Monday, August 31, 2009

55) Problem Situations (continued)


Five year old Tina waited for her favoutite uncle James to arrive. Within minutes of his coming, the two ran across the street to her friendly uncle Alex, of the sweet shop. As they crossed the road, James asked Tina why she went to the same shop every time; why not try another? She flatly refused. She explained that Uncle Alex gave her more sweets; the others gave her less. She was fond of one type, in different colours,which was stocked in a glass jar. As she entered the shop, Alex greeted her and James.Tina then placed on the counter, the money James had given her. James closely watched what happened. Alex put some sweets into the pan of the weighing machine. Then he added some more sweets, and still more until the weight was balanced. As they left the shop, Tina looked up at James and said: "See, uncle Alex always gives me more. The others take away". She was referring to the way sweets were weighed. Alex put less into the pan and kept adding; the others put more into the pan, and kept taking away sweets until the weight was balanced. A simple act, perceived differently by the child. There are some lessons for us in this short story. 1) By choosing to go to Alex, and not the other shops, Tina was exercising her power of choice. 2) The child perceives Alex's action in a favourable way, and is happy in her choice. 3) James lets the child exercise her option. He does not demystify the weighing process, playing spoilsport.

Even at a young age, children like to choose. Apples instead of oranges; Pepsi more often than Milo; Tom and Jerry and not Tigger and Pooh. Should we let children make choices, or should we hand down decisions, fearing the wrong choices they will make?
Let us look at some merits in giving them the right to choose. 1) God in His Infinite
Wisdom, has given each of us the gift of free will - the power to choose. The child also has that power. If God could trust her with that power, should we not? Of course, we have the duty to shape that power, in the child. 2) Unless the child is allowed the freedom to choose, how will she learn? No doubt, she will make some mistakes, as we made in our lives. But from those mistakes, she will learn and be more careful in arriving at decisions, as long as she is gently helped to understand the process. 3) If we continue to take decisions for her, what will happen when we are gone? Like a babe in the woods, she will not know her way home. She will be lost.

We would not want that to happen to our child, would we? Therefore, gradually we should give children more and more opportunities to exercise their power of choice;
even during their troubled teens. With more exposure, they will gain confidence.
What a welcome experience it is to watch a confident child grow into a confident adult! Their capacity to decide will be tested in their personal and professional lives. Here are a few such situations.


At school the choice of courses is not difficult. But at the higher learning level,
especially the professional courses, the decision making is complicated. Several factors come into play, chief of which is the child's aptitude. Some parents enamoured with certain professions, compel children to take up courses that lead to those careers - doctors, civil service, computer specialists, and so on. The child's
preference is discounted or ignored. We ought to remember that it is the child's career which is at stake, not ours. She has every right to state her preference and have it actualized. When parents object, the child is distraught and performs below expectation. This frustration tells on her carrer. Instead of being a successful
Professor, she settles for being s substandard doctor. She will find it difficult to forgive her parents who forced her into an unfulfilling career.

The problem is less severe in affluent Western Societies, where children are freer to choose. In traditional Eastern Societies, parental influence is strong and often counterproductive.


As a father of four sons, it was my duty to instruct my sons on matters of sex - God's gift of pleasure, to be experienced within the confines of married life. I failed and regret my lapse. That my sons passed the difficult phase without succumbing, is proof of God's unseen protection. I appeal to parents to seriously take the duty of instructing their children on matters of sex, to spare themselves guilt and children adverse consequences. Mothers could speak to daughters and fathers to sons. When we fail, children will use their power of choice and acquire knowledge of it from sources that will lend garish colours to the subject. With so much information available on the Net, they are only a button away from indulging their minds with lurid details. Parents who find it difficult to teach this lesson,
may seek the help of trained Counsellors.


Here again, in Eastern Societies parents play an important role in selecting partners for their children. Compatibility is lower down on their priority list. Instead, family status, wealth, social connections and other considerations figure at the top. In particular, girls suffer from the caprice of parents who view any opposition, as a challenge to their parental authority. It is the child's life; if she is not given the freedom to choose, who else should? Even when parents consent to the daughter's choice, the decision comes across as a compromise and a sacrifice. Something that should be joyous, becomes a test of wills and a bone of contention for life.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

54) Problem Situations (continued)

"Every easy choice today, will have its consequences tomorrow." Sister Aloysius in the movie DOUBT

A little girl bought herself a string of artificial pearls with her pocket money. She loved those pearls and wore them always. One night, her daddy asked her: "Do you love me?" "Yes", she replied. "Then give me the pearls", he pleaded. "No daddy", was her immediate reply. "No problem. Daddy loves you", he assured her, as he kissed her good night. The same sequence took place the next two nights. On the following night, with tears she handed over the pearls to her daddy, who took it, and with the other hand gave her a set of real pearls. The child leaped into the outstretched arms of her father, overjoyed.

This touching incident has a few lessons for us. First, there are times when patience, tact and unfailing love, bring about a change of heart in the child, to result in unselfish, better behaviour. Second, the child's development has to be tested from time to time. Will she trust her parents enough to surrender to their requests? Third, the child's trust has to be rewarded, even with token gifts. Often, the child does not know what good will come to her through changed behaviour, and resists. At such times parents should persist and not be put off by the child's stubborn refusal. Parents who want their children to behave well should choose the best parenting options and not the easiest. Most parents face a quandary - they are besieged with doubt. What method will succeed; what option is better? They dither and their doubt consumes them. Then they make easy choices; to avoid the unpleasant.
But the unpleasant will not go away; it will revisit them the next day. With good reason, we are reminded that there are no substitutes for Example, wise Parental Instructions and timely Discipline, to manage all kids, the difficult ones in particular.

At random, we shall take three situations and try to outline the difficult choices we have to make. None of these situations is easy to manage. Not many parents use the same methods. What is important is that options are adjusted to suit the child and the situation, mindful of the presence of siblings who watch every move.

The pre-approach is to breathe deep. When we are faced with such situations we tend to get angry because the child has misbehaved, and disappointed with our failure to correct the child earlier. Now, is not the time for anger, but mature response. Begin by consciously breathing deep. The Indian Yogis practise deep breathing with great success. The Budhists highly recommend deep breathing - attributing to it the power of healing. Medical opinion supports the view that deep breathing relaxes the mind and body. As a bonus, deep breathing is easy and free. It is so crucial to our relaxed state of mind and body, that we could make a habit of it. Deep breathing then becomes an automatic response, when we need it most. Don't stop with deep breathing; pray. Prayer never fails. As parents we imagine that we have things under control, because of our position. Even tiny tots know how foolish parents are in believing that. Children make us dance. They know it. That is why we need God's help
in confronting a situation that seems manageable, but has explosive consequences.
Have no doubt; pray. Pray and deep breathe.


The first question is: How did it come to this? If we had disciplined children from the start, demanding behaviour would have no scope. Because we surrendered ground at the start, we find it difficult to recapture it. So, out of anger and frustration, we yell, threaten and beat children. In the early stages, if the child knew what would work, and what would not, today's scene would not have been enacted. Okay. There is no point in stressing on what was not done. Let us see how we can tackle it now.
a) In a calm state of mind take in the situation. Is the child tired, ill or wanting attention? What is her behaviour: crying, screaming, kicking or hitting out? In a few moments she could spend herself; give that option a chance.
b) If the child is young enough, try distracting her with some of her favourite activities.
c) Offer her a choice: red car or blue doll; Milo or milk. A choice tends to draw the child away from her one-track demands.
d) If the child is old enough, strike a deal: You do X and you get Y.
e) Gently lead the child away from the scene, especially if she is trying to impress
visitors at home. Distance from the disputed object helps.
f) Based on the child's age, explain role reversal: "You are mummy and I am you. What will you do if I behave like you are doing now?"
g) If she wants to tune on the TV, Music System and other electrical gadgets, try keeping them out of her reach.
h) When gentle persuasion fails, a smack on the bottom does not. Do not hesitate.


a) Stay calm and assess the damage. What is broken cannot be fixed.
b) Get the child involved in cleaning the mess.
c) If it was an accident, better not harass the child. It could have happened to anyone.
d) If it was a wilful act, disciplinary action should follow. She should know that bad behaviour will not be condoned.
e) If she has a piggy bank into which she deposits her small savings, impose a small fine on her and withdraw money from that bank in her presence.
f) Warn her that a wilful act repeated, would attract sterner disciplining. Make no mistake, children understand such warning, when parents do not make empty threats.


a) As always, show no stress, but a sense of disappointment. Children who really love their parents hate to see them disappointed.
b) Speak to the child alone; not even in the presence of siblings. Respect her privacy and dignity.
c) Explain to her the consequences of lying. A lie is difficult to hide. If not today, the next week it will be out in the open.
d) Parental example is critical. If we lie and the child knows it, we forfeit our right to correct the child. Certainly she will not take us seriously.
e) Trust the child and extract a promise from her that she will not do it again.
f) Please do not nag the child about her lapse. If she lies again, go over the same exercise, but in a sterner tone and follow that with some form of disciplining.
(Please refer to posts 12 and 13 on disciplining)
g) Praise the child for all kinds of good behaviour. It has manifold benefits. Use it often.
NEWS: The Straits Times, Singapore, of June 29,2009, carried news of a challenging
development in England. Schools are likely to be empowered to proceed against parents for the disruptive behaviour of their children. Fines and imprisonment could follow.

Monday, August 24, 2009

53) Problem Situations (continued)

In ten posts(16 to 25), we covered some problem situations that parents face. We took a break to touch on other topics. Now, we shall revert to five more situations, as promised in post 26.


Parents with children who bed wet are a flustered lot, not knowing how to rid their children of the vexing problem. The more they panic, the more the child is distressed, and the more serious the problem becomes. So, lesson number one is NOT TO PANIC, although it must be acknowledged that the problem cannot be wished away.

Here are some facts on bed wetting:
01) It is more common among boys than girls, in the approximate ratio of 3:1.
02) It is estimated that about 20% of children in the 5 and above age group, bed wet.
Usually, the problem could start when the child is about 5, though cases are know when children are embarrassed at a younger age.
03) It is not because of poor toilet training.
04) It happens mostly because the child has not achieved bladder control.
05) It is not a disease.
06) The reasons why it happens in some children and not others, is not clearly established. Only assumptions are made.
07) In such children, the level of Antidiurectic Hormone(ADH), which suppresses urine formation at night, could be low.
08) Deep sleepers find it difficult to wake and empty their bladders.
09) Stress at school, among siblings and in the home, could worsen the problem.
10) Even after the problem is solved, there can be a relapse triggered by death in the family, divorce of the parents, arrival of a new sibling and child abuse.

Children with a bed wetting problem develope low self esteem because of being teased by siblings and peers. It is traumatic for them to be excluded from school camps and over night picnics with classmates. Worried parents scold these children, mistaking their behaviour for defiance or an attention-getting gimmick. Scolding and threatening do not help. Impatient and impulsive parental response distress children,
at a time they most need understanding and support. Parents should know that children will not stoop to lower their own self image, just to frustrate them. Confident of their own children, supportive parents try some of the precautions listed below:

01) Provide a night lamp in the child's bedroom so that he does not have to go the toilet in the dark. To some children darkness is terrifying.
02) Cover his mattress with a plastic sheet, to prevent soiling it.
03) Check if the child is stressed in any way and gently reassure him that his anxiety can be addressed.
04) Work on a reward system for the nights he does not bed wet.
05) Persuade him to delay urinating during the day, so that he gains better bladder control.
06) Limit his liquid intake before bed time.
07) Despite these steps, when he wets his bed and his night clothes, get him involved in the cleaning. He should wash himself and deposit the soiled clothes and sheets in a bucket with water, to soak the soiled items. In the morning, he should join his mother in rinsing the clothes.
08) Huang Huifen, in an informative article on bed wetting in the Straits Times, of July 02, 2009, recommends the use of an Enuresis Alarm. The alarm is set, say for 3AM, when the little fellow responds to the buzz and goes to the toilet. The gadget has a sensor which is attached to the child's undergarments. When the senor detects moisture in the underwear, the alarm goes off, waking the child before he bed wets.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

52) Old Parents

"Honour thy father and thy mother, in order that thy days may be prolonged upon the land which the Lord, thy God, giveth thee." Hebrew version of the fourth commandment.

Since we know the other commandments, we cannot but notice that only the fourth carries a promise. The others just state the commandment. Would that be persuasion enough for children to treat parents with love and respect? Would our children learn from our example and care for us, when we become old and feeble?

Going by reports in the Newspapers, children have not got the message. The Straits Times, Singapore, on June 29,2009, carried a shocking article titled: 'When children hit their parents'. Some of the cases reported were: A son, angry over his father's
refusal to give him money for some of his bad habits, smashed a flower pot on his father's head. Seeing his father bleed, he smashed another flower pot on his head. The 67 year old man needed 7 stitches to close the wounds. On another occasion, the same boy slashed his father with a knife. The Paper reported other cases of children throwing furniture at their old parents and whacking them on their heads with metal hammers. On another date, the same Paper reported a daughter's threat to the care-givers in an old age home, where her old mother was lodged: "I will throw my mother out on the streets, if you discharge her". Perhaps the worst case was reported on another date: In Hyderabad(India), a rich family dispatched their 75 year old mother, suffering from Cancer, but still alive, to the crematorium. Fortunately, the staff at the crematorium noticed the body stir and took action.

Why do grown children, who have their own growing children, turn bitter, hostile and merciless in relating with old parents? Why do they forget the years when parents did not avoid broken glass? Instead, with bleeding feet, they made more sacrifices.
(Barefoot, a frail mother carried her ailing 10 year old son on her back over a five
mile trek across hill and valley to a Medical Centre, and carried him back, to reach home before sunset. Ten years down the line, as a strong young man would he carry his
sick feeble mother? One wonders.) Don't they realize that in time, Wrinkled Age with her gnarled fingers will touch them? And that a time would come when they would be physically and perhaps financially dependent on their children? Then, could they expect kindness from children who saw their grandparents mistreated?

Some children exploit old parents because they are feeble and defenseless, taking away even the little money they have, like a son in China, who depriving his mother of 2,70,000 yuan, dumped her. Retribution caught up with him when he was jailed for 18 months for his heinous crime. Other children derive sadistic pleasure in reducing
parents to their second childhood, before they turn senile, denying them the right to
make decisions for themselves. By doing that, children take away the residual dignity
and self-respect, parents once had. A few children are amused at the foibles of old parents and make jokes at their expense. They try to outsmart parents, scoring points
through one-upmanship. Children fail to understand that parents pass through different stages in their long parenting journey - from rigid stances and harsh measures in their youth, to being understanding, compassionate and mellow, with increasing age. Children form impressions and will not change those, even though parents have changed in many ways, through reflection and reform. Parents are put to tasks they loathe and feel unwanted - "a withered branch and a useless trunk, fit only to be cast away". In short, many old parents receive a raw deal from their grown
children, when the cold steel of unkindness is plunged into their hearts. And they bleed in silence.

Of course, there is the flip side of coping with demanding old parents, who are critical, petty and irritable. There is also the real threat that they will not let go of their children. Like the monkeys in the Amazon who put their limbs into narrow-necked bottles, with peanuts in them, and not let go of the nuts, only to be trapped,
so do possessive parents refuse to give up control of their children, only to their detriment. Because of the usurped parental attachment, children and their spouses confront serious problems. When parents accept girls and boys coming into the family through marriage, as daughters and sons, ridding the family of the in-law thinking and expression, much better relationships are fostered, because those entering the family will not feel estranged. But most find the idea distasteful and tension in the family continues. Even such parents who deserve love the least, need it the most. In dealing with them, difficult truth should be wrapped in love. Blessed are the children who understand and live this love.

The Quran exhorts Muslims to respect and honour their parents; so does the Ramayana,
urge Hindus. Rama's words should be etched in the hearts of children: "I would yield
my life and future ere I wound my father's heart". Children have much to learn from these Holy Books, as they have to learn from Jesus' example, in being caring and obedient to his mother right through his short life on earth.

What do old parents expect of their grown children? Not expensive gifts, exotic food, luxuries or big sums of money to spend; but caring, expressed through empathy and protection; not ascribing motives to what they say and do; and acknowledging the treasure of experience they have gathered. If only children listened with their hearts and lifted old parents out of their sadness, on wings of love!

A small segment of children do exactly that - caring for parents with deep respect and love. The gratitude of some of these children is worth recording. Thiery Henry,
French Football Striker, says: "I am who I am, thanks to my father. I saw very hard times in my childhood, but fortunately I had parents that were straight. Almost all
of my friends of that time are now in prison". Jason Araghi, son of Iranian parents
who escaped to the USA during the Revolution, and Founder of Araghi Green Bean Coffee WorldCafe company, when asked who his heroes were, answered: "My parents. Their story is about being good role models". A special tribute should be paid to
Tan Chin Hock,a young Singapore Executive, who quit his regular, well-paid job, to take up 'love your parents' crusade. "People are so caught up earning money and getting their dream cars, that they miss out on time with their parents. Parents matter when they are alive and not when only memories are left". Will we and our children learn from him?

Monday, August 17, 2009

51) Managing Money

"Use money with clarity, focus, ease and grace." Maria Nemeth

I grew up in Quilon, a small town in Kerala, South India. Nothing much happened there. If someone bought a new car, one week's gossip was ensured. One morning the town awoke to a buzz. An old woman, who lived in a small hut, was found dead. She was a familiar figure in town, always smiling and petitioning compassionate people for alms. She was never seen without a scarf covering her head, tied tight at her chin. We imagined that she was trying to conceal her thinning hair. As her neighbours prepared her body for the funeral, they untied the scarf. Surprise! Out fell high denomination currency. The money, enough to have given her a comfortable life in 1953, was donated to charity. With so much money on her person(obviously, she did not trust banks), why did she have to beg? Was it plain greed, money-craze or an obsession with crisp bills? I do not know. What I do know is that the happening is not erased from my memory.

Saint Paul was right when he wrote: "For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil" 1 Timothy 6:10. It is not money, but the excessive love of it that leads to evil. The old woman,apparently out of love for money, duped people into helping her,
time and again, when she needed no alms at all. The duplicity of Ramalinga Raju of Satyam Computers, is a case in point. For years he cooked his books to reflect higher profits and assets, to gain from higher share prices. Today in prison he has the time to reflect on his actions. Will he be a chastened man when he finishes his prison term?

As parents we have to teach our children to manage money prudently. To earn it honestly and spend it wisely. Even when in school, they could be initiated into saving habits - collecting incentives and bonuses given to them for good performances. From the pocket money given to them, small sums could be put away. (Some tactful supervision, without interference, is necessary over how children spend their pocket money.) From their small savings, encourage them to give their mite to worthy causes. It is absolutely exhilarating to witness children make
sacrifices. When they come of age, we could induct them into concepts of Profit and Loss, Credit and Financial Investments, to get them ready for financial decisions they will have to make when they start their careers. Saving for retirement does not start at 40, but at 22/23. Starting early not only strengthens the saving habit, but also leaves them with a larger sum of money, when the saving scheme matures.

I remember a story on thrift told to me, when I was in school. The Bishop of Quilon
had some projects to complete(schools, orphanages,hospitals), for which he needed funds. A well-wisher referred him to a Philanthropist in the USA. The Bishop arrived a few minutes before the scheduled appointment with his benefactor. As he sat in the parlour, he heard the man descend the stairway. He stopped abruptly and scolded his house keeper for wasting a second match to light a candle. The Bishop was puzzled.
How could a man who owned a chain of factories making match boxes, be harsh with his house keeper for lighting a second match? At a cordial meeting that followed, the rich man gave the Bishop a hefty donation. The Bishop could not leave without a clarification: would he please explain his behaviour with the house keeper? Amused,
but willing to explain, he said that he started life as a small trader. Because he was careful with the cents he ended up with dollars from which he could donate to good causes. The Bishop left the rich man's house a wiser man.

While making money, for good purposes, is laudable, children should not be carried away with the large sums they accumulate. Stuart Goldsmith, author of Seven Secrets
of Millionaires, has a strong point to make: "If you ever made any real money, you will be so caught up in your resounding success, that you will find it very difficult
to quit. Knowing when is enough is the most difficult challenge you will ever face".
Wealth is like sea water; the more one drinks, the more thirsty one becomes.

As parents we are always anxious to give our children what we did not have, what we missed out, so much so, we neglect to give them what we have - a sense of balance.
Perhaps Daniel Webster's words will support us in this task: "If you want to feel rich, just count up all the things you have that money cannot buy". When they reflect on Webster's words, they should find the resolve to strike a balance between what money can do and cannot.

While on the subject of managing money, I am tempted to touch on a popular belief:
the lucky ones make money, the unlucky ones stay poor. Let an illustration dispel the myth. A farmer in ancient China owned a horse which he used for ploughing the field and transporting the produce. The villagers referred to him as the lucky one, because only he in the village owned a horse. One day the horse escaped into the hills. Now the villagers called him the unlucky one, because the horse was lost. A few days later the horse returned with a herd of wild horses. With so many horses in his stable, what else could be but the very lucky one. The next day the farmer's son tried mounting one of the wild horses. He was thrown off; falling down he broke his leg. This time the villagers agreed that the farmer was a very unlucky man. The next week officers from the King's army visited the village to conscript young men for the army. Only the farmer's son was excluded because of his broken leg. Now the villagers were certain that the farmer was a hugely lucky man, because his son had escaped conscription. Each time the villagers praised his luck or sympathized with him for his bad luck, the farmer had the same answer: "Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?" The farmer was right: 'who knows?' Only those who win a lottery are lucky in making money the easy way. Others have to work for it. Even those who find treasure in their back yards have to dig for it. That is why someone alluded to luck as the residue of hard work. For our part, we should protect our children from ill-fated ideas, lest they be felled by their spell.

All said and done, money is not bad; it can support worthy causes. The important thing, is the purpose to which money is put. On this, Dan Sullivan and Catherine Noruma have a point to make: "Always make your purpose greater than your money". When the purpose is beyond reproach, then the money is managed with 'focus, ease and grace'.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

50) Attachments

"Where your treasure is, there also is your heart." Matt.6:21

As always, Jesus politely gets to the truth using a few words. Rephrased bluntly, He cautions us that attachments make us slaves. This slavery is well described by Albert Schweitzer: "If you have something you can't do without, you don't own it; it owns you". In the Bhagwat Gita, Krishna refers to the wisdom of being detached: "the Wise act without attachment". Dr. Desmond Biddulph, one-time Vice President of the Buddhist Society, explains this idea: "The need to look up to something greater than ourselves is imprinted in all of us. When we no longer gaze up in wonder, we start searching elsewhere, and this is when our difficulties begin. Within the heart of all of us is a special space, prepared for the Spirit. When the Spirit is undervalued, neglected and forgotten, other things come to take its place. Thus begin our wanderings, constantly chasing after pleasure and security, in flight from discomfort and fear, never at home, never at peace". Isn't it clear, that the more of heaven in our lives, the less of earth there will be?

In his thought-provoking book:'You'll see it, when you believe it', Dr.Wayne W.Dyer
lists the attachments that get the better of us: 1)Money 2)Possessions 3)Some Persons
4)Our Opinions 5)Our Past 6)Our bodies. Based on our perceptions, we are enslaved by such attachments. For one it is money; for another it is his mistress. Children are not excluded. For one it is the TV; for another it is the bad company she keeps. She would rather leave home than be kept from those she call 'friends'. Anais Nin gives us the reason for such behavior: "We don't see things as they are; we see them as we are". With distorted perceptions, we find exaggerated importance in our attachments. Money becomes an obsession, because that is how important it becomes.

Steven Good(52), Head of one of the largest Estate Auction Houses in USA, shot himself dead. He was one of the high profile casualties of the Economic Crisis. Adolf
Merchle(74), German Billionaire, threw himself under a train after he lost large sums of money. Money defined their lives. When they lost it, they found no purpose in their lives. Commenting on people who are attached to wealth, Bob Scheinfeld, in his book, 11th.Element, wrote: "I know people with very little money and a few possessions who are incredibly happy, lead a fulfilled life and are serene. I also know people with hundreds of millions, who are miserable. It is not money that creates reality. It is what's inside us that does it". To strengthen our case, we have a remarkable insight on riches from Alexander the Great. When he conquered a city, all the loot was in a valley before him. A soldier said to him: "Sire, what more can you ask for?" In a pensive mood, Alexander replied: "But it doesn't last".
Do we and our children understand his meaning?

"The best things in life, aren't things." Art Buchwald
When we look at what we want and compare it with what we have, we will be unhappy. But when we think of what we really deserve, considering our shortcomings, we will thank God for what we have. In this context, Oscar Wilde's cryptic comment must be given some thought: "In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting
what we want, and the other is getting it". It is time we taught our children to tone down expressions like: 'my big house', 'my big car', 'my big toy' and so on.

How often do we not put some people even ahead of God? To some the boss is a demigod;
to others a child is the centre of life, and when that child dies or leaves home for good, life becomes meaningless; to some others the death of a spouse is the end of the road. Strong bonds are good. But excessive attachment destroys. Neither do we have the space to grow, nor do we give the other space to grow.

Our ideas and opinions are very much like our children; ours are the best. It is this obduracy that brings about a break down in relationships. With each one not willing to compromise, the discussion is dead-locked and what is left is simmering
discontent. Opinions are not beliefs or convictions. E.g.,there can be no debate on honesty, but opinions can differ on political ideology, skills of actors or skills of authors, and the like. To confuse an opinion with a belief, is nothing short of ignorance in the garb of certainty. Children should be counseled against heated arguments on movie stars they idolize or sports celebrities they want to emulate.

Polishing old brass is favorite occupation for those who live in the past. 'When I was in USA--', 'When I was a General--', 'When I was Headmistress--" and so on, are
statements often made by such people. The past has its purpose - to provide lessons.
Besides that, the past is dead. To hanker after the past is a weakness that should be discouraged, even in children.

In Singapore, there is an old woman who visits the Beauty Palour everyday. Not that she is movie star or a social bigwig, but that she is love with her body. Such people will be traumatized with age and will find the thought of death hateful. Some of us pamper our bodies with exotic herbal treatment and expensive body-care products. To keep our bodies in good health and good shape is a duty. But to overdo such attention, is shifting focus from the essentials. Children who spend long hours before a mirror should be weaned way from the habit and be reminded of other tasks on their to-do list.

Fittingly, we shall end this post with the words of Meister Eckart: "He who would be serene and pure needs but one thing, detachment".

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

49) Knowledge

To enrich our children with knowledge, we shall initiate the process by dividing the topic into two parts - knowledge of the world around us, and knowledge of self.

"Always make your learning greater than your experience." Dan Sullivan and Catherine

A devoted follower of Socrates asked him for the best way to acquire knowledge. Socrates led him to a river and plunged the man's head into the water. He struggled to free himself, but the Master would not let go. After a desperate attempt he broke free of the vice-like grip. Angry, yet respectful, the man looked accusingly at Socrates, who asked him what he needed most when his head was under water. He replied that he would have done anything to get some air. The Philosopher looked at him with kindness and said: "When you want knowledge as much as you wanted air, you will get it". Socrates was trying to impress on his follower, in an unusual way, that knowledge does not come easy; that hard work and a passion for it are necessary; that sacrifices are called for, to gain it.

In January 2008(months before the USA Elections), The Straits Times, Singapore, reported on a survey among the youth. The objective was to find out: a) if the youth were informed on current events, and b) what was their attitude to gaining such knowledge. Question: Who is Obama? Answer: Brother of Osama. Question: Who is Hillary Clinton? Answer: Sister of Bill Clinton. The wrong answers apart(from some of the respondents), the attitude of most of the youth shocked the investigators. The youth did not care. That begs a question: How knowledgeable are our young children? Do they care? Do they care that wars are ravaging Iraq and Afganistan; that
starvation and disease are taking millions of lives in Africa; that in poor countries
many children die for want of basic medical attention; that millions in different parts of the world lack bare necessities like water, food, sanitation and shelter? When children learn of the trauma in the lives of others, their compassion will nudge them to offer help in some form. Otherwise, in their sterile and protected environment, they will care less for those who suffer. A minor benefit, to their higher knowledge level, would be their ability to enter General Knowledge Contests and win prizes. Another minor benefit would be their ability to do well in knowledge-based activities in school, which would prepare them for work life.

A good place to coach them is the dining table, where quiz programmes, structured to match their ages, could be conducted. Also, they could prepare short talks for the family, on simple topics. Such exercises would spur them into research on the topic
and thinking for themselves, instead of toeing the line popular among their peers.
Their experience is limited, but their learning can exceed it, when they take the advice given by Dan Sullivan and Catherine Noruma.

"Oh that God, the gift would give us,
to see ourselves, as others see us!" Robert Burns

Most of us have a good opinion of ourselves. We see very few faults, or none at all in the way we live. The problem is that those who interact with us are not inclined to agree with our assessment. The few who really care will risk telling us of the grey areas that need attention. But we resent such help and try to put distance between us and these well-intentioned souls. However, in the Professional World there is no escape. When our children enter the Corporate World they will be assessed
by their bosses, and will have to work on the positive and negative feedback given to them, to gain brownie points and advancement in their careers. How will they react to such feedback? Accuse bosses, sulk, resign? To help them react with maturity, we could begin by explaining the words of Thomas Carlyle: "The greatest of faults is to be conscious of none". Titus Maccius Plautus conveyed the same thought in different words: "The only upright man is he who knows his shortcomings". With that basic thought in place, we could train them in the Appraisal System, a tool they will have to use, willy-nilly, in their jobs. The System offers positive inputs with suggestions to strengthen the positives; and negative feedback with recommendations on how to adopt a step-by-step method for overcoming certain weaknesses. In short, the Appraisal System aims at 'knowledge of self' and 'self development'. To induct children into the system, we could set them modest, specific goals and assign them tasks. Against their performance, the system can be explained and implemented. Since the system is universal, we could submit ourselves to an Appraisal by the children and take seriously the feedback they give us. When they see us working on their findings, they will be prompted to act on the suggestions we give them. The system is often shunned because of its sensitive nature. A preacher once remarked: "Being overly sensitive is being excessively in love with oneself". When we reflect on his words, we cannot but agree. Without exception we all are sensitive to negative feedback; but feedback cannot be avoided. Is it not better that we profit from it, even as we teach our children to accept and respond to it with openness and humility?
With Saint Augustine we shall pray, and teach our children to pray: "Lord, let me know thee; let me know myself".

Monday, August 10, 2009

48) Skills (continued)

"The important thing in communication is to hear what isn't being said." Peter Drucker

Body language(otherwise known as non-verbal communication)is what isn't being said. It is what is seen and experienced, and interpreted. Someone who studied human bahavior, wrote: "Men lie with their lips, but not with their bodies". That is why observing the speaker adds much to the content of what is being said. Albert Mehrabian, a communication teacher, discovered that 55% of the message was communicated non-verbally, 38% through tone of voice and only 7% through spoken words. We now know how important the less important areas of communication are - gestures, postures, positions and distances. The body signals in many thousand ways, of which most are from the face - showing happiness, sadness, surprise, anger, disgust and fear. The body sends out a continuous flow of cues, even after the person has stopped speaking. We look at a woman intently and ask questions with a smile, suggesting that we like her. With another, we dislike, we are silent, lean back and look away. Body language is expressed in the timber of the voice, the look in the eyes, the set of the mouth, the flare of the nostrils, the smile, the frown, the sneer, the upturned lip, the way we use our hands and shoulders, and our gait. In short, the whole body communicates. When children watch those they admire, they like to imitate the way they walk, talk and gesticulate. Since non-verbal communication is more important than acknowledged, could we become the idols whom our children want to copy?

"The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems, is the problem." Theodore Rubin

A small factory had to stop operations when an essential piece of machinery broke down. None of the technicians in the factory could fix the machine, so outside help was requested. The expert circled the machine, fidgeted with this and that, stood for long in thought, then taking a small hammer gently tapped the machine at one spot; it sprang into action. The next day he submitted a bill for $100. The factory manager was outraged that the expert demanded $100 for just tapping the machine. So he asked for an itemized bill. The expert resubmitted the bill to read: $1 for tapping the machine and $99 for knowing where to tap.(An extract from Bits & Pieces)

Certainly problem-solving skills come at a high price, because solving a problem calls for a stable and resourceful mind, that can think out-of-the-box. The normal response to a problem is worry, which results in going around the problem in maddening futile circles, compounding it. The other option is to be concerned, which
means sizing up the dimensions of the problem, and calmly taking steps to solve it. A step by step approach certainly helps, taking a hint from a blind mother who was asked how she coped with problems in her life, given her handicap. With a broad smile, she replied: "I take one thing at a time".

Do our children get flustered when they are faced with a problem? E.g.,she missed school for a few days, because she was ill. Would see a problem coping with missed classes or would she work out a plan on how to catch up? A lot will depend on how she sees us cope with problems.

"When written in Chinese, the word 'crisis' is composed of two characters - one represents 'danger' and the other represents 'opportunity'." John F. Kennedy

Do we see danger or opportunity in a crisis? Do we teach our children to look at a crisis as an opportunity? Let us take a situation: the child loses her school bag in the school premises. To her, that is a crisis. She can panic or see it as an opportunity to manage the crisis intelligently and resourcefully. First, she should inform school authorities. Second, she could describe her bag to her friends and enlist their support in the search. Third, she could call home from the school office and warn folks that she is likely to be late because of the search for her bag. Fourth, she could visualize the worst case scenario: text books lost could be purchased again, although it would make her dad's wallet a little lighter. Being an understanding and caring dad, he would not mind that because he could count on his daughter not being careless. Then she could figure out from whom she could borrow notes to have them photocopied; and size up the loss in terms of pens, pencils and other accessories that were in the bag. Having done this mental damage-control-list, she would have a clearer picture of the crisis, even as the search continues. She may or may not find the bag, but now she is better prepared for the loss. The Dalai Lama cautions us that the best part of the brain, in which judgments are made, cannot function properly, when human emotions are out of control. So panic in a crisis is counter productive; it only clouds the mind.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

47) Skills

"A relationship will be only as good as its communication." John Powell

Post 46 gave us an insight into the importance of relationships. John Powell puts things in perspective when he writes that relationships are dependent on communication. That is why communication skills are a priority not just in schools and later in the work place, but in daily life, in the home and with the family.

In simple terms, effective communication is understanding and being understood. Our children should clearly understand what others convey to them, and should make themselves understood when they convey a thought. To do that they should think clearly. Remove clutter and stick to the essentials. Then they should learn to convey those clear thoughts in simple, short sentences. Complex sentences complicate matters. Communication is based on thoughts, and thoughts spring from the person - the quality of the person, determining the quality of thoughts. The child's words are only the attire that her thoughts wear. So, emphasis should be on the thoughts of the child - kind, sharing and forgiving thoughts; not unkind, selfish and vengeful thoughts. It is obvious that communication either builds or breaks relationships, through the sharing and interpretation of thoughts. The more fulfilling the communication, the stronger the relationship; the more suspect the communication, the more fragile the relationship.

A few additional points emerge from this basic tenet: the child should know that in communicating with family, teachers and friends she has to be clear and brief in expressing herself, and show respect for the other person's point of view. Saint Ignatius of Loyola placed much emphasis on the other person's point of view, when he wrote: "Enter through their door, to leave through yours". When our children defy these basics, they will suffer from fractured relationships. The joy of life will be lost.

We are often led to believe that a person who has a way with words(skill)is a good communicator. Thinking people differ. They maintain that communication is like an iceberg. The small visible part of the iceberg is the skill. The big submerged part is the mass of beliefs, attitudes, values and habits; in short, his character. If the mass disintegrates, the tip is of no consequence. So, word carpentry is a distinct advantage only when the character of the person is like solid timber.

"The road to the heart, is the ear." Voltaire

The most difficult part in transacting with people, is to open a closed mind, because
the door to the mind is shut, with the handle to the door on the inside. Often we confront such minds. Then it is best to listen, because they will not listen. At other times, people are eager to share their thoughts and feelings, but we will not listen, because we are busy saying our bit.

President Roosevelt theorized that very few people listen. At a party, he decided to test out his theory. To people who came up to him, he muttered: "I murdered my grandmother this morning". Most replied: "How lovely, continue with the good work".
Only one diplomat, with a twinkle in his eye joked: "I am sure she had it coming to her". We are so caught up in our own thoughts and words, that we do not have the time or inclination to listen to what others have to say. Besides the lack of listening skills, there is another reason for our failure to listen - PACE. We normally speak at the rate of 125-150 words per minute. The mind can handle nearly 500 words per minute. Since the mind works at a faster pace, it tends to wander.

Listening is not believing. Believing is proportionate to credibility. The higher the credibility of the speaker, the higher the believability. Going beyond the ear,
listening enlists the heart and the head. With the ear we take in the words; in the heart, we make space for the speaker; and with the head we closely follow his words,
encourage more disclosure and gently prod, not just for words, but more importantly
for feelings; to lead us to believe the truth.

Listening is not solving the problem, but a step in that direction. It is being with the speaker, without becoming the speaker. Listening says" "I am not going to take over your problem. You need to be clear in your mind to understand the problem. I know you are capable of doing that". It means, having the courage to be part of the transformation process. When our children gain listening skills, they will stop hearing from us and teachers, the accusing words: "You are not listening".

"He who guards his lips, guards his soul." Proverbs 13:3

When we rearrange LISTEN, we get SILENT. Good listening means being silent when the other speaks. Communication is misunderstood as talking all the time. Listening and being silent are integral parts of communicating. That is why Carlyle writes: "Silence is the element in which great things fashion themselves". Great things happen to us and others, when we reflect in silence. A smart listener coined an acronym in SOUL. S, for silence; O, for observe; U, for understand; and L, for listen, was how he expanded SOUL. He said that if we LISTEN in SILENCE to OBSERVE and UNDERSTAND, we are communicating with our souls. Should we not help our children find their SOUL?

Monday, August 3, 2009

46) The Connection - Relationships

"No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its fruit." Luke 6:43-44

Over the past few weeks we have covered important aspects of Parental Instructions
(more will follow). In posts 39,40, we examined how attitudes form the basis for our response to others; our set of rules. In posts 41,42, we saw the importance of values; and that they emerge from Beliefs/Attitudes. In posts 43,44, we listed some habits which endear us to others. And in post 45 we pondered the impact of good behavior, which is being crowned 'gentleman/lady'. Now, for the connection; how does all this link into a cohesive whole?

Beliefs/Attitudes -> Values -> Habits -> Behavior -> Character -> Relationships

Working backwards we establish the connection.Good Relationships(R) are born of good
Character(C), which in turn is seen in good Behavior(B), which is an expression of good Habits(H), which stems from good Values(V), which springs from Beliefs/Attitudes(A). In a nut shell, good relationships cannot be built if the sequence before it does not fall in place. Bad habits endanger relationships, as do bad attitudes. We cannot break free of the sequence, if we desire strong and lasting relationships.

On Character, which influences Relationships, Peter Drucker, the Master Management Consultant, had much to say. Character, he said, was difficult to define, but its absence easily noticed. The person without Character destroys, he continued; destroys performance and people. His comments put the spotlight on Character. It is vital in building good relationships, because in the words of someone: "Reputation
is what folks think you are. Personality is what you seem to be. Character is what you really are".

What is a Good Relationship? We know from experience what it is, but find it difficult to put together the right words to describe the ethereal feeling. A good relationship is about installing in first place, the other person(spouse/child/parent/friend). This begs a question: Will there be many firsts in our network of relationships? No. Of course, there will be God who takes first place. The others will follow in the order of importance to our lives; spouse will precede child and so on. The implication is that we are ready to make sacrifices, which spring from
genuine concern and caring for that person; sacrifices that hurt. A good relationship is about true respect for the other person, by being sensitive to his/her feelings and valuing it as a life time bond which culminates in TRUST. When
trust is built, the relationship is at its peak. Without intending to, we have revisited the Golden Rule(posts 37,38), which is valuing others as we value ourselves. We are back full circle. We start by making better persons of ourselves,
share that goodness with others, and return to ourselves to rejoice in the sharing and the peace that comes from it. Mark 4:22 points out the significance: "the measure you give will be the measure you get". Which means that unless we reach out to others, we are likely to be isolated and lose the many gifts that life offers.
And what are those gifts? Charles M.Rossiter and W.Barnett Pearce provide an answer: "When we experience warm, close, friendly relationships, our lives are fuller, more meaningful and more satisfying. When we do not, we feel alone, unloved and empty". Those are good reasons for us to build bridges and not put up barriers.

Because of our inherent selfishness, we tend to focus on our rights. Our right to life, to enjoy life, to work, to acquire money and goods, to pleasure, to our life-style, and very importantly to get our way. There is nothing seriously wrong with 'rights' as long as we acknowledge that there is a flip side to such demands - RESPONSIBILITIES. When we balance rights and responsibilities there is harmony; where there is no balance there is discord. The Quran exhorts us to accept the balancing principle: "There is no such thing as human rights without human responsibilities". That settles the relationship equation. Swami Vivekananda has his version of the relationship equation: "The way to be happy is by making others happy".

For those of us and our children who have traveled the wrong road, there is heartening news from Antony Robbins: "All behaviors can be changed, by changing beliefs, values, rules". We can shift to the right road and rebuild our relationships through a changed set of values and attitudes. And how do we do that?
By living the Latin Proverb: "An old peg is driven out by a new peg". A new good habit drives out an old bad habit. An old bad attitude is driven out by a new good attitude, and so on. E.g.,hard work drives out laziness; honesty drives out dishonesty. The good tree will then bear good fruit.