The Difference in Doing and Being

(published in The Speaking Tree, The Times of India – August 29, 2013)

The simple art of passive observation is something that is becoming a rarity. In today’s world we are many times obsessed with ‘doing’ something. In the car, we are either driving, listening to music, reading or talking on our cellphones. Or we are thinking about yesterday and tomorrow with our minds totally absent from the herenow. An experiment was conducted where instead of always trying to do something, the passenger in the car was instructed to just look outside the window and observe. No thinking, no worrying, no communicating, just observing. The result was amazing!

The daily route to work taken more than one thousand times over the years revealed many surprises unnoticed before. The observation yielded new alleys, lanes, signs, trees, structures and other things never before seen. The simple but not easy task of eliminating all thoughts from our minds during the observation also yielded strange results. Suddenly from the silence within came forth a form of communication with the Divine hitherto heard but rarely. A feeling that asked, ‘Have you never observed these things before? You pass by here every day but have seen these never before. They have been here all along, but you have seen them not.’

The observer then realises that though he had travelled on this route perhaps thousands of times earlier, he had never noticed so many of the things he saw that day. The fact that he could even hear the Divine voice talk to him could also be an indication of the same phenomenon – that sometimes the mind has to be still from the thoughts of yesterday and the hopes or worries of tomorrow and just be in the here-now. The Divine voice itself could be calling out to us all the time but perhaps could never be heard because of this same lack of observation of what is. Our minds are now caught in a virtual web that comprises constant communication with other people, constant bombardment with information, constant worrying or thinking about yesterday or tomorrow but very often never with just being in the here-now.

But there is another aspect of the experiment that needs mentioning. After a few minutes of observation and the hearing of the Divine voice, it continued further, ”All these things you see – love them and you love me!” God wants us to see the world and observe it. From that will come the lessons that need to be learnt and the love that needs to be loved.

With all this constant race and pursuit of material things, we forget the simple things. The butterflies and flowers, the leaves swaying in the trees, children playing in the park, the setting sun, the wind blowing through your hair, the joy of seeing a baby laugh or simply sit in the rear seat of a car and observe the world as it passes by.. there are so many things you will notice if you just look and see. It is not a ‘waste of time’, for at the end of the day, what are we really here in this world for? Sure, it is important to do also. It is important to work and play and laugh and cry and love and hurt, but it is also very important to process all that information. It is important to feelthe moment. It is important to live in the herenow and just be! After all, we are all human beings not human doings.

Studying is not mugging

 

(published in Millennium Post Edit page August 27, 2013)

Education in India needs to be more learning-oriented and less examination-centric.

It is the children of any nation that are the biggest resource of the future and India is no exception. The population of India is around 1.22 billion and more than 50 per cent of the population falls under the age of 25 and around 65 per cent under the age of 35. Among the hundreds of millions of children in our country, some could be the next Einstein, Leonardo Da Vinci, Gandhi, Newton, Bill Gates or Abraham Lincoln. Somebody out there amongst the children of today are the national leaders of tomorrow. But what are we as a nation and as a society doing to gear them up for the challenges and opportunities ahead?

What kind of education system are we giving them? And how much of a priority is education to the national leaders and governments of the day? The education ministers and education secretaries of all Indian states may not be the most powerful or even well known amongst their peers, but one thing is for sure – for the long term welfare of the Indian Republic, they are the most important people in this country. For in their hands lie the future development and growth of India’s most precious and important asset – its youth. They also have the power to formulate and implement new policies that will improve the quality and quantity of educational institutions. So now we are in 2013, 66 years after the British left our shores and left us with the responsibility and destiny of governing our own land and preparing our own youth for the challenges of the future. But let us examine our own selves and ask how have we really changed the education system that the British left us with? It has been said often that the British system of education was designed to create a nation of clerks amongst the Indians and perhaps that is true. All of us remember the anxious nights we had cramming for an examination the next day. We all remember trying to memorise dates in History, formulae in Physics, Chemistry and Maths, trying to remember important latitudes and longitudes in Geography, trying to remember all the Latin associated with Biology and so on. But is that the right way for youngsters to learn?

The system needs an overhaul and fast. We have to move far away from the system of clerk creation that the British left us with and introduce a much more interesting, fun approach to education and we also need a totally new approach towards examinations.

Education in India needs too be more learning-centric and less examination-centric. At the very least, it needs to have a completely different approach to examinations. Instead of having voluminous textbooks that are meant for purely cramming information into the minds of our youth so that they can go and take an exam, there needs to be a much more practical research based approach to education. Children at a certain age need to be able to choose their subjects according to their interest and capability instead of according to a pre-defined curriculum.

We live in a rapidly accelerating Information Age. Can we possibly keep stuffing all this information into our brains? And why should we? The very term Information Age implies that we have access to information of all kinds accessible instantly through the Internet and other digital forms, yes also physical books and papers as well.

But in such an Age, is it not more important to know how to access that information quickly and easily and to be able to use it as and when needed. Research needs to be encouraged where children will be encouraged to actually research something and use whatever information tools are available for the task. This is how our youth will learn how to learn and think. Education is about learning and thinking and not memorising! When are we going to understand this simple fact.

Examinations should also be such that children can have access to their research materials and use them so that their answers will be more accurate. But of course within a prescribed time limit.

Evidence of this lack of thinking and innovativeness is seen around us. Just think of how many Indian products or brands are available globally. Products that were invented in India. How many inventions and discoveries in general are made in India? Very few. This is because of this lack of research approach in education and a lack of research and development of science and technology in general.

Children will learn more when they experience things and do things on their own. In the US, schools regularly take their students to zoos, museums, planetariums, aquariums and such places. They have outdoor excursions to the forests where kids can experience plants and certain animals face to face.

I remember as a child (I studied in the US as a kid) in class 2, we were taught about the Mayan civilisation. I remember that we hardly read anything in a textbook. We were shown a Discovery channel type documentary in our classroom and were shown and physically held artifacts of the Mayans. We were explained things through maps, diagrams, etc. Generally, the information was portrayed in a very interesting and meaningful way, so much so, that I remember everything clearly even now 34 years later!

But there is another thing that needs to be highlighted. Education is not only about science, social studies, etc. It is also about morals, ethics, civics and ideas. Imagine a subject called ‘Ideas’ where children are encouraged to think and try to discover and invent new concepts. This is how a nation will grow into a great nation.

Our children are tomorrow’s leaders. They are the only hope for this country. If they learn to have respect for society, for country, for women, for environment, for rule of law, for research, for entrepreneurship, for poverty reduction, for education, for lofty and noble thoughts and ideas, for honesty, for truth – then we have an education system that is worth it.

We need more schools, colleges, adult schools and adult colleges, more museums, more libraries, etc. The private sector’s participation is needed more. Allow schools, colleges, museums, libraries, etc. to be profit making bodies. Let them be run by companies listed on stock markets and pay teachers well. Why not? Which is better – that a company provides quality education and makes a profit in the process? Or that governments continue to allocate budgets to education and yet not be able to provide quality classrooms, teachers or teaching.

Just like we had an economic liberalisation process that started in 1991, we need an education revolution starting now!

Don’t be anxious, pray and have faith in God

When we are faced with anxiety in life, we do tend to worry about it. We think that the worst may happen to us. The uncertainty of life is also something that tortures us. “What will happen to me?” is one of life’s most uncertain and perplexing questions.

Recently, I found a small passage in the Bible that has given me a lot of hope.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)

During a rather difficult moment in my life, in a moment of tears, I prayed to the Lord to help me and the words ‘Philippians 4:6’ flashed into my mind. I opened my Bible and read this verse. In that moment of anxiety and worry, imagine how I felt the moment I read the words ‘Do not be anxious’. Praise God!

So brothers and sisters, I urge you also, in times of anxiety, fear or worry; do not be anxious. The right thing to do is PRAY and PETITION the Lord and give THANKS to Him. When you do this, the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Yes, this peace of God that comes does really transcend all understanding. A moment of tears can suddenly be followed by peace.

Have faith in God. Do not worry, fear or be anxious. Pray and petition God with thanks and then leave it to Him. Be content in the knowledge that if you hand over the situation to Him, the results will certainly come. Have faith that His will is done and that His will is the best thing for you. The results may not happen overnight (it could though) but it will come in His time, not in yours. Have patience in God.

Most importantly, remember that you are not alone. We all have problems. We all have anxious and worrisome moments, but God is with those who have faith in Him. And remember –

“If God is for us, who can be against us?” – Romans 8:31 (NIV)

Wake Up Call For Citizens

 

(published in Millennium Post Edit page August 2, 2013)

India is destined for greatness. But where will this greatness come from? Is it only the government of a country that can lead it to greatness? Is it only the political leaders that can forge the destiny of a nation? No. The true greatness of any nation lies in its people.

There is potential for greatness in every citizen of the land. For the true owners of our nation are its citizens. Government is only the custodian of the nation and is there exclusively to serve the people of the country. This is what a true democracy should be like. However, for a true democracy to thrive, the citizens have to play a larger role and fulfil their duties towards the nation.

The most famous line from US President John F Kennedy’s inaugural address is, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.’ What is this but a call for citizens to rise to the occasion and do their duty? What we in India many times tend to forget is that while the Constitution of India gives us several fundamental and other rights, it also has prescribed a set of Fundamental Duties in Article 51(A).

The purpose here is not to list these out as a simple Google search can reveal them in more detail to anyone interested. However, what is important is for us to understand the concept of citizen’s ownership. If you go to any of the world’s great countries and look at the progress and development made in these places, you will see that it is not just the role of government, but also the role of citizen. It is from the citizenry that political leaders emerge and they cannot be divorced from people. In a true democracy, the leaders that the people get are the leaders that they deserve. If we simply sit in our drawing rooms and debate about the quality of leadership this country has, we will achieve nothing. We have to take an active role in creating a new type of leadership in the country.

As mentioned earlier, it is the citizens who are the owners of the nation, but they need to act like owners. Here ownership means to play their part in building the nation. It is the citizens of any nation that are the true nation builders. Leaders are not only political. There are leaders in the fields of business, education, social service, science and technology, literature, arts, music, sports, entertainment, etc. They are all doing their duty to the nation by using their talent to not only bring glory to the nation, but also to highlight important issues that are important to tackle in order to make the country into a better place.

How can this be achieved? It can be done in a variety of ways. Just strive to live each and every day with the intention of using your talent and resources to help improve the nation in any way.
For the concept of duties to become strong, educating the youth of the country is of paramount importance. Here education is not only formal education in schools and colleges. Education means focusing on youth at home and in the workplace as well. In formal education, civics and moral science should be taught with the same fervour and importance as maths, science, economics and English. A sound foundation of good citizenship and ethics is crucial for the better future of the country.
Parents need to teach their children the importance of obeying laws and being patriotic. Being patriotic is not only about respecting the national anthem and flag, it is also about living your life for the betterment of your world and in particular your country. Children need to learn and be encouraged to express their talents and skills and consider themselves as a national asset. Every citizen is an asset that needs to be developed.

Our citizens could be the one discovering the cure for AIDS, finding cheaper and cleaner ways to produce energy efficiently, discovering ways to solve the problem of water and food, inventing new technologies in various fields, creating new industry that can provide employment to millions, and so on. This is why it is important to inculcate the spirit of creative thinking and entrepreneurship keeping in mind the development of the nation at the foundation of any endeavour.

All this will happen when people start to think about their country first. Instead of envying other countries, they should strive to make India prosperous. Things you do for your country do not have to be big, small things can lead to bigger chain reaction.

Whether you start a small business, write an article, teach a child, shop at local stores with local goods, not pollute, participate in cleanliness drives, create a work of art, volunteer for some social cause etc, you are performing your duty as a citizen. You are contributing to the consciousness of community development and this will begin the process of change. Considering that most young people spend most of their time at school or work, it is also important for teachers and employers to inculcate a sense of patriotism and duty into the hearts and minds of young people.

For it is the youth who is the future of the country. Some day, the older generation will be gone and it is today’s young generation that will be tomorrow’s leaders in various fields. Do not be discouraged by the present state of affairs in the country. Don’t let anybody say that things cannot change. They can. Do your bit starting today. Plant the seed of greatness now and some day it will blossom into a tree of national pride.