Wednesday, July 29, 2009

45) Courteous Behaviour

"Courtesy is the one passport that will be accepted without question in every land, in every office, in every house, in every heart in the world." George D.Powers

Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli were schoolmates and cricket teammates, with a huge talent for the game. Sachin broke records and rose to fame. Vinod failed to get past a few games. Why? It is reliably learned that Vinod's rather boorish behavior lost him friends and the respect of the selectors; notwithstanding his talent. We would not want our children to suffer from bad behavior. Would we?

Good or courteous behavior is born of consideration of others - respect for them, their belongings, feelings and time. When children are insensitive to the needs of others, they will be rebuffed in some way, at sometime in their lives; sadly we too will suffer humiliation with them. That should be compelling reason for us to teach them to behave well at home and in public. When there is a lack of discipline and overindulgence at home, children begin to believe that they have the upper hand, and we are put on the defensive. We cannot let that happen. So, in earnest we should take them through the process of fending off bad behavior.


It is a much misunderstood term. Most people limit its meaning to social norms and good manners, missing out on the core meaning. Etiquette is anchored in 'consideration for others'. Without that anchor, social norms and good manners are adrift. Together, they cannot be tugged apart.

"My son", said a father to his boy, "treat everybody with politeness; even those who may be rude to you, not because they are gentlemen, but because you are one". The title 'gentleman' we give a person, is a crown we place on his head; a recognition; a great honor. Neither is every man a 'gentleman', nor is every woman a 'lady'. When does a person deserve that honor? Only when all his/her ways are rooted in consideration for others. We meet phonies who embellish their behavior with plastic smiles, affected speech and grand attire; and we are often taken in by them. But when they face testing situations their masks fall off, exposing a hideous visage. We also meet people who are genuine. They do not play-act, but are modest and refined, always mindful of others and are kind and courteous. William Wordsworth certifies such behavior: "The best portion of a good man's life is his little nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love". The gentleman's little acts include praising the worthy, encouraging the defeated, befriending the lonely, cheering the unhappy, goading the quitter, uplifting the despondent, teaching the ignorant and calming the angry.'Little' acts indeed!


Adults who wear clothes that stink(oblivious of others), who care little about oral hygiene, who do not bath daily, who use bathrooms badly and who leave behind a trail of uncouth behavior, were once children who were given hygiene-concessions by parents. When such young people find partners, with bad behavior the reason, they end up quarreling and going their separate ways. Some parents may dismiss indifference to personal hygiene as a minor aberration. Try telling that to someone who has to share the same bed with the offender!

When watching cricket matches on TV, we have the revolting sight of players picking noses, biting nails and spitting repeatedly. Embarrassed parents of those famous sons, squirm when they realize that their boys are watched by millions. How they wish they had checked those loathsome habits, when their sons were little boys! Unless such quirks are stopped, even as they start, exorcising children of those demons, as they grow older, is impossible. A little boy found the right word when his teacher asked the class to complete the sentence: 'Cleanliness is next to ---'.
Decisively he answered: 'impossible'. Yes, 'impossible', if personal hygiene is not made a habit early in childhood.


Seldom do we see young people tastefully and neatly dressed, carrying themselves with dignity. Instead we see them in loud T-shirts and tight jeans, sporting a casual style. We let our children compromise on grooming, little realizing that the Corporate World, which is thankfully returning to formal and semi-formal wear, will frown on poorly dressed new entrants. Unkempt hair, unshaven faces, poorly matched clothes and shoes that do not shine, do not reflect good grooming. And our girls should know that showing more skin is not more beauty.


Walking into some homes is like walking into minefields. Tread watchfully, is the warning, because toys, footwear, books and assorted items are scattered on the floor.
Unless there is order in our lives, there will be disorder in the lives of our children. They should learn to do things at the right time and put things in the right place. Play with a toy at playtime and put it back, in its place; so with anything else. The good part about orderly behavior is that children will carry it forward to school, work life and family life.


It is rather embarrassing to watch some children eat. They nosily chew food, scatter food on the table, stuff their mouths, gulp drinks and ravenously eat their favorite
dishes. Ask a child to pass a fork, and he will pass it prongs pointing. Drinking water glasses are stained with grease and oil, because their mouths are not wiped with a napkin, before putting the glass to their lips. Certainly, there is a strong case for children to learn table manners to save themselves and us, blushes.


Disposing of rubbish haphazardly from windows, balconies and running vehicles, is more than just carelessness. What is worse is dumping garbage at or near the neighbor's gate. Slamming doors and windows is noisy and inconsiderate. Not turning off lights, fans, air-conditioners and other appliances, when leaving the room, is not only waste of electricity, but also lack of concern for the person who pays the power bill. Not completely turning off taps after using water is wasteful and negligent behavior. Children should know that even today(as they get water from a tap)there are millions who trek miles to fetch a pot of water. Snatching things from others, even siblings, is rough and unbecoming behavior. If unchecked, the snatching act could end up in wild actions and costly consequences.

"We are what we repeatedly do", warned Aristotle. When our children learn to do the right things repeatedly, they will build strong characters. We owe it to them.

Monday, July 27, 2009

44) Habits (continued)

"Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well." Philip Chesterfield

We should inculcate in children, very early, the spirit of excellence. From childhood they should realize the benefit and pleasure of doing things well. Charles Gore gives this habit the right orientation, when he writes: "God wants us to do ordinary things extraordinarily well". Such a habit will spring from discontent in doing things in a compromised fashion. E.g.,our children are compromising when they study at school, but settle for average performance; complete homework, but not benefit from it; carry out a chore at home because mummy ordered it, and not because the home has to be neat and tidy. When children grow up compromising, they lose the cutting edge to compete and get ahead. The effort is not worth it, they argue. That is when parents have to step in and show them that doing THEIR BEST is more important than doing THE BEST. How?

First, by raising the bar; pushing up expectations; setting goals that are not easy to achieve, but attainable. Let us stop to consider Goethe's wisdom: "Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be, and he will become as he can and should be". Replace 'man' with 'child' and the picture is clear.
Lord Grant conveys the same thought, in different words: "The greater danger, for most of us, lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low and achieving our mark". Toppers in any field are inspired to beat their own high standards; always raising the bar. Antonio Stradivari(1644-1737)put his signature to the violin he made, only when he was convinced that the violin was excellent. The tradition continues though Stradivari is long dead. When we have the spirit of excellence, it is easier to instill that spirit in our children.

Second, by expecting excellence from others. Children who pursue the spirit of excellence will expect excellence from others; they thrive in such conditions. To live and work in mediocre conditions is disadvantageous to them. They should attend schools where excellence is more than a motto; it should be a way of life. They should enjoy the company of like-minded children. They must rejoice in belonging to a home where the spirit of excellence is like the air they breathe. The analogy is simple - only in the right soil conditions will a good seed grow and yield a rich harvest.

Third, by setting priorities. Too many goals and the effort is spread thin. E.g.,
classes, then tuition classes, then music lessons, then dance practice, then tennis and so on. In such high pressure conditions children are stretched and dissipated. Instead, if they prioritized and stuck to limited objectives, they would have the energy and enthusiasm to perform better. Today's children are a tired and dispirited lot, because they chase too many dreams. If only they prioritized!

Fourth, by showing them how to take the initiative. To follow others when danger lurks, is safe but not courageous. To follow others in everyday life exposes a lack of initiative. Children should revel in doing things without prodding. To risk answering difficult questions, to accept the challenge of a difficult assignment, to volunteer to do a difficult task, to offer to help the needy, as others back off, are signs of initiative in a child who is unafraid. Louise L. Hay has sound advice for such children: "Be willing to take the first step, no matter how small it is".

Fifth, by making them persevere. Joe was a senior salesman, who was assigned a tough customer, who refused to buy the Company's products, despite the efforts of some of the top executives. One day, at a sales meeting, Joe announced that he was given a large order by the tough customer. Jaws dropped. How could it be? What was Joe's secret. Modest in his ways, Joe admitted to meeting the customer 125 times before he was rewarded. Someone in the meeting asked Joe: "Would you have stopped meeting the customer at some stage, if he did not buy from you?" Joe pondered the question and replied: "It depends". "Depends on what?" Laconically, Joe answered: "Who died first". If ever there was a test for perseverance, here was one! A pithy Japanese Proverb conveys the spirit of perseverance: "Fall seven times, stand up eight".
Try, try again, was the lesson the defeated King Bruce of Scotland learned, as he watched a spider weave its web, falling many times, but not giving up.

"One thousand falsehoods are not as good as one truth." Chinese Proverb

A mother who was at her wits end trying to correct her son who lied repeatedly, told him of the Devil, who with fiery eyes, a long tail and horns, tormented children who lied. The son heard his mother and promised not to lie again, because he could not match his mother who was a smarter liar. Lying inflicts punishment on the liar, in the words of George Bernard Shaw: :A liar's punishment is not that he is not believed
but that he cannot believe anyone". Wasn't that true of the son who could not believe even his mother? There is yet another punishment. "A good liar needs a good memory", is an observation the Arabs make. The liar must tax his memory time and again, to recall what lie he told whom, to avoid getting tangled in his web of lies.
When children drift from the truth(white lies are not excluded), we must come down on them with a heavy hand, if necessary. It is like fighting a stubborn infection with strong antibiotics.

"A moment of time is like a piece of gold, but a piece of gold will not buy a moment of time." Chinese Proverb

We are alerted that time is priceless. Time Management Consultant, Antonio Herrara asked the participants in a seminar: "If we had to buy time, would there be any difference in how we would spend it? Would the days of our life be used more wisely?
What if you had to pay in advance one hundred dollars an hour for the time allotted to you? Would you waste time?" The answer was a decisive 'No'. If paying for time is the only way we will understand its value, perhaps God should charge us each time he gives us a new lease of life - every morning. Waste does not stop with time. Talents are wasted. Opportunities are not converted. Possessions are left to rust. Friendships are allowed to wither and not blossom. Management of any resource is serious business, and waste in any form is anathema.

Are we ready to hand-hold our children through tedious exercises meant to cultivate
character-building habits? The price is high, but the treasure it buys is invaluable.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

43) Habits

"Your character is essentially the sum of your habits." Rick Warren

Since habits make up character, our children should be groomed from infancy in habits
that will give them a solid character-base. Abigail Van Buren writes of the best way
to gauge character: "The best index to a man's character is how he treats people who can't do him any good, and how he treats people who can't fight back ". In other words, the test is how a person treats less important people; the weak ones. Another way of framing the test is to find out if he has consideration for others. Jesus Christ spoke of three loves: a)love of God, b)love of neighbor, and c)love of self. He asked His followers to love others as they loved themselves. So, love of self is not taboo, but the sanction to make room for others. The Golden Rule(posts 37,38)embodies these noble thoughts. That person has character who keeps the Golden Rule. To do that he must cultivate habits which endear him to others. John Dryden throws light on how the sequence works: "We first make our habits, then our habits make us". When our children cultivate good habits, they reap an abundant harvest of
good character. A school which understood the significance of character, prided in the motto: CHARACTER BEFORE CAREER.


a)"Consideration for others' will spring from the habit of LOOKING FOR GOODNESS in others. When we find goodness in others, we are drawn to them. Being all eyes and ears to spot such goodness is a huge effort with compensations. Rewards follow in the form of cordial relationships; even friendships.

When we have consideration for others, we believe that we are doing others a favor.
Ralph Waldo Emerson disagrees: "It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life that no man can sincerely try to help another, without helping himself". That is a new angle - when we help others we help ourselves. This beautiful discovery adds impetus to our effort to be good to others, because we gain in the process.
Actually, Emerson only echoes what Confucius voiced many centuries ago: "He who wishes to secure the good of others, has already secured his own". A short story
illustrates this point. In 'Living the 7 Habits', Stephen R.Covey tells the story of
a father and his 9 year old daughter who play a game on a half hour drive. Wanting the child to feel good, the father suggests that they both fill in the blanks to statements starting with: "I feel good about you ----"; and "I liked what you did because ----". In his eagerness to please his daughter and to genuinely express his love for her, the father swiftly completes sentences that compliment his child. The child is thrilled that her father appreciates some of her ways and loves her dearly.
In her innocence she also completes sentences on her father. At the end of the drive
the father is beside himself with joy that his little daughter has much affection for him. What started out as a one-way act of goodness, turned out to be a two-way affair. Their relationship rose to a new level after that drive. Surely, Confucius and Emerson have a point.

b) The habit of SPEAKING WELL of others, and not aiming darts at them, elevates the person. Without his knowing it, there is a halo over his head. An old woman who was never known to speak ill of others was tested by a group of young fellows who asked her what she thought of the Devil. Not batting an eyelid, she replied: "To his credit, he is always on the job". To find something nice to say, even of the Devil puts the old lady in a special category.

c) Running down others is a common weakness. We are brazen when we fault a person in the presence of others. What is worse is to SPEAK ILL of him, when he is not present to defend himself. This weakness is against one of the 14 precepts of Buddhism. Equally bad is the habit of using FOUL LANGUAGE, to prefix and suffix comments. Children think it is 'cool' to use foul and vulgar expressions. They should be checked and disciplined, if necessary. They run the risk of endangering their progress, if they do not correct themselves.

d) The habit of GIVING CREDIT where it is due, speaks highly of a fair and appreciative mind. On being congratulated for his brilliant rendering of Beethoven's
Violin Concerto, a world famous Violinist responded: "I have splendid music, a splendid violin and a splendid bow. All I have to do is to bring them together, and get out of the way". He does not draw attention to himself or his skill, but is ready to give credit to great music and a splendid instrument. Positively, a noble trait!

e) The habit of APOLOGIZING for wrong doing calls for enormous courage. When that courage is summoned the impact is enormous. Synn Johnstone tells us why: "An apology is the super glue of life. It can repair just about anything". So many relationships fall apart, never to be glued back, for want of an apology. "I'm sorry", "Please forgive me", are words difficult to wrench from a proud and unyielding heart.
Zacchaeus, the Chief Tax Collector, though short in stature, stands tall after he apologies to Jesus and make amends for defrauding people. His position, wealth and prospect of more wealth do not deter him from asking for forgiveness. The Gospels Show how a small man was capable of big deeds.

f) The habit of KEEPING PROMISES guarantees the respect of others. An extract from Bits and Pieces has a recommendation: "The world is divided into two classes of people. The few who make good on their promises(A), and the many who don't(B). Get in column (A), and stay there. You'll be valuable, wherever you are". A father who did not read this injunction, promised to take his 8 year old son to the Zoo on Sunday afternoon. The boy waited for long hours, but the father chose to go to the Race Course. When he returned, late that evening and made excuses to his little son, the boy kept repeating: "But you promised".

g) Only an organized person has the habit of KEEPING APPOINTMENTS, replying mails and returning calls without delay. He realizes that he would not like to be kept waiting. So he does not keep others waiting; he would not want his mails ignored or calls not returned, so he responds promptly. Moliere tells us how serious such omissions can be: "It is not only what we do, but also what we do not do, for which we are accountable". Definitely, those who ignore such niceties are accountable.

h) The habit of NOT EXPLOITING OTHERS comes from good breeding. We do not exploit others, mainly because we have consideration for others. Free-riding is an uncharitable twist. When children exploit weaker siblings at home, weaker classmates
at school and parents who show weakness, they are exposing a vulnerable side of their character. They get paid back by bullies. We would want to shield our children from bullies. That places on us an added responsibility.

NOTE: The 8 points covered here proceed from the principal habit of 'consideration for others'. In the next post we shall look at a few more habits.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

42) Values - (continued)

"Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of others." Cicero

One day on the streets of London, Charles H. Spurgeon was robbed. When he arrived home and reported the incident, he said: "We'll thank the Lord, anyway". His wife displeased that he had lost money, countered: "Thank the Lord that someone stole your purse?" "No, my dear", answered her husband, and went on to give her reasons why he was thankful. "First, I am thankful that the robber just took my purse, not my life. Second, I am thankful that most of our money was left at home, and he did not rob much. Third, I am thankful to God, that I was not the robber". To find gratitude in the heart when there is little to be thankful, uncovers the superior attitude of the person. To look at the bright side of the situation when apparently there is darkness and gloom, points to the pinnacle he has climbed. Little wonder that Cicero refers to gratitude as the parent of other virtues.

Saying 'thank you' is good, as long as it is not just words. Polite behavior is expected in society and 'thank you' is in order. But we have to go beyond the words,
to teach our children not to forget the good things they receive from a Loving and Merciful God, kind people and us, their parents. They should not take parents for granted. In old Anglo-Saxon, to be 'thankful' meant to be 'thinkful'. Thinking of one's blessings should stir one to gratitude. E.g.,children could think of the gift
of each new day, for sunshine and light, clean air to breathe, water, the comforts they enjoy, food they relish, entertainment they delight in, friendships that mean a lot to them, good music and good books and so on. Lessons on gratitude should start early, so that thankfulness becomes second nature. An ungrateful heart is despicable.
That is why Shakespeare wrote, rather forcefully: "I hate ingratitude more in man
than lying, vainess, babbling, drunkenness, or any taint of voice, whose strong corruption inhabits out blood". A fitting conclusion to this point would be a short prayer, written by George Herbert, which we and our children could offer to the Compassionate Lord: "O Thou who hast given us so much, mercifully grant us one more thing - a grateful heart".

"He who can have patience, can have what he will." Benjamin Franklin

No one treated Abraham Lincoln with more contempt than Edwin Staton, who condemned Lincoln's policies and called him 'a low cunning clown', and referring to his looks,
'the original gorilla'. Lincoln said or did nothing. He showed remarkable patience,
though as President of USA, he had the powers to hit back. In typically mature behavior, he made Staton his War Minister, because he believed that his adversary was the best man for the job; and always treated him with courtesy. Years wore on.
On the night Lincoln was assassinated, looking down at the rugged face of his dead
President, Staton said through tears: "There lies the greatest ruler of men, the world has ever seen". Patience had conquered hate. Wisdom won. Saint Augustine's words give us the right insight: "Patience is the companion of wisdom". The wise man is patient; experience confirms that.

Impatience is the sign of a fitful mind - fleeting from idea to idea, thing to thing,
unwilling to wait for fruition, angry with delays and blaming others. An impatient person is a spoke in the wheel of progress; because progress does not come at the pace we demand, but at its own pace. Ovid cautions us to be patient because "everything comes gradually, and at its appointed time". An impatient and angry person is a pathetic sight. A husband who claimed to love his wife dearly, broke two dozen eggs over her head and let the white and yellow of the eggs flow down her head, face and body, as she sat motionless, all because she skipped eggs for breakfast, after being instructed to have them. He demanded that his action be seen as an expression of love. We are inclined to disagree.

Children can act outrageously, in a fit of rage and throw tantrums to push parents into a state of panic. As parents we should know the potential danger in such situations and heal our children of their 'momentary madness'.

"To do injustice is more disgraceful than to suffer it." Plato

The student of a Management Professor, who was assigned to another Professor for a Project, complained that he was not happy with the way his Project was being directed
and concluded by saying: "Even if you give me 50% marks I will be happy, because I know I deserve only that. If he gives me 90% marks I will not be happy, because I know that he does not care and is not fair".

Trust comes from keeping promises and being fair. This is established through the
Four-Way-Test of a respected Organization: 1)Is it the truth? 2)Is it fair to all?
3)Will it build goodwill and better friendship? 4)Will it be beneficial to all concerned? When the four questions(all concerning fairness)are satisfactorily answered, we know with certitude that fair play will lead to the building of trust.
On the contrary, if selfishness and favoritism are given play, fairness loses out.
That was precisely the reason Plato labeled 'injustice' as a disgraceful act. The selfishness of King Louis XIV was inferred from a brief exchange between two of his subjects. When out hunting the King wore no gloves. One farmer pointed to the hands of the King and said: "His hands will be cold". The other farmer bandied: "His hands will not be cold because they are in our pockets". With the King exploiting his subjects through heavy taxes, they passed judgment on him - he was not a fair king.

Are we parents fair in our parenting? When we show preference for one child over the other/s, we deal a deadly blow to fair play in the family. When a father distributes
among his children, pads , pens, pencils pilfered from his office, he is not setting an example of fair play, but showing his children how to cheat and exploit unsuspecting superiors. In such a home fair play has little chance.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

41) Values

"Try not to become a person of success, but a person of value." Albert Einstein

A person of success has much to count (money and possessions)and much to show(fame).
Albert Einstein thinks that there is a better option - become a person of value, when there will be little to count and show, but much of value in a loftier life. Charles Garfield plays with words, but gets the point home, when he writes: "Not everything that counts, can be counted. Not everything that can be counted, counts". Values always count, though they do not display numbers. To children, parents who live value-based lives are a shining example. For such parents, traditional values rooted in truth, trust and love are still keys to successful parenting.

Perceptions play an important role in the formation of values. Consider honesty. One man will not accept a bribe because he believes it is wrong. Another thinks he will be the odd one out if he refuses a bribe, because everybody is accepting bribes. His conscience is silenced with the numbers performing the act; the majority. The tragedy today is that we have lost our sense of wrong doing; our sense of sin; and therefore our values are warped. Because peer pressure will force our children to think differently and make compromises, we have to work harder to keep them on course, instilling in them some of the values listed below.


"In a matter of principle, stand like a rock." Thomas Jefferson

A band of fierce men stormed a Chapel, somewhere in Columbia, just as Mass was to begin, and dragged the priest out. Then the Chief of the band questioned: "Is there any other Christian here?" A few stood up. They were also dragged out. In seconds gunfire was heard outside the Chapel. Returning, the Chief asked for the second time,
if there were any more Christians in the Chapel. In fear not one stood up. Angry and visibly disgusted, the Chief berated them: "If you cannot stand up for your beliefs, you have no right to be here". In moments he and his men disappeared. Coming out of the Chapel, the people saw the Priest and the others who were dragged out unharmed and smiling.

If we were in Chapel that day, what would we have done? Are we always zealous in defending our beliefs? Would our children stand up for what they believe? E.g.,would
they return to the owner a lost wallet, with a large sum of money in it? Would they support someone who is falsely accused? Would they expose foul play? Our children will find the courage to stand up, when they learn from us to stand up. When Conviction leads the way, Courage is close behind. We only hope that they will not choose to be neutral; because, being neutral where there is injustice, is choosing the wrong side. It is important that others know what we and our children stand up for; it is equally important that they know what we do not stand up for.


"No legacy is so rich as honesty." William Shakespeare

Roger Young was a janitor in Charleston, West Virginia, USA. One day he found an envelope on the shelf in a phone booth. At once he returned it to the owner, not knowing that it held $1000. When he learned of the money in the envelope, he said:
"I don't care if was one dollar or one million dollars. I wouldn't keep it". The children of Roger Young had every reason to celebrate their father, who belonged to a tribe of honest men which Alexander Pope likened to the 'noblest work of God'.

People mistakenly associate honesty only with being clean in matters of money. There is dishonesty in effort, when we do not labor enough for the wages we get. There is dishonesty in squandering company time on personal tasks. There is dishonesty in the denial and defense of wrong doing; in lying. When our children do not use their talents to live up to their potential, they are dishonest with themselves and God, the giver of those gifts. Dishonesty tries to get a toe-hold in their lives, when our children begin to lie over trifles. Alarm bells should ring. The idea of restitution seems old fashioned. Who does it now? But if our children are to understand the implications of honesty, they should know what restitution means. If we are responsible for loss to someone through willful wrong doing, honesty demands that we make good the loss. Such truths should be dinned into our children until they acknowledge that honesty is not just the best policy, but the only policy.


"Humility is not denying the power you have. It is realizing that the power comes through you, not from you." Fred Smith

The Devil disguised himself as an angel and appeared to a holy man, saying that God had commissioned him to deliver a message to His holy servant, who seemed surprised and replied that the angel(devil)had the wrong address, because he had not done anything to deserve a visit by God's messenger. On getting this response the devil disappeared because he could not challenge a truly humble and holy man who recognized his limitations and God's limitless generosity.

F.B.Meyer fittingly describes the receiving of such gifts from God: "I used to think that God's gifts were on shelves, one above the other; and that the taller we grew in character, the easier it would be to reach them. I now find that God's gifts are on shelves one beneath the other; and that we have to go down, always down, to get His best gifts". The same lesson comes to us from the encounter of two farmers. A haughty farmer asked an old farmer: "Why don't you hold your head high, the way I do? I bow before neither God nor man". The old man replied: "Look at that field of grain. Only the empty heads stand up. Those that are full bend low". The lesson is that the humble person does not take offense or fight back. He is willing to take a lower place, keep quiet over his merits, bear insults and false accusations, for a higher purpose, in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. He knows that men around him cannot put him down, without his consent. Only his misdeeds can put him down.

When our children understand the values of honesty and humility, they will know that the qualities are knit closely. One cannot be separated from the other.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

40) Attitudes (continued)


"We are faced with great opportunities, brilliantly disguised as impossible situations." Chuck Swindoll

Eileen Egan, who worked with the Missionaries of Charity for 30 years, writes of her experiences with the Sisters, in her book 'Such a Vision of the Street'. In it she recounts one of the important lessons she learned from Mother Teresa. When Eileen referred to any 'problem', Mother Teresa preferred the term 'gift'. After that, small problems became small gifts and big problems, big gifts. Once, when there was a long delay for a connecting flight at an airport, Eileen informed Mother of the 'gift'. Promptly the Living Saint composed herself and began to read her favorite book on meditations. No complaints; just an opportunity to do something useful. Peter Drucker, the management guru, made a sensible comment, when he wrote: "Results are obtained by exploiting opportunities, not by solving problems. All we can hope to get by solving problems is to restore normalcy". His wisdom is born of experience with Top Corporations.

When our children learn from us to convert a problem into an opportunity, they will see in the changed situation, a challenge to be conquered. In school, among playmates
or siblings, and just going through their daily routine, with the changed mindset, they become enthusiastic, resilient and full of hope; not complaining, sullen, spiteful and difficult. Wouldn't we want that?


Courageously facing adversity is a sequel to finding opportunities in problems(pt 3).

An eagle senses a storm before it arrives. It will fly to a high level and wait for the winds to come. When the storm hits, the eagle sets its wings to let the wind pick
it up and lift it above the turbulence. While the storm rages below, the eagle is soaring above it. The eagle does not escape the storm; it simply uses the storm to lift it higher; to safety. Without intending to do so, the eagle teaches us a lesson.
When we are buffeted by the winds of adversity, we can rise above the storm and nestle in the safe arms of God. When we trust in His Power to lift us out of adversity, we shall not be blown away. Will it comfort us to know that others too face adversity? "Everyone is either coming out of a storm, in a storm or headed for
a storm", are the matter-of-fact words of Beecher Hicks Jr. And we can find hope in knowing that nothing lasts forever; not even our troubles.

Thomas Alva Edison's warehouse was burning. After the fire, he gathered his workers
and said to them: "We are going to rebuild. You can always build opportunity out of tragedy". Edison stood up well to the test Plutarch set: "The measure of a man is the way he bears up under misfortune". Are we teaching our children to turn stumbling
blocks into stepping stones?

For those of us who never stop complaining about the misfortunes that visit us, we must pay heed to the findings of a survey: 80% of those we complain to don't care, and 20% are glad that we have problems.


"What is the greatest thought that has ever passed through your head?" someone asked
Daniel Webster. He answered: "My accountability to God".

At different times in life we are accountable to different people in authority over us - parents, teachers, bosses family and so on. But at all times we are accountable to God. It is our accountability to God that gives us a purpose and direction in life. Very early in their lives, children need to use a compass to set a direction for themselves; and find joy in doing things with responsibility. Jack Moffitt, in plain words explains why: "The thing that keeps you on the ground is responsibility, placed on your shoulders"; because without responsibility we are likely to take off,
to nowhere in particular. Being accountable does not take away our freedom; instead it gives meaning to freedom. Through responsible behavior we exercise self-control,
which in turn saves us from excesses. It restrains us from drifting. Responsible behavior makes us honest in acknowledging our actions; even the wrong ones. In the early years of childhood a sense of accountability should be instilled in their receptive minds; otherwise they are likely to form the habit of blaming others. Let us imagine a situation when responsibility is taken lightly. Teachers would not be accountable; so would students; so would people who escape responsibility for their actions. Then fair play, courtesy and kindness would disappear from the scene, and chaos would reign. Fear of such a situation should put us on red-alert.


"Striving for success without hard work is like trying to harvest when you haven't planted." David Bly

The one time President of USA, Theodore Roosevelt, made it clear to Americans that when it came to work, there was only one type - hard work. He said: "When you work,work hard". Caught up with the charmed lives of Celebrities and the easy lives of VIPs, our children believe that they too could live in ease and plenty, without hard work and a struggle. So they begin early. At school they get others to do their home work, decide to cheat during tests(because they will not study for the tests) and look for others to carry their load. Unwittingly, parents become willing load bearers - carrying school bags, doing assignments and sparing children from chores at home. Henry Ford had a practical attitude to work, which we could transfer to our children: "Work is the only pleasure. It is only work that keeps me alive and makes life worth living". Will our children find pleasure in work? Will they find purpose and profit in responsibly doing work? That would depend on us.

Many years ago, I worked for a Multinational Corporation who appointed the first Indian Managing Director. He had an uninspiring background - an undergraduate who stammered and worked as a Stenographer. (In the old days a Stenographer took notes
from the boss in shorthand and typed out the text on his/her typewriter.) Despite his background, he had a dream and was ready to work for it. He worked hard to acquire knowledge in different areas of Management, passed different examinations, cleared difficult interviews and moved up jobs in the same company, through acclaimed performance, until the American Bosses found him to be the right candidate for the position of Managing Director. In the same company he rose from being Stenographer to MD. I know this is true, because I know the man. The Chinese were right: "The more plowing and weeding, the better the harvest".

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

39) Attitudes

"The remarkable thing is that we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. I am convinced that life is 10% of what happens to me, and 90% how I react to it. We are in charge of our attitudes." Chuck Swindoll

If we are in charge of our attitudes, and our children in charge of theirs, we need to know how they are formed. Scholars in Behavioral Studies propose that a child's mind is blank when she is born. That is why a new born is always good; no bad traits have been developed. In time, the Environment(Social Factors)start writing scripts for the child. Parents, Grandparents, Teachers, Siblings, and others with whom the child is in contact, keep writing scripts for her, through their words and actions. Rituals and Practices also get scripted. On the one hand, concern and affection for others, humility, honesty, courage, patience, neatness and love of God get registered. On the other hand, disregard or scant respect for others, pride, dishonesty, anger, fear, pettiness, disorderliness and materialism find a place in the child's mind. Someone wisely said: "Heredity does not equip a child with proper attitudes; children learn what they are taught". Since the teaching comes from Social Factors in the child's life, it is called Social Programming(SP). As the child grows, her experiences lead her to accept or reject parts of the SP. Such reasoning results in Individual Programming(IP). Honesty is good, she reasons, but it can get you into trouble sometimes. So the best policy, she figures, is to act based on circumstances. With daddy speak the truth. With mummy a little departure will not be noticed; or, if noticed, easily forgiven. The balancing of her SP and IP
gives her a set of beliefs and attitudes; her set of rules which will govern her behavior. This not static. With new experiences, the balance between SP and IP shifts.

The Oxford Dictionary defines attitude as 'a way of thinking or feeling about someone or something'. In simple terms it is a disposition, a tendency, an inclination. Gordon Allport, the renowned Psychologist, defined attitudes as 'learned
predispositions to respond to persons/things in a consistently favorable or unfavorable way'. What do these definitions mean? That 1)attitudes are learned, 2) they are born of experiences, and 3)they precede and produce behavior. Clement Stone
gets to the core of the subject when he writes: "There is little difference in people, but that little difference makes a big difference. The little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether it is positive or negative". Which suggests that we as parents could be responsible for some of the negative attitudes our children develop. That should put us on guard. Positive attitude is so important for job applicants that interviewers apportion 85% weight to it in the evaluation process. The jobs and careers of our children could be at stake, if their negative attitudes tip 15%.

There is hope in the words of William James: "The greatest discovery of my generation
is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind". That is great news. Through the irresponsibility of some, if our children develop some negative attitudes, the good thing is that those can be changed. Think of the act of cleaning dirty clothes. The clothes are unchanged; only the dirt is washed away. Likewise, the souls of our children do not change; only the negative attitudes
can be washed away. How? By a decision to drain out the negatives and replace them with positives. Draining alone will not do; filling must follow. A difficult task; but with our help, children should succeed.

Attitudes affect our lives and the lives of our children in many ways and in big ways. Now, we shall address a few important concerns.
Written into Buddhist texts, 2500 years before Jesus Christ, is the Law of Attraction, which states that 'what you think is what you get'. The choice rests with us to entertain good or bad thoughts; we have the option to say 'no' to bad thoughts. With this power vested in us and in our children, we can help them censor unkind thoughts and encourage kind thoughts; delete accusing thoughts and enter supporting thoughts, and so on. When our children learn to exercise this choice wisely, they are filling their minds with the right attitudes.
A smart young fellow asked an old farmer how much education he had. The farmer replied: "Six years of schooling and 70 years of learning". The rustic wisdom of the farmer strikes us with the force of the wind blowing through his farms. Learning comes, not just from schools and Institutions of knowledge, but from every experience, inviting us to unlearn at times, before we learn anew. That prompted Mark Twain to caution us: "We should be able to get out of an experience all the wisdom that is in it". To act on what experience teaches us is what matters. Because we have grown in years does not mean that our learning is superior to one who is young in years. From the young, which would include our children, we could learn, if we have the attitude to learn. Our children could profit from the experiences of the old and young, when we teach them to be open to learning and unlearning. The 'I know'
attitude is perilous.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

38) The Golden Rule (continued)

"There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world, than for bread."
Mother Teresa

As a Corporate Trainer, I have had many sessions with Senior Managers. During one such session, a Senior Manager posed me a problem: "I have a team of 25 people reporting to me. With 24 I have really no problems; but one is unmanageable. What do I do?" After some thought I answered him: "I do not know your team mate, so I cannot offer a solution. But I have a few questions. Would you be willing to answer them?" "Yes", was the prompt reply. "What are the weaknesses, the minus points of this person?" The Manager stood up with a smile, since he was on home ground, and listed not less than 10 weak points. My next question was:"Does he have at least one strong(one plus)point?" "No", was the abrupt reply, "he has three". The three were listed. "Did you speak to him about his strong points?" I queried. "No", the Manager answered. I continued: "I do not have a solution to your problem. You have it." The Manager sat down slowly, and brightened up as he did. One month later I received a call from him. He put it briefly: "It worked". Praise worked. No wonder Mark Twain was happy to admit: "I can live for two months on one good compliment". Two months, just for a few words! That is some power! If praise is so powerful, why are we miserly in giving it? And when we praise, we do it so grudgingly, as though we were parting with something of immense value to us.

Dale Carnegie exhorted us to " be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise". And Samuel Johnson was emphatic when he wrote: "The applause of a single human being is of consequence". Despite these urgings, we know that people are praised profusely only at condolence and farewell meetings, and not when we live and work with them. When we know that praise works wonders, why are we so niggardly?
Perhaps our cussedness is to blame. We believe, wrongly, that by praising others we are diminished. Or, again wrongly, that praise can pervert a person; make him vain.
These are unsound arguments. Through praise when we make others feel good, our image
is enhanced, not diminished. And, if we are not perverted when we receive praise, why
do we fear that others will become vain with praise? Our defense against giving praise is porous. Compliments may seem like much 'air'; like air that goes into our car tires. On life's highway those praise-filled tires can carry us a long way. A lot of people have traveled much farther than they thought they would, because someone thought they could. It follows, that without exception, we all hunger for praise. The good part is that such hunger can be satisfied without a repast; without spending a dime.

Take a rubber ball and bounce it. It comes to hand. Bounce it again. Again it comes to hand. Praise follows a similar pattern. The more we give of it, the more of it comes back to us, not necessarily from the same people we praise. The habit creates an aura around us, which people notice and respond to heartily. Praise is like motoring down a two way street; as one compliment heads north, another is traveling south.

Are there any guidelines in giving praise? YES.
1) Praise should not be confused with flattery. Flattery is favorable, but untrue comment. Praise is favorable and true comment. We should pause to consider the Greek Proverb: "Many know how to flatter; few understand how to praise".
2) Give praise immediately. When we hear a good word or witness a good action, we should praise the person without delay.
3) Praise should be specific, not general. "That was a good talk", is general. "I liked your talk for its content, structure and anecdotes", is specific.
4) Praise often. The hunger for praise is never fully satisfied.
5) Praise in the presence of others, because the appreciative glances of those around
will add weight to the praise given.
6) Praise must match the level of performance. E.g.,'excellent' for a good performance, or 'very good' for an average performance are mismatched. When we praise, our honesty is also on test.

Counselors point out that a transaction which begins with a sincere compliment, seldom ends in an argument, because praise ignites a flame of goodwill which is not easily extinguished. Without doubt, our children should learn how to praise and realize that it is the second most effective tool(the first being Forgiveness, post 37), in building relationships.

While much can be said in favor of giving and receiving praise, we should not lose sight of a camouflaged negative. In post 32(childhood)we referred to this minor problem. Goldsmith has the right words to describe the problem: "He who seeks applause from without, has all his happiness in another's keeping". The craving for applause is so strong in some that they are likely to force it out of others through
stage-managed situations, contrived performances and faked results. In other words, they live each moment expecting praise and are deeply distressed when they do not receive it. Such people hanker for praise because of a sense of insecurity. They can free themselves from the shackles of insecurity through an act of will: Praise is welcome, but not the only route to happiness. Our children should steer clear of such traps. They must know that a good thought, word and deed are rewards in themselves. Praise is just the bonus, which may or may not be received.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

37) The Golden Rule

"In everything do to others, as you would have them do to you." Matt.7:12
"Do naught to others, which if done to thee would cause thee pain." Hindu Philosophy
"What is hurtful to yourself, do not do to your fellowmen." Jewish Talmud
"What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others." Confucius
"Regard your neighbor's gain as your own gain, and regard your neighbor's loss as your own loss." Taoist saying
The purpose of reproducing the five quotations, on the same thought, is to highlight
their universal appeal, not bound by religion or culture.

When we compare human interaction to a coin, on the one side, we have kind thoughts, words and deeds, which merit praise; on the other side, we have unkind thoughts, words and deeds, which crave forgiveness. Put differently, Praise and Forgiveness are the secrets to successful interactions; the essence of the Golden Rule. If only we affirm that we yearn for praise when we perform well and expect encouragement in our struggle, we can relate to the same 'longing' in others. Just as we want forgiveness for our lapses and misdeeds, others too hope to have their wrongs forgiven, though such forgiveness is not always requested. The Golden Rule is the practical expression of God's command that we love one another. When we love one another, we will find ways to demonstrate that love through praise and forgiveness. Seneca gave definite meaning to this situation, when he wrote: "Whenever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness"; there is an opportunity for kindness through praise and forgiveness; there is an opportunity to live the Golden Rule.

If this belief is rooted in us, we will find ways to canalize it to our children, who will need it in every situation of their lives. This responsibility cannot be passed to schools or to Moral Instructors; it rests with us. In instructing our children, we could learn from an ancient Hawaiian family ritual of forgiveness, conducted once a year, or more often, if necessary. The head of the family calls everyone together. All who wish to be part of that family come. The first part of the rite is a prayer that everyone present be honest and open. The ancient Hawaiians
believed that truthfulness and sincerity had to be rocks on which relationships were
built. After the prayer, the head of the family starts on the second part - an honest
admission of all wrongdoings, grievances and resentments. If restitution is in order, it is done immediately, or plans are made to have it done in the near future.
The third part of the rite is forgiveness. Hawaiians view this part as the release
from all tension, resentment and guilt, in the family. Then the head of the family makes it clear that the disputes in the family are over, finished and forgotten, never to be brought up again. The person forgiven no longer bears the burden of guilt; the person forgiving no longer carries the weight of resentment. They know that they need God's help, so the ritual ends with a prayer that love and God's peace reside in the family. What strikes us in this edifying ritual is that the family(not just an individual), has honesty of purpose, courage to admit to wrongdoing, sincerity and nobility in forgiving misdeeds and the resolve to forget what is forgiven. Would to God that Modern Society emulated the Hawaiians! Peace would reign.

Goethe's logic adds substance to what we have seen. "I see no fault that I might not have committed myself." We are vulnerable; so are others. When such kind thoughts occupy our minds, we will be less harsh in condemning others who err.

Retribution, the opposite of forgiveness, does not make sense, for good reason:
1) From experience we know that retaliation is possible only with those who are weaker than we are. With those who are powerful(e.g.,the boss)we are afraid to take revenge because of adverse consequences. So, spitting venom on the weak exposes our weakness and cowardice. Certainly, we do not want our children to be labelled 'cowards'.
2) Medical findings prove that stoking grudges in our hearts, burns up our health, ruins our performance and unsettles our disposition. Therefore it does make sense to drain out grudges and fill our hearts with forgiveness and goodwill. When our children learn to forgive, they will enjoy better health and better relationships.
3) Vengeance is a never ending business. A family feud passes from father to son, to son. When will it stop? The 100 years war in England, which went on mindlessly, just to settle scores, proved nothing. Let us pledge that our children will not receive
a baggage of vengeance from us, as a legacy.
4) Retaliation is another form of 'stooping to conquer'. We descend from the pedestals, we imagine we occupy, to indulge in murderous plots. Certainly not in good taste; not becoming of us who espouse nobler aspirations. Let our bad example not corrupt our children.

The reasons could go on. We shall put an end to them citing the example of the Korean mother, whose only son was killed, stabbed 17 times. She was filled with rage and hate and wished all kinds of harm to befall the killer, until she reluctantly joined a prayer meeting. As she prayed for consolation, she was inspired to stand up and shout forgiveness. Then in a change of heart, she visited the killer in prison to tell him of her plan to adopt him as her son. Imagine the turmoil in the mind of the killer!

We need God's help to forgive. He is never found wanting. Our children need our help
to learn how to forgive. Will we be found wanting?