The Tree of Knowledge
Rethink. Redefine. Success
Many physicians and medical professionals across the country will be watching the documentary, ‘Race to Nowhere’ being screened on the occasion of National Sleep Awareness Week. The film casts a spotlight on the growing dissonance in the education system where students cram for tests with the aim of higher performance and achievement, and the quality of life of our young students is in jeopardy because of an academic load that is not directed towards educating the student as a whole.
It has become critical to create and nurture school policies and practices that prioritise not only student performance and health but also look at the importance of a child’s overall development in the light of perceived success. This challenge is a societal one, where the intense pressure for success has put tremendous strain on the vulnerable group of teens and young adults who — when unable to cope with pressure — take the step of ending their life. In today’s competitive environment, education is not playing the role of nourishing innate virtues in children and laying the foundation for the long-term prosperity of society.
Teenage suicide in the United States (and here) is the symptom of a larger problem, and cannot be addressed merely at the level of teenagers. As parents get busier and spend less time with their families, children and young adults spend more time than ever on the Internet and on social networking websites. The excessive time spent online and the absence of personal interaction has created a disconnect in the minds of the young as to what is true success. A resilient child is one who is able to ride the crest of educational, social and emotional success and failure. This needs to be our foremost goal as a society and our best defence against teenage suicide.
Education reform should include innovative strategies that empower teachers to improve student outcomes and nurture their growth. Creative methods of teaching can help combat these issues and help children build healthy personalities. In addition to intellectually stimulating young minds, education must also include physical activities such as sports and ancient techniques such as meditation, yoga and pranayama (breathing techniques) as part of a learning process that will give them tools that help them manage their emotions.
It is important to encourage and develop the quality of resilience in children at an early age. When teenagers endanger their life thinking, “I am a failure if I do not get admission in a good school” or “I am successful only if make a lot of money” or “I am smart if my test score is the highest”, we as a society are responsible.
In life you have to accept failure and success. Sometimes you will succeed, and sometimes you will fail. Not getting admission in a top school does not mean you have failed or that you are intellectually deficient. By the same coin, just by succeeding you should not think that you are better than others.
Everyone who fails is not foolish. Everyone who passes an exam is also not an intellectual. Therefore, don’t think that passing or failing an exam determines your entire life’s direction. You have to look at life from a broader perspective. The stress of passing with a high score to get admission in a top tier school can damage our intellect. Prepare well, give your best and accept whatever comes naturally. This life is very precious. You must consider your life as more important than the result of any exam or some romantic failures.
You are never given a problem that you cannot handle. Every problem that comes in front of you is to make you realize the abilities you have, how much more you can bring out of yourself. How much more skill, talent, joy that you can bring forth. This is what shows. Problems make our mind, our intelligence function. When do we really need intelligence? When there is a problem. If there were no problems, we could be like cows. Cows have no problems. They eat the grass, and drink water, and sleep. Like that, if your life is so smooth, without anything challenging you, you will just eat, and sleep, and become duller and duller. The Divine has given you such a brain to use to be alert, and every problem is there to make use of this brain. Do not return this brain back to God unused.
What do you consider failure? Often what you consider as failure may turn out to be success after some time. As a child you wanted to be a truck driver. When you grew up, you were forced to become a doctor and then you realized this was a good choice. Look back and see that the situations that appear to be failures were due to a short-sighted vision. In the long run, every failure has contributed to your growth, or made you stronger and more centred. Every failure has contributed in a very positive manner somewhere deep inside you.
We usually use coconut as an example of how life should be. A coconut has a husk around it, and when it falls from a high level it doesn’t break. It has a shock absorber or cushion. So if our behaviour is friendly, wise, and if we live a life where we are free from stress, it acts like a shock absorber. Wisdom is the best shock absorber. Our body should be like the coconut shell – strong, and our mind like the kernel inside – white and soft. And our feelings like the water deep inside – sweet. If it is the other way around then it is a problem. If the body is soft and weak, the mind is harsh like a shell and there are no feelings, they are all dried up, then life becomes a burden. And that is the reason why so many people commit suicide or get depressed, isn’t it? So we need to bring this change in ourselves, in society and in our families, where we hold on to the values.
Positive Reinforcement by Parents
Parents play a critical role in helping their child cope with pressure in a positive manner. If a child is dealing with failure, and you as a parent also express your sorrow, it will elevate the challenge. Allow the child to make mistakes — and learn from these mistakes. Give them the tools to combat stress and to avoid burnout, and to learn the quintessential skill of balancing all aspects of their lives. Encourage them to give their best and have a bigger outlook towards life. It is your duty to see that the children do not have an emotional breakdown or get into a depression. Mood disorders such as depression, bipolar disorders and other mental disorders are major risk factors for suicide among children and adolescents.
Stressful life events and low levels of communication with parents may also be significant risk factors. It is important to understand though that such mental conditions are entirely preventable if society as a whole reaches out to embrace a healthy attitude towards understanding children and teens, and teaching them how to manage their emotions with tools such as Sudarshan Kriya.
Extracts from an article in ‘The Huffington Post’ by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and from ‘Wisdom for the new millennium’.
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