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.

1 comment:

  1. This is very interesting in the fundamental approach. At the end of the day, we are responsible for who we are. We define how we respond to what happens, we decide how we grow and mature into responsible human beings. I have a different take, though, on where the essential nature of people comes from. In my opinion, the new born has a definite nature built into him / her. Upbringing, social conditioning, and environmental factors cannot be undermined in the role they play in helping define the child’s character as he grows. But I believe that they only aid or obstruct his or her own battle with his essential nature. The essential nature comes with both plus and minus. Pleasant disposition, even temper, sharing etc on the one hand, and on the other hand traits like vengefulness, short temper, selfishness etc. Human beings alter little and the few who actually substantially change their character are men of steel. Most human efforts at ‘changing people’ usually amount to nothing. I think it’s because of this essential reality that the nature is there cast firmly, though not in concrete and while it can be changed, influenced and enabled, it is something that is already in the blueprint of the person. I think God puts it there and our challenge is to rise to our higher self – conquer our selfishness, short temper or whatever minuses there are and leverage our strengths. My whole point is NOT to undermine the role of the parent but to give it a different angle here – it is not about a fatalistic approach or a determinist paradigm, but one which acknowledges that character is something we are born with though it can and must be influenced in every possible ay by the parent and every other stakeholder in the child’s environment. Does it make sense?