Thursday, 12 April 2018

A few misplaced notions (in my opinion) on culture and sanskriti

Sometimes I find myself disagreeing with practices and attitudes advocated in the name of culture and sanskriti. Here are a few examples:

1: Recently I heard someone talk about (and praise the idea) how in the old times in this country sons would continue with their fathers' professions. Business --> Business, Musician --> Musician, Teacher --> Teacher, Cobbler --> Cobbler, and so on...

I think such a practice still exists in some parts of Indian society.

Even if this were true at some point in the past, I do not believe this is a healthy practice.

People (of either gender) ought to do what interests them in my opinion. Yes, they also need to prove their mettle to succeed - and sometimes economic factors can make things a little extra difficult for some - but the guiding principle, as far as I am concerned, has to be "Do what interests you, do what motivates you, do what inspires you!".

(I elaborate on my point of view in this article:…/choosing-career-path-a…)

2: Then there seems to be this notion that children should decide to pursue their professions geographically where there parents are.

That's again an incorrect notion in my opinion. Unless there are exceptional circumstances that require one to forgo professional interests and aspirations for a while to take care of parents, I think it needs to be the other way around: People should follow their professional aspirations and parents relocate if they want to stay with their children.

I think such notions such as the above two are responsible to a large extent for our degeneration to such mediocracy in almost every field.

Not everything old may be necessarily good and not everything new necessarily bad. We need to think for ourselves and adopt what seem like the better practices, while letting go of those that don't, as we move forward.

3: One often hears: "One must implicitly respect and obey one's parents."

My take:

a) Everyone has to earn their respect. This includes the respect parents expect from their children. If either parent is an alcoholic / addict / abusive / dishonest / lazy, there is scant chance of getting any respect. You can demand a show of respect because your child is dependent on you, but just be clear that that isn't respect.

That's the first thing. You want your children to authentically respect you : conduct yourselves respectably.

b) Implicit obedience (assuming nothing unethical is asked of the child) till the end of high school is perhaps reasonable. That's a growing up phase and I think its reasonable to expect a child to eat the food put on the table, play when its play time and study when its study time, and other such stuff. This phase also moulds character and if parents do their parenting sensibly and children listen, we would have some fine young folks in society.

But then comes the stage of making decisions regarding what one wants to do in life. What does one want to study? What does one want to do professionally?

Here the child's wish must be respected. I'm sick to the bones of parents making life decisions for their children. One wants to study literature and poetry and you'll find them doing engineering. Another wants to play the guitar and will be enrolled in classical music lessons. And so on. Goodness gracious! Ask your children what they want to do for heaven's sake. And unless your economic conditions prohibit, back them!

Then who they want to marry, if they want to at all, is really their choice. If you know something and want to give a fair warning, that's one thing. But to make this decision for them and expect implicit obedience even at the cost of their happiness is plain criminal in my book.

As I said in my last post, not everything that is advocated in the name of culture or sanskriti is either reflective of a good culture or genuine sanskriti (these are my opinions of course).

4: One also often hears: "One must implicitly respect and obey one's teachers."

My take:

First things first: Teachers need to make sure they deserve the respect they seek. They must have command over the subjects they are teaching and the intent to teach well must be there. Add to this the requirement that teachers themselves practice the values they expect from students: sincerity, truthfulness, discipline, commitment to learn.

If this much is not in place, simply forget about being respected. You won't get it. You may able to shout down or intimidate students because you are in a position of some power. But respect is an altogether different matter. You won't get it if you don't have the above sorted out nice and proper.

In fact, I will go one step further: Teachers and professors who don't have the above sorted out should be shown the door. The last thing an educational institute needs is teachers who are either incompetent or not committed or short on character. Teachers directly influence the next generations and one bad apple can potentially impact many students negatively either at the level of interest and motivation or incorrect understanding of subjects or worse, character.

Then there is the other side too: I have also seen perfectly good teachers lose their motivation because the students they were teaching weren't true to their part of the deal. They were insincere and lacked the commitment to learn.

If students hold the view - and I would agree with this view - that they are obliged to respect only those teachers who are good in the first place, then there should be a visible variation in the way they respond to different teachers or professors. There has to be a sense of honesty when demanding that they be taught by the best possible teachers.

This part of the world had the concept of "Gurukuls". Parents would send their children to learn at Gurukuls at a certain age with the trust that they would be taught by people who had the stature of a Guru - a very very non trivial notion. The expectations were high. The Gurus had to be masters of their disciplines and people of exemplary character : it is people of this level who were entrusted with the task of education.

Alongside the word Guru was the word Shishya. Shishya translates to Disciple. The word Disciple relates to the word Discipline.

So alongside the high expectations of a Guru was a clear expectation from students as well.

I have been told once that one reason parents sent their children to Gurukuls was that while they themselves may not be able to impose the required disciplines on their children because of attachment, the Gurus would.

A Guru-Shishya relationship was considered sacred : one of the highest and most important relationships one would have in life.

You want to transform society? I tell you: Let the teachers agree to rise to the stature and level of Gurus and let the students agree to be Disciples. Do this one thing, and a lot will get sorted out. A whole lot.

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