. They are left with no other option but to exert themselves more than what is necessary to be healthy. If they come across someone who appears to be more attractive than they are, they push themselves further than what their capacity allows.

Unfortunately, they do this in the name of inspiration, encouragement and motivation. It is good to be influenced by someone or something in a positive way, but at the same time, it is also important to remember one’s own strengths, limitations and uniqueness. Being inspired is not the same thing as ‘comparing’. The deeprooted tendency of comparison in our society leads to the desire to be ‘like others’ or even ‘better than others’.

The gyms continue to promote the mentality of fast results through weighing machines and measuring tapes. Expected result-lists and trainers are available, promoting the spirit of achieving goals fast. Most of us who adopt this practice do not even care that we are experimenting with our bodies and are putting ourselves in vulnerable situations. Each and every one of us has different physical capabilities and limitations. Comparison with others and using the same criteria for everyone is not logical.

The over-exertion during workouts usually does more harm than good. Most people I know— including myself— have been  either to a physiotherapist or to an orthopaedic doctor at least once in their lifetime due to gym-related injuries — sprains, tendonitis, ligament ruptures, tennis elbow, hernia and many more. The desire for fast results leads to problems that can leave a person severely uncomfortable for a long period of time, and sometimes even permanently.

Around eight years back, I went to visit and stay at an aashram for an isolated spiritual retreat. I was slightly overweight those days and one of my goals during my two-month stay at that place was to lose some weight. On reaching there, the first question I asked the inmates was whether there was any type of fitness centre in the aashram. With a smile, they shook their heads and told me that the use of gyms was restricted, just like the use of televisions, newspapers, cellphones and even mirrors. I was disappointed at first, but then I decided to do what the others did— take a long walk in the morning, a run in the evening, some light exercises twice a day, food that had been carefully selected and healthily prepared, a relaxed and a focussed mind. I left my goals and plans aside and stuck to the routine dedicatedly, as naturally as possible.

After two months, when I returned home, my family members could not believe my transformation. Unkowingly, I had achieved my goal. Everyone I met wanted to know the magic behind losing the extra weight and looking well-nourished and refreshed. The mirror revealed my new look to me, and I realized that my overall self-image had taken a healthy bend. I understood then that a normal, healthy lifestyle is the answer to most of our plans and wishes. Using modern-day ‘efficient’ means, we mar the fulfilment of those wishes. We feel that we need to take control of every situation, forgetting that nature’s control is the most supreme. Following the natural course, albeit with dedication, one can live a better life without tiring or hurting oneself. I, for instance, not only just looked good, but I also felt good. My purpose was not to show off to others that I had outdone them and therefore my health-results were stress-free.

As far as fitness goes, I believe it is important to remember that the purpose is to be disease-free, strong and positive— both physically and mentally. Having a calm disposition is as important as having a healthy body. Both these things reside in a healthy lifestyle. A life that is lived for speed and outcomes does not lead to fulfilment. We feel that this ‘haste’ is working for others, and so we decide to join their bandwagon, not realizing that a life lived with a simple approach brings the best results. Our self-image is just one of the things that thrives well on this simplicity.

— Prashant Shori

Expressing Emotions

In the words of an American Nature photographer, Ansel Adams, All should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.”

        Some would say that we are what we feel. Our emotions are reflective of our personalities and our character. However, emotions are like a complex web. A lot of our own emotions are intermingled together and it becomes difficult to understand them. Due to this, it becomes all the more difficult to express them. While reading a book on Interpersonal Communication titled Everyday Encounters (authored by Julia Wood and Anne Schweitzer), I came across some reasons that prevent us from expressing our emotions, especially in a socially pressurizing world:

Speaking in generalities is the first mistake we make in expressing our emotions. This refers to making very general and abstract statements about what we are feeling. We sometimes use vague words like ‘bad’ or ‘upset’. We fail to define ‘how’, ‘why’ and to ‘what level’ we are feeling this emotion.

            I still remember when this generality created a big confusion between me and my wife. Once I was working on a project and was sitting on my laptop almost for the whole day. In the evening I suddenly got up from the computer and said, “Yeah!! I am happy now”. Next morning I saw my wife getting ready to go out. I was surprised as I recalled that we had already decided to cancel this plan to go out due to my project. I asked her why she was getting ready. She said, “Didn’t you express happiness yesterday evening after finishing your project? So now that you have finished it, obviously we should keep our original plan and go out”. It took me a few seconds to understand what she meant. Then I realized my mistake. I explained to her that actually the statement  “I am happy” was made because I got an extension of half a day to submit my project and it is now due tonight instead of in the morning. I told her that I still have a lot to do to finish it and the expression of happiness yesterday had nothing to do with the completion of the project. This was a great learning experience for me that taught me not to make broad general statements that could be misunderstood. I needed to be specific.

Not taking responsibility for what we are feeling and expressing, but blaming others instead leads to flawed expression. This attribute makes people ineffective and destructive in relationships as parents, partners or even friends. Some people lay responsibility on other people while expressing their emotions, for instance, “You are driving me crazy”. By saying so, they are blaming the other person for how they themselves are feeling. If they took responsibility for their emotion, they would be more specific and help themselves and the other person to solve the problematic issue. For instance, the above statement of “You are driving me crazy” does not need the word “You” at all. Pinpoint the exact issue and express your problem clearly: “The high volume of your music system is hurting my ears and it is making me go crazy”. By stating this, by communicating correctly, the person is not transferring the blame on another person, but is rather projecting him as a helper. By communicating clearly, we are able to easily find a solution to the problem we are facing, in this case lowering the volume, for instance.

Using counterfeit language is another reason for lack of effective expression of emotions. This is when a person says or does something due to a certain feeling but does not actually describe what he is feeling. This expression is depicted in the form of agitated verbal and body language. This kind of miscommunication is more common in youngsters. It reminds me of a very funny incident that happened a long time back. My aunt came from India to visit her daughter in Canada. Her teenaged grandson got attached to her in no time. One day when her daughter came home from work she noticed that her mom was very sad. When asked she said, “Your son told me to go back and leave the house”. Her daughter started laughing and said, “I am sure he did not mean it.” She asked the little boy. He told his mom, “Granny was telling me again and again not to watch T.V. which made me upset and so I said that. But I like Granny a lot. Please don’t let her go away.”  Her mother smiled and said, “Honey, you should have said what you meant. You should have told Granny that you really want to watch your show and that you are feeling upset that she is not letting you watch it and is suggesting the same thing over and over again.” Thus, using language that counterfeits the meaning of what you want to say, can be damaging.

            We need to understand the right way to express our emotions. On the other hand, some people think that expressing themselves and talking about things that affect them does not change anything around them. This is not true. Our perceptions change because of how we feel. Expressing those feelings in the right way is equally important. By expressing our emotions, we connect with the world. It also relieves us in many unknown ways. Venting our feelings in the right way helps us take care of ourselves and of others, especially our immediate family and friends, in a better way.

~ Prashant Shori

Pursuing Glory

Kay was a famous corporate manager. His career started off at a low-profile company but escalated speedily. He hopped from one big corporation to the next, excelling in what he was doing and receiving the rewards he deserved – a good reputation and a decent salary that eventually became exorbitant. He was able to afford the luxuries that he had only seen in the movies until a few years ago.

In a few years however, he was living only for these luxuries. The wealth he had earned became a starting point for more and yet more accumulation. He thought that with his hard work, he could buy anything. Sometimes, stories he had heard in his childhood would flash in Kay’s mind – stories about how people fell into the traps of greed and want, never being able to live a contented life again. But whenever such thoughts came to his mind, he snubbed them out quickly. He was now full-speed ahead in his lifestyle and the mere thought of slowing down made him nervous.

In time, he got a big house and got married. His wife saw him as a really important man at first, but she eventually realized that he was living a life only to provide comforts to his family. In the process, he seemed to have lost the importance of relationships and relaxation. Their two children rarely saw their father who had to leave the house early and return quite late.  He could not be present at any of their school events or to read them bedtime stories. He was too tired and too occupied for all this. He could not go on family vacations as his position in the company was ‘too sensitive for time-off.’

In Kay’s eyes, he was doing his best for his family. He thought that providing them with money and resources was his only job. His family could afford every pleasure because of the wealth Kay earned. His kids had all the latest technology they wanted, his wife shopped for top-brand clothes and accessories, they had luxury cars, maids and servants to help them out, and were able to materialize all of their whims and fancies. Kay felt satisfied thinking, “What more could a man give to his family?”

In his family’s eyes, Kay was the father-who-was-never-there. Initially, his children complained and put up a fight about this, but eventually realized that they did not fit into their father’s packed schedule. They were happy with the cool things that their father let them buy but deep inside their hearts, they were sad that they could not share their joy with him.  Kay, who thought he was doing everything for his children, did not even know that his children actually needed him more than anything else. His wife, whose dream it had always been to live a life of sharing, caring, laughing and enjoying had learnt to be content with
shopping, looking pretty, decorating the house, organizing parties and ensuring everyone knew about their family’s financial status.

There was no doubt that Kay was really good at his professional work. Unfortunately, he was at work for so long and so often, that eventually, it was the only thing that he was good at. Somewhere along the road, Kay had ‘become’ what he did for a living. His identity was his work. Even though he had made a name for himself in the corporate world, he had forgotten to live life as a person, as a human being. His mind was never ready to think about anything except his work.

Never once did Kay pause to think, “Who really am I as a person, as a human being, as a husband, as a father and so on? Is this human life limited to increasing the profits of a corporate company? If I did not have this job, who would I be? Why am I so busy in filling my coffers overlooking the beauties this life and this world have to offer? Have my most meaningful accompaniments – my wife and my children – become reduced to fixtures? Was I born only to earn money?

Such a living style had become his passion, his mission. He took increasing stress for successive steps to his path — the path to glory. But stress is stress and gradually, this stressful life began to take a toll on his health. He did not have time even to see the doctor. Whenever he did go to the doctor, he was advised to re-plan his life, relax and unwind. The advice never worked. He continued to do whatever was required to rise higher and higher in his profession. Eventually, the stress showed up. One day, he had to be rushed to the hospital when he fainted during a heated meeting with a client. His condition was serious. The doctors were not sure if he would survive.

Kay’s life flashed before his eyes. All he saw was meetings with clients, convincing his team members, leading projects, his office and his pending files. Pushing aside everything, he asked to see his wife. She responded quickly and arranged a full-time attendant as she herself was scheduled to attend some meetings.  In the endless race for materialism, Kay had forgotten to show his family what togetherness meant. Everyone had started going by a fixed schedule, with no time for anything or anyone. His children, on hearing about their father’s condition, sent him flowers. They did not show up to look after him or to talk to him as they already had their day chalked out. Kay was responsible for all this. In all his wisdom and sincerity, he had modelled this. In the early years after his marriage, whenever his wife called him in the office to tell him that their child was sick, he would call his secretary to send for a doctor and also arrange for flowers to be delivered. He himself was too occupied to take time off to comfort his family. Now, the ‘standard’ had been set.

A new flash now appeared before Kay’s eyes. All of a sudden, life seemed like such a waste. Accomplishments seemed so superficial. What had once seemed like moments of glory now appeared to have nothing glorious about them. The real glory had been lost. A human life had been lost in meaningless pursuits and now lay helpless on a hospital bed.

~ Nivedita Shori

What’s Your Story

We all live a storied life. If you think about it, life is one story after another. When we relate an incident, make a diary-entry or think of a memory, we are actually re-living a certain story from our life. Although this is a figurative meaning of ‘story’, the literal sense of stories is equally important. From bedtime stories to moral stories, from news stories to novels, from traditional stories passed on across generations to specific stories happening in our day-to-day lives – all stories have their own place and help shape our identity.

I urge you to think about some of the stories that have had an important role in your life, in making you who you are. Some might have been stories from your personal life, while others might have been stories about a different person, family or even society. Some might have been with purely fictional characters, while others might have been as real as you are. It is my belief that just ‘reading’ those stories, that is, becoming conscious of them, reminiscing about them, will enable us to ‘write’ more remarkable stories for our future.

In reading a book called ‘The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative’ by Thomas King (an award-winning Canadian author and scholar), I realized how tremendously powerful stories are— at personal and social levels both. They identify our past, and play a role in shaping our present and future. Stories connect us to our roots, reveal things that might leave us shaken and can make us see the world in a different light. In the words of King, “Stories are wondrous things. And they are dangerous.”

While we are talking about stories, here is a note for those who, like me, are avid story-readers:

Stories, if told with a purpose, help broaden one’s perspective and in some cases, transform one’s outlook. While taking a course with David Booth (professor emeritus at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto), I had come to dwell upon his words, “If you read a novel and it does not change your life in some way, then it was a waste of time.” My readings have since then had conscious moments of realization about the effect of the text.

Take a trip into the world of stories, into a world that will make you a better thinker – about yourself and about life in general.

— Nivedita Shori

Introspection is a process which involves analysing, evaluating and appraising what one has already done. These ‘done’ actions could be physical as well as mental. When one thinks about these actions and reflects over the past, it leaves a positive influence on his present and future. By introspecting, one cannot go back to rectify the past. But one can definitely understand its effects and can avoid the chances of repeating the past mistakes.

Before I started writing on this topic, following my old habit, I checked the dictionary-meaning of the word ‘introspection’ and found it to be stated as, “The act of looking within oneself”. I found this meaning quite simple and understandable. After contemplating over it for some time, I realized that this may sound simple but the process is not so simple.

To explain its complexity, I want to share a story that a preacher had once shared with me and my family :

A family once came to the preacher for some counselling. The problem the family was facing was constant disputes, quarrels, and unhealthy arguments among the members. The head of the family was complaining, “My son never listens to me, my daughter-in-law always disobeys, my grandson does not know how to talk to his elders and my wife always counters whatever I say.” The preacher asked him if there were any flaws or problems in his own behaviour  towards others. He said that he did not have any problem. It was the other members that had the problem. They were the ones responsible for the quarrels. The preacher further asked the man if he got involved in the quarrels. He spontaneously replied, “I do, but I never initiate those arguments. It is always someone else who does.” After a small pause, the preacher asked him what he thought the solution should be. Quite confidently, he replied, “Tell all my family members to improve themselves and to start behaving the way they should.”

“What about you?” asked the preacher.

To this, the man assertively said, “Once everyone else improves, the problem will automatically go away.”

The dialogues of the head of the family in this story clearly depict that he is the last person in the family who wants to change himself. He wanted everyone else to make a change but he realized neither the need, nor the importance of contemplating and reflecting over his own behaviour. Interestingly, most of us share the same views as that of the character in the story. It is very easy to blame others, but it is really hard to sit down and think, “What was my role in the situation? What could I have done differently to make the situation better? Is it the environment, surroundings and other people who are the cause of the problem or is there something wrong with me which contributes in making the situation worse? Honestly speaking, we all avoid thinking of our own responsibility. We wish for the world to be a better place full of responsible citizens, sans our own selves. It is easy to pass the buck on to others, isn’t it?

Sometimes I find myself getting entrapped in situations that demand introspection but I feel that I have failed to do so. The two major reasons which I think act as obstacles are ignorance and ego. Depending upon the situation, either one or both the factors are  at play.

Ignorance is the lack of understanding about the importance of introspection. Introspection refines the mind and behaviour. It helps a person to figure out whether his mistakes were intentional or unintentional. In the case of intentional mistakes the process of introspection helps to find out the reasons and the validity of the actions performed by the doer. He asks himself, “What made me do what I have done? Are the expected benefits of this action worth it? Which direction am I going in with my life?” Such questions help us to review and recover.

In the case of unintentional mistakes, introspection helps to figure out our carelessness that caused a mismatch between the intention and the action.

The other obstacle in the process of self-introspection is ego. In many situations, somewhere in our heart we know that we should evaluate our actions, but our ego comes in the way, telling us impressively that all our actions are foolproof and we are devoid of any mistakes. This ego, on the other hand, does an ‘excellent’ job of finding faults in others – just as the story mentioned above has showed – but totally fails to demonstrate the same in the person himself.

Self-Introspection is a basic tool required in our life. It can make us better with each passing day. Moreover, the betterment it brings will not be limited only to us  but will spread in the environment to make it healthier and happier.

Indeed, introspection is a pre-requisite for a journey within ourselves.

— Prashant Shori

Knowing yourself is the beginning of
all wisdom.

— Aristotle

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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sometimes, you have to look back
in order to understand
the things that lie ahead.

—Yvonne Woon

— A Young Mother’s Reflections

The moment a child is born, the mother is also born.  She never existed before.  The woman existed, but the mother, never.  A mother is something absolutely new. 

 — Rajneesh

A child is carried in the mother’s womb for nine months before being blessed with the light of the world. As the mother nurtures her baby for this long period of time, the child becomes a ‘part of her’. In the process, the mother develops emotionally, spiritually and mentally.

While a common understanding is that a child is developing biologically inside the womb, it cannot be denied that it is also receiving subconscious impressions of character and spirituality based on the mother’s thoughts, behaviour and personality. Mothers’ influence on the child starts from the moment of conception and it does not end with the birth of her baby. In fact, now the child is ready to explore his parents through his senses as opposed to the subtle ‘sensing’ in the womb. The outlook the child will eventually form towards life depends a lot on the parents. Even among the parents, the mother’s role is a major one.

When I became a mother about two years ago, I did not realize motherhood. But as time passed, I started becoming aware of my role in my little daughter’s life. My parents took care of her for over a year while I was busy in business that demanded my full attention. However, whenever I met her, I felt that to my daughter, her mother was the most perfect creature on earth and the loveliest one. When I met her even after short intervals, she always looked longingly at me.  Whenever the interval was a little longer, she tried to stick to me. With each passing day, week and month— I now realize— she always turned to me expecting the role of a caregiver, protector, savior, friend, teacher and companion. At that time, when she was not even two years old, it was amusing to sense these expectations. But now I somewhat understand the void she was passing through.

Now I fully realize that a mother needs to be constantly aware of her role in the child’s life, the role of a loving mother.  It may not be easy to be an ideal mother. But love makes every thing possible.  Moreover, there are no hard and fast, clearly defined rules that one could follow for motherhood.  This could make things harder, especially in the beginning. But with a little bit of understanding, and a combination of openness, patience and flexibility, it is possible.

A mother’s life is now to be lived, not just as another human, but as a positive role model for the child.

In trying to think of how to do a good job as a mother, I found that a very important ingredient is to be willing to change and to constantly try to modify oneself for the better. One cannot be a good mother if one is not ready to adapt to changing circumstances. This is a quality that can help all individuals, but especially a woman who needs to transform herself into a good mother. By being open to change, a mother opens up possibilities for her child to become a well-groomed individual.

Such openness should be reflected in everything a mother does – whether it is her housekeeping habits, day-to-day behaviour, relationship with others and even in taking personal decisions. In all these activities, she should be ready and brave enough to make changes. If she is rigid or unwilling to change her original style, then not only will she make her own life hard, but also make her child’s life miserable.

Some changes might be very hard to carry out— like changing one’s temperament, but the very instinct of motherhood makes things easier.  The difficulty is that under the rapidly changing family circumstances and values, the instinct of motherhood is gradually diminishing. Yet, it cannot be denied that it is very important for the child’s positive growth. It is the responsibility of a mother to carry it out. She has to be mindful that all her activities are being observed by the child and will undoubtedly affect the day-to-day behaviour, personality and character of the developing individual.

Being open also means being ready to take responsibility for any wrong action that a mother might have knowingly or unknowingly done. If she does not admit her faults, then her child sees her as hard and unwelcoming. Children have the instinct of sensing this ‘hardness’ and often adopt the same characteristic in their own personality as well. Conversely, if their mother openly admits her mistakes and apologizes when wrong, they feel this ‘softness’ and imbibe that quality.

Lastly, I think that ‘motherhood’ is a full-time job. It can be done well and with enthusiasm if a mother embraces opportunities to make it fun. Dancing, laughing and consciously enjoying with your child are ways to make this role more pleasant. When a mother opens up her arms to hug her child, she opens herself up to a world of possibilities and a world of change. Dressed as a mother, she actually serves various roles in the life of her child. So, it is very important for her to accept motherhood with extraordinary openness.

— Sudeepti Dhawan

Every child’s first education begins with his surroundings. With time, as one grows, the intellect also grows, habits change, personality develops and circumstances alter; but the habit of getting influenced by the surroundings does not change.  It often remains the same, even when we see it working against one’s benefit.

The society in which we live always keeps on influencing us. Each individual acts in accordance with what others do.

It is common belief that what most of the people are doing is always right. The norm established by the majority is upheld by the society and considered ‘the right thing to do’. An individual’s will, his choice has no importance.  It almost loses its very entity.  It is as if the society has forgotten that it is the individuals who form it— the society.  So the will of an individual should be respected in a healthy society.

When trying to settle in a new country, I found many well- wishers already settled there.  They were sincere and serious to render me all the help they could.  It was heartening.  They advised me to have certain things in the first instance to make my place in the society.  It was their ‘have to’ culture just for survival.  So in all its sincerity, I found the society exerting many pressures on me:

  • to find a ‘survival job’— no matter how hard or irrelevant — as soon as possible, instead of using the ‘settlement funds’,
  • to buy a car and cell-phone at the earliest, considered essential to find and accept over-time at work,
  • not to think of going back to my home-country, India for at least five years, to save as much as I could, and 
  • not to spend even a single penny on my intellectual and spiritual growth and so on.

Hence, leading a comfortable and quality-life was considered ‘unhealthy’ practice, especially for newcomers to the country.  As I have mentioned earlier, even after we grow up we still do not leave our tendency to get influenced. I was no exception and got taken by the flow.  I was dissatisfied, unhappy, tense and tired but everyone around me was quite satisfied as I was doing exactly what others had done when they had come to the country and I was expected to do the same. It was a ‘have to’ situation according to the society I lived in and I would ‘have to’ conform with its ‘norms’.

            This ‘have to’ was the governing force and I was also in the race. It was a well-established path which took me towards ‘well-established’ discontentment. I call this discontentment ‘well-established’ because all those who were following this path had been engulfed by it from all sides. But that was considered ‘okay’ because that was the only reality they knew and understood.

There were many times when I used to think that man had done wonders in technology by setting foot on moon, by exploring Mars and by making supersonic jets. How could the same human brain not be able to figure out that this ‘have to’ culture is not only slowly strangling the contentment and happiness in his own life but it is also a great hurdle in the very process of thinking as it eats up all the time a man can have at his disposal. 

Having been taught that the purpose of money is to serve you and not the other way around, my sincerity and dedication towards this ‘have to’ approach began to fade and one day I decided to come out of its influence. The same day I realized that the mere thought of living a life free from the shackles of what I ‘have to’ do, liberated me from many worries which I had wrapped around myself unnecessarily. It was definitely not easy to bring it into practice. The day people came to know that I had stopped doing what I was advised to, I almost became a criminal in their eyes. They all got upset, unhappy and worried about me without even noticing that I was more cheerful, happy and contented.

After coming out of that ambitious cycle I realized that people have succumbed to leading a tough and  unhealthy life. Even though it is making their lives miserable, they refuse to step out of this race. I have heard and seen examples of such people going into depression, falling prey to several physical and mental ailments and even ending their lives due to the pressure of being like others.

This ‘have to’ practice is present everywhere, in every country, in every culture, in every society and in every family. It is so deep-rooted that it has become second nature to us, just a way of life. It has become impossible for us to think of any other way to lead ourselves. We have become habitual to leading a life of puppets from the moment we get up from our bed until we sleep. Why be a puppet? Why shouldn’t we lead a life which we and only we think is best for us? By doing so we might be helping not only ourselves but also others who do not have the courage to come out of their shells and think differently. It is the only way we can truly live a quality life, a life full of peace, prosperity and happiness.  Most importantly, it is how we can live our life by ourselves.

— Prashant Shori

Let’s Walk Together

Let’s Walk Together

Come my dear, let’s take a walk

Don’t ask ‘where’, don’t ask ‘why’

For all we need is a walk—

By ourselves, hand-in-hand

Saying adieu to the cares of the world.
 

Come my dear, lest it is too late

To enjoy ‘togetherness’

To consider and celebrate our blessings,

For the fountain of youth will drain one day

Leaving behind scarred memories.


Come my dear, and tell me not

That you have no time

For soon enough, there really will be none.

Time is a tough master

It flies fast and no one can keep up.


Come my dear, let’s walk together

By the riverside, on the street,

Questions of ‘where’ and ‘why’ don’t matter

As long as we are ‘together’.

The rest can all wait for some time.
 

Let’s sip some joy from the cup of life

Come my dear, let’s walk together,

And on this journey, grow together!

— Nivedita Shori

Listening ‘in vain’

India is a land of saints and philosophers. Literature to uplift mankind is present in abundance. Each and every day, hundreds, if not thousands of preachers give their sermons to uplift millions and millions of people through face-to-face interaction, on television as well as on the internet. Evergreen, golden principles like truthfulness, honesty, sincerity, patriotism, discipline, sacrifice and kindness are being taught every day through relevant examples from scriptures, from history as well as from the present.

Surprisingly, irrespective of the increasing influence of the western culture of material progress, the number of people listening to these discourses is increasing every day. Yet, despite all these positive efforts, the levels of kindness, honesty, truthfulness and other such values are declining sharply. Corruption, deception and delinquency, on the other hand are increasing day by day.

The situation has become so severe that a question arose in the Indian Parliament that even if it passes a bill to sanction Jan Lokpal (the Jan Lokpal Bill is a proposed independent anti-corruption law in India), it will be hard to find even a small set of honest and truthful people among the 1.2 billion population who can run that office without any delinquency.

This alarming situation has raised a big question upon the utility of all these spiritual institutions and social organizations engaged in regular discourses. Many critics have mentioned many reasons behind the ineffectiveness of these preachings. They, the criticizing listeners, pinpoint that the preachers themselves do not practise what they preach and leave the entire onus on them —  the preachers.

Such listeners forget that they too are equally responsible because they spend their time and energy listening to them. Here, one thing which stands out to me is the lack of understanding and application by the listeners.

Now about listening :

The process of understanding and applying what we have heard consists of four components. These four steps are :

  • mindful listening,
  • contemplation,
  • coming to a decision and finally,
  • implementation.

Each of these is equally important and skipping even one of them ruins the purpose of the whole process resulting in zero learning. Let us go over the steps one by one :

Mindful Listening is the first step of intake. The listener has an opportunity to just listen and he should listen without any biases. The word ‘mindful’ also eliminates the scope for superficial listening. One should be focused as well as attentive while listening because the information provided becomes the raw material for the next three steps and the purity of the raw material  depends upon the extent of the alertness and intention while listening. Some people also make notes while listening. This is good because by noting down the key concepts one could retain the essence of the information provided.

The second step is Contemplation which is to process what we have listened to. During the process of contemplation we often come up with different aspects of the information provided to us, by tossing it around in our mind and subjecting it to analysis. As an example if we are told that getting up early in the morning is good, then during contemplation we attach the ‘why’ and ‘what’ components to it:

Why is waking up early good? What will I gain by getting up early? What will I lose if I  get up late? Is it good for health; if yes, why? Is rising late bad for health; if yes, what are the health hazards? Do I know someone who is performing better because of the habit of early rising?

All these questions give us the opportunity to work on the pros and cons of the activity. This step gives us a frame work for making a decision.

Coming to a decision is the third step when one views and reviews the analysis made in the above step and comes to a conclusion about how to use the information gathered, for instance,

–          which part of the information is to be used

–          to what extent is the information useful

–          how will it be used in one’s life

–          what is the plan of action etc.

It is like selecting a dish to eat after browsing through the menu card at a restaurant.

We have to make our selection based upon rational and logical reasoning, keeping in mind that our decision could affect us deeply.

Implementation— Once the decision has been made it is the time to implement the decision. Going back to the example of rising early, if a decision has been made that waking up early will serve one good, then the listener needs to put this decision into action and not leave it just at the decision itself. If we do not stick to the decisions we take, then the three steps before implementation end up being merely a waste of time and energy.

As you can see, the above four steps are nothing new. In the back of our minds, we all know them. But how many of us actually go through them in order to organize the information we have learnt from anywhere? Most of us are just listening ‘in vain’! For some,    it is to pass the precious time they have been given in this life; for others, it is to ‘look important’ and ‘busy’. Not many are putting the information to any use in their day-to-day life.

The above process applies not only to listening, but to reading, watching and gathering information from any source. Because of flaws in the process, there are no positive outcomes of our listening. Even if we reach up to step three, but fail to apply the last step, the result will be nil. The application of the four steps stated above is the only way we can give a purpose to all the information we have acquired. This way, we shall take our lives a step further. Those who are in our contact will also grow with us.

In the end, suffice to say that as the listener is, so the preacher will be. My wife, a teacher, tells me that she enjoys teaching a class where she anticipates good listeners. She says it helps her sharpen her teaching skills and encourages her to be meticulous in what she teaches. Thus, if listening is rectified, then not just one but several sets of people, without any delinquency, will start taking responsibility for the declining values in society today. People do not have to change, only their listening does.

— Prashant Shori

The Journey!

We think it is time! Time to stretch our wings and soar up to the sky. What’s a journey after all, if one does not rise in the process? As part of this broadening of horizons, we are changing the title of the hard-copy booklet from ‘A Journey With The Child : Let’s walk together’ to  ‘A Journey Within Ourselves: Let’s grow together’.

We all realize that we can help others only by helping ourselves. Whether it is our children, our family-members, our students, our colleagues or our friends, we can continue a journey of love and peace in harmony with them only if we are aware of ourselves first. 

By changing the title, we do not imply any major changes in the content of the booklet. Those who have kept up with all of our issues will recall that most articles of these booklets have appeared under different categories, all of them emphasizing the need of self-analysis.

It is important to remember that ‘All the wonders you seek are within yourself’. To be able to journey with children and others, we need to peek within ourselves, come face-to-face with our ‘wonders’ and create more. It will help us to have a better understanding of our own self, our own likes and dislikes, in a rational way. This way we shall have better understanding of others too.  It will enable us to continue on this journey of togetherness and keep growing with each step. 

Pause, Think, Learn

Life teaches us many lessons but how much do we learn from them? Here’s a video tilted ‘Interview with God’. I have seen this content several times, but it makes sense every time. Are you ready to pause, to think and to learn:

I am thankful to a wise relative who recently introduced the following poem to me, originally written more than a century ago. Mr. Sukhdev Kumar, reciting this poem in his passionate, enthusiastic voice at the age of seventy-two, reminded me of my existence and took me to thinking back to the question of ‘who I am’ and ‘what I am for’.

        Written by the renowned poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, I present this famous poem to you along with my own reflection of each verse. Feel free to skip my interpretation and read only the straight, non-italicized lines of the poem (for that is how I would read it, if I were you). Subject it to your own interpretation. No two souls are alike, no two minds are alike. My experiences in life situate my thoughts in a perspective that may probably be very different from what you have experienced and ‘lived’.

       Through the italicized words, I try to unfold the poem from my own point of view, taking it from an abstract to a more concrete level. So take this poem and do with it what you want. But whatever you do, try to utilize it in some way in the way you live.

A Psalm of Life

(HW Longfellow)

 Tell me not in mournful numbers,

Life is but an empty dream!

For the soul is dead that slumbers,

And things are not what they seem.

I read this and think of how we are ‘made to believe’ about who we are and what our reality is. The process starts at a very young age. Children listen to stories, watch incidents and silently participate in discussions that impart in them a sense of what is important and what is true. This subconscious sense will then shape the direction of how they live their life.

 Life is real! Life is earnest!

And the grave is not its goal;

Dust thou art, to dust returnest,

Was not spoken of the soul.

Our identity is not because of our visible bodies. It is our soul that defines us. The body, composed of the five elements, will return back to the five elements one day. But that is not the fate of the soul. The latter continues its journey, even after this body is gone. And it is this journey of the soul that is the real life!

 Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,

Is our destined end or way;

But to act, that each tomorrow

Find us farther than today.

In this journey, the only thought we need to keep close to our heart is that every day should take us higher than before. With our minds and bodies, we need to follow our souls, leaving behind all hurdles. At the end of the journey it does not matter how much fun we had or how much distress we were in; all that matters is how far we proceeded towards our soul in this human frame.

 Art is long, and Time is fleeting,

And our hearts, though stout and brave,

Still, like muffled drums, are beating

Funeral marches to the grave.

Whether we like it or not, this present life will come to an end. Our bodies will be buried or cremated. It does not help to close our eyes to this reality and say, “We shall see when the time comes.” Instead, it would be more befitting to prepare for the end. No matter how strong or sturdy a living being was during his or her lifetime, one day the body will surely be one with the dust.

In the world’s broad field of battle,

In the bivouac of Life,

Be not like dumb, driven cattle!

Be a hero in the strife!

We have spent enough of our precious time just blindly following others in the world. We have handed ourselves to the will of the world without giving it a thought. We let them do the thinking for us, let them take our decisions and surrender ourselves without the least struggle. It takes real courage to stand straight and tall when the world is pushing us down from all sides.

 Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!

Let the dead Past bury its dead!

Act, – act in the living Present!

Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Often, we engage ourselves in thoughts of what happened in the past, leading ourselves to fret and regret. At other times, we think of the future and make plans to make it better in the times to come. When we do so, we live our life either like a ghost or like a fantasy creature. Rarely do we spend time living like a human being, thinking of what and who we are in the present. We should live life the way it was meant to be— remembering the internal strength and chastity that our soul possesses and realizing the presence of God with us at every step.

 Lives of great men all remind us

We can make our lives sublime,

And, departing, leave behind us

Footprints on the sand of time;

Living a worthy, coveted lifestyle is not impossible. We have many examples in history to remind us what it really is like to be a worthy human being. Leave alone history, we probably have examples in our personal life which impart a sense of what life truly means. These are inspirations which we should use to guide our own lives. What use is a brain and intellect if we are not going to put it to use to learn lessons from others?

 Footprints, that perhaps another,

Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,

A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,

Seeing, shall take heart again.

In the past, people have struggled to make their own and others’ lives richer, fuller, better and more comfortable. We need to use those struggles to remind us that ‘no matter what, we cannot quit’. In our own life we need to model this behaviour so that our children can get inspiration from our actions, from our courage and strength and from our ability to keep going bravely. There is no room for weaklings. Polish up your strengths and pave the way for the world to do the same.

 Let us then be up and doing,

With a heart for any fate;

Still achieving, still pursuing,

Learn to labor and to wait.

Enough time has been wasted in dilly-dallying, in thinking, in grieving, in planning. It is time to act. In our heart, we need to be strong; in our steps, we need to be firm and in our attitude, we need to be positive. There is no need being scared of what the future holds for us or what would happen if something went wrong. Once our feet are set in the right direction, our life will automatically take care of itself. All we need to do is to keep going with hope and courage.

 

About fifteen years ago, I had put up a poster in my room titled ‘Don’t Quit’. When I visited the room again this year, I found it was still there, much to my joy. The following verse from the poster always sticks with me

“When the funds are low

and the debts are high;

And you want to smile,

but you have to sigh;

When care is pressing you

down a bit

Rest if you must,

but don’t you quit.”

‘A Psalm of Life’ brought back the memory of those times of early youth when one wills to change the world. Neither courage, nor strength seems to be lacking. And then, as we proceed and ‘progress’ into our life, we start ‘adjusting’— adjusting to lower standards, less-than-enough expectations. Not finding enough supporters who will say, ‘Go, do it while you can’, we are instead accosted by several people who say, “Oh, I dreamt of that too when I was young. The passion will soon fade away”— a melancholy note that need not to be heeded to.

It is youth, it is childhood, when the time is ripe to take an active role in creating the world of our dreams. It is definitely possible. All we need to do is to remember our own strengths and the passion of those who have dared to carry on! That is how the world continues to rise.

~ Nivedita Shori

We do not see the step right in front of us, but try to be clever and see the whole world spanning across us and beyond. The result? We stumble and fall down at the very first move we make.

       I remember while walking with my parents on the pavement as a little child, I used to be constantly reminded, “Look in front of you when you walk. Then you will not fall down and will not wander away.” Sometimes, I used to bump into a stone and hurt my toe and would cry, “I can’t look on the ground at the same time as I walk.” My mother used to say, “Well, if you look in the front, you will automatically take care of the ground.”

       Whilst this is a childhood episode, I have come to believe that it is as much true today when I am an adult as it was twenty-five years ago. We often stop looking in the front and look all around us, distracted by what is going on everywhere except in the direction we are going. Resultantly, we face obstacles, get ‘hurt’ and ‘wounded’, have to stop to nurse our ‘injuries’ and spoil our own journey. Meanwhile, the world around us— the same world that caused us this ‘woe’— seems to move on just the same as before.

When an ice-cream truck passes by in the summer evenings, making a loud, cheerful noise, many mothers try to divert their children’s attention and try to keep them busy in things that they like doing. The purpose? They want their children to avoid getting distracted by the tinkling bells of the ice-cream vendor because they know that that ice-cream, coming out of unpredictable containers, cannot be healthy for the child.

       But we consider ourselves grown-up. We do not want to be guided by anyone. And indeed, that is how it should be! But unfortunately, our ability to guide our own direction is quite questionable. Our friends come over and describe a lavish holiday experience, and we want it too; a colleague mentions changing furniture, and we want it too; a neighbour has a new car parked in the driveway and we want it too; a newspaper ad mentions a new fashion trend, and we want to be part of that too! Where is our own sense of direction?

       The above examples are only little things. Needless to say, we get carried away in much stronger currents as well— to the point that we even forget who we truly are and where we are heading.

       To pursue the life of our own instincts, our own internal desires, our own real self is really very simple. So simple that we can easily lead a life full of peace and happiness. No place of any worry whatsoever. But who wants to lead such a simple life these days? The more complex it is, the better it looks and sounds to us, oblivious people. The more worries we are engrossed in, the more successful we feel— a common mindset these days.

        If we only sit and think about who we are, where we started our journey from and what our destination is, we would realize that we need not follow the world or even gaze at it longingly. As long as our goals are in line with our capabilities and our values, our journey will be self-directed— well-directed indeed! All we need to do is to focus on the next step we are going to place, forgetting about where the world is going. So we need to simply look in front of us and walk.

~ Nivedita Shori

Stay Motivated

From time to time, we all get inspiring messages through emails, quotations on the walls of our workplaces, text messages, books, magazines, even printed on handbags or on the back of t-shirts! No matter how many times you read them or hear them, those messages are always valuable, because they ignite a spark somewhere within us. If they don’t do so, then it is a sign that our soul needs some cleaning up to be receptive of motivation. Here’s a video that motivates through its pictures and words:


 

Learn to ‘Earn’

The early years of life are for studying and learning. It is a student life. After that it is usually time to apply all that learning for earning— for a livelihood to live a reasonable life. This way, the sole aim of learning becomes confined to earning and earning alone.

Seeing this attitude, I sometimes wonder: Isn’t learning in itself a form of ‘earning’? The knowledge, experience and wisdom that one gathers through learning is something that has been acquired forever and that will in fact, be one’s permanent asset.

‘Earning’ in the literal sense means cash flow. It helps us lead our lives comfortably. But sometimes we take it too far. We forget there are other things to earn too. We need to ‘earn’ respect, reputation, trust and knowledge. These are some of the things that learning teaches us. All the earned cash might be reduced to nothing without a moment’s notice. And that is the time when all the ‘other’ earning that was collected through learning will help one rise over and above the trying times.

 Never cease to learn even if it doesn’t give you an opportunity to enhance your earning in the material sense of the word. After all, we don’t live to earn, we earn to live!

~ Nivedita Shori

The breeze, the trees, the honey bees— All volunteers!
– Juliet Carinreap

We are all engaged in our own activities, depending upon our age and circumstances. Youngsters utilise their time in studies and in their overall development, grown-ups (people between the age of 25 and 65) usually spend most of their time in earning a livelihood and seniors (over 65 and officially over 60 in some countries) lead a relaxed retired life— a life meaningful for self and society, i.e. a life of volunteering, without taking any stresses which the other two categories (youngsters and grown-ups) seem to have.

The model which I have portrayed is the traditional one. With the passage of time huge changes are taking place in the world geographically, politically, economically, socially as well as culturally, resulting in a changed mindset. With this shift in the society there is also a significant shift in the above mentioned model. The first (youngsters) and the third (seniors) categories are not very happy with their conventional lifestyle any more. Both feel bored and want to utilise their time in a more effective and efficient manner. The middle category (grown-ups), busy in earning money, sometimes just to make both ends meet and at other times to save for the rainy day or to satiate their quench for ‘more’, does not have the time to think about any type of boredom.

Youth and seniors then, choose to go with the second category of grown-ups as well. They try their best to earn money as they find it the most worthwhile and beneficial task. Both the youngsters as well as seniors have developed their own logic to justify these actions. The first common reason is that earning money helps them to utilise their spare time or the time which they consider to be ‘unproductive’. Another reason which youngsters give is that they need money for some of their other requirements like cellphone, games, junk food, other technological and recreational needs and they also need money for their tuition fee. The logic given by the seniors is that they can’t afford the same luxurious lifestyle with the money which they are receiving as a retiree as opposed to what they used to have when they were working fulltime. Some of them even argue that they will need more resources in old age and it may be hard to survive with the limited, fixed amount they receive after retirement.

It is very hard to counter the reasons which both youngsters and seniors give in favour of doing paid jobs but if we look minutely, this practice is definitely decreasing the quality of life they are leading. ‘Quality of life’ is a vast term and if we open our mind, only then do we realize that money is a small contributor in enhancing the quality of life. There are many other things which contribute to quality of life. For example, they can use their spare time to make meaningful changes in their own life as well as in the life of others— changes to uplift humanity.

Seniors can use their expertise in volunteering at many organisations and can become major contributors in building a sensitive, strong and caring society. They can help the people older than them, they can conduct moral education classes for children and youth, help the youth to refrain from drugs and other delinquent behaviour. They can participate in many more community development activities. They can initiate new schemes to help the weaker section of the society. The satisfaction and sense of achievement which they will feel being involved in these kinds of activities will lead them towards divinity. It will give them contentment. They will be able to help their family in a better way and will also give back to the society much more by following such a lifestyle.

Youngsters should also realize the importance of volunteering their time. In most of the developed countries there are some mandatory volunteering hours which a student has to do in order to graduate. I have met many such students in community libraries and in other settings, working as volunteers. However, I was disappointed by their lack of interest and enthusiasm. It demonstrates the failure of adults to show them the importance of such a noble act.

Volunteering can help them to develop a sound moral character. It also helps to find a suitable career in future. By volunteering in different organisations and setups they will find out where their interest lies. Volunteering is an opportunity to learn as well as to serve.

Developing countries, as part of their development plan, should also modify the educational curricula with a volunteering component in it. Educators should thoroughly make youngsters understand the value of volunteering. Doing something for free does not make it insignificant. Instead it brings dignity and honour.

By focusing on youth and seniors I am not eliminating the need of volunteering for grown-ups— between the age of 25 and 65. Every one of us has a moral duty to do our best to contribute to the society by giving what we can afford either in terms of wealth or in terms of time.

— Prashant Shori

Inspiration for Parents

A mother’s children are portraits of herself.
~ Author Unknown

 Where parents do too much for their children, the children will not do much for themselves.
~ Elbert Hubbard
 

The walks and talks we have with
our two-year olds in red boots
have a great deal to do with the values
they will cherish as adults.

~ Edith F. Hunter

Instant Access

Recently we were at a birthday party. When it was time to cut the cake, all the little children gathered around the table and started gazing at the cake longingly. The hosts started calling everybody around the table as well to ensure that all the family members and guests were present at the special moment. Since the gathering was somewhat large, it took a few minutes to get everybody ready. The children started getting impatient. Meanwhile, the hosts – being family-oriented and respectful to all – waited until all the members, both young and elderly, were there.

This seemed to be ‘getting on the nerves’ of the children. One of them could hold it no longer. Unable to control her tears, she started wailing out loud. All attention went towards her. As she wept and screamed, her parents rushed to her. They asked what was wrong.

Amidst her wails, she said, “I want the cake”.

They said, “Well, wait for just a few minutes, child! We are almost there.”

“No”, she cried, stomping her feet. “I want it right now!”

It was an uncomfortable situation to watch for everyone present. The little girl’s parents, not being able to pacify her by any means possible, requested the hosts, “Since she is the youngest one here, is it possible she could have a little piece of her own right now, since the ceremony seems to be taking long?”

Such stubbornness is a sign that patience has not been taught in the family. It was quite shocking — the unbecoming demand coming not only from the child, but being supported by the parents as well. It  showed there was not enough effort on part of the parents to teach their child any values of understanding, tolerance or endurance. What would such a child’s life be like later on? Would he be able to accept ‘no’ for an answer at an interview? Would he be able to cope with low marks? Would he be able to adjust in a relationship? Would he be able to endure pain or strife of any kind? Would he do anything for others ever?

It seems like the answer to all of the above questions would be in the negative. Such children are being prepared to lead a dissatisfied, miserable life. Such a child would live a life only for himself. He would not consider others in the decisions he takes. His focus would be on ‘receiving’ rather than on ‘giving’.

                Parents’ rationale is that “We want to give our children all possible comfort”. They work very hard and sometimes live a tough life in order to make it easier for their children. They often say, “We did not have any such conveniences that are existent today.” Sometimes, their own parents were not able to afford those conveniences. But now with a lot of emphasis on ‘work-culture’, money does not seem to be such a problem. Result? A life of ‘instant access’ for their children! Whatever children demand is provided to them as soon as possible. In some cases, the ‘supply’ is even faster than the ‘demand’. Children do not have to wait for anything.

                It is important to teach children how to live with austerity. We need to pass on the message to them that it is nice to be important, but it is more important to be nice. They need to hear some stories of sacrifices and what those sacrifices mean to the world. When children have heard examples of people who lived their lives for others and did not think of their own comfort at all, it will help them have patience and endurance.

It is also essential that they see parents leading a life of austerity and contentment. Children need to see us go without some comforts too. It needs to become a family value that is practised – not just talked about. We should model pride in satisfaction. If there are some unwarranted demands from children, we need to explain the reasoning as to why it is unwarranted and unreasonable. However, mere talking does not work. Instead, we have to demonstrate through our daily living that desires have to be controlled as they have no end. For that, we ourselves need to lead a life of discipline. Only then do we understand and appreciate the true value of discipline. And only then do we become eligible to teach it to our children.

                Sometimes, our approach is, ‘It is a noble value, but not for my family!’ This takes us and our children far away from a good life.  On the other hand it should begin with us becoming better human beings — understanding the value of discipline and modeling it. Our children need to live in an environment of gratitude and contentment. When we show we are not being treated well or we do not have enough, then our children will become the same discontented lot. Our efforts might not transform our children completely into disciplined, well-mannered and content people, but whatever little our children imbibe will make their life a lot better.

~ Nivedita Shori

Satisfaction

1.

What is satisfaction

To be able to sleep cozy and well,

Even when things are going all pell-mell,

To be able to say ‘time will tell’,

Although the day ahead seems like ‘a job from hell’,

To count my blessings and not to rebel,

If boggling things want me to yell,

To be able to ‘curl up’ and smile in ‘my shell’!

 

2.

Who decides my level of satisfaction

 I and I alone have a right

To decide the peace of my day and my night

Others want to take over and guide my sight

But when life drives endurance to its height

They’re there alright, only to watch my plight

I’m learning to hold on to myself tight

It’s my own journey, my soul’s personal flight!

~ Nivedita Shori

Family! This word conjures up an image of a group of people — both young and old — standing next to each other, holding hands and smiling. This is usually what is seen in traditional family portraits and is conventionally considered to be an ideal image of a family.

Taking a step deeper beyond the ‘looks’, let us think about how much togetherness they actually share.

Do the members of a family really stand by each other holding hands? No, we don’t. The fact is that not only in good times, but even in tough times, no one cares about one another. Some might pretend to be present physically or at the most say some comforting words, but when it comes to truly comforting the person – whether it be a parent, grandparent, a sibling or a child – we often fail miserably to do even our duty, let alone doing any selfless service.

How often do we even smile in each other’s company? It is one thing to give a smiling pose for a picture but a totally different thing to share a genuine smile. In fact, we seem to have lesser and lesser time to smile. We enter the house, leave the house and work or sleep inside our house like robots. We do not smile and greet each other in the family any more when someone returns home. Nor do we smile and wave at each other when a family member leaves. Sometimes, when we watch television together or are engaged in other external sources of entertainment as a family, occasionally we smile or laugh. But that pleasantness is not directed towards each other. It is directed towards the idiot box or the media source we are engrossed in.

If we analyze further, we find that as families, we do not live up to our roles at all. We do not show our excitement at family ventures, we do not show our commitment and sincerity to family-time and we do not stand by each other in times of need.

What’s even more unfortunate is that family members are generally looking for chances to pull each other’s leg. We feel that others in the family are standing over us, instead of standing by us. They seem to be watching everything we are doing and are ready with their taunts at the first opportunity they get.  And when it comes to us, we do the same to them.

In households, it is common to hear, “I already knew it!” or “See! Didn’t I tell you? But who listens to me?” and worse still “You are hopeless! No one in the family has ever been like you. I wonder who you take after!”

Amidst such environments, it is hard to feel a sense of belonging, caring and togetherness. One does not feel like going home at the end of a busy day, when such an atmosphere awaits. A home is not a home but just a shelter in such cases. A well-known adage says, “A house is made with bricks but a home is made with hearts”. Sadly, our hearts are not very much in the picture. So, our family portraits are mere appearances, acts of pretence.

We have to understand that we need our families. It is up to each and every member of the family to try to create an atmosphere conducive to peace and joy. Who would understand our true worth, but our family? As a family, we should encourage each other and help bring out each other’s strengths. We can start with simple things like a hearty acknowledgement of the other person’s presence or words, an encouraging remark, a loving gesture or even one simple, genuine smile. If our heart is in the right place, our home will be too!

Those who like gardening will know how much joy there is in planting and taking care of a garden and seeing the shoots spring up and turn into fruit-laden trees. The juicy fruits later become a source of pride and satisfaction for the gardener. Every time he looks at them and relishes them, he thinks about the hard work that went into it.

There is an odd time or two, however, when the fruit does not turn out to be according to the expectations of the gardener. What is the gardener supposed to do now? Disown the fruit? Blame the fruit? Yell at the fruit? Advise the fruit to be better next time? To claim to be the producer of the good fruit only? No, that is the moment for the gardener to reflect on ‘what might have gone wrong’. But against this attitude, looking at the good crop, the gardener proudly says, “Look at this bright, shiny, juicy one? I grew it. It is the product of my own garden. I made it turn into such a great thing.”

And when someone asks the gardener, “Sir, what about this other pale, shrivelled fruit lying in the same basket, next to your juicy one?”

The gardener replies, “I have no role to play in the sad state of the fruit. I did all the right things, gave the fruit very good conditions. I cannot be held responsible for every single thing in this garden”.

The listener smiles and thinks to himself, “When things go well, it is because of the gardener, but whenever there is a mistake, he has no role to play in it. How amusing!”

Even though this sounds strange and funny, yet several times, we often behave very much like this gardener. When we do something that brings us laurels, we take credit for it. We bask in the glory of a task well done and readily accept all the praise we receive.

However, when we make a wrong decision – which sooner or later we end up making in the course of our long life, because to err is only human – we consider it to be some divine plan. We look for a source to blame. If, in that situation, we cannot find anyone who we can hold responsible for the mistake, we start blaming God. We try to blame our stars for the wrong things that are happening to us. We try to convince ourselves and others that adversity did not strike because of a mistake that we made. It just happened because of reasons of its own.

In the above situation, we forget that when times had been good, we had considered ourselves responsible for it. At that instant, we had not wasted a moment in declaring that it was our right choices, our right actions, which had made the success possible. And now we are saying, “It just happened because of reasons of its own”. Funny!

To extend the analogy even further, let us take the case of our children. We try to guide our children to the best of our ability. We try and ensure that they always do the right thing. But despite all of our attempts, some mistakes are bound to happen. And when those mistakes occur, we disclaim all responsibility.

When our child stands first in class, we usually give credit to the time we spend in teaching him. When the child is praised by others, we again take pride in our upbringing. It is no wonder that when children shine, parents feel very proud. Well, there seems nothing wrong in doing so. It is, after all, the fruit from the trees of their hard work that has proved to be of a fine quality. The gardener, the nurturer – the parent – certainly feels satisfied and contented when the hard work pays off.

However, when the child ends up making a mistake, the tables are turned. We hand over the responsibility to the child. We consider him to be careless and disobedient. All of a sudden, we leave the child alone to face the music.  We hold him responsible for the wrongs that have occasionally occurred.

Is it fair to claim the ‘rights’ and deny the ‘wrongs’? No human can be totally perfect. However, we need to have the courage to accept responsibility for what our children turn out to be. If we are going to share their glorious actions, then it is very irresponsible of us to abandon them to face the result.

It is true that mistakes are opportunities to learn. As parents, it does fall in our lap to educate them about the incident and to help them analyze what went wrong. However, this should be done with an approach of togetherness. In such situations, think about the good times when you gave yourself credit. Become that same person, courageous enough to own and to take responsibility. If the accomplishments are ours, the failures are too!  Only this way, we can rectify the wrongs.

~ Miles To Go

We were once watching a movie, ‘A Wedding for Bella’. It made us reflect a lot on the purpose of life and what it really means to be happy. One particular part particularly made us stop and think for a long time afterwards. The lead character of the movie was a senior vice president at a very big firm. He was doing very well and making a lot of money. In his personal life, he was an orphan, very attached to an elderly couple next door – so attached that he called them ‘parents’. After his job-hours, he took care of the couple’s little bakery store. As a sudden twist, he found out that his ‘mother’ was terminally ill with cancer and did not have more than six months left in the world. Shocked at first, he gathered his wits and decided to make the rest of her living life joyous. An obstacle in doing so was his job. Even though it was an important and prestigious position, yet after a lot of thought, he decided that it would be best to quit. Obviously, others questioned him about this decision. He had made up his mind and simply answered, “Because life is too short”.

That is an eye-opening theory. Usually, when people say, ‘Life is too short’, they really mean that there is a lot to be done and “we should try to do the maximum possible in this short life”. As a result, they try to work very hard to get good jobs, to get quick promotions, to earn the most in the least possible time and to get a bigger house and then a bigger one and so on. They keep thinking that “this is what we need to do in order to derive the maximum from this ‘short life’”.

If the character in the movie had been thinking on these lines, he probably would not have been so affected by his ‘mother’s’ condition. If anything, it should have made him think about the terminal nature of life in general to find consolation. He could have gone on with the routine as usual. That is what is normally seen. But, he decided to quit the job to take full care of the ill woman and help his ‘father’ to run their little store. He had realized that life was too short to do the things that matter, the things that really mean something, the things that made him complete as a human. So he gave his ‘parents’ what even a real son might not have given, particularly in today’s self-centred times.

Making the right decision for the sake of someone else or even for one’s own sake is often very hard. To leave something that looks very good, for something that actually is very good: that is courage. To leave something that others think is good, for something that is actually good for us: that is courage. And courage is what we need to live this ‘short’ life well.

 **********

It brings another incident to mind. Once, in the middle of heavy Canadian winter, we met a man looking all tanned and rosy-cheeked. It immediately brought feelings of warmth and sunshine, which we all were longing for in the cold days. We said, “Looks like you are coming from sunny weather!”

He replied, “I live in Florida in the United States”.

Knowing how Florida is a beach area and a very popular vacation destination for Canadians, we said, “Wow, that must be nice!”

He said, “If you think it is nice, why don’t you move from here and live there?”

We laughed and said jokingly, “Yes, right! That will be very easy to do, we’re sure!”

“Well”, he replied, “my wife and I went for vacation to Florida once. We felt it was a terrific place. Instead of coming home and just telling everyone, ‘Florida is a great place! We have been there’, we started planning to live there. We started exploring all the options wholeheartedly and moved within two months. Life was too short to be wasted dilly-dallying!”

Such messages are very inspiring. Of course, it requires a lot of courage to take such bold steps. We need to weigh our options and to see what is feasible. But the truth is that most of the times, it does not even cross our minds that life is too short. We do not even try. Nay, we are not even ready to open our eyes to the fact that better possibilities exist. We feel restrained even though we have the capability to break all shackles.

So, let us try to be conscious that life is very short. Keeping this thought in the back of our minds will help in guiding our direction in life. Do we have to wait for calamity to strike to become thoughtful? Or do we need a doctor’s note to remind us that life is terminal?  We all know that life does come to an end. Let us try to remember this important fact and make our own and thereby others’ life more meaningful.

A common question that adults ask children is, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I remember posing that question to a bunch of kindergarten students once. The answers were pretty interesting. A girl said she wanted to be a princess; another five-year old said he wanted to be a dad and yet another child said she wanted to be a fairy when she grew up!

This shows that children are not ready for those future-related questions and for that type of thinking. All they see and know is their present world. The things they hear about in stories, the people they see in real life – are their models, their heroes. They think about what they want to be according to what they see. When a child says, “Look Mommy, look Daddy – I am so big!”, we often fail to see their excitement about the present and instead start thinking about how big they will be in the future and what they will do.

Children are little explorers who are not yet stuck into their futures and who are not aware of their ambitions in life. They are very open-minded. Anything is possible for them. We have no right to limit our children’s thinking with our own desires, standards and ambitions.

Do you know that parents have been known to decide what their children will be not only when the children are starting to think about university, but also when they are in middle school, primary school or even in play-school?

In fact, it will probably not come as a surprise that children’s future is decided by their parents even before they are born and in certain cases, even before they are conceived! It is heart-breaking to imagine what a tough life such a child will live – the pressures he will go through, the arguments he will have regarding his dreams, the suppression of his passion for his interests, and in the ultimate analysis – a   puppet-like life he would be likely to live.

In all of our plans, we forget that a child is an individual, living in the present. What he will be doing in the future may not be in our hands. We can only ‘fix’ the present and that will automatically take care of the future. Stacia Tuscher has said, “We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today.”

Let us not forget what our child is today. Let us remember to give him the love and attention he rightly deserves; the respect he needs for being an individual with his unique personality; and the encouragement he needs from us. We, the parents, are the ones help the child to see his strengths and to enhance them – right now, in the present, not in the future!

~ Nivedita Shori

Schools are places where most children spend a large part of their life. Traditionally, schools focus on education, often without realizing that education is not just academic. It covers all-round development. Education turns students into thinkers. A question worth asking is: Do schools foster child development by encouraging creative thinking?

The following video by Sir Ken Robinson gives a viewpoint on whether schools are doing enough to encourage creative thinking:

Effective communication is the key to establish good relationships and good relationships are the key to a healthy lifestyle.

About effective communication, some scholars say that it is an art and others say it is a skill. In a course that I took on effective communication, I realized that it is not as simple as I thought it to be. Often our style of communication becomes a habit hard to break. At the same time we find that if we are not communicating effectively, it is likely, if not surely, to affect our life adversely.

Effective communication is clear and concise while ineffective communication is vague and could lead to misunderstandings. An important finding which I had during studying this subject indicates that most of the time, we can avoid misunderstandings that arise out of ineffective communication. Mahatma Gandhi’s words come to mind, “pehle tolo fir bolo” (in Hindi), that is, “weigh your words before spilling them out”. Although this statement appears quite simple, we usually do not understand it. Often, we fail to coordinate between what we think and what we say – or between what we mean and what we say. This mismatching usually becomes the reason behind many conflicts we face in our relationship and in our family.  

Let me clarify it with an example. Last week I called my wife from my college. She was not at home. I left a message. The exact words which I used in the message were, “I will come home late tonight as I have a group meeting. If you come late or if you’re busy with your work or coursework assignments, do not bother preparing dinner. We will ‘manage’ something when I am back.”

When I reached home at around 8 o’clock, I was tired and hungry. My wife was busy at her laptop. After peeking into the empty pans in the kitchen, I approached her with some anger and asked about dinner. She looked at me with surprise and said, “You had left me a message asking not to worry about dinner. That is why I started working on my assignment right after getting home.”

I responded with, “But still…” Before I could complete the sentence, she replayed the voice-message to avoid further argument.

After listening to the message I clearly understood where the problem was. The problem was that I had conveyed something which I did not really mean. I had not expressed my true intention. When I had left the message, I had intended to say, “Try to make something for dinner and if you’re late or busy, prepare something which takes less time”. But, I had left the message without coordinating my intention and expression.

 Similarly, many times parents say things to their children which they do not really mean. When children ask for permission to go to a trip with their classmates or ask for an expensive object like an ‘I-pad’, parents usually do not answer right away. To avoid on-the-spot arguments, they either say that they are busy at the moment or they will think about it.

Children often assume that if you have not said ‘No’, then it is alright for them to keep dreaming on. Their wish gets cemented in their mind. Once it is fully established, it hurts even more to see it shatter.

On the other hand, the parents actually do not mean what they say. They try to postpone the matter and that too by using a communication style that is ambiguous. When ultimately, children feel that they are not getting the necessary response, they get upset. In their place, the children are right to get upset because in their minds, the previous response of their parents was positive, giving them the hope that their wish could be fulfilled. 

So, instead of these vague answers, parents could give their children a concrete answer backing it up with their logic. If children do not understand their reasoning, parents need to have deeper conversations with their children in order to bridge the gap between their own and their children’s thinking.  

 Unthoughtful communication or ineffective communication can either be intentional (when we purposely want to give a false impression) or unintentional (when we are unaware of how we are communicating). Whatever the reason, this kind of misleading communication always leads to confusion at both ends. Frustration arises and ultimately conflict begins.

If we think we can say anything and get away with it, we are mistaken because the effect of our words stays with other people. Life is too short to keep clarifying misunderstandings that arise as a result of our communication. So, it becomes very important to say what we really mean. Words cannot be taken back, so they should be spoken carefully. That is the key to effective communication. It plays an important role in establishing and maintaining agreeable interactions, which ultimately culminate in keeping the atmosphere congenial.

~ Prashant Shori

There are many books on cooking these days which give us different kinds of recipes. A variety of dishes we make have many ingredients each with its own specific importance and value. The proportion and quality of each ingredient or component has full potential to make or mar the taste of the dish.

Similar is the case of life. Life is constituted of years, months, weeks and days. We live a small life each and every day and all these small lives – the ingredients – make up our whole life, which is the final product, the dish. To make the dish perfect one should focus on each and every day’s activities. Similar to the ingredients of a dish, each and every day has the potential to make our life a success or a failure.

There are many books, theories and literature available these days on how to make our life a success. The material available is so abundant that even if one skimmed through it hastily, a lifetime would be insufficient.  All such material makes it rather hard for us to select what we need.  In fact, it often leaves us confused.

A long time ago, in a conversation with my father, I found agreat strategy to improve the quality of each and every day. I would like to share it with you. My father and I were once talking on the phone. When we were about to end the call, my father put forth a question. 

He asked, “What do people worship?” The question sounded quite simple and when I was about to answer, he said, “Don’t rush. I want you to think for a day. We will talk tomorrow and I would like to hear what you have to say about this.”
He added, “And by the way, here’s a hint – the answer has nothing to do with beliefs and religion.”

As I pondered over the question, I realized that his hint had made it harder, instead of making it easier.

The next day, I still had no idea of what he was looking for. I called him and requested him to shed light on the question. He told me that almost all of us worship ‘tomorrow’. “My son, we are worshippers of ‘tomorrow’”, he said.

We all have strategies to make our days and our life better, but unfortunately our plan is to apply those strategies starting ‘tomorrow’!

“I will stop eating unhealthy food from tomorrow”;

“I will start regulating my sleep hours from tomorrow”;

“I will start spending more time with my children from tomorrow” and so on.

My father further explained that each and every day we postpone some of our important tasks to the next day and when the next day comes, we again take the pledge to do it ‘tomorrow’. That is how we keep on worshipping ‘tomorrow’ and by doing that we lose several opportunities to grow and excel in life. All the people who made a mark on this earth were the ones who worshipped the present – the worshippers of ‘today’.

He said, “I suggest you make a poster that says in huge letters, “I do not worship tomorrow” and put it in front of your bed. That way, it will be the first thing which you will see when you get up every morning.”

 We cannot do justice with the day if we do not complete the work allotted for the day.  Everything that needs to be accomplished in one day should be carried out without procrastination, avoiding self-deception by making excuses and false promises to ourselves.

We cannot enhance the quality of the day without putting our genuine effort. Each single day is an important ingredient of our life. The quality of the ingredient directly affects the quality of the product – life, in this case! A day wasted or lived in a hollow, meaningless way is like one of the ingredients of the dish being missing or becoming spoilt and unusable. To make the dish full of taste, we need to ensure the presence of good-quality ingredients – our days, weeks, months or years. If we do not spend each day the way it should be spent – whole-heartedly, sincerely and purposefully – then our life will also be one big void, full of emptiness. We will not be able to get what we aspire from our life, just because we failed to make every day count.                                                      

~ Prashant Shori

Pause

Last week, I went out for lunch with some colleagues. As we were returning back to work, there was a light breeze. When we were about to reach the entrance door, the breeze brought with it a faint fragrance. One of us stopped. She exclaimed, “Oh look, the lilacs are in bloom!” We all paused and took a moment to appreciate the glory of the beautiful mauve-coloured flowers and were mesmerized with the lovely smell.  Looking at our watches, we felt sad as we had to leave the blooming flora. Reluctantly, we walked back in to our work.

Angela said, “It is so sad that we have stopped noticing things. We miss out so many beauties and little joys because of that. My two year old daughter keeps stopping every other minute to notice tiny things that I seem to have left behind.”

It sounded absolutely true to all of us. The few moments spent in the company of those lilacs were a joy indeed which we were about to skip, just like we skip dozens of other such beautiful things every day.

Recently I received a beautiful poem that reflects the above sentiment. The wise and lovely person who shared it with me has a zest to live a meaningful life, which I appreciate and would like to emulate. I thank her for passing this poem on:

Slow Dance

By David L Weatherford
(Taken from www.davidlweatheford.com)

Have you ever watched kids on a merry-go-round,
or listened to rain slapping the ground?
Ever followed a butterfly’s erratic flight,
or gazed at the sun fading into the night?
You better slow down, don’t dance so fast,
time is short, the music won’t last.
Do you run through each day on the fly,
when you ask “How are you?”, do you hear the reply?
When the day is done, do you lie in your bed,
with the next hundred chores running through your head?

You better slow down, don’t dance so fast,
time is short, the music won’t last.
Ever told your child, we’ll do it tomorrow
and in your haste, not see his sorrow?
Ever lost touch, let a friendship die,
’cause you never had time to call and say hi?
You better slow down, don’t dance so fast,
time is short, the music won’t last.
When you run so fast to get somewhere,
you miss half the fun of getting there.
When you worry and hurry through your day,
it’s like an unopened gift thrown away.
Life isn’t a race, so take it slower,
hear the music before your song is over.
 ~ Nivedita Shori

Being Successful

Children are taught that their goal in life is to become successful so that they can lead a happy and comfortable life. They are told that success means becoming a renowned professional, having a flourishing business or chains of businesses, earning lots of money, living a life of luxury and having a lot of people working for them. When they are little, their well-wishers wish for them to be this type of a well to-do, successful person later in life.

We have come across quite a few people who can be deemed ‘successful’ by the above standards. They seem to be having all that a person needs to live a luxurious and comfortable life. They have houses that are like mansions; they run high-profile industries or work at high-levels in organizations of repute; they have every possible convenience available to them; they take vacations whenever they feel like and to wherever they want. They appear to live a picture-perfect life. Truly successful! Happy and comfortable! Aren’t they? They seem so and much more. Well, actually, quite the contrary!

Often, we envy such people because we think they live a very successful life. Little do we realize that such people often make compromises to ‘look’ good. Outwardly, their lifestyle definitely looks appealing, but inwardly, the case is somewhat different. For want of time due to busy schedules, their families hardly share any feelings of bonding. Their houses are so huge that they end up being either only party-places or a vacant hollow where family members just have a spot somewhere within the walls.

They are all busy because they have to manage a lot of things all the time and therefore have no time for each other, nor for themselves to relax or pursue their inner passions. They wish to leave a good impression upon the people around them and for that, they have to be very conscious of every step they take, each move they make. It adds to the stress they are already in. As a result, they frequently spend sleepless nights thinking about how to avoid every single financial mistake as it could cost them a fortune. The outcome of all this tension is the wealth they earn, which now has to be protected and spent with care, so that it is not squandered away. Amidst all this, it must be awfully hard to feel comfortable and remain happy.

Happiness is not about sharing a joke on the phone or with a few guests. Happiness is when one feels light throughout the day and is finally able to sleep with a smile on one’s face, without any worries about ‘yesterday, today and tomorrow’. Happiness is when one has the time to have whole-hearted interactions with friends and family members. Wearing a mask of happiness while talking to business partners or colleagues is not happiness – it is just a part of one’s routine, an obligation in most cases! Happiness is also when one is able to enjoy the little things in life without having to worry about what others will think.

Being happy is a sign of being successful. Real success lies in being able to create a carefree life full of joy and satisfaction. When you feel enthusiastic about going to work, when you enjoy coming back home to your children or to your parents, when you feel like you have all the things that a person ‘needs’, regardless of what one ‘wants’, and when you go to bed feeling proud of everything that you have done during the day and finally feeling grateful to God for what has come to you – that is when you are truly successful.

We see the gleaming black windows in the mansions of the so-called successful people, but do not see the weariness and anxiety behind them; we see their sparkling cars, but miss the stress on the minds of people sitting inside it; we see their designer-wear clothes but fail to see the restless days and sleepless nights they spend in those clothes. Do you think these famous people are really successful?

Truly successful people are not necessarily famous in the eyes of the world. They are just happy. They are winners in their own eyes. They live according to themselves, not according to others. They are not blind followers of others’ definition of success. They dream of happiness and do things that make them happy. That is what being successful is all about.

Wake-up Call

A young girl’s powerful words at a UN Meeting in Brazil, make us sit up straight and think hard about what we are doing to the world. And she is asking only what is her right, and the right of every child and living being – the right to a safe life free of suffering. She shares the message of sharing, caring and most importantly, modeling on the part of parents. Here’s this thought-provoking video:

My father went to the market and saw a street-hawker selling very beautiful, tiny, colorful birds. He saw that there were dozens of them in one small cage. He couldn’t tolerate their wretched condition and planned to give some comfort to at least two of them. So he bought two of them. He also bought a cage that was double the size of the cage in which about twenty birds were confined. The two little birds now had plenty of room to play around. He paid the hawker a handsome amount. When he was about to leave, the hawker asked,

“Excuse me sir, did I give you the pills?”

“Which pills and what for?” asked my father in exclamation.

“For the birds”, he said.

“I do not understand what you mean”, said my father.

“Well, the birds are from the pristine forests of Australia, sir, and they can’t survive in this city full of pollution and toxins. Therefore we dissolve one antibiotic pill in their drinking water after every five days. It keeps them alive, or else, they might not survive even for fifteen days”, explained the hawker.  

Without saying anything my father put his hand forward to accept the ‘slow poison’. The hawker handed it to him instantly without any hesitation. My dad couldn’t sleep for the whole night and kept on thinking about the environment we are living in and forcing other species to live in.  He couldn’t take his mind off from what the hawker had said and many things started playing in his mind again and again. In his mind were flashing images of the ‘invention’ of synthetic milk, harmful injections for plants and vegetables, poisonous pesticides to obtain maximum yield, cutting trees for establishing industries, releasing toxic waste into rivers, emitting poisonous gases and chlorofluorocarbons in the air, uneven exploitation of water resources and the depletion of Ozone layer – to name a few.

He got up very early the next morning. When he was on his way for a morning walk he refrained from deep breathing, as was his routine. He felt scared as he was not sure about what that air actually contained. He had always considered it useful for his lungs and health. When he came home and was offered tea by my mom, he rejected it as he was scared of the white liquid called milk that was a part of his tea.

He was confused about the progress and development which the society is claiming. The world is claiming to reach scientific milestones and make advancements every day. But what kind of advancement is this which has left our health, our bodies and our life in jeopardy?

When my father told me about this episode, I shuddered inside. I was pushed to contemplate upon the behaviour of the present generations who are leaving such an awful world for their progeny – a progeny which is like those beautiful, colorful and charming birds. I am afraid to think about what the future generations will do if we hand over such a distorted and irreparable world to them.

We are parents. All the dictionaries on this earth give a similar meaning of this word – the originator, the cause, the protector and the guardian. Are we living up to this definition? Can we proudly justify our role? If the answer is yes, feel relieved. But if there is even a slight doubt, it is time to wake up, lest it is too late!

~ Prashant Shori

 

A teacher is more than a textbook. A teacher prepares a student for the world he is facing and is yet to face. A teacher needs to bend himself to reach the students – in a language they understand, in the way they understand.

The following video is of a little child trying to explain to his potential teachers that he is a Digital Native and needs his teacher to be aware of technology in order to be able to teach him well. Are you ready for the challenge?

Most of the time, we make children follow our pace. Our years and years of experience, makes us believe that we are the leaders and they need to be the followers. It never occurs to us that the little ones’ lives are so different from ours. Moreover, they have nobody but us to take them through this life the way they deserve. They deserve our attention and our time. Not only their physical, but also emotional and psychological requirements need to be addressed. They need us to slow down to their pace sometimes so that they can see the world with their little eyes and make sense of it in their little minds. In fact, we need to see the world as they see it. Their vision is all open and hence, far wider than ours. They think and look beyond the surface, which we become focused on. All this helps them broaden their perspective of the world. This is where their comprehension and analysis of life begins. But do we let them do that in peace?

The following poem titled ‘Hurry Up’ by Cecilia Benson  captures the thought.

 

 “Hurry up,” I always hear you say, “Or I will leave you behind.”

I hear these words the whole day long and though you are so kind,

Most of the time I just wish I would hear you softly say,

“Just take your time tying your shoes, or finish up your play.”

 The world is all new to me; time has not dimmed my sight;
And all around me there’s things to see that fill me with delight.

Don’t catch me up in your round-rush, your pressures I cannot stand.

Just slow down and look around, and then you will understand.

Please let me take the time to look, to listen, and to climb.

I’ll miss some things along the way if I hurry all the time.
For some day you’ll say, “Hurry up!”, when you’re walking down the road.
You’ll turn around and I’ll be gone; `cause I hurried up and growed!

~ Miles To Go..

In your conversations with others, do you often perceive personal attacks, criticism and hurtful undertones? If so, then consider evaluating not only the speaker, but also you yourself – the listener. You might have turned into a defensive listener. A defensive listener often assumes that others are passing negative judgements to offend him. At some point or the other, we all experience it. Sometimes due to personal circumstances, and in some cases due to our attitude in general, we become very defensive in listening and suffer just for our own complexes.

I remember I once went out to do groceries in a pair of brightly coloured pants. That day, whenever someone looked at me, I thought that they were making fun of me; when I saw someone whispering something is someone’s ear, I thought they were talking about me and whenever someone smiled, I murmured to myself, “Well, I know why you are doing so!” Incidentally, I ran into an acquaintance in the store. Right after we greeted each other, I started explaining that I was wearing those pants because I came out of the house in a rush and that it was a day-off from work, so I was not dressed well and so on. She just looked down at my pants and said, “Oh, I hadn’t even noticed. Why! They’re nice!” I heaved a sigh of relief and realized that it was me who was interpreting messages wrongly.

Defensive listening is an extension of this perception. When others are talking to us, our personal situation sometimes makes us think that they are implying something negative through their words. For instance, Dina has not received good marks at school. Later that day, when her mother looks at Dina working in the kitchen, she says, “Maybe you could use some of my help”. Dina immediately becomes defensive. She thinks that mom considers her incapable of working independently. She shouts, “You think I cannot perform well anywhere? You think I don’t know anything?” Instantly, the family atmosphere gets polluted. Dina runs back to her room feeling hurt and angry. Mom gets shocked. Other members of the family feel bewildered. They think that it would be best to avoid all conversation at this time. Not only this, Dina has now lost an important chance to spend time with her mother or to learn from her, just because of getting defensive and assuming negative intentions of her own mother. What a disaster!

For some people, defensive listening is just an attitude that has become a part of their lifestyle. These people ‘see’ threats and ‘hear’ insults in all conversations. They forever fish for an opportunity to perceive disrespect and hostility. Even something said innocently becomes a problem for them. When we converse with them, it starts to sound more like an argument than a conversation, because these people take all remarks as personal attacks. They feel that others are pointing fingers at them. Instead of trying to understand the speaker’s point of view, they immediately start defending themselves and turn the conversation into a heated debate. Signs of hostility and ill-will appear in the environment. Bit by bit, people start avoiding the company of such people – the defensive listeners.

Listening is an art. Defensive listening makes it hard to communicate well and can lead to misunderstandings and tense relationships. Giving some conscious thought to how we listen can really help us become effective listeners. Effective listening is the cornerstone of effective communication and of pleasant and meaningful interactions in the family, in the workplace and in all our worldly encounters.

~ Nivedita Shori

In Our Third Year!

‘A Journey With The Child’ took shape in March 2009. Ever since, our endeavour at Miles To Go… has been to promote ideas that will help us all in our family interactions, personality development and lifestyle in general, besides providing some specific information and thoughts for parents and educators, who are undertaking the artful mission of nurturing and nourishing children’s bodies and souls.

As we enter the third year of the ‘journey’, we thank all those who have encouraged us at various steps of this publication and have strengthened our notions of what it really means to live a worthy human life. Our readership includes most schools and libraries of North India as well as some thoughtful, inspiration-seeking individuals, families and organizations all across the world.

Our ultimate source of encouragement is to see a change of attitude in our readers. Most people are aware that some changes needed to be made in their living, so that they can have quality time with their families and in their relationships. Some of us need an inspiration and some direction. Once, one of our friends commented that the moment he receives the booklet, he remembers with guilt that he has not spent the required time with his children that month. Spreading this awareness and making us realize that we can all contribute towards making this world a better place – are some of the goals of ‘Miles To Go…Educational Trust’.

Through this blog, this month and in the months to come, we bring to you some perspectives on the importance of slowing down to reflect on ourselves; going deeper than surface-appearances; enhancing family interactions by focussing on important aspects of communication – for instance, the art of listening; and giving children enough time to explore the world which is so new to them as well as ideas on giving them a healthy sleep for a healthy body and mind. We hope that ‘A Journey With The Child’ will continue to broaden your perspective on several little and big things in life and that you will share and enhance our vision through your feedback and comments.

We love our kids. But sometimes, with the state of mind they are in, it is difficult to express this or for them to understand it. It requires some effort to build an atmosphere conducive to harmony.

In a household with children, especially teenagers, it is important to establish some rules. Some are unspoken rules but children need to be reminded of those from time to time, nevertheless. Most of the times, we can dissipate a problem through our talk. The following video talks about some common things that happen in families with teenagers and some ways to decrease the tension:

There is so much going around in our world these days. Whoever you talk to, is busy. Whenever someone calls us and asks what we are doing these days, we often respond with ‘There’s no time!’ There are so many things to take care of, so many projects to complete, so many goals to achieve. A lot of us make to-do lists every morning and try to strike off a few things from the list at night. But usually, a list for the next day is already ready in our minds by the time the day is over.

I often think whether what we are doing every day makes any sense to us. Have we entangled our lives so much that we have just created more work for ourselves? Are most of these things even thoughtful things that will help us become better and more fulfilled?         

We just go, go, go! We take an idea from here, a thought from there and follow the speeding world blindly, join the ongoing race without knowing its destination. We are only on the run. We are busy. We have no time. We entered this race without giving an analytical thought to what we are doing.

Now what we need is to slow down, take out time to reflect – reflect on our life and ponder over what is really needed – for us, for our children and for our family.  Our well-being depends on it. Reflect!

I have a friend who keeps herself extremely busy. She stays tense most of the time and gets upset at little things. When I tell her that she needs to take a break for a couple of days, she just looks at me as if I am crazy.  She wonders and feels that there is no way she can afford a break even for a few hours. She says, “I am actually short of time. If I could cut down more on my sleep, I gladly would because a few extra hours would definitely make a difference in my life. You are no stranger. You know I have no time to sit and relax or even to think.”

She is not the only one. These types of lifestyles are becoming more and more common. People seem to be forgetting what work is for. When we work, it brings us satisfaction, it keeps us busy and it gives us a reasonable income. But we have started racing! We race for success and we race for luxury; we race to appear better than others and we race to win over the whole world; we race to add new things into our lives and then we continue the race to maintain those things. Now we should spare some time to think if those things are really adding value to our lives? Or by consuming time, have they only deteriorated our personal and family life? Are we still able to find time to sit together with our family and friends and have pleasant, comfortable conversations? Are we still able to follow our hobbies and interests? Have we actually achieved something that has made us happy – really, truly happy?

People seem to get bigger houses and less time to enjoy them. They care more for the quantity of things they have and less for the quality of life they are living. They try to work hard and do several things simultaneously, in order to get the maximum in the minimum time. And you know what happens? Well, they do get better at doing multiple tasks at the same time – they become multi-taskers; but they become worse at carrying out any of those tasks properly. Their focus is to get through a lot of things by the end of the day, but they are not concerned with how they are performing at those things. They actually need to think, but do not want to think.

We really need to force ourselves to think. Think hard and think deep! We might be tangling ourselves in too many meaningless things. In a few years from now, we might think that we have wasted our life by not focussing on the right things, but by then it will be too late. Firm thinking is required – and required now! That is possible only if we slow down and reflect – on our children, our health, our happiness, our family, our minds and our life, which are all too important to ignore.

~ Nivedita Shori

A Sound Sleep

Sleep is an essential part of our health. Children’s development depends not only on nutrition but also on their sleep. General sleep recommendations for children are:

  • 15- 18 hours for newborns,
  • 14-15 hours for infants, up to two years of age,
  • 12-14 hours for toddlers,
  • 11-13 hours for preschoolers up to age five,
  • About 10-11 hours for early school-aged children.

With the kind of lifestyle and habits we are engaged in, you might notice a decrease in the duration of sleep or deterioration in the quality of it. These are not healthy signs and we should try to check these patterns right at the beginning.

In the modern lifestyle and habits, there are two major things that need careful attention, as they have deeply affect a normal child’s sleep. The first is diet and food habits and the second is physical activity.

Diet and Food Habits: The questions to consider about diet and food habits are ‘what’ and ‘when’. What are our children eating? If there is a lot of junk food at home all the time, then it is natural that children will grab it whenever they feel hungry. That type of food does not give their brains enough nutrition to develop properly, leads to long-term physical diseases and also causes obesity, starting from an early age. Greasy, obesity-causing diets lead to irregularities in breathing which in turn disrupts their regular sleep patterns and does not let them sleep well. Soft drinks and colas contain caffeine, which interferes with children’s sleep as well.

Our bodies differ from those of our children. What we eat and the way we eat it is not always appropriate for children. Though we all need to have a balanced diet, children need it the most. Internally, their rapidly developing body and metabolism is more prepared to work on the materials provided to it, to cause growth and strengthening of the existing structure. There is a universal principle that the output of anything is directly determined by input. This becomes especially noteworthy in the case of children’s health. A wholesome diet includes whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, sources of calcium, proteins and other minerals and vitamins. Children need particular attention to such a diet. Sugar and salt intake also needs to be adequate but controlled. 

The question of ‘When’ is equally important. Children should be given food at regular intervals. Compensating lunch for a heavy breakfast or skipping dinner because of a big snack, is not healthy. Children need regular breakfast, lunch and dinner, interspersed with healthy snacks in between. Each of the meals is equally important to control how a child will perform. A light, healthy dinner is especially important for a restful sleep.

Physical Diet:  Besides diet, physical activity is the other thing which is extremely important for a peaceful sleep. Children should be encouraged – and even forced – to go outdoors every day and expend their energy. They need to run around, play vigorous games and sweat. If possible, this should be followed by a shower or a bath and later, clean and comfortable clothing. This practice helps children relax and have a good, refreshing sleep.

In addition, too much engagement with TV, computers and video games has been known to cause disrupted sleep. Research has indicated that television viewing at bedtime could gradually lead to shortened sleep-duration. When children watch TV at night, they also do not want to go to bed and if they do, they are unable to sleep for a long time. Watching television causes over-stimulation of the brain and therefore, it can also lead to anxiety during sleep itself. Similarly, too many video games also disturb sleep because they contain very active and dynamic graphics and are usually of a violent or aggressive nature. This alters some of the normal brain functions in children and although there could be many negative effects, one of the most evident ones is the lack of sufficient and good-quality sleep.

Sufficient and restful sleep helps our brain learn and work better. It is especially important in case of children as their developing minds need more nourishment. In addition, good sleep helps them to grow physically, stay healthy and build immunity.  If they are deprived of sleep, it becomes a barrier to their general well-being. So, we need to ensure that our children’s days have the right food at the right time along with physical activity which will lead them to a refreshing night’s sleep.

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Here is a short video clip of an interview with the Executive Editor Chandra Turner of Parents Magazine. She has mentioned some interesting points about inculcating self-discipline as well as problem solving skills in the kids. She has made some interesting points backed by some research evidence. Have a look!!

Hold Them Not Too Dearly

Kahlil Gibran, a Lebanese-American artist, poet, writer and philosopher was considered to be an  immortal prophet of Lebanon, especially by virtue of the phenomenal popularity of his book,  ‘The Prophet’, published several decades ago, which illustrates the beauty  and spirituality of life. His thoughts on children in the following poem take the reader deep into the purpose of human existence and how we all live in a well-knit and yet so isolated a  world.  How much influence are we entitled to exert on our children; should we make progress to reach towards them or  should we pull them back towards us; what role  do we have to play in the lives of these growing  souls— a beautiful touch and a gentle but firm  reminder in Gibran’s own words: 

On Children 

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. 

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,

Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them,

But seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children

As living arrows are sent forth.   

The Archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,

And He bends you with His might

That His arrows may go swift and far.       

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;

 For even as He loves the arrow that flies, 

So He loves also the bow that is stable.

Computers are being increasingly used as a medium for teaching young children intellectual skills. There are a lot of computer programs available for children aged two and onwards. Many of them are aimed at providing children reading-practice and math-skills. Studies indicate that they also engage children and make them want to learn more. In the information age that we currently live in, it is no wonder that young parents also get attracted to this type of media and try to use it as much as they can.

It certainly seems like a good way to introduce children to an increasingly important form of media. It is also true that those who have access to computers at home at a very early age perform better than their peers. According to some researchers, working on the computer helps in the development of small muscle movements like those in the fingers in coordination with the eyes.

At the same time, we need to monitor the overall effect of computer related activities. Are we giving our children too much ‘screen-time’ under the pretext of helping them learns? Computer screens (and all other screens) can be pretty dangerous for the eyes as well as the brain if exposed for prolonged periods of time. If attention is not given at the right time, computers could also lead to the habit of a sedentary lifestyle, which has been known to be a huge risk factor for various medical abnormalities later in life. Above all, it takes time away from human interaction, which is the basis of personality formation, especially at very young, pre-school ages.

We have to be mindful that computers should not be a replacement for other activities; they should only be used to complement them. If taken as an additional learning opportunity, they will indeed serve to benefit our children intellectually. But on using them as a ‘babysitter’ and letting our children get used to them, we might actually cause our kids more harm than good.

Children also need to play with others, devote time in socialization, ‘get dirty’ with toys and other concrete things and engage in learning-by-doing. Though computers can serve to be an excellent source of enrichment of certain skills, they should not be taken as a substitute for one-to-one interaction with the child. Although computers are a very innovative way to educate children, yet the effect of a parent, a sibling or a teacher working with the child cannot be re-created with an automated computer program.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               – Miles to Go...

Look at where the world is going! Are we ready to face the challenges and the unique opportunities that the Twenty-First Century is presenting to us – especially in terms of technology? More importantly, are children being prepared to embrace the changing times? Think as you watch:

Food For Thought

Sometimes, we keep looking in the wrong place for the reason to a problem. Usually the reason is staring at us right in the face. The following story about a little girl who is not doing well at school reveals how her mother discovers that there is still hope for her, with just a shift in the way of living.

Tiya’s parents were called to school once again. Her dad couldn’t go because he had just started his new job and it was impossible to ask for time off already. So, Tiya’s mom went by herself to meet the teachers. The last time they had been called, it was to discuss how Tiya’s work-habits were becoming worse and she was not focused in class anymore. Her mom wondered what it was going to be about this time.

Tiya’s mom was greeted by Mrs. Sarnia, the Grade 3 teacher who taught Tiya, her physical education teacher, Mr. Kiplan and the principal, Mrs. Bain. Mrs. Sarnia started by explaining how Tiya had not shown any signs of progress since the last time they had met. In fact, she said that Tiya had been found sleeping in class for three days consecutively! She said that she suspected disinterest as the factor, but wanted to find out if there was anything more than that going on in the family, which might be causing this ehavior.

The principal, Mrs. Bain assured Tiya’s mother that if there was anything confidential that she did not want to disclose, that would be perfectly alright. Tiya’s mom knew what they were talking about. Their neighbours had a similar case where their little son was performing very dismally in class due to lack of sleep and peace in the family. Even though the little child was a brilliant thinker, his mind was always pre-occupied with the family fights he saw and the long hours of late-night television in his house, which affected his sleep and mental ability.

Tiya’s mom thanked Mrs. Bain for the reassurance but said that there was nothing wrong in the family circumstances that should affect Tiya. She told them that they all usually went to bed on time and there were no household arguments in their family that Tiya was exposed to. In her mind, she was thinking – my child is not bright, and that is the only reason for all of this.

Mr. Kiplan, the physical education teacher then took over and described how Tiya was way behind her classmates in athletic activities. He said that even though he encouraged her at every possible opportunity, she was still not being able to cope up. She had very less stamina and wanted to just sit and watch instead of actively participating in physical activities. He also said that Tiya did not seem to be a naturally weak child. It was something in her lifestyle that seemed to be affecting her.

Tiya’s mom was quiet. She understood that the teachers were trying really hard to help Tiya improve and she was trying at home too, but nothing could really be done. But Mr. Kiplan’s last comment about something in Tiya’s lifestyle had already made Mrs. Sarnia think! She remembered how Tiya always got burgers, cookies, chocolate, chips and other types of fried or junk food for snacks and lunch. She mentioned this to Tiya’s mother. She added that whereas some other children brought nuts, fruit, juices, cheese and other nutritious home-made food, Tiya usually brought something ready-made or packaged.

Tiya’s mother explained that this was because they had a very busy lifestyle and often, she picked up pizza or something pre-cooked on the way home from work. She ran her own small business which was not doing too well, so she spent lots of extra hours in it. There were a lot of other household things to take care of, so she did not really spend a lot of time cooking. They ate whatever they could conveniently get at the food joints or heated up frozen food. Tiya generally ate the same stuff and brought it for her school lunch as well. In fact, her mother said that she enjoyed eating it and in general, ate more than other children of her age.

Mrs. Bain objected to it and told her how it had been proven that junk food diets affect children’s behavior. Children eating such a diet were often not high achievers in any field of life, ended up with learning difficulties, were poorly behaved and were at a great risk of having many medical disorders. Such kids are often lethargic and take no interest in physical activity. Mrs. Bain said that she understands the family’s needs for something quick and easy, but that they should not compromise their own and especially a little child’s health for the sake of convenience. Even though it might seem like a small matter, the consequences could be really far-fetched. It could cost Tiya her career, her attitude and her success in life. A child who could be smart, active and intelligent was being ‘dulled’ due to fast food! The principal also reminded her that these habits needed to be developed right at childhood and she hoped to see a change in Tiya’s food habits.

As Tiya’s mom drove back, she pondered over what she had just heard. All this time she had been thinking that she took good care of her daughter! Even though both she and her husband were always busy, they tried to keep Tiya happy by giving her the food of her choice. She now realized that they were not using the right option for Tiya’s health and happiness. She understood why Tiya never seemed satisfied and always wanted more to eat. That was because fast foods are not nutritious enough. They lead to an increase in weight too by causing overeating. With a sad heart she thought of how many nutritional deficiencies her child could be under.

The diet their family followed was convenient and easy for them but it could cost their daughter a good-quality life! She decided to change that by bringing healthy food items on to the dinner table and in their lunch-boxes bit by bit, starting that very day!

~ Nivedita Shori

Education for Girls

A lot of us men and women, have no clue about what girls are going through in large parts of the world. At adolescence their life seems to come at crossroads. There are a lot of issues they have to deal with. Under the circumstances, the role of education in the lives of girls is more than important.

The following link takes you to a question. Once you answer it, there is an eye-opening video which introduces the website. On the website itself, you will find tons of information and action resources to learn about and participate in spreading awareness.

 http://www.girleffect.org/

The word ‘resolution’ is very closely attached to New Year’s time. Many of us make resolutions at the beginning of the new year and when asked, we declare them with full confidence, without any hesitation. Most of the resolutions reflect pledges for self-discipline, either to achieve better health, education, monetary goals or all of them. It has been seen that irrespective of what the resolution is, ninety per cent of them don’t last for more than days. And within three months, most of us do not even remember what we had pledged for that year.

            One of my friends said to me that his resolution lasted for twenty days and he was happy about it because he was thinking that something was better than nothing. But this approach is not a progressive one and is not what we should expect from ourselves. There is no much point in making a decision if we are not even going to try to stick to it. It causes us to become even more careless and undisciplined.

So what can we do to make our resolutions long-lasting? For that we have to analyze the resolution-making process. I actually asked a few of my friends as to how they came up with new year resolutions or what process they followed. To my surprise they told me that they really did not give it too much thought. They came up with an idea right at the spot when the topic of resolutions came up. It shows that there was no work done in planning and understanding the process of the resolution. No strategies were made for the successful implementation of what had been planned. The whole idea was merely wishful thinking.

We use the word ‘resolution’ without even understanding its depth and power. The amount of time and effort spent on the preparation phase and strategizing phase of a resolution determines its depth and longevity. The example of building skyscrapers comes to mind. One day while strolling on the streets of downtown Toronto, we saw a gigantic pit in one plot of land. It was approximately 200 feet deep. We had never seen such a huge and deep, excavated piece of land before. We started talking to a civil engineer standing at the site and he replied, “You have to go two hundred feet under the ground in order to go four hundred feet over the ground”.

The stronger the foundation, the higher we go. Similar should be the approach for making resolutions. The following are the ingredients of a good resolution:

–          The first step should be to figure out the flaws and shortcomings in ourselves.

–          Second is to prioritize them on the basis of severity.

–          The third step is to choose the one which we are ready to work on and to plan the methods to achieve that goal.

–          The fourth stage is to reflect on the plan and to study the practicability and genuineness of those strategies.

–          The fifth and stage is the trial stage in which we should try out our plan, giving ourselves full scope to make any change if required, in order to make it more applicable and useful for ourselves.

These are the steps which one should follow before coming up with a resolution and especially before declaring it. So if we want our new year’s resolution to be successfully achieved, it is better to start working on it a couple of months prior to January 1st instead of coming up with it on New Year’s eve, when someone asks, “Do you have a resolution for the new year?” A resolution can change our own and our family’s lives. So, it should be a thoughtful and well-planned process.

~ Prashant Shori

Reach Before You Teach

In a recently published article in the magazine of University  of Toronto, writer Jason McBride recounts the experience of  a professor of the university in the faculty of Ontario Institute  for Studies in Education (OISE) who went to India for a year  to do some fact-finding in relation to education. While there,  he tried to bring some life to the topics he taught. It was  inspiring to read how we can reach out to children by  captivating them through methods that mean the most to them. 

In the crowded city of Mumbai, trying to teach a large  bunch of underprivileged students was a big challenge. The  professor realized that the traditional ‘tools of the trade’ in  this country are paper-pencil tasks, textbooks and rote  memorizations. There was little else that was being done to  help students achieve higher grades or to succeed in life. 

 He tried to introduce some unconventional teaching  methods that would make the educational experience more  relevant and meaningful for the students. For instance, he  introduced them to a professional aerial photographer visiting  from France. This helped the students enhance their  understanding of some aspects of geography. He used drama  to engage students in learning about the country’s struggle  for independence. He then showcased this skit on the Internet  through a video on the website— YouTube. The students’  academic scores skyrocketed. Not only is this gratifying for a  teacher, but also demonstrates how a touch of creativity in  education can make all the difference. 

 Indeed, a lot of us sometimes feel the ineffectiveness of  education. All that is really needed to turn it around is some  thought about how students learn and what is meaningful to  them. If there is no logic or they see no relevance to what they  are being taught, then even the ones who get high marks are  really good at memorization only. To make the learning  experience enriching for their personalities and nourishing  for their souls, we need to think beyond the usual textbook  and comprehension questions. We need to inculcate in our  students a spirit of inquiry, a sense of ownership of the  knowledge and a conscious involvement with the learning  process.   

 For a full version of the article, visit http://www.magazine.utoronto.ca/  life-on-campus/canadian-teachers-in-mumbai-normand-labrie/ 

Who is Raising Children?

The in-depth study of human psychology and social problems  at my course in Social Service Work often leaves me with  many questions which keep me engaged in contemplation.  It is hard to find the answers all the time but the thought process  itself is always very enlightening. In one of my subjects,  ‘Community Studies’, there are many eye-opening issues.  It is interesting that these issues never come to our mind and  even if they raise their head, we ignore them instead of making  any effort to resolve them.   

 Last week the discussion was about why violence among  teenagers has increased, why there are more bullying cases in  schools these days and why the new generation is losing all the  patience an important part of a healthy life-style. Many reasons  were suggested in the class but ultimately all the responsibility  started being directed towards parents. I tried to ‘save’ parents  with some arguments but they did not work at all. Our teacher  who is in the field of social work from the last thirty years and  is presently working in a child welfare organization, strongly  stated that we cannot exclude the parents from the picture. The  changing lifestyle, changing priorities, nuclear families,  urbanization and immigration were some main reasons which  were held responsible for the decline in children’s behaviour  but parents were still at the top of the list.

 One of us said that different parenting styles and different  cultures may be the reason for this deviance in children’s  behaviour but the logic could not stand because the problem is  not confined to one culture or one region but is becoming a  universal problem these days. The universality of the problem  pushed us to think that there may be some common factors  affecting the raising of children, regardless of culture and region.   

 Thinking further about some of those commonalities, it  occurred to us that there are a set of agents who are ‘raising’  children these days. Unfortunately, it is not the parents. These  agents are movie stars, video games, soap operas, television  commercials and other forms of media. So it could be Miley  Cyrus, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Robert Pattinson, Shahrukh  Khan, Katrina Kaif, ‘Batman’, Xbox 360, Play Station or Wii  that might really be having the most influence on your children  right now. They are the ones with whom most of our children  are ‘living’. They are ‘teaching’ them how to interact, how to  communicate, how to react and how to respond to any situation.  The unnatural and fake situations, the unrealistic and illusionary  characters and the irrelevant and imaginary environment  provided to them throughout the day by these forms of media  are making them insensitive, indifferent and self-centred.   

 The hypothetical world— a media creation— in which  the children are living these days is a major threat for the  future. To let them continue leading such a life and doing  what the game-providers or commercial wizards want them  to do is not only negligence, but also escapism. We cannot  escape from our duty towards our children. We cannot close  our eyes to this horrific reality in front of us. Media is a form  of entertainment and should be used just for that purpose.  When it starts to govern our life, we need to let go of it.

~ Prashant Shori

Happiness

Every day, we try to do a lot of things to keep ourselves happy. But those things don’t really make us happy. Then we think that others are happy and we should do the things that they are doing. But when we do that, it sometimes brings more dissatisfaction than joy. Still we keep pretending that we are happy, really very happy. We put on the appearance of being happy in the society and thus try to befool the world but really are making a fool of ourselves – despite all efforts, we don’t feel happy.

Actually, happiness is a state of mind. He who is happy does not need to follow anyone’s way of living. His peace of mind comes from within. When we decide we are going to be happy, no matter what, then even the most difficult tasks seem to melt down. We take control of the situation as opposed to the situation taking control of us.

It is true that it is hard to be happy when it seems like everything is going against us. During those moments, let’s think of this life as a bubble. It is here one moment and will be gone in another. The same goes for problems. They are all temporary. What is permanent is our soul and our journey. It is our duty to keep this soul peaceful, relaxed and happy, so that we can make the journey of life smooth and soothing.

With the approaching festive season of the New Year, let’s resolve to give ourselves, our family and our children this precious gift – the gift of internal happiness. It is a present that never fades but becomes more and more beautiful with the passage of time. Staying happy even in adverse situations builds our patience, resilience and internal strength. It shows us that the real wonders of this world actually lie within ourselves.

“Happiness resides not in possessions and not in gold; the feeling of happiness dwells in the soul.” — Democritus

Children who could be truly exceptional end up living mediocre lives during school and when they grow up or worse still, even struggle to prove themselves. This happens because we are often unable to go beyond academic scores and label childrens’ intelligence on the basis of their grades. However, intelligence is not just limited to that – one child could be great at poetry, the other at Math, one at art, the other at verbal communication and so on. These are all absolutely wonderful intelligences to have, if harnessed in the right way. Here’s a Youtube video on multiple Intelligences:

Cooperative Learning

In a world that is being increasingly influenced by solitary lifestyles and indifferent approaches, the need for cooperative learning cannot be emphasized enough. Cooperative learning is not a new approach to learning. It has been highlighted as an important factor in child development since at least the early 1900s. But with its practice, more and more evidence has been gathered that demonstrates the importance of cooperative learning.

What cooperative learning inside a classroom looks like:

–          Children try to solve problems in pairs or small groups of three or four, rather than individually.

–          Children care for each other and help each other without being asked to. The teacher has an important role to play in setting up this community of caring learners.

–          Every child gets an opportunity to participate in the learning by contributing ideas within their groups.

–          Each person has their own share to fulfill in the assigned task and there is a system for tracking individual performance.

–          The rewards or consequences are given out to the team as opposed to individuals. However, each person of the group is accountable as they are graded individually.

–          Students engage in academic conversations with one another. They could either agree with their group members or disagree but have to maintain a respectful decorum.

–          Children, under the direction of the teacher, carry out several different ways of group input. For example, there could be sharing of ideas on one large piece of paper as a group; students could be given the chance pair up to discuss the response to a question before answering it out loud; after independent working time, there could be the opportunity to add to others’ work; students could become experts of a topic and then go around to other groups and share their learning with them.

Benefits of Cooperative Learning:

–          Working together helps students create bonds with their peers that are not possible with individual learning.

–          Children learn to share their successes and divide their problems.

–          It teaches them communication skills that are an essential factor for personality development.

–          Students learn responsibility as they are required to contribute their own bit towards the success of the group.

–          They learn how to listen. It is surprising how even some of the best communicators lack appropriate listening skills. Cooperative learning teaches these skills at an early age.

–          Children learn how to get along with others. In their life to come, they will often come across people that they don’t necessarily agree with but still have to get along with them.

–          This process teaches them the values of sensitivity, trust and kindness.

–          They are able to develop deeper thinking skills. It helps them see the perspective of others and to analyze their own. They also understand how to value others’ opinions and to see that they are not always correct.

–          Cooperative learning takes the classroom experience to a higher level for students. They start to take ownership of their learning, under the guidance of the teacher.

The world is a highly social place. If we don’t help children acquire the necessary social skills at the right age, then we cannot really expect them to be able to make the appropriate social adjustments in life later on. Of course there are a few things that are best suitable for individualized learning only, yet effective classrooms try to incorporate cooperative learning as much as possible. This method of learning is the stepping stone for a congenial society where individuals think beyond themselves. Cooperative learning, although a simple concept, yields great results.

~ Nivedita Shori

And Values Grew Up

Jay’s father taught him many lessons of life. He thought that moral education is something that kids should learn at a very early age. At school, when Jay read the story with the moral, ‘Honesty is the best policy’, he came home and asked his dad what it really meant. His dad explained that it means that you should always be truthful. It always ends up making you happier in the end. Jay listened carefully as his father said, “Sometimes it is hard to be honest, because you get greedy or think that you will get in trouble by being honest. You just want to take the easy route of lying and putting the matter to an end. However, it never works out. It never gives you peace. It also usually gets you in more trouble than the trouble caused by being honest. So remember Jay, when you feel like you cannot face the truth, try it and you will feel a lot better. Even if it will give you some hard time for a little while, it will make you a very happy man for the rest of your life.”

The little boy thought about it. He thought of the time he had lied to his mother when she had asked if he got any homework. And his dad is right – the small lie did not let him sleep peacefully that night. He also did not do very well on the test at school the next day, because he hadn’t done his homework. It would have been so much better if he had been honest in the very first place. He decided he was going to give honesty a try.

For several years, Jay practised following truthful behaviour. When his teachers asked him why he wasn’t able to complete his assignment on time, he spoke the truth and said he did not understand it, instead of saying that he was sick or that he had to go somewhere with his parents. As a result, his teacher gave him extra assistance, which made him feel good and helped him learn better. He started to do really well at school and was able to score high enough to get admission in a good Senior School that would help him prepare for his entrance examination to for Architecture – his dream since childhood.

His honesty became a good influence for his friends. In the beginning, when Jay used to tell them that he cannot lie to his parents about skipping class that day, they used to make fun of him. But they soon saw how relaxed Jay was compared to them. He did not have to hide anything from anyone. He was not stressed about anything and could easily concentrate on anything. Moreover they saw that teachers liked and helped Jay with his work. So, his friends stopped making fun of him and instead started admiring him, some openly and others secretly.

His family was really proud of him. Their son was setting a good example for his little sister to follow. Even when he made a mistake, Jay was quick enough to admit and apologize. That created an atmosphere of togetherness in the family. His parents trusted him and shared some of their ideas and opinions with him as they saw that being honest, he was a responsible child.

After finishing Senior School, Jay sat for his entrance test. He thought he did fine, but had to wait patiently for the results. A few days later the results were announced. Jay’s score was good, but not good enough to get him into one of the most prestigious Universities of the region – where he was hoping to go. His parents, who loved him a lot, saw his disappointment and were slightly disturbed as well.

The next day, at work, Jay’s father was approached by a man who had heard about his son’s test scores. He said, “I have a contact at the University your son wants to go to. Since his marks are not too far below, they might accept him, if you arrange for some cash to go under the table.” The man was asking for a bribe! Jay’s father’s instant reaction was to shout at this man for even thinking about such a thing.

But on second thought, he walked away and started thinking. If he accepted this offer now, he could fulfill his child’s dream! Not only that, it would be a matter of pride for the entire family to have their son studying in such a reputable institute. His eyes would glow with brightness when he would mention Jay in front of his relatives and acquaintances. Maybe he should consider this deal.

When he went home that evening, he was very pensive. His mind was occupied in making an important decision about the life of his son. Sensing his tension at the dinner table, his family asked him what he was worried about. For a moment he was quiet but then he decided to share his dilemma. As soon as he presented the problem to them, Jay opened his mouth to say something. “There you go”, his dad thought, “He is so excited to hear about this. I think I should do this.” But Jay was saying something totally different! To his dad’s great astonishment, Jay said, “Dad do you remember what you had told me once? You had said that even if honesty will give you some hard time for a little while, it will make you a very happy man for the rest of your life. I will be happier if my conscience is clean Dad. And I know that you will be too.”

Jay’s mother and father had tears of joy in their eyes! Dad had learnt a lesson from his young son today. He knew that his upbringing had been successful. The little offshoot he had been nurturing all these years was now a hale and hearty young tree that was ready to bear fruit of the very best quality!

~ Miles To Go…

Kids’ turn to teach!

Very often we undermine the ability of children. They are capable of even teaching us a lesson or two sometimes! All they need to show their true colours to us are a framework of expectations, loads of trust and the right kind of support.

Here’s a video in which an American girl, who is the author of the book, Flying Fingers, addresses a large audience and talks about how adults should start seeing children in a different perspective.

Each Child is Unique

Every child is unique with his or her own strengths, talents and inadequacies. To expect children to do things in the same way as others or in the way that we want them to is unhealthy for their personality, for their growth and even for their own perception of themselves.

The following YouTube video titled ‘Animal School’ gives a sense of how each individual has been created to perform different roles and do different things. Children need encouragement, respect and someone to help them prove their ability. They can achieve great heights only if we let them.

We need to show our affection, come down to a level where our children are, to be able to see their perspective of the world. Some simple things are often left unsaid. But saying them instantly brings the parents and children together and bridges gaps, if any.

There are some things that our children would benefit a lot from hearing – especially, if said by their parents whom they always treasure and look up to for love and help.  Often, our ‘adulthood’ comes in the way and we neglect small details – details that we consider unnecessary but are actually important for the age group that we have long crossed. Now that our children are in that age group, we need to think about those unsaid things that children often need to hear from us – and they need to be said whole-heartedly, frankly and unhesitatingly.

Here are a few of these ‘great little’ things:

  1. It seems like something is bothering you. Would you like to discuss it with me? Sometimes it helps to talk. I will try my best to help you too. 
  2. I made a mistake. I am really sorry. ‘To err is human, to forgive divine’. Can you be divine this time?
  3. It’s your turn to pick. This will be your decision. You need to follow your interests and do what matters to you. I am with you.
  4. That was really a kind gesture on your part. It made someone very happy today. I am so proud of you.
  5. You made a mistake, but it is okay. We all make mistakes. I do too. I know you have learnt from your mistake. Learning from one’s own mistakes is called experience.
  6. I am feeling bored and would like to spend some time with you. Can you play a game with me?
  7.  I know I am always busy and that must be so hard for you. Let’s sit together for some time. Maybe you can give me some suggestions about how to relax more.

These are only starters to get us thinking. They instantly bring parents and children together and bridge gaps, if any. The underlying idea is that we need to show our affection, come down to a level where our children are, to be able to see their perspective of the world. Saying things like these also models our approach – open, selfless and trusting, which is healthy for the development of a child’s personality.  

Remember, it was our choice to bring the child into this world. It is also our duty to give him the best of this world and of ourselves.

~ Miles To Go…

Children and teenagers these days are seen to engage in bullying behaviour to torment, threaten, harass or humiliate another person through the use of electronic media. Just like physical bullying, cyber-bullying can also cause lifelong damage to an individual’s life.

Technology is becoming a part of our life very rapidly. Children are on the computer for extended periods of time. Their online world, also known as the cyber-world, is also their place for socialization these days. However, just like the real world, the online world also has social problems. A big issue is cyber-bullying.

Cyber-bullying refers to online bullying – bullying on the computer. Children and teenagers these days are seen to torment, threaten, harass or humiliate another person through the use of electronic media. E-mails, live chats and social networking sites are some avenues that can be misused for this foul purpose.

It is easy for bully behaviour to appear in cyber-spaces because of the lack of adult supervision in those environments. Some ways in which bullies can hurt others in online environments are as follows:

–          They start conversations to provoke others to make inappropriate comments about the person they are targeting.

–          They make direct attacks by posting mean messages or pictures about the victim.

–          Since they do not have to be physically present, they sometimes create several different identities (called screen-names) to ‘spy’ on others.

–          There is no fear of face-to-face embarrassment, so it is easy to convey their jealousy, envy, spite or hurt towards others. With no adult to guide them at the time, their emotional boundaries and self-restraint is often missing.

To stop cyber-bullying, the only thing that seems workable powerful is to keep children away from technology. But that is not practical in today’s world as technology has to be used for some required and useful purposes as well. Some tips for children to help them handle cyber-bullying:

–          Do not give out your e-mail address to everyone. More importantly, do not give out your password to anyone, including your close friends.

–          Be careful when giving out information like parents’ names, family details, phone numbers etc, because they could be used by bullies to spread rumours about you.

–          Stay firm and positive about yourself. Don’t let bullying make you feel inferior. The bullies pick on you even more if they know you are getting hurt by their threats.

–          Consult a parent, teacher or a trusted adult as soon as you receive a message that bothers you.

As a parent, try to talk to your children about their online activities. Of course, there are a lot of harmless and rather useful things to do on the computer, but online socializing is very tempting for children. Keep track of whom they are interacting with online. Just like physical bullying, cyber-bullying can also cause lifelong damage to an individual’s life. So we have to be watchful to prevent the issue before it occurs.

~ Nivedita Shori

Wearing Stress

Stress starts interrupting your routine activities and attacking your physical and mental health. We get stressed due to our own negligence, due to unnecessary worrying about situations not in our control and also due to imaginary, self-created thoughts.

Stress is something which most of us embrace all the time. My mother-in-law once humorously told me that these days it is in fashion to tell others that you are stressed out. Since stress originates from the brain, if there is no stress it means there is no brain, and who wants to be considered brainless? This statement left me contemplating upon the intangible disease called ‘stress’ which is gripping us tightly day by day.

Hundreds of philosophers, doctors and spiritual leaders have analysed this issue and have given their expert opinions and comments over this invisible problem. The gist of those studies is that stress is an extension of the thought-process, which starts interrupting your routine activities and attacking your physical and mental health. Usually people have stress if some very important task is pending or if the atmosphere around them is not suitable or conducive to them.

Broadly, we can divide stress into three categories: due to own negligence, due to factors beyond our control and thirdly, imaginary stress.

1.     Stress due to own negligence:
Interestingly experts have said that 90% of the situations which cause stress can be either avoided or can be resolved by the person himself. The only problem is that we usually keep on waiting and waiting until the situation inflates. Our own negligence, procrastination, lack of management or the fear of the unknown keep preventing us from handling the situation.

Long ago, I read a proverb: ‘Do the important things before they become urgent’ and all of us know that once something becomes urgent, stress starts building up. Most of the reasons which cause stress do not come out of the blue. Rather they accumulate with time and we let them pile up until they become intolerable. Discipline, timely action, assertion and persistence are some traits to keep this stress away.

2.     Stress due to factors beyond our control:
This type of stress is a little tricky to tackle. It is always hard to deal with a situation over which we have no control. The first and foremost step in this case is the acceptance of the fact that this situation is beyond one’s control. But our misconception and miscalculation forces us to jump into the situation over which we have no command. When we genuinely accept that it is not in our hands to solve the problem, half of the stress automatically vanishes. To get rid of the rest of it, cultivate patience and positivity in yourself.
Here’s an example of this kind of stress – the bank has suddenly hiked up the interest-rates on your mortgage. Now you know that it is not in your hands to lower the rates.  You can either stress over it or be wise enough to understand the fact that it is beyond your control. The acceptance itself will reduce the stress to some extent.
Sometimes we get stressed not by the problem itself, but by what is being done by other people about the issue. We worry endlessly just for the actions of others – for the actions we are least related to.

3.     Imaginary or self-created stress:
The third kind of stress is really interesting. It is called the imaginary or ‘what if’ stress. Interestingly, it is growing rapidly, especially in youth. It is really hard to define it in exact words. So, the best way is to give some examples:

  • What if I cannot reach on time for an interview
  • What if the operation (surgery) is not successful
  • What if we won’t have enough profit this year
  • What if my appraisal report comes out unsatisfactory
  • What if I don’t get an A+ on my report card and so on

This list has no end to it.
In other words we can call it ‘self-created stress’. The strange part of this kind of stress is that its causes can not be eliminated. Why? Because they do not exist! It sounds strange but is true that the illusionary causes are rooted only in the minds of sufferers. Then what is the cure to it? To live in the present! It is always fruitful to exercise our brain to make our present beautiful and productive instead of thinking about irrelevant uncertainties of the future.

Let us spend some time to mull over this issue – to find out what type of stress grips us and what we can do to erase its causes. That will not only give us some mental relief but will also help us to undergo some positive and thorough changes in our working habits resulting in a happier and more productive lifestyle.

~Prashant Shori

Mindful Education

A teacher once asked his students to submit an assignment.  He did not give them a due date, did not specify the length or the word-count of the write-up, did not provide details on what would be an excellent example. When the students questioned him, he replied, “Just submit your best work, your masterpiece, something you cannot surpass yourself!”

Often, there is so much pressure on students to do things in a certain way that it hampers their creativity. They often look for pre-set exemplars, follow the same patterns or templates and simply change the wording or ‘tweak’ the contents to make the work look original. Usually, this is done close to the due date when they are thinking only about timely submission and not about the actual work. What do they learn through this process? Effective copying! Blind following!

It is of course important in some cases to provide exemplars of excellent work so that students can see what is required of them, but this should be presented in such a fashion that it broadens the students’ minds. The goal should not be ‘if you do this, you will get an A grade’. Instead, the motive of learning should be ‘show me how far you can go with this thought’. 

Little do students learn in classes these days due to this ‘high-marks’ mentality. The teacher on the other hand should encourage them to use critical thinking, pose problems that require not regurgitation and following the rules, but intellectual application and a practical approach. Students need to understand that what they learn has to make sense to them, has to be meaningful and should make a difference in their lives.

If we are to produce truly educated, global, mindful citizens, we have to encourage deep thinking, practical considerations, personal views and opinions and a holistic approach to education. If we continue to accept last-minute memorization and presentation of information, it leads to the creation of the ‘literate uneducated’. What we need though is an educated society that can think, understand and use their brains and hearts in unison. Are we up to the challenge yet?

Respecting Each Day

Some of us think that there is no other way to enjoy the weekends and extract the maximum out of them without sleeping late. Unfortunately our body does not know the difference between weekdays and weekends.

Whenever someone goes to the doctor for any problem whether it is hypertension, diabetes, or even cancer, the doctor usually has one standard suggestion – ‘Control your body weight as excessive weight leads to several other problems’. This gives birth to the multibillion dollar industry which claims that they can help you with this problem. Commercial solutions are offered in the form of fat-free diet plans, specialized drugs, aerobic and yoga classes, weight-reducing machines and even surgeries to remove fat from the body.

If we go only two generations back (and even one in some cases), we will find that the fitness level was quite better than the present and that too without any external aids. The purpose of the ‘Health Consciousness’ column of this booklet is to emphasize some good habits which can assist us to remain fit without any artificial means. In our previous issues of ‘A Journey with the Child’, we mentioned some very easy steps to move towards this direction. Only one little change sometimes gives miraculous results. There is always scope to peep into our schedules to figure out the flaws and to fix them.

Today, I would like to mention an interesting habit which I had developed, especially in the five day work-culture in North America. On Saturdays and Sundays I used to eat many times and whatever came my way. The excuse was that weekends are a time to relax. However, this undisciplined ‘relaxation’ was not healthy for the body. Unfortunately our body does not know the difference between weekdays and weekends. We end up breaking the dietary rhythm of the body on weekends. By the time the body regulates itself again, here comes Friday evening again!

After struggling a lot to get rid of this, I discovered the root cause of the problem. It was the fluctuation in sleeping timings on Fridays and Saturdays. Being in a relaxed state of mind on Friday and Saturday night, we often become undisciplined and stay up late. On following the same sleeping timings as that of the weekdays, half of the problem was solved automatically. It helped me to avoid a late night dinner and also any unnecessary snacking in the evening. The urge to eat repetitively began to decrease. Also waking up at the usual time helped in normal bowel-movement which indeed helped in solving other health related problems. It also regularized breakfast and meal timings.

Some of us think that there is no other way to enjoy the weekends and extract the maximum out of them without sleeping late. But a simple calculation reveals that we end up sleeping more, thereby shortening the span of our weekend. There is no such rule that we can only entertain ourselves by putting off our sleep. Rather healthier entertainment activities (swimming, cycling, jogging, lawn-tennis, hiking, trekking) can be planned in the morning which in fact contributes to better health and also strengthens us physically and mentally for the week ahead. Only if we respect the freedom we get on the weekend, we will be able to enjoy it more.

Each of us exactly knows where we need improvement or change. Let us be firm and take the plunge. Life is like a Rubik’s cube puzzle. Once we successfully align one colour on one side, we will be surprised to see that all other sides are automatically aligned. Fixing errors in one aspect of our lifestyle will result in an overall improvement of our health and quality of life.

Just stop differentiating between weekdays and weekends and treat every day like a special gift to be unfolded and enjoyed – weekdays for working and weekends for rejuvenating.

~ Prashant Shori

Equality in practice

Parents usually label their offspring on the basis of their genders and define their roles accordingly. As a result, girls are often unable to develop the physical strength and confidence required for the present world which is very demanding for women.

Parenting is an art and can be mastered by practice like any other art-form. We often see different styles of parenting in different cultures, in different parts of the world. But a practice which is found common is gender-based behaviour.

Parents usually label their offspring on the basis of their genders and define their roles accordingly. Boys are freely allowed to play outside with their friends, they are taught to be rough and tough. In case of an injury or a small problem if a boy weeps, parents always say, “Boys don’t cry” or “You are a brave man”. This kind of positive labelling helps them to shape their identity and with the passage of time seeps into their personalities.

In case of girls they are taught from day one that they should talk softly, they have to play inside and many times they are told, “Girls don’t do this and girls don’t do that”. Most of the time girls – sisters and daughters – feel themselves entrapped and constrained. It affects their mental and physical growth. In addition, their sedentary routines and social norms give them little chance for running in the playfields, working on their physical fitness and building up the physical strength required to live in the present world which is very demanding for women.

Practically, girls need to acquire more physical strength and stamina than boys as, in addition to procreation and daily family chores, they also work as professionals in the job market like their male counterparts. Also due to some bodily and hormonal changes in middle adulthood they often go through osteoporosis (brittleness in bone) and many other challenging bodily changes which males don’t face. Women are much more burdened than men. They require more attention.

Being parents we can start with very little and simple steps to make our daughters strong. For instance, instead of buying battery-operated automatic toys we can buy games for them which require more physical efforts. We can take them to playfields and parks and let them run and play with the sand. They should be involved in some sports like football or soccer, swimming, basketball and maybe some self defence courses (Judo, Martial Arts, Kung-fu). It will enhance their self confidence and strength. This will help them to breathe in the fresh air of liberalism and sovereignty.

It is time for us as a society to comply with our slogan of equality which has always been the need of the society, especially in the present times, demanding a lot from women.

~Prashant Shori

Reading News Together

Even the tiniest detail of the newspaper could be potentially educative. Reading it together helps children spend some well-deserved and much-needed time with their parents, while giving us the opportunity to observe and educate the child in several ways.

In our busy schedules, it often appears that we don’t have enough time to spend with our children. But, if we think deeply, simple things like reading the newspaper, could be turned into fun-filled activities of togetherness and learning. Depending on the child’s age, the newspaper could serve various purposes to help the child learn while giving us some precious moments to participate in this learning, to study and observe the child and to give him the help and attention he needs. Here are some ways to put the newspaper to good use:

–          Language activities: Newspapers provide an excellent platform for word-study activities. Various games could be invented using the parts of speech, for instance,

  • find ten adjectives on this page
  • find verbs which you have never used before etc.

You could also play vocabulary building activities by getting children to start a notebook in which they jot down two new words learnt from the newspaper every day.

–          Scrapbooking: Children could cut out their favourite pictures from the last day’s paper and glue it into a scrapbook with a caption describing what they liked about it. You could also give them a monthly theme for scrapbooking and they could collect pictures or text related to it for the entire period. When the project is complete, go over it with the child and reward him.

–          Geography: Discuss how news is reported from all parts of the world. Using a globe or a map, children could match the reported place with its actual location. Younger kids could write the names of the places on sticky notes and playfully place them on the map itself.  It will serve as a visual aid. The free computer program, Google Earth, helps children ‘virtually’ see the entire world – from their own street to the building of the United Nations’ Organization. This program could be used as a follow-up after the newspaper.

–          Calculations: Using advertisements, children could note down the prices of several items. Math games could be built around them – for instance, calculating how much change would they receive if they went to buy those things with a particular amount of money etc.

–          Matching and sorting: You could cut out the headlines or images from some articles and use it as a matching game for the child to figure out which article those clippings belong to. Children could also be asked to sort different news items into self-created categories.

–          Layout and organization: Newspapers contain words written in different styles, fonts and sizes depending upon the nature of the item – headline, in-text, advertisement, cartoons, children’s section etc. The way the information is organized is also different in various sections – big commercials, classified postings, regular news, memoranda etc. After discussion, children could be asked to create their own ‘news item’ piece using the proper layouts.

–          Critical Thinking: The newspaper offers several opportunities for teaching critical thinking:

  • Encourage children to think of their own headings for some articles. They should emphasize on what they think is more important in that news item.  It gives children a chance to see that what is written is not always the final word set in stone – it is only a perspective.
  • Discuss the purpose of newspapers and also the fact that they survive essentially through advertisements. It might be new for them to know that advertisements are set first and the rest of the space is called a ‘news-hole’. In order for newspapers to stay in circulation, they need to have income sources – the advertisements. It gives children an opportunity to think about how much emphasis is given to allure the readers to purchase the advertised material.
  • Older children could be encouraged to write letters to the editor if they come across something they feel strongly about. This way they will learn how a democracy works and that their opinion counts too.
  • Analyze political cartoons with the children. Sometimes they don’t always understand the dark humour behind the cartoon. Discuss it with them. To take it a step further, they could be encouraged to create one too.
  • Use articles to initiate deeper thinking among children about making the right choices by explaining examples of people have to face the consequences of inappropriate actions.

–          Early education: For little children too, newspapers could be employed for activities like identifying letters, numbers, colours and familiar objects.

 Indeed, the above list is not exhaustive. But the idea is that even the tiniest detail of the newspaper could be potentially educative. Reading it together helps children spend some well-deserved and much-needed time with their parents, while giving parents a chance to unfold some important concepts through this simplistic approach.

                                                                                                                                              

  -Nivedita Shori

Learning by Playing

Many people think that play is just fun. In a previous video post, there was mention of how kids learn several skills learn through play – using bodily muscles, using their minds to solve problems, developing their social skills to negotiate and take turns and most importantly, using imagination to almost re-create the world around them.

The following video is the next part of the previous video and takes us through more power of play in children’s lives, indicating that play-time is a very important factor that helps in the enhancement of their learning in later life:

Reality shows on television are becoming more and more popular. Some popular health-related and self-help shows in North America are Dr. Phil, Oprah and Dr. Oz, where individuals suffering from some kind of issue come to seek advice. Lately, there have been lots of people who desperately need some advice about their health. In dozens of these episodes, I have noticed couples or parents coming in and saying, “Please help me restore my health. I wish to live longer for my kids”.

It always surprises me when I hear that a person has let his self-created malpractices deteriorate his health to such a great extent that the stage has now come for him to worry even about premature and unnatural death.

To avoid reaching such a situation, we need to be conscious from a very early stage. If parents themselves do not have good health practices, the probability is that they will pass on the same to the next generation as well.

Often it is little things that we don’t care about. Later they go on to become big things that take a toll on us. For instance, mealtimes! Sometimes, small things like ‘how’ we eat our food also become important in ensuring good health. I still remember three marvellous rules pertaining to mealtime implemented at our home when I was a kid.

  • Rule Number 1 was applicable to my mom. My father told her that while at the dinner table, she should not insist any of us for having an extra ‘roti’. His point of view was that this persuasion always tempts the person to over-eat.

  • Rule Number 2 was for us. He told us that if you are not hungry and if you have decided to skip a meal, you should not enter the kitchen that day. Once you enter the kitchen, there are fair chances that the smell, look and discussion about food will attract you to having some, even though it is not required.
  • Rule Number 3 was for the whole family. When the food is laid out, we were to look at the food and to appreciate and thank God for it, instead of jumping into it right away. Now I feel that this rule was miraculous. It not only helped to regulate our breath and become calm before we started, but also helped proper salivation and conditioning of the body to accept what is coming.

It took me many years to understand and to appreciate the purpose of these practices. But now I realize that what we were practising reluctantly has now become an essential part of us. It is because of those rules that we are now enjoying a healthy lifestyle.

While studying engineering, especially in our Quality Control class, our professor repeatedly mentioned that we cannot have superior and high quality output if we have inferior input. The same phenomenon is applicable to our food. We will have to start thinking beyond our taste buds. Our need and bodily requirement should govern our input, not the taste of food. We should be particular about quality, quantity and timings of our diet. We need to remember that man eats not for enjoyment but to live.

It is not easy to change our habits in one day. But we will have to start from somewhere and most importantly, stick with what we have planned. In a previous article ‘Healthwise’, I discussed the effects of my diet consciousness. I shared how changes in eating and snacking habits, cooking methods, serving sizes and routines helped me in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Any of these could be a starting point. We can start from anywhere— even something as small as a family mealtime rule. Each and every small step will ultimately contribute towards our healthy living.

~ Prashant Shori

Reality shows on Television are becoming more and more
popular. Some popular health-related and self-help shows in
North America are Dr. Phil, Oprah and Dr. Oz, where
individuals suffering from some kind of issue come to seek
advice. Lately, there have been lots of people who desperately
need some advice about their health. In dozens of these
episodes, I have noticed couples or parents coming in and
saying, “Please help me restore my health. I wish to live longer
for my kids”.
It always surprises me when I hear that a person has let
his self-created malpractices deteriorate his health to such a
great extent that the stage has now come for him to worry
even about premature and unnatural death.
To avoid reaching such a situation, we need to be
conscious from a very early stage. If parents themselves do
not have good health practices, the probability is that they
Health Consciousness
14
will pass on the same to the next generation as well.
Often it is little things that we don’t care about. Later
they go on to become big things that take a toll on us. For
instance, mealtimes! Sometimes, small things like ‘how’ we
eat our food also become important in ensuring good health.
I still remember three marvellous rules pertaining to mealtime
implemented at our home when I was a kid.
Rule Number 1 was applicable to my mom. My father told
her that while at the dinner table, she should not insist any of
us for having an extra ‘roti’. His point of view was that this
persuasion always tempts the person to over-eat.
Rule Number 2 was for us. He told us that if you are not
hungry and if you have decided to skip a meal, you should
not enter the kitchen that day. Once you enter the kitchen,
there are fair chances that the smell, look and discussion about
food will attract you to having some, even though it is not
required.
Rule Number 3 was for the whole family. When the food is
laid out, we were to look at the food and to appreciate and
thank God for it, instead of jumping into it right away. Now
I feel that this rule was miraculous. It not only helped to
regulate our breath and become calm before we started, but
also helped proper salivation and conditioning of the body to
accept what is coming.
It took me many years to understand and to appreciate
the purpose of these practices. But now I realize that what we
were practising reluctantly has now become an essential part
of us. It is because of those rules that we are now enjoying a
healthy lifestyle.
While studying engineering, especially in our Quality
HEALTH CONSCIOUSNESS 15
Control class, our professor repeatedly mentioned that we
cannot have superior and high quality output if we have
inferior input. The same phenomenon is applicable to our food.
We will have to start thinking beyond our taste buds. Our
need and bodily requirement should govern our input, not the
taste of food. We should be particular about quality, quantity
and timings of our diet. We need to remember that man eats
not for enjoyment but to live.
It is not easy to change our habits in one day. But we
will have to start from somewhere and most importantly, stick
with what we have planned. Last time I discussed the effects
of my diet consciousness in the article ‘Healthwise’. I shared
how changes in eating and snacking habits, cooking methods,
serving sizes and routines helped me in maintaining a healthy
lifestyle. Any of these could be a starting point. We can start
from anywhere— even something as small as a family
mealtime rule. Each and every small step will ultimately
contribute towards our healthy living.
— Prashant Shori

A major issue affecting household harmony these days is ego-clash. The word ‘Ego’ has started becoming more and more common. The dictionary defines it as “the ‘I’ or self of any person”. A family is not about ‘I’ however. It is about ‘us’. With people’s lifestyles becoming more self-centred, this concept of togetherness gets shaken. This leads to a lot of power struggles – evident or hidden.

We often hear about disagreements between parents and children, between couples or between siblings due to ego. The clash begins with any one member not accepting the thoughts, opinions or sometimes even the dignity of another member.

People say that we don’t get along because our egos come in the way. It has to be remembered that ego is a developed practice. It is not something that just happens! It is not inherited; nor is it a birth defect. Ego gets cultivated unconsciously over a period of time. It is a gradual process but once developed it becomes a habit hard to shake off.

Like all habits, an unhealthy dominant ego also starts with attitude. If one is conscious of the problem when it occurs and controls one’s thoughts through rational, spiritual and mindful thinking, the battle is won even before being declared. But more often than not, we let our unhealthy thoughts govern our behaviour. We unmindfully nurture and cultivate them to the extent that they start creating havoc for us.

A lot of times, ego surfaces when we wish that the other person should not ‘win’. Even casual conversations become arguments and life a battlefield. For an egoistic person everything is an attack on his self esteem. For him it becomes hard to nod in agreement and he starts leading a pretentious life. A lot of relationships are spoiled, friendships are lost, family ties are severed. Once egoism becomes a habit, it is hard to go back. Damage continues. Emotions or sensitivities hold no place in life. Selfishness ensues!

The following could be some symptoms of egoism and some pointers on what you can do about it :

  • A family member proposes something and you find yourself thinking, “If we do this, people will consider him or her to be wiser than me.” Time to reflect! A family is where every one appreciates each other’s wisdom and qualities.
  • A friend points out a flaw in you, and you get angry and think, “So he considers himself superior?” Time to reflect! Just focus on what you have been told and see if it is worth considering. Don’t jump into an argument right away.
  • A child expresses his thoughts about something and you start to correct him instantly. Time to reflect! Think about the little person’s perspective. You might be more experienced but that does not give you the right to snub someone. Instead you should lovingly discuss the issue.
  • Someone disagrees with you and your temper flares up and your voice becomes louder. Time to reflect! You do not have the right to control others’ decisions and thoughts. Each and every individual has the right and independence to express how and what he feels.
  • You get the impression that every one is targeting and questioning you and your beliefs. Time to reflect! You might be under the impression that you are being attacked even when the speaker is talking very generally. This is a characteristic of a developing ego.

Families perform the role of support networks for all members. Egos become a big problem in the fulfilment of this role. With egoism everyone starts to think only about himself. It becomes a barrier to a happy life. It is a habit that should not be nurtured in oneself and not be encouraged in the family. We need to be aware of our egoistic attitude and have the willingness to negate it with positive vibrations. Healthy family interactions begin with healthy attitudes.

Re-Creating Learning

Engaging in studies about ‘Foundations of Curriculum’ as part of my Masters in Education at University of Toronto, I became aware of several reforms that the field of education needs to go through. What students learn at any given time has to be suitable to the present world, the reality which they can call their own. Often curriculum smells of the perspectives and prejudices of the curriculum designers. With the onset of globalism, liberalism, post colonialism, multiculturalism and astounding diversity in the world, we must re-create the present curriculum to reflect these changes. The targets of education— the children— and the world they actively participate in should be the objects of primary consideration during curriculum-framing.

I have tried to weave some of my understandings about the curricular process in the following poem:

… Said the Book

“Nothing is more splendid for me,” said the book,
“Than when a child through her brown eyes peers at me,
Holds me tenderly,
Smiles at my happy sections, weeps at the sad ones,
Sometimes when I reveal a secret, she just sits, stunned!
Hugs me close when she sleeps,
My soul into her dream seeps!”

“I wonder what right I have to influence her so,
Who put ‘words in my mouth’ that carry such power;
My eyes become misty when I think of my ‘creator’,
With loving pain when he put me together,
He put the essence of his learning—of himself—in me,
I became him and he, me!
Inheriting his thoughts and character, I was set free!” —said the book.

“And now, the little girl’s life which is entwining in mine
Is so different from the life that was breathed into me;
My spirit, though sparkling white, is monotonous in colour
Whereas she and her friends are so colourful;
She lives not in a world of merely men and women,
But with several ‘others’ who are now her brethren!”
—said the book.

“And yet, she loves me so! It’s wrong!
She needs to now dance to a different song.
Give birth to my progeny, raise new books,
That differ from me in thoughts, spirits and looks.
She must create a world to call it her own—
A world she sees through her own eyes, not mine!”
—said the Book.

— Nivedita Shori

Family Rules

We all need rules to live by. They make life easier and give everyone peace of mind. Rules decide what we do as an individual, as a family, and as a society. They help in the creation of an atmosphere comfortable for everyone.
As parents, we make rules for our children so that as a family, we can lead an orderly life. When we make rules, we should bear in mind that they are backed up by solid reasoning. What is the point in having rules that are not working in the family? Instead of bringing smoothness, they will only add more tension.

There are some parents who try to make the same rules as other families they know. Not all the same things work for everyone. We need to think of our own situations and do what makes the most sense to us. Also, demarcations for different members should also be clarified. If there is more than one child in the household, there will be a set of rules common to all, but according to age, some rules like bed-time or like privileges due to safety reasons, will change.

Above all, we sometimes go overboard in trying to reinforce a rule. Flexibility is a very useful characteristic. There will always be the odd incident where the rule will not work and that is fine. It would be helpful for children to know the reason for the deviation, so that it is not misused.

The most important thing of all is to practice what you preach. If we bring down our finger on what children do, but are ourselves seen to do whatever we feel like under the pretext that we are adults, then we end up ruining the family discipline structure. What children watch, they do. They do not mind rules as long as they make sense and as long as they are carried out fairly and respectfully by all.

As teachers and parents, we sometimes just go on doing things as if we were still living in the 1900s. Moreover, we expect the new generation to follow what we are doing and to do it the same way. Well, the following video is an eye-opener as to what the new reality is. As you watch this, try to think about what are some ways we can utilize this knowledge to reach out to children in a more effective way.

They say that one of the most ornate forms of writing is poetry. Poems help bring out the creative elements from inside us. Poetry is a form of story writing, but with a touch of personality and elegance. A lot of people are able to express themselves, their inner thoughts, their feelings, their sensations through their poems.

For children, poems hold a special place. They offer children a wide variety of experiences. Some of the first lessons that children learn when they start school are ‘Twinkle, twinkle little star’ or ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’. The nursery rhymes are considered to be a big part of our lives. Poems help to bring out our imagination, the sense of rhythm and mathematical patterns and develops the use of language.

This summer, as you and your children spend time on the Internet, here are some poetry sites that might come in handy to polish some expressive language and have fun at the same time:

http://www.poetry4kids.com/ offers several great poetry-related activities, including several subject-wise collections, contests, forums, lessons and advice.

http://www.storyit.com/Classics/JustPoems/index.htm contains a collection of classical, historical poems.

http://www.kathimitchell.com/poemtypes.html is a webpage created to teach students all the different kind of poems that they can write. Poetry is not hard. It is just a different way of writing. See how you can do it.

Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds. ~ Percy Shelley

Have a happy poetry-time!!

Bullying is the act of intimidating or threatening a weaker person in order to prove one’s power or to make them do something. It is an unfortunate practice that takes its roots right from childhood. In the last few days I was involved in an in-depth research about bullying at schools and in play-fields. It gave me the opportunity to do an extensive study on this issue using theories from experts, interviews with children, teachers and parents. The results have been eye-opening. I will try to highlight some of the most important information which can be helpful for us to save our children from either being bullied or from being bullies.

Bullying has many forms. It can be physical (punching, poking, strangling), verbal (using words to generate inferiority in others), and psychological/emotional (ignoring, isolation, rejecting or terrorising). The other emerging type of bullying which is spreading like an epidemic these days is ‘cyber-bullying’. This includes sending hatred messages over the internet and emails including prejudice, racism, sexism and other comments to distort self-esteem.

Bullying is an intended intangible crime mostly performed by minors on minors and can be extremely dreadful. Unfortunately there are no strict laws and no formal regulations from the school boards and governments. The best we can do is to identify it at the earliest and to take a strong and well-planned action to nip this evil in its bud.

Bullying is not a one-time event. It always happens repetitively which makes this practice more severe and fatal. Children who lack social skills and who have no friends, who are physically weak or insecure and emotional can be easily traced by bullies who are like sharks smelling blood in the water.

There are some tips for parents which can help them to figure out if their child is a victim of bullying:

–          Are there some occasions when your child could not explain to you the reason for his bruises, scratches or torn clothes?

–          Does your child often complain of stomach-aches and headaches, especially when it is time to go to school?

–          Is your communication decreasing with your child? Do you often find him or her isolated and disinterested in activities?

–          Are your children frequently losing their stuff at school? For example, toys, stationery items, lunchboxes and even cell-phones?

–          Is your child’s performance deteriorating without any visible and understandable reason to you?

–          Are they becoming more temperamental? Do you find frequent crests and troughs in their behaviour?

–          Are they never being invited at birthday parties and other gatherings by their fellow students?

The above mentioned signs may indicate that they are going through something rough at school or in the playfield, which is worth observing. There are some very simple questions you can ask your child which can help you dig deeper to see if they are going through any physical or emotional problem at school:

–          Do you like your school? Why or why not?

–          How many friends do you have? Do you like your friends? Why or why not?

–          Who is your best friend? And why?

–          What kind of activities you perform at school?

Always try to communicate with your child about the school activities, about their involvement and about their interests and concerns. Build and improve your child’s self-confidence. Some people enrol their child in more aggressive sports and self-defence courses. Bullying cannot be stopped by responding in the same manner as the bully. The best method is to equip your child in such a manner that he is better able to handle those who bully. To avoid being bullied, here are some things children should know:

  • Be friendly but try not to be too noticeable when you know a bully is around.
  • Be confident. Think positively about yourself. If your self-esteem is low and a bully thinks he can dominate you, he probably will.
  • Be polite but firm. Giving these signals right in the beginning usually prevents a bully from coming at you.
  • Revenge is not the answer. The bully’s behaviour will only worsen. Ignore the person who is trying to hurt you.
  • Take control of your feelings. Sometimes writing your feelings down or talking to an adult helps.

The Other Side:

It is also important to know about the bully. There can be chances that your child himself or herself is a bully. Historically, only boys were considered to be bullies. But these days, girls cannot be neglected as potential bullies. Rather, in issues of verbal and emotional bullying, girls are more active and hurtful than boys. Never underestimate the negative impacts of bullying and never take it lightly considering it to be just a fun activity.

Statistics are suggesting that more than fifty percent of children who bullied others at school end up getting involved in a criminal offence at least once in their lifetime. Make it very clear to your child that you will not tolerate any kind of bullying behaviour and also discuss with him the negative impacts of bullying on the victims he will target.

Being parents, we should be quite careful about the behaviour and personality of our children. It is very important to monitor them closely, although with minimal interference. Once grown up, they may forget some specific incidents, but they will not forget their own or others’ behaviour. The impact of that behaviour in their childhood will largely influence their personality and well-being as adults.

~ Prashant Shori

Communicating with our children sometimes become a challenge – no matter how old the child is. There are some important things about message delivery – the way messages are sent and received. Sometimes, we miss the obvious signs of miscommunication and let the problem rise. The following video is an excerpt from a program on TVO channel that offers some advice.

Today’s education system has turned it focus towards literacy. To reach out to parents and children in creative ways, innovative schools have initiated the trend of literacy nights and reading clubs. Librarians are making efforts to arrange authors’ visits to their schools to promote the reading habits of their students. To some extent all these efforts are helping children to divert their attention from computers, video games, Wii and Play Station to reading books.

The question here is: are we aware of what kind of reading children are engaging in and who decides what a seven year or an eleven year old child should read. Taking the discussion a step further, is it justified if a fifty year old is writing a book for a five-year old? If yes then the mature adult whose experiences flow through a children’s story must make it possible for himself too to think with a child’s perspective in mind.

There is no doubt that the prime focus of children’s books is on entertaining and providing them pleasure through reading. Attention also needs to be given to the fact that books which children are reading should help them to develop cognitively too.

Being a parent it might be a good exercise to go through what the children are reading in order to ensure that their readings are not just for learning and developing the language skills but also for assisting them in their personal and mental growth. A child’s mind is pure and tender. He can easily be influenced by any idea irrespective of its rationality and validity. And this influence is no less than a trap. Therefore the literature they are going through should carefully be filtered by adults around the child.

Children’s books come in a wide range – from infancy to adolescence. A ten year old reading a book of the level of a fourteen year old may be considered good in terms of better command on language. But on the other hand, there is always a risk of being exposed to the information which is intended for a much mature reader with the capability to interpret the content in the right perspective.

The key lies in balancing our approach towards reading. Reading is surely an extremely intellectual and developmental activity. On the other hand it is also a captivating and entrapping device. So it is important to be aware of the details of the literature that our children are reading. Through this filtered literature we can maximize the benefits and minimize the harms of reading.

Heartfelt thanks to our parents, whose untiring efforts, resilient persistence and timeless advice moulded our destiny and made us the people who we are! Here is an ode to parents taken from www.rhlschool.com

Thanks for the start to the lives that we’ve had.

Thanks for the nights that you went without rest.

So many memories, most happy, some sad;

If you weren’t perfect, you still passed the test,

Holding our hands, holding back all the fears.

Thank you sincerely for all of those years.

So many hours that you worked to provide

Multiplied by all the days that we grew,

When we behaved and the times we defied,

Never a doubt we could still count on you,

Making our laughter and drying our tears.

Thank you sincerely for all of those years.

Thanks for the rules that we wished were not there.

Thanks for the wisdom we sometimes denied.

All the attention and all of the care,

All the forgiveness and all of the pride,

Pointing out faults but then calling out cheers.

Thank you sincerely for all of those years.

For the examples you set every day,

Teaching with actions, those lessons hold tight.

We hardly knew just how much you could say

Simply by doing what you knew was right.

Now that we’re older, the logic appears.

Thank you sincerely for all of those years.

Thank you for love not required to be earned,

Not ever fading as time moves along.

You have to know that the love is returned,

Not always showing, but always so strong.

And you still care as your golden time nears.

Thank you sincerely for all of the years.

A healthy family is a happy family. In A Journey With the Child we have often talked about mental and emotional health. But equally important is physical health. Only a healthy body is able to nurture a healthy mind and soul. I have often noticed that when I am feeling fit and active, I am able to keep a pleasant disposition towards others. My family interactions become more enjoyable and refreshing.

While living in India I was very much health-conscious but never noticed the nutrient-count of the food I ate. After coming to Canada I noticed that people are very conscious about the nutritious value of what they eat. Considering it to be a good practice, I visited my family physician. He gave me a calorie chart. I followed. Time passed by and after five years I noticed one day that I had gained 18 pounds of weight. I was astonished to see it. I read in a leading health magazine that by 2030 almost every North American child will be obese. I felt upset.

One day in frustration I called my father and told him about my increasing weight. Quite calmly he told me that  there is a formula which will not only solve this problem but also help me in every stream of life. The formula was to know the purpose first before performing any action. The statement sounded very vague in the beginning but fortunately while reading Mohandas K. Gandhi’s autobiography titled The Story of My Experiments with Truth I encountered the relevant thought – “man eats not for enjoyment but to live”.

When I reflected upon Gandhi’s statement in the context of the formula given by my father I got the solution right away. I realized the purpose of eating! I started monitoring my awareness about the purpose more than my awareness about the nutrition chart. That was the day of resolution and in ninety days I got rid of the unnecessary burden I was carrying . Twenty pounds of weight had shed away and I started feeling as if I am floating while I was walking.

I definitely had to make some changes in my eating habits. As a family, we made some changes in our cooking methods. I closely monitored my snacking habits before and after regular meals. I also fixed the quantity of the total intake during a day. Careful timing of eating, sufficient gaps between meals and time-distance between dinner and going to bed were monitored minutely.

Now I feel that dietary details are more important than the calorie or the nutrition-chart. More than that, it is the purpose that counts! My success in this mission gave me ample amount of confidence to write on this topic and made my life and that of my family healthier and happier.

~ Prashant Shori

“Children learn best when they enjoy what they do!”
For children, play time is when they learn the best. Through play we can provide them many opportunities to develop and to feel comfortable with themselves. The following video illustrates the fact that playtime is a powerful time. Let’s pay heed to it:

The story of what I gained and what I lost

Every child is unique. Each person has a strength that may not necessarily be the same as others. For children going through peer pressure, this can sometimes be hard to see. In order to be accepted within their friend circle, children want to be like their friends. Being different means rejection for them!

I passed through such a phase myself. I was exceptionally bright at academics, due to a strong work ethic set by my mother since a very early age. However, I was not a physically strong child. I also did not have any siblings until I was nine years old, when I was blessed with a brother. Due to that, my formative years were spent mostly reading or engaging in some kind of intellectual activity. During the evening, when a couple of my friends came over, we usually played some creative game that had to do less with physical exercise and more with mental activity. And I loved it.

At school, it was a different story though. My peer group was athletic and very “street-smart”, so to speak. They seemed to know a lot of social ways whereas I was a star only in the classroom. When it came to playground and other social activities, no matter how much I tried to “be like them”, I was still the odd person out. I was the butt of jokes and everyone seemed to be united in making fun of me. When dividing teams, I was always the unwanted one as I didn’t really bring much athletic ability.

It was an intense and frustrating struggle to cope with this. At the age when friendships and socialization mean a lot to a child, having no real friends was not a pleasant situation. On the outside, I kept showing a strong interest in my friends, but on the inside, I started being lonesome.

But just like every individual makes adaptations for survival, I started to make mine. I started to build a shell around me. Being good only at academics started being enough for me. My hobbies were reading and writing. I stopped trying to be good at anything else, although I secretly did wish that I was, when I looked at my classmates. Since it was embarrassing for me to play with others as I had no skills to show off, I started avoiding my friends. Whenever someone else told me that they needed help with something and came to talk to me, I felt very uncomfortable and apprehensive as I anticipated ridicule.

Although I managed to stay clear of a lot of embarrassing situations, yet this lonesome lifestyle had a toll on my personality. I was not able to shape and sharpen my social skills. I went into isolation when any guests arrived and felt really uncomfortable getting along with others. I did not ask for help when it would have been helpful; I did not get a chance to explore the multi-faceted nature of people; and I even fantasized schemes against others when my brain was idle, as I had been suffering at the hands of others. Of course, these schemes never came to fruition (thankfully in retrospection) as I did not step out of my own shell to carry those plans out.

Through my initial experience, I was not able to open myself up for a lot of successes that could have been mine. Adolescence struck soon enough and it became even harder to deal with the changing hormones as well as changing schools and friends. I was apprehensive of approaching and befriending people for the fear that it would only lead to me being bullied and hurt. My overall performance started to decline in pre-University years because I couldn’t balance the intense course work as well as my emotional tension that came with the desire to still be a part of the peer circle.

Fortunately for me, by the time I entered University, I had found a way to be at peace with myself. I started discovering my own strengths as a result of being a “loner” for a long time. Putting those strengths to use, I turned into a more mature person with goals for myself and strong personal values and morals. This helped me re-achieve my academic brilliance with the understanding that each individual’s strength is different.

These skills have stayed with me since then. But I do feel sad for some irreversible losses of my personality. I still don’t feel socially confident and always feel apprehensive of expressing myself for the fear of being ridiculed. If someone had seen through my childhood issues at the time they were occurring, I might have been a stronger person today.

In case of children who go through such issues, family members probably consider the child’s social incompetence as a flaw in the child itself instead of an external issue that can be resolved with timely intervention. They lecture and discipline the child and feel frustrated on receiving no positive response. I was often questioned as to why I did not like to dance at family gatherings and why I preferred being a ‘bookworm’, and I received several ‘guidance sessions’ with family members to learn the ‘wisdom of the world’, but what I needed at that point was someone who could  read the hidden messages being sent out by my actions.

A good option might be to dwell deeper on what embarrasses the child, what gives him pleasure and what are his fears? The child’s indifferent behaviour could be a survival mechanism used for coping with a hostile world. In that case, your child needs help and parents are then the most important characters in shaping the journey that would determine the child’s life.

Nivedita Shori

When I was a school going kid, a hilarious incident happened, that still resonates in my mind. Our home was often visited by spiritual preachers and learned scholars. I remember that one of them used to give examples about how harmful a refrigerator is for one’s health. Once on his visit, when my father asked him why he was not touching upon the topic this time, he smiled and replied that this time he can not say anything against a refrigerator as it won’t leave the same impact because he recently bought one for himself!

 Indeed, the best lessons are taught by doing, not by saying. Whatever vices we have, we cannot condemn in others, least of all in our children. If we are not disciplined, for example, we cannot assume that our lectures of discipline to our children will leave any impact. After reaching my early adulthood now, I can very well see that I have acquired several of my father’s characteristics. We cannot neglect the contribution of genetics but watching and observing certainly influences the psychology and behaviour of children.

I think this concept of observational learning must be the basis of the importance of ‘good company’ which is emphasized by literature and the scholars of the spiritual world. Being a parent and a true friend it is our moral and ethical responsibility to ensure our kids stay in the company that will leave positive influence on them. The thought has to be extended not only to their friends, but also to the question of whether we ourselves are good company for them! Will our children turn out to be responsible, well-balanced individuals while growing up in our company?

 Let us focus on improving the environment (physical surroundings and the range of behaviours) in which our children are living. And for that we will not need to inspect what they are doing; we may rather have to start by introspecting what we are doing!

 Prashant Shori

Children make a lot of independent choices and take many decisions every day. Whether it is something as simple as going out to play or something as big as what career they choose, all these decisions have a basis in the mind of the child.

We often question our children’s decisions. We either agree with them or disagree. Yet, we do not pause to study their choices. It does not occur to us that whatever they choose is a reflection of who they are and what their experiences have been. Sometimes, studying their decisions can give us important insights into what a child might be going through.

Instead of focusing on the surface of their decisions and telling them why it is wrong or correct, at times it is more valuable to focus on what might be their reasoning behind doing so. For instance, if they want to stay out of social gatherings, they might be having some unpleasant social experiences; if they have recently decided to play a lot of football, they might have found a role model in their sports teacher; if they are opting for a major change in their profession, they might be feeling suffocated where they are.

As guides and counselors, our job is to study and support our children at all times. By going deeper into their decisions, we might be able to provide the right assistance at the right time, to help them overcome their hurdles and to nourish their personalities.

Let smiling be your nature. It is a divine quality. The portraits of great men are generally depicted smiling. One smiling face at home can diminish the sadness of all others. Looking at your merry visage, the whole family will glow with happiness. When you start remaining happy, your mind becomes clear and illuminated and you become capable of taking the right decision. Why ?— because you are cool and calm. You can take any situation in a positive way. You are able to sort out all your messed-up tasks conveniently and everyone starts treating you with respect.

Happiness can change the atmosphere and the scenario. Now look :

Some kids go out for a picnic. On the way it starts raining.

A sense of depression starts creeping in as to ‘what now?’ All of a sudden, one child, while riding his bicycle, starts humming a happy song relating to rain and rainy season.  Everybody joins him in singing. The gloomy atmosphere instantly gets dispelled. All the children are now singing while riding. Then one of the kid stops, gets off his bike and starts dancing. And indeed, everyone joins in. Heavens pour incessantly and the children bathe and dance; dance and bathe.

The picnic becomes a lifelong pleasant memoir for all of them.

 This is how your approach should be. If you start keeping yourself happy, your child will also meet you joyously and will respect you at all times, at all places.

To be happy is to be healthy. Believe me, your smile is the key which unlocks others’ barred doors if it emanates from the depth of your heart. Your smile speaks. It tells the onlookers that ‘I respect you and appreciate your presence. You make me happy and give me hope.’ Thus your smile will act as a stepping stone to your success.

Your happiness is your strength. Every forthcoming hardship and disappointment can be countered by the weapon of happiness.  Learn to live happily and also prompt others to live happily. Smiling and remaining cheerful costs nothing. It is the strength which, when used, gives manifold return.

Those who laugh away the hardships go far ahead in life. Happiness brings prosperity to business, success to work, joy to family and addition to the number of friends. I often say that :

If you want to emerge victorious, smile !

If you want to enslave success, smile !

If you want to conquer the world, smile !

If you want to make everyone your own, smile ! 

 Woe runs away from smiles. Smiling in troubles leaves the impression of your courage on others. People start honoring you.  The fragrance of happiness freshens up the entire atmosphere and makes one cheerful. So, laugh and make others laugh.

– Extracted from ‘Smile’ in Kids’ Character Begins With You
(Basant Shori)

We have to guard against being one of those parents who think that they must have control over the lives of their children because they brought them into this world, raised them and gave them all they wanted. Sometimes, without even realizing it, we start exercising control by way of unnecessary suggestions and participation. It is true that children should respect their elders and be grateful for all that has been given to them. But it is also true that parents need to let go of their children after a certain time.

Just like us, children have their mood swings and emotional challenges too. As a result, their behaviour sometimes might be unexpected. Whereas we have to put a check on this kind of behaviour if it starts to develop into a habit, yet at the same time we have to be mindful that on occasional instances,  we might have to ignore it.

Being parents we have to be very careful in determining what to do when such behaviour happens. Sometimes, when left alone for some time when they are upset, children will come back to their normal self themselves. At other times, it is more helpful to keep a close watch without appearing to be interfering.

 The best way is to model a stress-free life. A relaxed, free-minded person is usually receptive of other people’s thoughts and feelings and helps maintain a calm atmosphere.

 We have no control over anyone’s life, but we can surely be an exemplary model that we want our children to be. What we do for them is our duty – one of the most important duties of our life. But what they do is what we need to accept. Once we have ensured that our children have become independent thinkers and can take decisions for themselves, we have to step out. They are not our subordinates or an object in our possession; they are our children, our ‘second self’ and in fact, a better ‘us’!

Cartoon taken from Mike Moore's http://speakerman1.blogspot.com/

Little children have difficulty understanding a lot of things. If we insist too hard, it puts a burden on them and leads to frustration. Here is an example – according to their development, children have trouble putting even concrete things into specific categories. Sometimes, while teaching them or while explaining something to them, we become really impatient because they don’t get the point that “tomato, onion, cauliflower and potato” are all ‘vegetables’. Instead of losing our temper or deciding whether the kid is bright or not, it is important to know this fact. Research has shown that full understanding of this concept does not develop until age 5 or so.

The following video also illustrates this fact. See how the adult is dealing patiently and letting the child do what he wants to do instead of making him say what she wants him to say. Obviously, it is not in the child’s control. At his age, his brain is not fully programmed to make categories or to clearly understand the deep meaning of the questions being asked. The best way to deal with

Video games have turned into a very significant technological invention. Children are often seen spending hours glued to these games. As we enter a highly digitalized era, it is interesting to note that these games that were once thought to be only a source of entertainment have now been proven by researchers to have an educational value too. They can help build the technological and intellectual skills which will be a vital requirement that these kids need as adults. Studies have indicated that video games can enhance self-esteem and confidence, the ability to visualize and coordinate and help build language and problem-solving skills.

It might be more important however, to be cautious of the negative effects that video games can bring. Just like other technological devices, the wholesome picture of video games is also not free from risks. Besides the obvious adverse effects like addiction and eye-strain, these games come with some other severe setbacks:

  • Excessive video gaming takes away time from other developmentally important activities like family and peer interactions, Y school work, physical activity and intellectual or vocational hobbies. It could thus hinder personality development.
  • About three-fourth of the video games have violent content. Engaging in them for extended periods of time can lead to increased aggressive thoughts, feelings and behaviours among kids.

Some checkpoints that might help to ensure good video-gaming behaviour:

  • Set up rules for video game usage specifying the time allowed.
  • Monitor children when they play to know what they’re playing.
  • If general aggressive behaviour is noticeable in children, consider checking the content of their video games.
  • Give importance to family time where everyone leaves their personal work or hobbies aside to chat, laugh, eat and celebrate.
  • Model good alternative leisure activities.
  • Turn video-games into teachable moments by discussing some situations that kids come across while playing.

Keeping in mind the positive and negative effects of technologies like video games, a little bit of care and conscious effort could help in making sure we harness only the advantages.

Be Your Own Friend

We all need friends to live a healthy, happy life. A friend is a person who is sincere and faithful towards you. It is important to have friends and that’s why all of us have some.

However, not many people realize that it is more important to be your own friend first. It may sound funny but the effectiveness of family and peer interactions depends a lot on whether we are our own friends or not. Our relationship with ourselves determines our relations with our family members and friends.

 Let’s do a quick check to find out how sincere and faithful we are towards our self. Do we exercise regularly to keep ourselves healthy? Do we eat on time? Do we remain calm even if someone does or says something inappropriate in front of us? Do we respect the alarm clock in the morning? If the answer to all these questions is ‘yes’ then we are definitely our friends and if the answer is ‘no’ then it is something worth giving a serious thought to.

Individuals who are truly successful and flourishing in the world are the ones who are friends of themselves. They are mindful of the world but they also respect and value themselves and their decisions. A scholar once said that if you are not a good friend of yourself then you cannot be a good friend of others either.

 Once we become our own friend, our kids and family will automatically get benefited. Once you demonstrate the habits of abiding by the rules and doing what is right for your betterment, these traits will automatically flow into your kids and your surroundings.

– B.K. Shori

Teenage is a very tough stage of life. Not only do teenagers experience physical and emotional challenges but also behavioural uniqueness. Research has proven that the way teenagers act is not just a result of “tantrums, whims and fancies”. The root cause of their behaviour actually lies in the way their brain processes information. Usually they do not have much control of it.

However, what they need at this stage is to see appropriate behaviour and models around them, besides a caring and empathetic environment. That way, as soon as their brain is ready to use the newly formed connections they will know how to do the right thing as they would already have experienced this before.

Take a peek into the teenage mind in this video:

Tina was in Grade five. She was a good student. Her study skills were excellent. Her parents were mindful of the fact that children need a no-disturbance space to work in. They made sure they fulfilled every requirement for uninterrupted studies. At home, Tina had a little study room with a desk, chair and bookshelves. The room had an academic aura in it.

 Tina used to spend most of her home-time in this room. She read various lessons from her book even before her teacher started those in class. She researched encyclopaedias and surfed the Internet to get a better understanding of her study topics.

 One day as she was coming back to school, she saw a huge poster advertising a Circus that had come to town. She asked her parents if they could take her there. As she had expected, they said that it was important for her to study right now and to not focus on other things. Circuses would keep coming later on in her life, they said.

 Tina thought about all the times she had worked so hard to get good marks to please her parents and yet they had never taken her to any outings. She didn’t know what it was like to go out on a picnic and play all day. Whenever somebody visited, she was only allowed to meet them briefly and then asked to stay in her room to study. It is true that she enjoyed studying but she did want to go out and see other things too. Her friends already called her a ‘book-worm’. But she didn’t know what to do about it. All she could do was to try to make her parents happy so that they thought about her happiness too.

 The next day, as her parents were watching the news, they heard an inspirational story of a woman who was harassed at several points in her life. They saw an interview in which she was talking about how she had never been given the opportunity to develop her overall personality. She said that in her childhood, her parents never sat with her to discuss things going on in the world. They were too busy to notice when she fell and to encourage her to rise. As a result, she had not been able to gain survival skills that would help her in difficult times. When she had left her parents’ home, she had to face various social situations but she had failed at all of them, because she hadn’t learnt those essentials in the company of her parents, who she had thought were her best friends.

 Tina’s parents sat quietly through the entire show as reality struck them. They turned off the television and discussed how their approach towards their daughter was not healthy for her overall personality. They realized that only academic skills would not ensure a happy life for their daughter. It is true that it was one important thing but not the only one. They didn’t want their daughter to suffer at the hands of other people just because she didn’t have the skills to protect herself.

They resolved that they would create every opportunity to engage in meaningful discussions with Tina. They decided that they would go out periodically to let their daughter see the world in their presence. That way, Tina would open up more with them too and they might get a chance to know some of the things she experiences at school or some things she might feel weak at. They felt fortunate that they had learnt an important lesson before too much harm had been done.

So from then on, to the joy of Tina, her mother started talking to her about various activities at school and promised her that she would play badminton with her every evening. Her father told her that after her tests, they would all go to a nearby tourist spot to spend a day. During these times, all three of them talked, laughed and learnt more about each other.

Tina came closer to her parents in this process and confided strongly in them with her problems and goals. She felt invigorated to work harder at studies as well. She was learning so many new things about life with her parents. She was so glad that they were there for her whenever she needed them. She felt strong and capable now. Her transformation into a wholesome person had now begun.

– Nivedita Shori

Life-Long Learning

Education has the power to transform dreams into reality. It can transcend barriers and take the world to unforeseen heights. Education liberates everyone, regardless of their background, geography or socio-economic status. In North America, people have opportunities to engage in active learning at every stage of life. Indeed, we should be receptive for any and every chance we receive to learn a new thing. Learning leads to knowledge which then can bring about change – the desirable change that we are all waiting for.

The following video illustrates the importance of life-long learning for all individuals in the world:

We pass through several important landmarks in our life marking the transition from one stage to the next. One such important landmark is the first day of school in a child’s life – the beginning of formal education. The child turns into a “big kid” all of a sudden on this day. In most cultures and countries, this day calls for joy and celebration.

In ancient Indian culture, the beginning of education was a ritual – the eleventh out of the sixteen rituals of an individual’s life. It was called Vedaarambh Samskaar. During this ritual, the student who was about to begin the journey of education was blessed by the family-elders and teachers who prayed for his success and guided him towards being a disciplined, humanitarian, well-behaved, knowledge-seeking, hard-working and diligent individual.

 Celebrating the first day when child enters school serves as an important reminder that human beings are the fortunate species with the ability to participate in organized education and make their lives better as a result. Our dreams of worthy living can turn to reality through education. We are able to become critical thinkers, collaborative team-workers and responsible citizens of the global community.

Even though a child gets ‘educated’ since the very day he is born, yet the day he steps into the world of formal education is a good day to ponder upon what we want our kids to achieve through education. Here we are not talking about making your kids Engineers, Doctors, academic toppers or turning them into specific professionals. Instead, we need to believe that education will bring out the best in our children. Education provides us an opportunity to explore multiple avenues and to realize our true potential. The purpose of education is to grow intellectually and to help others grow. It is nothing less, but nothing more!

A lot of parents, especially in the western countries, complain that their children don’t want to talk to them. They would rather hang around with their friends and classmates. They even feel embarrassed in the presence of parents in public places. For parents, this can be heartbreaking sometimes if they don’t understand the psychology behind it.

Children feel reluctant to interact with parents because in their opinion parents don’t talk, they lecture. According to kids, everything they talk about turns into a lecture about what is right or wrong, what should be done or not done and how it makes them a good or bad person. These are all good messages to be given to children but not as a sermon. Instead, we should try to ask them questions that would develop their own thinking. For example, if you find there might be a teachable moment in the conversation, listen to the child’s whole story first and then ask for more clarification about that point.

We need to be conscious of how we are conversing with our children. Both the parent and the child should be contented after a talk. We have to change too in order to feel welcomed and significant in our child’s life. Children are very wise in picking the right thing according to intuition. So, they need to receive positive vibrations from us in order to respond positively to us.

Sometimes children want to do things that parents disapprove of. Moms and Dads make decisions and try to impose this on their kids. Of course, they do this with all good intentions.

Well, if you’ve tried doing this with teenagers, you probably know that they need their own space and seem to have their own ‘logic’ for things. What’s fortunate is that they usually do realize in the end that they were making a mistake.

Anyway, here’s a cute song by Clique Girlz for you to enjoy. Hear and read the perspective of a teenager yourself!

Hey children, would you like a peek inside your parents’ minds?

Here’s a secret – when your parents say or do something, they are sometimes thinking something else. This is especially true when you hear them say something that is not exactly what you wanted to hear. Let’s take a look at the following example.

Sometimes, it appears that your parents are discouraging you. It gives the feeling that they’re keeping you back from what you feel would be perfect for you. Do you know what they’re usually thinking in their mind – “May be saying something negative now will motivate my little one to go ahead and shine, just to prove me wrong! Next time, when you think your parents are saying something that makes you feel discouraged or annoyed, try to put yourself in their shoes and think what must be going on inside their mind— certainly a desire to stand defeated in front of you, their child!

Parents love to see their children to be far ahead of them. Next time when you hear your parents say something that is about to make you upset, take a deep breath and think about what they must really be thinking! Your frustration will dissolve in seconds and you will see your parents in a totally new light.

We recently visited a family that took a lot of pride in the way they lived. They were careful of every detail of the house— the way their drapes hung, the colour of their walls, how their floors and furniture matched and so on. They had a lovely little daughter, about a year-and-a-half. The sweet, chubby girl was like another ‘medal’ that her parents proudly flaunted. She had every latest game in her possession which her parents encouraged her to bring and show to us. It was amusing to see how the toddler had learnt to show off so quickly as well.

But then there started a discussion of how she was putting on a lot of weight and becoming very bored with everything. Also, the doctor had told them that she needed to walk and run around in order to build her physical strength. The parents’ job schedules and sleeping patterns were
different for every day of the week. So to spend time with their child was becoming hard for them.

While this discussion was on, we cast a look around the house and saw the living room cluttered with furniture, albeit of a fine quality. The little kid wasn’t allowed on the sofa because it was new. The 56 inch-wide television had to be set up in a prominent spot. The dining chairs and the crockery show-case had to be huge and elegant. All of this left a thin passage in the whole room to walk around. And this was their most used room!

It seemed like injustice to have a little child in such a space—a space filled with finery that itself demanded a lot of care thereby  leaving no room for the toddler to move freely. What exactly was their plan for the development of their child? Did they realize that between the age of one and two, a child’s mobility becomes noticeable and he also starts to mimic the people around him? Clearly, these parents weren’t ready for a child. Nothing showed that they were. No accommodations were visible.

To be honest, this story is a familiar one for many households. A lot of families seek a child just for the sake of ‘completing their family’ and for the so-called fulfillment of their ‘duty’. They forget that a child is a living soul and not another object in their collection. A lot of preparation should go before the child enters the world and a lot of changes need to be made in our lifestyle. It may require clearing out of physical space keeping in mind an infant’s and then a toddler’s needs and primarily a change in our mindset towards appearances. 

Instead of thinking about how the house ‘looks’, we should start thinking about how the home ‘feels’! Does it feel ready for a child? Our concern about crockery and mantelpiece decorations should give way to our thoughts about setting up a cheerful, inviting and safe environment for the kid.

Obviously, mental environment— the proper mindset counts. Cheer, laughter and good musical sounds need to emanate from the house. The four walls should encompass needs elaboration vibrations. Television should be minimized to very important broadcasts or refreshing and appropriate shows. Conversation between family members should reflect tolerance and healthy discussion. Prayers and spiritual readings should be added to the family routine. Parents should start monitoring their own activities and discontinue the ones they can be stressful. It is after all, a child, a soul that has been ushered into the world. And it is we who have done this. We need to be mindful of the needs and ensure safety and the development of the child. We cannot assume things will remain the same as they were before the child was a part of the family. We have to make room for the child in the place we live, and prior to that in our minds and in our hearts. We have to welcome a child into the world the way he deserves, not the way that suits us. We need to treat this new, little person with dignity and with all the care that we can give.

Recently, the list of top ten Hollywood movies for the year 2009 was released. It was interesting to note that most of them were sci-fi thrillers starring giant robots or animated characters (Transformers, Up, Avatar, Ice Age, Monsters vs. Aliens) besides a couple of teenager-starrers (Harry Potter, The Twilight Saga). Computerized effects clearly were the rule of entertainment.

But let’s not get this wrong. This does not mean no one is watching any meaningful cinema anymore. This only indicates that the ways have changed. Digitalized effects have ceased to be a specialty. Novelty in creation is what we all love now. In fact, high-tech apparitions of long ago have now become a reality. As parents of this generation of kids, we need to be more flexible and appreciative of modern likes and dislikes. If your children are talking about ‘Transformers’ or ‘Harry Potter’ all the time, don’t think you can divert them from those things just by  asking them to focus harder on their academics. Those things are the reality of the present! In fact, the sooner we start taking interest in what these things are and what they mean to our kids, the better would it be for us to guide our kids properly.

Generation gap has always existed, there’s no doubt about that. However, the world has become very daring in stepping into newer territories. The more we explore, the more we learn and hence the more we change. The truth is that this is all happening at the speed of lightning. Since it is practically impossible to change ourselves so fast (and in fact, not even desirable!), the best we can do is to appreciate the change and see the positive in it.

Of course, there will be some negatives too. Positive and negative forces always go together. The same is true with the digitalized world of modern times. Our parenting touch should be, as usual, to guard our kids from the negative effects. It doesn’t mean that we disapprove of the modern ways altogether. It only means that we merge the old with the new, blend the past and the present with the future and open our doors for unimaginable realities to enter, because they are certainly here to stay!

Sareena hated her job. She was a journalist for a small magazine company. When she had got that job about two years ago, she had considered herself very fortunate. When she was doing her Masters in Journalism, she felt incompetent amongst her classmates. She was only an average student. The top-scorers in her class were brilliant, she thought. She felt they had all the qualities that famous media companies required.

As for Sareena, she had done the course only because her parents wanted so. She wished to go for an education in Biotechnology, but her parents thought it was not a good field for girls. She had tried to convince them by giving examples of several women who excelled in Science and also by showing them her extraordinary marks in the subject as opposed to other subjects and by promising them that Biotechnology was what she had been made for. Her aptitude lay right there. But her parents still felt that they couldn’t let their daughter spend her life in laboratories and work odd hours. They thought it would be best if Sareena became a journalist.

So, when she graduated heartlessly with Masters in Journalism, she wandered aimlessly for a little while until her father spoke to the manager of the magazine she now works for. Even though she felt she lacked the skills for this career and felt she Personality Development wouldn’t be able to do full justice to the job, she took it. She had also got married shortly after. Her cute little son, Vic, was now her lifeline.

As she sat today on her desk typing up a story about a teenager who had become a world-famous singing sensation, she couldn’t help admiring the teenager. She almost visualized Vic on the magazine’s front cover, posing as a rock star with a guitar and a baseball cap – a few years down the road. She would be so proud of him…

A few moments later, she caught herself! How could she have a dream career planned for a six-month old child? A minor infection of her thought today could spoil the boy’s entire life!

Right then, she decided that she wouldn’t make the same mistake as her parents did. Vic would become what his brain would work best at and follow the career that would make him complete as a person. As a mother, Sareena would only provide the right opportunities and model the right attitude. The thought gave her instant relief and she got back to work with a light and happy heart!

– Nivedita Shori.