I have been invited by Don Bosco Publication, which reaches out to families and communities globally, to share my thoughts on the theme of Family for their Jan 2016 New Year publication. Shoutout to Mrs Diana Charles*, former faculty member, St. Columba’s School, New Delhi (India) who suggested this to me, as also Fr Joaquim Lobo, Don Bosco, who was kind enough to reach me on a call the very next day, to make this happen.
I have chosen to contribute by pitching in with a post to help families help their kids navigate their inherent curiosity and interests to pursue changing career opportunities, as we all gear up for a changing world which is vastly different from the past half century.
Given that I have to keep this easy to comprehend and relevant for the communities who will be reading this, I will stay away from technical jargon and any suggestions with respect to the emerging fields of the next decades, and focus more on how families can ensure they have a better chance of their children bringing forward the best versions of themselves, when taking on the world after us.
1. Your Child is not a ‘Robo’ Sapien
From the earliest days of managing teams I have had the honor of working with, I have put conscious effort into making sure that the team’s interests & capabilities are aligned with the work at hand; be it a non-profit initiative where individuals are volunteering their limited time and energy, or, a commercial initiative intertwined with operations, marketing and resource management.
The reason I do this is because I firmly believe that when interests and capabilities meet the matched task at hand, magic happens. When an individual really likes, and are capable at what he/ she does, they perform not just up to your (limited) expectations, but many a times, go beyond what you, or any third person, would expect of them.
Given all individuals start out as children, it only makes sense to ensure we have more children coming in touch with their inherent interests and capabilities to go beyond what they might be ordinarily expected to achieve. Remembering that they are not part of an assembly line where they have to fit a certain pre-fixed standard helps. We all have 50-70-90 years of current life expectancy here on earth, and it makes no sense to put individuals into boxes, with no regard for their inherent capabilities when asking them to bring their best versions forward.
This means giving them the space to go beyond where we might assume, prefer or expect their interests and capabilities to lie. As Albert Einstein would agree : “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
2. Not Really (Anti) Parenting Advice
Now this might sound like just the opposite of what your ideal dream of raising an obedient child might look like – the dream fantasy kid at all times doing what he (/ she) has been been told what to do.
If you wish to have any hopes of raising an individual who can think and act independently, and make choices based integrally from within, teach and encourage them to think and act independently – teach them to question the status quo; question as to why things are the way they are, and why they can’t be better; teach them not to fall in line and conform to a situation simply because that’s what the rest of the world is doing.
This holds especially true for nations like India where the Power Distance Index is relatively high at 77 ; and as the next generation of individuals will have more and more complicated jobs to be managed by them, right besides flying planes and avoiding crashes for the craziest of reasons.
When children learn to interact and act responsibly with authority figures, we have a world which has more leaders groomed not to blame others and crib less, whilst doing more.
3. Don’t Dim Their Shine
If we have learnt anything from the ‘Hole in the Wall’, ‘School in the Cloud’, ‘Ad Astra’ and ‘Khan Academy’ initiatives, it’s that children hold the unique capacity to learn on their own, and they don’t necessarily have to be clubbed together passively in classrooms on generic parameters like age or gender to get learning.
Know that children are born with inherent gifts and abilities, and these gifts and abilities can be channeled to enable great things from within. Encourage them to dream bigger in the direction of their pursuits, whilst of course making them aware of challenges they might need to overcome, but at the same time, not trying to force our own experiences and limitations, accumulated over a different time period, on them.
4. Embrace Failure and Rejection
In the world of innovation and entrepreneurship, failure is like a badge of honor – It shows that one has ventured out of their comfort zone to do something different, and though they might not really have succeeded the first or second time around, they have accumulated invaluable lessons and learning that they wouldn’t have ordinarily achieved.
Unfortunately, I am not really sure how many individuals outside this space take time to even consider such notions. Many of us forget our first experiences of how we learnt to cycle, bike or drive a car around for that matter, and over time, teach ourselves and others around us, to give up simply because someone else thinks that the task at hand is unachievable.
The fact remains that if you aren’t really failing at something new some of the time, you are still in your comfort zone. And guess what, nothing remarkable, or new, ever came from there. Having a growth mindset will help your children push themselves wherever they will to achieve something.
So whilst you encourage your children to reach for the stars, know that just the basic act of being there will make a difference – when they fall, let them know that it’s only natural that there will be setbacks before they learn to walk, or fly, for that matter. Analyse as to how things could have been done better, but don’t stay there – take the learnings forward, and know that your children are better for the experience.
5. They are special, and not so special
Though it’s imperative we keep encouraging kids to bring their talents to the fore, it’s also important for them to understand that the world consists of individuals who might not necessarily see the world the way they do at all times.
At a time when we are making advances to create reusable rockets as humans take the leap towards becoming a multi-planetary species, applying augmented reality as humans narrow the gap between the real world with the digital, rethinking automobiles and transportation as humans shift to electric and driverless modes of transport, it makes it almost an unpardonable waste of time and energy to dwell on external differences like gender, race, privilege, religion, region, caste etc when we have more important pursuits at hand to further our raison d’être.
Given the world of tomorrow will be shaped by the children of today, a healthy respect for others who might seem different from them will serve them well when working together to make more things happen.
Families, like yours, play an important role in shaping the child’s first learning experiences.
With you in the belief : Your Child Is Not Just Another Brick In The Wall
* I remember Mrs Diana Charles fondly as the individual who made the Spelling Bee possible at our Alma Mater. A specific incident comes to mind, wherein in Class IV (9 yrs of age), I had managed to make it to the Spelling Bee but messed up the plural of the word ‘wolf’ in one of the rounds – My parents who were in the audience didn’t say anything, but once we got outside the Middle School Auditorium, they just bought me ‘Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling’, from all the extra curricular book sales happening in the school corridor on the day (Don’t remember whether the book was their choice or mine – I used to read almost anything fiction around then, new English text books included, before the school opened for the next academic year). Looking back, well, that says something about their style of parenting, I guess.