What We Are Doing to Our Children – and OUGHT NOT TO!

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

Under the title ‘HEAL THE NATION’, the India Today issue of February 20, 2012 carried a short report about the participation of a young Catholic priest in the Assembly elections in the state of Goa in India.

Father Bismarque Dias came up with a ‘unique Kindness Manifesto in the form of an apology to Goan youth for what the elders have done unto them’. Some of the highlights were published:

  • I confess and apologise on behalf of all the adults of the world for our wrongdoings to all the precious children and our beautiful earth.
  • When you were hungry, instead of organic food, we gave you junk food.
  • When you were thirsty, instead of water, we gave you Coke and destroyed your health.
  • When you needed a hug, we showered you with material gifts.
  • When you yearned for our presence, instead of our time, we gave you TV and computer games.
  • When you were eager to learn, we gave you book knowledge and called that education.
  • When you wanted to explore the world, instead of walking by your side, we gave you cars and bikes.
  • When you tried to succeed honestly, instead of encouraging you, we taught you to bribe.
  • When you wanted a cool atmosphere, instead of providing shade, we cut trees and gave you ACs.
  • When you looked for a better future, instead of good leaders, we took money for votes and gave you corrupt leaders.

Father Dias concluded with, ‘I am extremely sorry. I believe the cry of the earth is also the cry of our beautiful children. I commit today, to do today whatever I can to give you what my ancestors gave me: A Healthy Earth.’

As the priest set out on a bicycle for his campaign trail wearing T-shirt and jeans, apparently his popularity grew so much that established politicians felt threatened. In turn, Father Dias’s family was threatened and his home vandalized.

Father Dias was not elected, and I do not know enough about the politics of Goa to make any comment on that. But perhaps the remark made by a senior doctor friend to another one who stood for general elections many years ago, for the first time, and lost, has a parallel in the case of Father Dias, ‘I think the people preferred their doctor to remain as a doctor rather than become a politician!’ Indeed, that friend was a very successful general practitioner in the east since the mid-1960s, and only stopped working a couple of years ago as he neared four-score to take a well-deserved rest.

So too probably for Father Dias: his faithful flock must have preferred him to remain the priest that he is and not become a soapbox figure. Whatever be, as far as I am concerned, and I am sure this will be apparent to many parents and others too, the issues he has highlighted, with his comments added, are a statement of facts which prevail in most of the globalised world, about which we are all aware and are turning a blind eye to. That’s why they immediately caught my attention when I first read them, and decided that sometime I must share them with a wider audience. Nobody can deny that they deserve to be pondered, and acted, upon.

There is no doubt that materially many countries have advanced a lot, with scientific discoveries and technological innovations leading to industrialization and economic growth, which both propel and are further driven by consumerism. There is a parallel increase in urbanization as people get on the move to seek opportunities, with an adoption of modes of living that go with all these developments. All this is confirmed if one considers hard data relating to life expectancy, poverty reduction, improvements in sanitary conditions of daily living and access to clean water, availability of numerous services and so on, compared to what many of us can remember in our own lifetimes and as we take a broad look at the world around.

But, contradictory as they may seem, we cannot deny the realities that Father Dias has highlighted, and it would be highly irresponsible on our part as parents if we just brushed them as a matter of no concern to us. It would be worth the while for parents with growing children in particular to reflect seriously on each point in that manifesto, forget about it coming up in a political context, and make firm resolutions to address them and change course accordingly. After all, we do want the good health and happiness of our children don’t we?

Certainly the home is the place where any action for change must start. We must assume our individual responsibilities at the family level in the grooming of our children, inculcating in them good habits and values that will help them cope with the external pressures that will come their way as they grow up. In several studies that have been made, one constant finding is the complaint by children that their parents did not have enough time for them, and conversely the regret by a high percentage of parents that they did not spend enough quality time with their children.

There are even accounts of high-flying ‘executive’ moms and dads who, realization dawning, promptly decided to turn in the gloves to settle down to a less demanding and hectic pace of life, adjusting to lesser income and devoting more time for joint family activities. Children learn by imitation, and since the parents are the ones who are the closest to them, they are the natural role-models, at least in their earlier but so crucial years of development. Eating and drinking habits, behaviour and attitude towards others, learning and sharing tendencies – all these start from within the family matrix.

Prof Soodursun Jugessur of the University of Mauritius has spearheaded the setting up of an organization called ‘Sukhi Parivar’, meaning ‘Happy Family’ which aims to empower the family to grow healthily. In his own words: ‘We are requesting all parents to make a small sacrifice of their precious time. It is very simple. Everybody in the family, young and old, should get together daily before dinner just for half an hour. During this short while, for a few minutes, say three to five, they pray together for the welfare of one and all, preferably in a language that all understand. After that they communicate with one another. The children relate their daily events, their problems at school or with friends, and the parents relate what they have done, and what problems they faced. They also relate the happy moments they had during the day, and share their joys and sorrows with all the members. At times they can relate a short story laden with values, from scriptures or from good books. This will transfer certain eternal values in the spirit of memory imprinting to the younger ones. This session has to be done before dinner in order to allow a more relaxed enjoyment of the dinner.

During this brief session, the stress is on communication, communication and frank communication, open, heart to heart communication between the members. This will build empathy and trust among them, and once these basic values are established, external influence will rarely affect the negative way we think and the way we do things. Our mutual love will grow, and we can, as a family, rely on one another, and build a solid and happy family.

Needless to say that when this is taken seriously, the elders themselves will have to mend their habits, stop smoking or abusing of alcohol, using bad words and shouting. They will be afraid of giving the bad example to their children.

If this family communion is done in every home, the entire society will change in due course, and all forms of violence and social diseases will reduce. This is the spirit of SUKHI PARIVAR, and the modern concept of memory imprinting in our midst. Seminars, group sessions, pamphlets, and educational programs can supplement these basic family communions.’

There may be other, perhaps more sophisticated, methods of going about this, but the only investment that the Sukhi Parivar approach requires is time. And we do not even have to ‘find’ it: it is there isn’t it, like space is, for us to use – wisely, properly, judiciously. So, for those who have never had the… time to think about it, it is not too late to start. And also share the idea with relatives and friends, as a contribution towards building a better society, which is a shared responsibility of us adults.

Because many of the dysfunctions that result from youth misbehaviours can impose a burden on the state, the latter must help with facilitating and support structures as a proactive measure. However, it must be stressed that the primary responsibility for children is the family’s, and the initiative to devise ways to bring them up properly and prepare them to cope with people and situations as they grow up must be that of the family and social/community structures, with the involvement of religious and cultural bodies where needed and appropriate. We should lose no time to get going.

* Published in print edition on 25 August 2012

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