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".

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