Seeing the World as a Parent


“Through the blur, I wondered if I was alone or if other parents felt the same way I did – that everything involving our children was painful in some way. The emotions, whether they were joy, sorrow, love or pride, were so deep and sharp that in the end they left you raw, exposed and yes, in pain. The human heart was not designed to beat outside the human body and yet, each child represented just that – a parent’s heart bared, beating forever outside its chest.” 

― Debra Ginsberg


It’s been over a year since I’ve paid any attention to my blog. It’s been a momentous year and a half. If I thought my pregnancy was eventful with the Graves’ Disease diagnosis, the last stretch was even more so.

The past year has been the tough. It’s been a rollercoaster ride, filled with love and tears, good times, great times, bad times, miserable times. If child birth and breastfeeding was painful, the post-partum depression broke me. As I fought to keep my grasp on who I am in my changing life, I have watched the world around me crumble and tear itself apart. Bomb blasts, killings, war, violence, I have had to stop watching the news for a while. My already fragile self found it hard to handle all that hatred. I could not bear to see more people suffer. But watching children die has been the worst. Little sparks snuffed out even before they could blaze. And every time, I find myself asking, “Why God, why does it always have to be the children? Why bring those pure souls into this world just to make them suffer the most?” I’m not a religious person. My idea of God is simple: Love for fellow beings. But prayer has been my refuge in times of despair. And how can I not? I have become acutely aware of every parent’s worst nightmare, losing their child.

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Continue reading “Seeing the World as a Parent”

Let’s Take Responsibility For That

“What we call our destiny is truly our character and that character can be altered. The knowledge that we are responsible for our actions and attitudes does not need to be discouraging, because it also means that we are free to change this destiny. One is not in bondage to the past, which has shaped our feelings, to race, inheritance, background. All this can be altered if we have the courage to examine how it formed us. We can alter the chemistry provided we have the courage to dissect the elements.” 

― Anaïs Nin

Image of a child holding a globe
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How did we get here

Become a society where

We know what we do is wrong

We do it anyway

We think that’s okay

As long as we don’t get caught

We complain of the watching Big Brother

Yet, we behave as if

Being watched is the only thing that

Keeps most us in check

 

Or we do the watching

Drawing some perverse pleasure in

Using others’ suffering

To feed our agenda

Make our point

Everything becomes about

“Just me and what I want to say”

Forgetting others’ troubles and pain

Trying to understand is too much effort?

 

The blame game

We’ve learnt to play so well

We shrug and claim

I didn’t do it

We point fingers at

The government

The media

Even our corner shop grocer

Everyone but ourselves

How do any of them exist

Without our support?

I’m looking at the (hu)man in the mirror, sang Michael

It’s up to us to make a change

Let’s take responsibility for that

 

We fight over

Causes misunderstood

We standby and watch

Starving children

Tiny palms scoop up diseased water

The only thing to keep them alive

Education a distant dream

Staying alive takes all their energy

When we don’t speak up

When we ignore and turn away

A conscious choice we make

To deny their fundamental right to live

With freedom, without fear

Let’s take responsibility for that

 

We hide behind glowing screens

Take false courage from being unseen

We hurl cruel words at each other

We think we don’t know them

Why care for the feelings of strangers

But not for a moment do our thoughts go

To the lives we burn

The irreparable damage we cause to bright young lives

Is consideration such a rare thing today

That we must remind ourselves

To be just a little human each day

When we post derogatory words

Threaten people for thinking different from us

A conscious choice we make

To spread prejudice

To pump more strife into our troubled world

Let’s take responsibility for that

 

A woman is abused

We hear in the news

We question her character

We judge her views

A woman is raped

We ask what she wore

Where was she when it happened

Wonder if it was her fault

We say we live in the 21st century

Yet our attitudes towards women are

Conflicted at best

Goddesses to be worshipped

Mindless virgins to be protected

Sluts to be slammed

Is any middle ground so difficult to imagine

When we get on our high horses

And victimise the victim

A conscious choice we make

To allow the aggressor

A free rein to continue his abuse

When he disrespects and objectifies women

We pat his back and say “we approve”

Let’s take responsibility for that

 

A loved one steals

A friend commits fraud

To buy a second or third house in an exotic locale

We say we aren’t committing the crime

Why not reap the benefits of someone else’s “daring deed”

We think we beat the system

We smile in smug  satisfaction

We ignore the people we harm

We deprived someone of their hard earned pension

A heart-broken father lost all his money overnight

He cannot afford to send his child to college

A single mother whose investments have disappeared

She doesn’t know how to keep a roof over her children’s heads

When we turn a blind eye

A conscious choice we make

To be as guilty and involved as the getaway car

To take from the innocent and feed the greedy rich

To let their “system”  make you the Grinch

Let’s take responsibility for that

 

The propaganda our governments feed

Killing thousands of innocent people in another country

They justify it with

We are better

We are bigger

We are threatened

And everything else under the sun

When we do not pause to think it through

Use our smart brains to know the truths

When we blindly accept what we are fed

Fill our heads with false pride and so called national interest

When we do not question their motives

Let them abuse power for their selfish dreams

A conscious choice we make

To let those power hungry people

Put human beings in a cage

Commit genocide and mass murder

And show the world a concocted image

Let’s take responsibility for that

 

When we make assumptions

We react with fear or contempt

All we see are

Gender,

Colour of skin,

Economic status, and

Faith

A conscious choice we make

To spread hate

To embrace the dark and shun the light

To not dig deeper for our true loving Self

Let’s take responsibility for that

 

When someone questions what we do

We say “They are doing it too”

Is that all it takes

To make us forget what we know to be true

Why the need to ape

Why bother about what others do and say

We cannot control how they see us

Let’s just  focus on what we do

What matters is the choices WE make

Let’s take responsibility for that.

— Srividya K

 

What do you think? Are we being responsible enough? How can we change things?  Share in the Comments.

Why We Need To Understand Our History

“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” 

― George Orwell

On Friday, 15th August, India celebrated her 67th year of independence. Indians all over the world took pride in this day. But there was an article in a local magazine about the descendants of Indian freedom fighters. Most are struggling to keep the memories of their ancestors alive, as the sacrifices of those freedom fighters and their contribution to the struggle for freedom has been tucked into the obscure folds of history, their names long forgotten, their lives and acts of courage rendered invisible.

This freedom came at a huge price. Thousands of people, men, women, and children, sacrificed their lives so their country could be free, so that the generations that followed could live in a free country that has its own identity and enjoy freedom and rights that the freedom fighters could only dream about. They did not sacrifice their lives for fame or glory. But remembering them is the least we can do to honour their lives. Keeping their ideologies in our collective consciousness is essential to make their vision for the country become a reality. But how do you understand ideologies that are never mentioned in the history books? Journalist Shivnath Jha wrote a book that recorded the lives of 200 freedom fighters and their descendants. He said that while researching for his book, he interacted with schoolchildren in India and asked them about some of the relatively well known freedom fighters. The children were quick to reply that they are characters that certain famous actors played in films!

I’m not a history expert, but I’ve been trying hard to remember my history lessons from school. I remember reading about the freedom movement in India, about freedom movements in the world, about world wars and civil movements. But I could not remember beyond a few names and events. Few prominent people, whose entire life is summed up in a single grand event that changed humanity for good or bad. Even the people who do find mention in history books are limited to their association with an event or an incident in the past. Their individual lives, their thoughts, their ideas are never really understood. When I tried to remember the events, I realised their descriptions were limited to a few dates and a sequence of happenings. So we end up with single stories, and the various facets of those individuals and their cultural impact remains buried in time. If you think back to all the history you’ve learnt in school, you’ll probably realise as well, that our understanding of history is so myopic, we have no idea how we or our world came to be where it is today.

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Our history education in school gives no cultural context to the events that are listed as a mere series of dates. Dates and events are meaningless and impersonal when you don’t understand how it has affected the society, both then and now, how it has formed the views that people hold today, how entire civilisations and cultures were shaped by the decisions made, especially when those decisions were made by the few in power.

The history we learn in school glosses over collective trauma. Our view of our past and present is based on our limited knowledge of our history. The traumas that nations and people have gone through are never put under a magnifying glass, because a closer look may reveal darker moments of humanity and will force us to look at our history in all its shades of grey, instead of the reassuring view in black and white. In his essay, These Men Must be Monsters, history teacher and researcher Alexander McGregor describes it well.

“The problem now is that we have created a binary paradigm wherein the past must be squeezed into our all-prevailing Good versus Evil worldview. History becomes myth. But fighting an enemy that is evil does not make you good. That someone acts monstrously does not make him or her less human.”

In his article, McGregor gives examples from history and sheds light on how cultural context would change our perspective on those events and on history in general — certainly worth a read.

What about the role of women in history? Why is history about the “brave men who fought wars”, “the great leaders who rallied those brave men towards freedom”? When the cultural references to role of women in history comes in the form of Game of Thrones, where women being treated like objects and being raped does not even raise an eyebrow, how do we create a current view that sees women for the much bigger role they have played in history?

Of course, some will argue that those interested in such details can pursue higher education in history and study it in detail at college or university level. The problem is that by then history has already lost the interest of intelligent young minds in schools who have no idea how their society has come to be the way they see it. When they don’t understand how it came to be, how are they supposed to participate and contribute to it? Why should they care about wars fought way before their time? How are they supposed to appreciate the value of freedom and rights, when they already have it and don’t know who and what made it available to them? How are they supposed to connect with people who are still fighting for those rights and for freedom?

Isn’t it strange that our school education doesn’t give us enough in-depth knowledge of the cultures and societies of the world so we can form a complete worldview? Imagine if we really had a deeper understanding of history, of how our world was formed, of what actions in the past have led to the conflicts we see in our world today, would we so easily succumb to the truth-twisting tactics of the politicians, or the one-sided stories revealed by the media? Would we be so afraid of our own world, of our neighbours, of our fellow beings, who, just like us, have been victims of historical ignorance? Because if we understood our history, we would appreciate the story of the person who opposes our worldview, we would recognise why and how we both came to be here in this moment in the collective history of humanity. We would realise that both our stories are not about who wins or loses. Such knowledge brings the desire to fix the problems, to go deeper to the roots of issues and difference, instead of merely treating the symptoms, and develops tolerance and compassion. Understanding our history brings solutions instead of knee-jerk reactions that exacerbate historical differences. It’s time we make an effort to understand out history. As Ray Brandbury says,

“We’re going to meet a lot of lonely people in the next week and the next month and the next year. And when they ask us what we’re doing, you can say, We’re remembering. That’s where we’ll win out in the long run. And someday we’ll remember so much that we’ll build the biggest goddamn steamshovel in history and dig the biggest grave of all time and shove war in it and cover it up.” 

Writing For Peace

“We hold our own,

Within fences and walls,

Their only fault,

They walk tall,

When we want them to crawl.”

 

Image of a heart-shaped balloon floating at the end of a road
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For the past few weeks, I’ve been surrounded by news of violence, past, present and future. The Israel – Palestine conflict in Gaza is escalating with inhuman consequences, while Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine last week killing all the 283 passengers on board. Two days back, on July 22, it was the third anniversary of the Breivik terror attack and mass murder here in Norway. And today, I woke up to the news of warnings that Norway might be the target of a terrorist attack in the next few days. There are times I’m not sure how to make sense of all this violence. So I’m writing for peace.

This poem is for all the people who have lost loved ones to violence, who have suffered or are suffering in violent conflicts all over the world. My heart and prayers go out to you.

 

We hide from the dark,

So we hide from the light.

If one is too deep,

The other is too bright.

The perfect world, where is it now?

Look around you,

This one we have, it still has life.

 

Arms we bear,

But what do we fight?

A thin line separates,

Justice from pride.

Right is wrong,

When innocence is lost.

Whatever the cause,

Does every life matter not?

 

Oh, the wretched irony,

Wielding violence for peace.

All that it leaves are,

Shattered lives with hopeless dreams,

Broken bonds buried in bloody memories.

 

Who is to blame,

We ask again and again,

The answer is plain,

Humans kill each other,

We just give it different names.

We hold our own,

Within fences and walls,

Their only fault,

They walk tall,

When we want them to crawl.

 

Divided we are,

By who owns what,

The land we won is already lost,

With rotten flesh and congealed blood it’s clogged.

Blinded by fear, we spew hate,

Like a forest fire burning all in its wake,

We search the skies for the unseen noose,

We shoot down wings just because it moves.

 

How do we soothe,

The hearts that cry?

How do we cope with,

The senseless death of countless lives?

It’s time we face our mistakes in the past,

Make amends for the crimes of our species.

Rip the infected skin of violence,

Cleanse our souls with lasting peace,

Kindness and love,

The balms to heal our wounds,

Perhaps the scars will remain,

But let them be,

They’ll remind us of the truth we lost,

That the weapons’ cure only spreads the disease.

© Srividya K

The Value of Silence

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing 

and rightdoing there is a field.

I’ll meet you there.

 

When the soul lies down in that grass

the world is too full to talk about.” 

― Rumi

We live in a world of noise, of constant chatter. Everyone has something to say and everyone wants to be heard. If you were to stand in a crowded market and everyone talked at the same time, would you be able to hear anything that made sense? But, if you were silent and you tried to listen, you might catch glimpses of conversations, meaningful words that convey someone’s thoughts and feelings. Silence is probably the most underrated thing in our world. We confuse silence with lack of voice. We think being silent is the same as not speaking up. But that’s not the case. Silence, in the right context, is more powerful than the loudest voice.

 

Image of a man walking in silence along a lake and mountains
© Srividya Sridharan

 

When we shout at someone with anger asking them to “Shut Up”, what we are really saying is that we don’t feel heard and we just want that person to listen. Listening requires silence.

When we say we want some peace and quiet, all we want is some space to ourselves so we can shut out all outside noise and listen to the inner voice within that tells us what to do.

We feel peaceful listening to waves or watching the sunrise because those are the times we are quiet and we hear nature at its best. We lose the sense of “I” and become a part of nature and we communicate with it in silence.

When we sit in a corner by ourselves and read a book, we see other worlds and other lives. We give ourselves the chance to see beyond ourselves and silence is the only way to immerse ourselves completely in that experience.

When we are silent, we listen. When we listen, we understand. Understanding leads to acceptance.

 

 “Who tells a finer tale than any of us. Silence does.”

— Isak Dinesen

There is a reason why some of the best writers and artists in the world work in silence. If we are too busy listening to all the voices around us, how can we hear the voice within, the muse that prompts us to write, paint, sculpt or sing? When we peep into the creative pool within, silence eliminates the ripples and we get to see our clear reflection, our true self, which gets lost in the endless chaos that surrounds our everyday life.

Beliefs are important. But when we refuse to be silent for a while and listen to other perspectives, we put ourselves in a cage of rigid beliefs and deny ourselves the freedom to grow and learn, to know ourselves and become better people.

 

“We sit silently and watch the world around us. This has taken a lifetime to learn. It seems only the old are able to sit next to one another and not say anything and still feel content. The young, brash and impatient, must always break the silence. It is a waste, for silence is pure. Silence is holy. It draws people together because only those who are comfortable with each other can sit without speaking. This is the great paradox.” 

― Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook

The true measure of a relationship between two people is not how much they can talk. It is how long they can sit in comfortable silence, without feeling the need to use words to communicate their love and understanding.

When someone is silent while we throw our words at them, we usually assume that they do not care or do not want to talk to us. Their silence might just be their way of trying to understand how they feel or an attempt to stop themselves from saying something that might hurt our feelings.

Silence does not mean we don’t speak up for causes or beliefs that deserve a voice. Silence is not submission and it’s certainly not a weakness. It’s about listening, and expanding our minds and keeping it open. It’s about making space for other voices that help us learn and understand our world and ourselves better.

What does silence mean to you? Share your thoughts in the comments.

18 Reasons #YesAllWomen Must Keep Going

“I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.” 
― Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

Someone online wrote that #YesAllWomen is dying out because “people are running out of creative stories to tell in support of it”. Well, here are 18 reasons why #YesAllWomen must keep going.

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1. Because when I was in college, two men on a motorbike thought it would be fun to race past me really close when I was riding a scooter. They hit my scooter, and it and I went skidding across a busy bridge. I had a broken ankle, several bloody wounds, and was just lucky not to be run over by another vehicle approaching behind me. When people found out, this is what they had to say:

‘You came back late to the hostel the previous night. Those men must have followed you. That’s why the accident happened.’

‘Where were you going? To a play rehearsal? Girls from good families don’t act in plays.’

‘Why were you out in the first place? You should have just stayed in your hostel and studied like a “good girl”.’

It took me six months to walk normally again. The scars from the wounds are still visible on my arms and legs. If not for the helmet I always wore, my jaw and head would have been smashed  – my helmet got several dents from my fall. There was no police report and they were never caught, because no one noticed them. No, it was no accident. They tried to run me off the road because it was fun for them to intimidate a woman. And no, none of it was my fault.

2. Because no woman deserves to live in fear or die because she uses her right to say no.

3. Because the other day I was watching Sherlock Holmes on BBC and a woman was the “fetcher”. She fetches files, stands by looking pretty in a business suit and fetches the coat for the man. Why are women always the “fetcher” in most media representations? She fetches food, she fetches clothes, she fetches papers, her only role to serve others. What’s worse is that it’s so common, we hardly notice it or take offence to it. I’m sick of it. Aren’t you?

4. Because it doesn’t matter whether you are rich or poor, whether you are a celebrity or an ordinary person, what race you belong to, what’s the colour of your skin, whether or not you are “pretty”, what clothes you wear or which country you live in, if you are a woman, you have experienced harassment or abuse in some form. What does that say about the world we live in?

Proof: When Kate Middleton’s skirt flies up because of the wind, the paparazzi, waiting like vultures, snap a photo of her bare bottom, and sell the picture. Magazines print it “because people want to see it and it sells”.  So how is this different from porn?  It’s just as exploitative. Selling parts of a woman’s body as if that’s all she is – a sum of parts with nothing more to her. And some woman actually wrote an article online, suggesting Kate Middleton should change her wardrobe choices so this doesn’t happen again! Blaming the woman’s clothes for opportunistic, soulless people taking advantage of her vulnerable situation – sounds oddly familiar doesn’t it? And she is the wife of the future King of a not so insignificant country.  #YesAllWomen.

5. Because every woman is constantly compared to other women in magazines, in video games, in films, on TV, in ads, and every form of media, as though the only way we can prove our worth is if we are better than someone else. We are enough as we are and we don’t need anybody’s permission to be so. We are in no way obliged to meet the standards set by a male-centric society.

6. Because advertisers spend billions every year to tell us what to think and how, and more often than not, they tell us to think of women as sexual objects.

7. Because people keep saying in a matter-of-fact way that it’s difficult to be a woman in this world, because women have to live in fear of being abused, harassed, raped or killed. How can you be calm when you say that, instead of fighting it? That’s just not acceptable.

8. Because when people know a woman suffering in an abusive relationship, they ask her why she’s still in the relationship. But when they know a man who abuses a woman, why don’t they tell the man to stop abusing?

9. Because when a woman says no, it’s not a negotiation or “playing hard to get”.

10. Because misogyny is so well hidden in our society that even men, who normally consider themselves liberal and would not just watch a woman being ill-treated, don’t always understand how and why some of their actions are a result of misogyny.

11. Because even women themselves don’t realise that when they are bringing up a son, they need to teach him to respect women, treat women as equals, and not look at them as the “inferior or weaker” sex.

12. Because even today when parents have a boy and a girl, they tell the boy not to play with dolls or take interest in “girly” things, like dance, arts or cooking, while they tell the girl to “stop climbing trees and behave like a girl”.

13. Because women are expected to learn to cook, take care of the house and take their husband’s name when they get married. How many men learn to cook because they are about to get married? Because it’s the woman’s job to make sure her family eats healthy food? Because men aren’t smart enough to learn or care about health? Men are never even asked about taking their wife’s name after marriage. Women aren’t sheep to be owned or herded.

14. Because the arguments against abortion are invariably made by men who want to control women’s bodies and paint women as a “child killer”. I read a news story where a 10-year old girl in Senegal was raped and forced to give birth to a set of twins as a result of the rape. When asked what she wanted, she said she wanted the man who raped her to be killed; because  of him, she can’t go to school anymore. Her innocence was killed and nothing was done to help her because of Senegal’s anti-abortion laws.

15. Because when the female half of the world population has to live in fear of the male half, even though they came wailing from the female half, it’s just sad.

16. Because it’s true #NotAllMen are abusers or rapists. We need men to openly declare that they truly believe that all women deserve respect. We need men to become more aware and speak up for all the women. This is not an issue we can afford to be divided on. A woman does not have to be related to you for you to care whether or not she is treated with respect. In fact, when men stand up to their fellow men and tell them to stop abusing women, that sets a powerful example. #YesAllWomen is a call to action to all those men who do care and respect women.

17. Because the point of #YesAllWomen is that we want a world where women are not abused anymore and don’t have to be afraid when they walk down the road alone, a world where women can live without fear. Too many people are dying waiting for that day and we are tired of it. We can’t wait any longer.

18. Because equal respect, equal rights, equal worth and equal share of this world is not a privilege. It’s a right. It’s a right every woman deserves. It’s a right every person deserves.

So to all those people who don’t take this seriously, who make jokes about this, who feel threatened by this, who want this “to stop already” – go on, fix these issues, then we’ll stop.  #YesAllWomen

Million Man March Poem

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Maya Angelou, the brilliant writer, storyteller, and a phenomenal woman, passed away yesterday. With Million Man March Poem, she gives her hope and courage to all of us. May her soul rest in peace and may her words make us rise again.

 

The night has been long,
The wound has been deep,
The pit has been dark,
And the walls have been steep.

Under a dead blue sky on a distant beach,
I was dragged by my braids just beyond your reach.
Your hands were tied, your mouth was bound,
You couldn’t even call out my name.
You were helpless and so was I,
But unfortunately throughout history
You’ve worn a badge of shame.

I say, the night has been long,
The wound has been deep,
The pit has been dark
And the walls have been steep.

But today, voices of old spirit sound
Speak to us in words profound,
Across the years, across the centuries,
Across the oceans, and across the seas.
They say, draw near to one another,
Save your race.
You have been paid for in a distant place,
The old ones remind us that slavery’s chains
Have paid for our freedom again and again.

The night has been long,
The pit has been deep,
The night has been dark,
And the walls have been steep.

The hells we have lived through and live through still,
Have sharpened our senses and toughened our will.
The night has been long.
This morning I look through your anguish
Right down to your soul.
I know that with each other we can make ourselves whole.
I look through the posture and past your disguise,
And see your love for family in your big brown eyes.

I say, clap hands and let’s come together in this meeting ground,
I say, clap hands and let’s deal with each other with love,
I say, clap hands and let us get from the low road of indifference,
Clap hands, let us come together and reveal our hearts,
Let us come together and revise our spirits,
Let us come together and cleanse our souls,
Clap hands, let’s leave the preening
And stop impostering our own history.
Clap hands, call the spirits back from the ledge,
Clap hands, let us invite joy into our conversation,
Courtesy into our bedrooms,
Gentleness into our kitchen,
Care into our nursery.

The ancestors remind us, despite the history of pain
We are a going-on people who will rise again.

And still we rise.

– Maya Angelou

The Purpose Of Education

“Education should be the process of helping everyone discover his uniqueness, to teach him how to develop that uniqueness, and then to show him how to share it because that’s the only reason for having anything.”

– Leo Buscaglia

(Read more about Leo Buscaglia on Education, Industrialized Conformity, and How Stereotypes and Labels Limit Love )

Ask people who have had the opportunity to go to college and get a degree what that means to them. Their answer would range from “It’s just a piece of paper” to “It changed my life.” That’s because with the current education system, who we are seems to matter less and less.

 

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When I was starting high school in India, the school I studied in had four “packages” (it certainly seemed like that) and I needed to choose one to decide my career: 1) science, where you studied subjects like Physics, Chemistry, Maths and languages; 2) science, that added Biology to the rest of the Science subjects; 3) arts, where you learnt History, Literature and languages. Few other schools also offered a fourth package, commerce, where you learnt accounting, economics, business management and languages. I decided on studying commerce (seemed the best of the lot at that time). But my school didn’t have that option and my family was going to move soon. That, plus various other reasons, and I ended up taking science. I might have been rather good at it, but the problem was, I hated it. I had some horrible teachers and that didn’t help either. So when we moved, I went to a new school that offered commerce. I told the Principal at this new school that I would like to join the commerce classes and since it was just the beginning of the school year, I wouldn’t have missed much and I was very confident that I can make up for the missed lessons. The Principal looked at my grades from previous years and said, ‘You’ve done very well in science. That’s what you should do. I can’t let you change your subject. You’ll have to stay with science.” And that would have been the end of my dreams and my future life. She labelled me as a science student because, according to her, “I was intelligent enough to study science. So why would I think of studying any lesser subjects?” What I wanted to study did not matter. What I wanted to do with my life was not for me to decide. So for the first time in my life, I did terribly in school. I failed in every class, except for Maths and English, and that made me miserable. I saw my entire life crumbling before my eyes. Luckily for me, I had an amazing English teacher who pulled me out of the ground and encouraged me not to give up. With her help, I moved to another school. I studied commerce and did extremely well in it. I learnt a lot about myself from that experience. I know for a fact that who I am today would have been completely different if I had followed the path forced upon me and I would have lived the rest of my life regretting that path and hating the person I would have become.

 

“Often, it’s not about becoming a new person, but becoming the person you were meant to be, and already are, but don’t know how to be.” 

― Heath L. Buckmaster, Box of Hair: A Fairy Tale

Instead of identifying and nurturing a person’s natural abilities, education has become all about putting people in an existing box and neatly labelling them. It is wiping all traces of individuality from people and conformity is considered the norm. Our innate ability to be good at certain things is ignored for the sake of education that teaches everyone the same things and expects everyone to excel at all of those things. We go through life earning a degree, pursuing a career that earns us money, fame and success, because that’s what we are expected to do, and we never find time to understand who we are or what we really want from life. Our thoughts are myopic and never go past what we think we need, to be “successful in life”. When life is going smoothly, that’s not so bad. But when we face difficult choices, when we have to make life changing decisions, how we think, what choices we make and what lessons we choose to learn from our life experiences are the true measures of how educated we are.

 

“To me education is a leading out of what is already there in the pupil’s soul.” 

― Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

 

Education has come to rely solely on intellectual analysis and arguments. We are so focused on creating our “perfect world” outside that we don’t take time to think about what’s inside. Instead of directing our thoughts and our mind, we end up being directed by it. The difference is the same as living life consciously and deriving meaning from it, as opposed to going through life in a trance, without any sense of purpose, being tossed between highs and lows, feeling lost and alone.

Education is not just about morals. It’s about the ability to create a sustainable belief system. By sustainable, I don’t mean throwaway beliefs, ideas that you can easily replace in order to maintain. I’m talking about strong beliefs that can stand the tests of all that life flings at us. Why is it important? Imagine you have to make a difficult decision about doing something unethical, or illegal even. Other than the fear of the law, what will give you the courage to do the right thing and be really happy in life? Your top-notch college degree that feeds your ambition to succeed by whatever means necessary, or the strength of your own beliefs that tells you what’s right and what’s wrong at every turn of your life consistently and the self-confidence that comes with it?

A word of warning though, it’s easy to confuse educated confidence with arrogance. Dogmatic religious ideologies are a living proof of it. Keeping an open mind is just as important a part of education as the spirit of conviction. Blind beliefs are dangerous. They make us so arrogant that we lock ourselves away from anything that could make us see the chinks in our belief-armour. Faith in the broadest sense is not meant to keep the world out and make us prisoners of our own beliefs. It’s meant to keep us free and unaffected amongst the chaos in the world. Yes, it might be simpler to remove ourselves from the world. But how will we ever learn anything by doing that? How will that possibly ever allow us to really LIVE?

Writer David Foster Wallace, in his 2005 Kenyon Commencement Address, talked about the real value of education and how it teaches us to think. He started his speech with this simple, yet profound story:

“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?”

And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

(Read the complete transcript of his speech)

That’s the purpose of education, to be acutely aware of realities that are hidden in plain sight. That’s why true education is a lifelong pursuit. It teaches us the ability to stay awake everyday of our lives and to choose the things that are really worth pursuing, to choose the thoughts that go beyond the knowledge that the obvious world presents before us, and as Wallace said at the end of his speech, to remind ourselves to be like the older fish in the story and constantly tell ourselves that “This is water”.

Wisdom Of Carl Sagan For Our Troubled World

‘In the past few decades, the United States and the Soviet Union have accomplished something that — unless we destroy ourselves first — will be remembered a thousand years from now: the first close-up exploration of dozens of other worlds. Together we have found much out there that is magnificent, instructive and of practical value. But we have found no trace, no hint of life. The Earth is an anomaly. In all the solar system, it is, so far as we know, the only inhabited planet.

We humans are one among millions of separate species who live in a world burgeoning, overflowing with life. And yet, most species that ever were are no more. After flourishing for one hundred fifty million years, the dinosaurs became extinct. Every last one. No species is guaranteed its tenure on this planet. And humans, the first beings to devise the means for their own destruction, have been here for only several million years.

We are rare and precious because we are alive, because we can think. We are privileged to influence and perhaps control our future. We have an obligation to fight for life on Earth — not just for ourselves but for all those, humans and others, who came before us and to whom we are beholden, and for all those who, if we are wise enough, will come after. There is no cause more urgent than to survive to eliminate on a global basis the growing threats of nuclear war, environmental catastrophe, economic collapse and mass starvation. These problems were created by humans and can only be solved by humans. No social convention, no political system, no economic hypothesis, no religious dogma is more important.

 The hard truth seems to be this: We live in a vast and awesome universe in which, daily, suns are made and worlds destroyed, where humanity clings to an obscure clod of rock. The significance of our lives and our fragile realm derives from our own wisdom and courage. We are the custodians of life’s meaning. We would prefer it to be otherwise, of course, but there is no compelling evidence for a cosmic Parent who will care for us and save us from ourselves. It is up to us.’

— Carl Sagan

E B White on Hope for Humanity

Elwyn Brooks “E. B.” White ( 11 July 1899 – 1 October 1985) was an American author and essayist, who wrote many pieces for The New Yorker and penned famous children’s books such as Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web and The Trumpet of the Swan. He was also know for his unwavering faith in the human spirit, which he displays in this letter that he wrote to a sailor when the latter wrote to White expressing his loss of faith in humanity.

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North Brooklin, Maine

30 March 1973

Dear Mr. Nadeau:

As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.

Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society—things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.

Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.

Sincerely, 

(Signed, ‘E. B. White’)

 

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