People sometimes look at the misery that surrounds us and ask, ‘Why doesn’t God do something about all the sick and dying and starving people?’ The answer is, ‘God did something already. He created you and gave you the means to feed at least one hungry person, pay for the education of one child, pay the hospital bill of one sick person and so on. If you can’t feed a hundred people, feed one. If you can’t build a school, pay the fee of one child to go to school. It is a common cop-out strategy to blame the external world, in this case God, for all the suffering we see around us. Those who are really serious about wanting to help, don’t blame, but ask themselves, ‘What can I do?’ That is what Islam teaches us. To do something. Not to simply complain. Problems need solutions, not complaints. Compassion is the best basis for a society.
In the life of every man and woman comes a time and a window opens when they have a unique opportunity to make an impact and influence others. To succeed we need to anticipate, prepare and act with courage when it opens
Living life is about making choices- the choice to be a ‘victim’ of circumstances or the choice to do something about circumstances and be their ‘master’. We are free to make this choice – to be a ‘victim’ or to be a ‘master’ – but the choices; each has a different payoff in terms of its consequences. Both stances are subject to the same givens of society, environment, organization etc. But have very different implications in terms of our development and happiness
It is one of the fallacies that people assume: that when we say we have freedom of choice; the choice is free of consequences. This is a myth and like all myths, it is a fantasy and a lie. We have freedom to choose but every choice has a price tag – every choice that we make is the same in this context. Each has a price tag. Foolish people make choices without first ascertaining the price tag and are then surprised, shocked, disappointed and so on, when the time comes to pay for the choice.
To return to our discussion, ‘victims’ are people who complain about adversity, think of excuses, blame others, lose hope and perish. ‘Victims’ can be individuals, groups, communities or nations. The ‘victim stance’ is the same – complain and blame. When ‘victims’ find themselves in difficulties, they look around for scapegoats; for someone to blame. They invent conspiracy theories. They like to live with a ‘siege’ mentality. They try to tell everyone that the only reason they are in the mess that they are in, is because everyone in the world is out to get them. They think that as long as there is someone to blame, they are faultless. They don’t stop to think that no matter who they blame, their problems still exist and that it is they and not whoever they blame, that is suffering.
‘Masters’ on the other hand are people who when faced with difficulty and adversity, first look at themselves to see how and why they came to be in that situation, own their responsibility and then look for solutions to resolve that situation. They have the courage to try new ways and so they win even if they fail. “Masters’ recognize that whatever happens to us is at least in part, if not wholly, a result of the choices that we made, consciously or unconsciously. The result of what we chose to do or chose not to do. Consequently, if we recognize that we created the situation, then it follows logically that we can also create its solution.
The characteristic of ‘Masters’ is that even when they may temporarily be in a ‘Victim’ situation, they quickly ask themselves the key question: ‘Okay so what can I do about this situation?’ This question is the key to taking a ‘Masterful’ stance in life. This is in itself, a tremendously empowering mindset which frees a person from the shackles of self-limiting barriers to his or her development. A ‘master’ never says, ‘I can’t’. She/he says, “I don’t know if I can!” – And in that, is a world of difference. The difference between the shepherd and his sheep.
The key question to ask therefore is, ‘In terms of the challenges that I face today, what do I need to do if I want to be a ‘Master’ and not a ‘Victim’? What is the investment that I need to make in order to succeed? Free fall and flight feel the same in the beginning. But it is the end which spells the difference between life and death. One lands safely. The other crashes and burns. Ignoring the law of aerodynamics does not change the law or its result.
Similarly, in life, in our race to succeed, we may well be tempted to ignore the laws of gain – that gain is directly proportional to contribution. We may be tempted to buy the line that what you can grab is yours to take, no matter the consequences to others. Just as the one in free fall may thumb his nose at the one who is flying, even claiming that he is traveling faster than the flyer – the reality is that his speed is aided by gravity which is rapidly pulling him towards his own destruction. It is not speed therefore which matters. It is the direction of flight and the way it ends.
Compassion, concern for others, a service focus, measuring contribution in the same way that we measure profit, willingness to do what it takes to deliver the best possible quality not because someone is watching but because we consider the quality of our output to be our signature and a reflection of our identity – all these are the real pathways to wealth, influence and prosperity. The critical difference is that prosperity that comes in these ways is sustainable, long lasting and spreads goodness all around.
Prosperity that is sought without regard to those who share the world with us, people, animals, environment; without regard to values, ethics and morals with the sole criterion being the amount of money that can be made is short-lived, has a high cost and spreads misery and suffering, including for the one who was chasing it.
We live in an intensely connected world and the sooner we realize that and start taking care of the connections, the better off we are likely to be. We have seen graphically the results of the alternative – blind pursuit of profit.
‘Growth for the sake of growth is the philosophy of the cancer cell.’ ~ Madhukar Shukla
They called it freedom. And freedom is a good word, so we thought nothing of it. Freedom to do whatever they want, to be themselves, to express themselves, to have space; they called it. It sounded like a good thing. After all don’t we all believe that the fight for freedom is the good fight and don’t we support all those who are fighting to gain freedom?
We should have asked, ‘Freedom from what? To do what? What does ‘express yourself’ mean? What is the meaning of ‘space?’
Then we would have learnt that freedom meant, freedom from all restraint, all rules of decency, all that holds the fabric of moral, socially responsible society together. But then, isn’t that what we used to call anarchy?
Yes it is, they said. But then you see, those are the quaint and frankly embarrassingly idiotic and backward, middle class values that we used to live by. High time we jettisoned them and joined the mainstream of modern society in the global village.
They forgot to tell us that in the global village the dominant culture is the culture of consumerism. The culture of consumption. The culture of self-indulgence with the only limit being the spending power of your credit card. They forgot to tell us that in the process of creating this society it was necessary to create a high degree of irresponsibility, a sense that only ‘I’ matter and the rest can go to hell. ‘Each man for himself and the Devil take the last.’ ‘Family’ in this society is a 6 – letter word; a bad word because families epitomize responsibility. And responsibility is another 14 – letter bad word. Responsible people save. They don’t spend. They conserve. They don’t waste. They become sedate. They don’t follow fads and trends. Responsible people don’t support consumerism. They are bad news.
So, the family must be destroyed.
To do that promiscuity and immorality must first be encouraged. But you can’t call it that, can you? That will draw too much flak. So, they invented another phrase – adult consent.
Now being adult is all about taking decisions about your own life without anyone else having the right to ‘interfere’, right? If two adults want to do something who is anyone else, be it society, be it the law or be it religion, to dictate what they can and can’t do? That is the opposite of freedom, right? And the opposite of freedom is oppression, right? And oppression is a bad thing, right?
So adult consent came into being. And we supported it.
Now to take the ‘fight for freedom’ to its next stage and that is, to define who is an adult. Age of consent. 21 years? Too old. People mature long before that. So, 18? Why not 16? Ah!! The joy of a 16-year-old!! But we can’t talk like that. 16 is the ideal age of consent because a person is mature at 16, so why should they be prevented from exercising their right to freedom any longer? That sounds much better.
How do you make promiscuity acceptable in a society that insists on decency and morality? Well the best way is through advertisements, serials and movies. Bollywood, Hollywood and all the commercial product and service advertisements do a cardinal job of chipping away at the bastions of social morals until what was unmentionable a decade ago becomes fashionable in this decade. We call it entertainment. We call it being progressive. We call it being chic and those who don’t subscribe are the squares. That’s the thin edge of the wedge. Once it gets into the doorway, the rest is inevitable, only a matter of time. We thought nothing of a biscuit advertisement that showed a scantily dressed woman lounging languidly on a couch. We thought nothing of an ice cream stick ad which showed a woman holding the stick almost touching parted lips, in a gesture that clearly reminded you of something else. We thought nothing of a pocket PC ad that focused more on the curve of the buttock supporting the pocket than the PC which protruded therefrom. And all the while we comforted ourselves with the thought that after all these were only bill boards featuring some women we did not know personally. So, they can’t hurt us, can they?
We did not see or chose not to see the real agenda – social engineering. Changing the standards of society. Changing what is acceptable and what is not. Changing what is considered taboo and what is not. Moving something from ‘unthinkable’ to ‘aspirational’. You did not think it could be done, did you? Well, just look at the way advertising and films have changed over the last 3 decades and you will see how things that our parent’s generation would have had a heart attack to see don’t even attract a comment from us.
But why do you need a woman’s naked body to sell ice cream? Isn’t that oppression of women? No, it isn’t. You see, she is doing it of her own free will. Just like playing tennis in micro-skirts. Wearing a burqa is oppression. But what if the one wearing the burqa is doing it of her own free will? Not possible. The burqa is not religion. It is subservience. Ask Sarkozy. So, it must be banned. But forcing people to take clothes off is as much oppression as forcing them to put them on, isn’t it? Ah!! You will never understand. But it doesn’t matter, because you don’t matter. You are too old fashioned and out of date.
We watched pre-marital and extra-marital relationship scenes in movies in the name of story line and plot and marveled at the acting skill (after all it is all acting and not real, we comforted ourselves) until suddenly one day our children started to have similar relationships.
When we watched the movie we never thought it would happen in our own home, did we? But then weren’t we accepting the new world order when we paid to watch the movie?
Was it not we who told our children that pre-marital or extra-marital sex were okay, when we watched the movie together as a family? Was it not we who gave our children the message that our morals had changed and that it was no longer necessary for them to take us as role models but instead to take the actors and actresses as worthy of emulation?
Then came television and the lovely serials, ending each day on a note of suspense that ensured that we watched what happened the next day. Bold & Beautiful, which may have been bold but was certainly not beautiful. Relationships of men and women that eventually got so confused that the woman who was once the wife of the father is now the wife of the brother while simultaneously being the paramour of someone else. What freedom!! And where was all this happening and being watched? In our own living rooms. In homes where women were in purdah, extra-marital relationships were displayed in full detail and watched by the whole family completely without shame. Why? Because of course we believed it couldn’t happen to us and what we were seeing was ‘only acting’.
And for those of us who were among the watchers exclusively of National Geographic, talk shows, news and Animal Planet – well you see, it is the commercials that ensure that you can see these shows and what is in the commercials? Pushing the boundaries of desire, daring, challenging norms and making the impossible, possible. Not one of those words that I have used, will you challenge. Not one of them in themselves is objectionable. But look at a commercial – almost anyone of them and you will see each of these concepts in a totally different light. But we didn’t think about that, did we? Because we don’t think, period. And for those who don’t watch any TV at all there are newspapers, magazines and the ever present, ever more daring bill boards.
The thin edge of the wedge that was inserted in the doorway had very effectively worked its way in, and the door was now wide open.
In today’s world, one of the things that I am most conscious about is the need to connect with the land. In my case, that means forests. Urban living has ripped out the connection we all had with the earth and left us with a lifestyle which is deceptive and artificial. Millennials are addicted to tech gadgets, not to the sound of birdsong early in the morning. Many have never smelled the first rain on parched earth, a perfume which the Attars (perfume makers) of old captured in an Atar (perfume) called Atar-e-Gil or Mitti Atar. Many don’t know the feel of good loamy soil in their hands or the pleasure of planting a tree and then watching it take root, grow and flower, over the weeks. For many eggs come from the grocery store, not from chickens with a personality and clear likes and dislikes of places and people, which they don’t hesitate to make known. I can go on but this will suffice. I believe it is critically important for us to change that and get people to smell the earth, listen to the forest and feel a sense of companionship with those who inhabit the earth with us. As we are headed into global warming and environmental destruction, I can’t help but feel that this is because most of us don’t even know what we are losing or what an unspoiled environment looks and feels like. What we don’t understand, we fear and what we fear, we destroy.
All through my childhood and youth, 1960’s & 70’s, I spent as much time in the forests as I could which enabled me to indulge my deep and abiding interest in wildlife and ecology. I had three of the best teachers that one could hope for to learn jungle craft from. People who loved the forests, had a wealth of knowledge about them and had the patience and affection to convey it to a young boy. They were Capt. Nadir Tyabji, Nawab Nazir Yar Jung and my dear Uncle Rama (Venkat Rama Reddy). All were more than twenty years my senior but that has always been my situation, friends who are older and wiser from whom I learn all the time. I owe them a debt of gratitude and remember them with boundless respect and love. They invested countless hours in me for no material return and taught me lessons which fall into place to this day, fifty years later. It is a very rare privilege to have mentors like them and I am forever grateful.
From Nadir uncle I learnt to observe quietly without disturbing what I was looking at. I learnt from him the amazing variety of living beings that live in harmony with one another in a small little pond. I learnt a lot about birds, their nesting habits, their camouflage techniques and that the term, ‘free as a bird’ is a figment of the imagination. Birds are often so tied down to their environment, often a single species of tree, that if that tree dies, so does the bird. Out of this, I learnt to appreciate not one or two selected creatures but the whole spectrum of trees, insects, birds, reptiles and mammals that make up our environment. This was at a time when to get to the nearest pond with some undisturbed rocks and bush around it, took all of ten minutes walking.
I was able to appreciate the importance of not upsetting this balance and what happens when in our endless greed we thoughtlessly destroy our environment. I saw that pond, the rocks and scrub forest around it, listened to the cooing of doves in the trees, saw the jacana with her chicks skipping on the lily pads. I saw the mongoose come out of her den in the rocks and look at me, unafraid because she had seen me so often and knew that I posed no threat to her babies. I heard the cawing of crows and the endless chatter of sparrows. I saw the hoopoe swoop down from the sky onto a patch of grass and dig for worms with his sharp beak, raising his crown from time to time, to remind the world of who he is. Some years later when I returned to Hyderabad, I tried to visit that pond. I say tried to visit because to be able to visit, the object of your visit needs to be there. It wasn’t. The rocks had been blasted to make concrete. The pond had been filled in, the trees cut, the grass ground underfoot into dust. The mongoose, the jacana, the doves and hoopoe, even the crows and sparrows, all gone, never to return. What I saw was a tar road, a concrete high-rise building with climate control (meaning, no windows) and the whir of traffic. Was that the worst of it or was it that there was nobody to mourn their passing?
From Nawab Nazir Yar Jung (we called him Nawabsab) I learnt the basics of self defense, shooting, training dogs and horses and jungle craft. He taught me how to train dogs for tracking, retrieving and guarding. I was learning from a man who had an international standing in his art and I was very conscious of it. What I was also learning in the process of training dogs and horses, which I was not conscious of then, was about myself, my strengths, weaknesses, fears, hopes and emotions. Dogs react to facial expressions and unconscious movements and mannerisms and their performance depends on the clarity with which a command is given. To the man, it may appear that the command is the word alone. But to the dog it is a combination of sound, expression and the slightest movement all together as one. So, if you are not conscious of yourself, then your dog will always be confused because your command comes across to him differently each time. Today, when I teach presentation skills or facilitate meetings I recall these lessons in self-awareness and the power of synchronizing yourself in thought, word and action. Dogs taught me how to deal with people.
Uncle Rama taught me more than I can possibly list here. He taught me the meaning of responsibility and accountability. He taught me to take care of myself in a hostile environment. He taught me to be at peace with the forest, to connect with the stars and to respect the animals we occasionally shot for the table. Hunting was not a sport. It was something you did only for necessity and with a sense of deep thankfulness for the fact that the animal gave its life for you. Hunting was a contest between man with his weak senses and a good rifle and the animal with his speed of response, his highly tuned senses, his intuition and his enormous knowledge of his environment. It was not only an equal contest but was usually in favor of the animal. That is when you played fair. This means that you tracked the animal on foot, in daylight. Not when you used a high-powered searchlight to blind it in the night and then did target practice. That I was taught, is the most despicable, dishonorable and shameless thing that you could do. And so, I never did it.
All these were ostensibly lessons in anything but work. But in reality, they were lessons in character building, life skills, influencing, social dynamics, self-awareness and understanding which have stood me in very good stead all through my life and which are the backbone of my profession of leadership training.
I became very skilled in jungle craft and could stalk game in silence over long distances. I could camouflage myself and stay hidden and unobserved and walk a trail and tell the signs of creatures that had walked that path ahead of me. The more I knew about an animal the more likely I was to be able to track it down and shoot it. So, I studied, talked to people who were knowledgeable, and observed. My observation became very good and so did my ability to listen to and analyze sounds. In the Indian forests, home to large and potentially dangerous mammals, this knowledge can often mean the difference between life and death. As I learned more about forests, I enjoyed my time in the forests even more and looked forward to the holidays when I would get on a bus and travel to Nirmal, change buses for Khanapur and Pembi and then walk the last four kilometers to Sethpalli.
Uncle Rama was like a father to me and he would give me a royal welcome. He used to call me Nawab and treated me like a king. That I was a fifteen-year-old schoolboy meant nothing to him. To him I was his friend, who he treated as an equal. As soon as I arrived, covered in dust, I would go off to the well at the edge of the Tamarind trees, which shaded the house on the riverbank. There I would stand in my underwear and one of the farm workers (usually Shivaiyya, my Gond tracker friend) would draw water in a bucket from the well and pour it over my head. Lots of soap, more water flooded over my head, and I would be clean as two whistles. Dressed in a lungi and banyan, I would sit on the charpoy opposite Uncle Rama under one of the Tamarind trees and he would tell me all that had happened since my last visit. While this was going on, his cook would bring a huge bowl of fried Chital meat and I would eat and listen to him. I had a vast capacity for eating meat and tender Chital was my absolute favorite. Uncle Rama knew that I was Muslim and would not eat anything not slaughtered in the Islamic way. So, he used to take one of his Muslim workers, Noorullah, with him when he went hunting. Once the animal was down, Noorullah would go and slaughter it by cutting the throat and saying: Bismillahi Allahu Akbar. Such was the consideration we were taught to observe for one another.
I loved jungles. I loved hunting and I loved Uncle Rama above all else. So, every holiday I would go off to Sethpalli. Sometimes Uncle Rama would be in town (Hyderabad) at the time my holidays were about to begin. He would call and say, “Kya Nawab, chalna hai?” And off we went. He had a BSA motorcycle (350 cc). He would ride with a .12 bore shotgun slung across his chest and a bandolier of cartridges and I would ride behind him with a .22 bore rifle slung across my back.
How can I describe the excitement as I rode behind Uncle Rama with the wind in my face? Those were the days before helmets were invented; before there were any Naxalites in those forests and before it became illegal to hunt. So off we would go from Hyderabad to Sethpalli, via Nirmal and Khanapur. All names that conjure up wonderful memories of a childhood that today no child can even dream of. This is the price we have paid for what we like to call ‘development’.
As we went along, Uncle Rama would stop by a road side water tank. These tanks were an integral part of the irrigation network of Telangana, which does not see too much rain. Every village had its tank. When maintained, they harvested rain water, enhanced the water table in the village and provided water to irrigate the fields so that in most years people were able to harvest two crops. The tanks had fish and attracted water birds, both of which added to the villager’s diet. And they were very beautiful. Today they have been allowed to silt up. The dams are ruined. The entire irrigation system has been allowed to collapse with nothing else to replace it. Some of them have been encroached upon and people have built houses and shops on the tank bed, which is illegal of course. Alas, when the grease hits the palm in India, anything is possible. The result is drought, uncultivated lands and in years when the monsoon fails, starvation, and farmer suicides.
Uncle Rama would park his motorcycle by the roadside and we would get off, un-sling the guns and sneak up the embankment of the nearby water tank. There, sure enough, we would find, Brahminy, Pollard, Comb (Nakta) ducks, or Teals. All floating in the reeds and feeding in the shallows. Uncle Rama was a master tracker and I learnt from him. We would crawl along the bank, just below the top, careful not to show a silhouette and when we were in range, I would fire first and he would take the flying shots as the ducks rose in flight. Usually, we would get our dinner before we reached home. We would arrive at the farm with the motorcycle festooned with ducks on either side.
The villagers also hunt ducks. The difference is they do it without firearms. In this part of the world, they don’t even have any bows and arrows, catapults, or any other throwing weapons. What they do is to take a round pot with a mouth big enough for the head of the hunter to go through and make two holes in it to see through. They then seal the holes and the mouth of the pot and float it among the reeds where ducks take shelter in the night. After a couple of days, the ducks get used to seeing the pot in their midst. Then on a moonless night, the hunter creeps up quietly, enters the water and inserts his head into the pot, making sure that his body is completely submerged. He looks through the holes in the pot and breathes the air trapped in the pot. To the ducks, it is still the same pot floating among the reeds. Then the hunter very quietly and gently approaches a duck and grabs its legs under the water, yanking it down below the surface. Done expertly, the duck simply disappears without trace. The man transfers the duck to his other hand and then approaches the next duck to yank it to its watery end. The only thing limiting him is the number of duck legs he can hold in one hand. On a good day, getting five or six ducks is not difficult. Some hunters wear a belt to which they attach all underwater ducks which considerably increases their game bag. These ducks were a valuable addition of protein in their diet as well as a means of earning some money. Human ingenuity is truly the best resource we have.
Khanapur was the first watering hole. The first serious one that is. We would stop for tea at one of the many road-side Dhabas and Uncle Rama would have fun talking to the owner in fluent Telugu only to see the look of total surprise on his face. Uncle Rama, due to his English mother, was himself white with blond hair. So, people naturally took him to be British. And when he spoke colloquial Telugu and Urdu fluently, they were shocked.
In Khanapur we would stop at his house which he never actually finished building. He’d started it in the hope that his family would live there with him. But his wife, a wonderful, cultured lady did not fancy the village life, so he never finished the house. It was still livable though and we would stop there for lunch. After lunch he would pull out a big bottle with a viscous liquid that looked like old engine oil. What it contained was the most delicious honey that I have ever eaten. Fifty years later that statement still holds true. It was so black and viscous because it was so old and high in sugar content that it was practically solid. This honey with butter was the dessert…blissssssssssssssssssss, which was followed by two hours of sound sleep. The idea was to wait for the heat of the afternoon to lessen before travelling. In summer the temperatures there would be in the high forties (north of 115 F), even though we were in the middle of the forest. To travel in that heat (especially on a motorcycle) was a good way to get sunstroke. All life comes to a standstill at midday and then people start to move again once the sun is on its way to rising in America.
In the evening, after a cup of tea we would leave for Sethpalli, our final destination, sometimes in the Jeep that Uncle Rama used to cache in Khanapur, or on the motorbike. This drive was the most exciting part of the whole trip as the road went through thick forests. Much of it teak plantations. Some original forest. A lot of bamboo thickets and Ber bushes; favorite haunts of wildlife ranging from Jungle Fowl who eat the berries and seed, to Gaur which graze on tender bamboo shoots to tigers who like to lie up in the shade of the bamboo which is not deciduous and remains green in the summer. A good place to look for tigers is bamboo bordering any small creek or even a dry stream bed (Nalla). Tigers love to lie in the relatively cool sand or in the water all through the heat of the day, shaded from the sun and prying eyes by the thick bamboo fronds.
The semi-deciduous forests of the Satpura Range are relatively open without much undergrowth. One of the reasons for this is also the annual burning that happens even though it is illegal. Shepherds and others set fire to the undergrowth and this burns off all the dry leaves on the forest floor causing minor damage to the large trees. That leaves the place open for the growth of new grass and shrubs. Deer and Gaur love this new growth as also the ash from the burnt logs which they come to eat. The ash is also excellent manure for the new growth and it grows lush and thick. As we drove through the evening, rapidly turning to night, we would often see herds of Chital, Nilgai, the occasional Sambar (they usually start moving much later after moonset) and Gaur lying or feeding in the open forest glades. Most were so used to the sound of traffic that as long as the vehicle was moving, they would simply look up to see what it was and then continue on with whatever they were doing. But if the vehicle stopped, they would immediately be alarmed and start to move away.
Uncle Rama used these trips to teach me from his vast knowledge of jungle lore. I learnt to distinguish between a male and female animal. To recognize one that was pregnant or nursing. To recognize their different moods and what the calls meant. Some raised in alarm, the belling of a Sambar; the barking of the Cheetal, hooting of the Langur sentinel who sees the danger before anyone else and on whose vigilance, they all depend. I learnt the meaning of a deer staring in concentration at one thicket and then stamping his fore hoof a couple of times before barking alarm. By listening to the belling of a Sambar in the night, I learnt to tell which direction he was looking in and how far he was from me. In forests that had many tigers and leopards, this was a very useful skill indeed.
So many things to learn. I learnt. I learnt. I learnt. And I loved every minute of it.
The big challenge we have today is to teach our children these lessons and help them to connect to the earth, to its inhabitants and to each other. We are living beings, not binary code. The earth is not at our mercy but waits and watches to see what we do. Then it will do what it has done in the past, to protect what is beneficial and to heal itself by ridding itself of that which is harmful. Our call to define ourselves.
The biggest challenge of parenting is to accept that we are facing a world that is very different from the one we grew up in. This is true irrespective of which country you live in with the additional complexity of a rapid destruction of walls between cultures. The truth is that your solutions don’t work today and your children know this better than anyone else. Yet you still have the challenge to inspire, support and teach them. Your challenge is to prepare them for a world that you know nothing about. This can be seen as positive or negative depending on your point of view but one thing is certain and that is, it will not leave you untouched.
The major Global Changes that we face are:
Thanks mainly to the internet and to global TV channels we are in an information overload phase. We don’t suffer from lack of information but from a surfeit of it – easily available at the click of a mouse. What is missing is the ability to discern, to sift, to pick the nuggets. What is missing is the ability to know what to do with what we read or see. What is missing is the ability to connect the dots to complete the picture. What is missing is the ability to recognize the reality and to put things in perspective so that we can differentiate between real information and propaganda. What is missing is the ability to respond positively and powerfully to ensure that the dissenting voice is also heard in the cacophony of the dominant discourse.
Easy information exchange has also lowered and in many cases wiped out the entry barriers into technologies and business areas. This opens new opportunities for entrepreneurs provided they know how to use them. It is a challenge for parents to guide their children in ways that enable them not only to make sense of what they see and read but to actually leverage it for themselves and others.
The information exchange also has a darker side with every evil that happens in the world getting instant limelight. The conscious self is bombarded daily with images which at one time would have sent us into depression but which leave us untouched and unmoved today. This desensitization of the heart, the deadening of compassion, making the horrific mundane is the result of constant exposure to cruelty, oppression and bloodshed. Like the nurse in the operating theatre or the butcher in the abattoir, the sight of another’s suffering leaves us untouched. The Salaf used to be very concerned with exposing oneself to things that harden the heart. Imam Al-Ghazali used to say that one should not mention death while eating because if the heart is not deadened then you will not be able to eat. And if you are able to eat then it will become evident to everyone that your heart is dead. I don’t think we bother with such niceties anymore because the condition of our hearts is apparently not of any consequence to us. The challenge that parents have is to guide children such that their hearts don’t harden and show them how they can help those in need. Hidden in this is also the real danger of radicalization of youth and their falling into the trap of those who seek to recruit them for cannon fodder. It is our challenge to help them to retain perspective, show them how they can positively contribute and stay away from all extremist positions. But to do all that we need to check what state our own hearts are in for only the seeing can guide the blind.
The second challenge we face is that of technology. Like rain, it is a part of our lives. You either get wet or you learn to use an umbrella. The smart phone, the computer, social networking and the ever present Google. Google maps automatically gives me driving directions to the masjid on Fridays whether or not I ask for them. It tells me if a flight that I am booked on is late or not. It even tells me when I need to leave for the airport, even when I have not asked for this information or informed it about my present location. It knows without being told. So how difficult is it to believe that Allahﷻ
, who created the creator of Google and his brain, also knows?
Technology takes away the drudgery and monotony. It adds value and makes life easy. But at the same time it increases distraction, creates a false sense of satisfaction and speed. People feel satisfied with posting likes on Facebook and making favorites on Twitter as if they actually accomplished something. They forget that a million likes don’t put a piece of bread into the mouth of the starving child or save it from the bullet of a sniper. Instant gratification – the most dominant sign of an immature intellect – is one of the legacies of technology, albeit unintentional. We forget that if you want results you have to work very hard at the right things; not merely click a mouse or tap a touch screen. This results in unjustified frustration and the millennial personality is born. People who are literally disinterested in the future. What can you hope for with respect to creating a legacy from those whose main interest is the next sensation?
We have a mentality that always seeks more and more excitement. Steve Irvin (Crocodile Hunter) is a good example of this and its unwitting result – taking closer and closer chances with dangerous animals until one day the inevitable happened. But the result is that today if you want to make an animal encounter show, until you can put your head into a lion’s mouth and obviously come out alive, the producers won’t even look at you. And the value of doing so? Well, when you measure everything in terms of TRP ratings, that is perfectly clear, isn’t it?
Speed of response that technology enables is both a competitive advantage and a threat. Our own response to events has to be hugely faster than our parents’ needed to be because every event is instantly global news. The repercussions of the thoughtless word are also serious and in some cases severe. But what remains constant is that artificial intelligence is not the same as natural and technology doesn’t replace wisdom. We still need the human intellect to interpret the event and color the picture to see the whole scene.
As I mentioned, the influence of other cultures is so invasive and powerful that merely trying to guard against it by prohibiting TV is futile. Children are exposed to other cultures all through their day. What needs to be done is to demonstrate to them the value of our culture in such a way as to enable them to take pride in it, while still respecting other cultures. This is essential because the usual approach of running down everything else creates walls and doesn’t promote cross cultural understanding. How to learn without becoming judgmental while retaining our own sense of right and wrong? This is a complex issue and something that needs to be learnt before one can teach it. The most critical part of this is to retain an open mind while being clear about the boundaries of Islam. One must be confident without becoming bigoted. This is critical to presenting Islam also because you can’t present an alternate perspective without understanding and respecting the perspective of your partner.
The modern world has also created myriad new career options which bring with them new dilemmas & questions. In short your life history doesn’t work anymore. Our challenge is to prepare them for a world that we know nothing about. But you signed up for that job when you had a child.
Just to give you a small peek at what I mean please consider the following:
The top 10 – in demand jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2004. In the year 2000, Google (founded 1998 but public in 2004), Facebook (2004), Twitter (2006), YouTube (2005) and Whatsapp (2009) didn’t exist. We all lived in a world without the things we consider critical to survival today. And for the most part we lived happily. These things apart from their nuisance value do have some positive uses, create jobs and hugely influence our perception the world, our social behavior, our buying preferences, who we look up to and who we look down on. Today it is thanks only to Facebook and YouTube that a lot of modern scholars have more popularity than Imam Ahmed and Imam Abu Hanifa had in their days. It is not the depth of their knowledge but our slavery to these technologies that has colored our perception such that the first thing people ask is, ‘How many videos does he have on YouTube?’ As if that is one of the questions of the Day of Judgment.
These technologies and the gadgets they come in, take up huge amounts of our time and create anxiety, stress and anguish over pointless things. They rule our hearts and minds if we allow them to. And they make some very smart people insane amounts of money at our expense. How are we going to explain the dangers of all this to our children when we are ourselves the victims of these technologies? The solution is not discarding them. That would be like pretending it was not raining when it was. You would only get wet. Also as I mentioned there are positive aspects to them which we can and must use. The key is to be able to differentiate and use, not become the used and manipulated. Our challenge is to prepare children for challenges that don’t exist yet using technologies that haven’t been invented. The reality is that today’s solution is often tomorrow’s problem. If you need a reminder, think of plastics. There are many here who remember a plastic free world and the delight with which we welcomed plastics when they came into our lives. As they say, the rest is history.
The total amount of technical information is doubling every two years. This means that for a student in a 4 year course, what he learnt in Year – 1 is already outdated in Year – 3. So what is the use of our traditional teaching – both what we teach and how we do it needs to change. Frankly it doesn’t need to change; it needs a decent burial and a new system needs to be born. Finland, which is famous for its educational system has decided to stop teaching subjects completely and teach application instead. I had proposed that in 2002 in my vision statement for the SBA. Without understanding application we have the pathetic situation of our children going to school for 15 years and coming out completely innocent of anything remotely useful. Their minds are filled with disconnected pieces of information that’s perhaps individually useful but because they never learnt the relationships or how to use that information in real life, they lose all interest in the subject itself. In the real world they are completely incapable of survival itself, let alone being able to influence, guide, command or even earn a decent living. Fifteen years of schooling only puts them on the threshold of another decade perhaps of studying to qualify to stand in the line for a job.
What never ceases to amaze me is how the insanity of it doesn’t strike anyone and we still continue to donate serious amounts of money to the system that does nothing for us. Those who send their children to big name schools with high fees, ask your child what he or she learned that can help them to survive one week on their own and you will know what your money bought for you. Ask if your money bought you good manners, compassion, the ability to have an intelligent conversation, write a decent letter or cook a decent meal; let alone Taqwa, Ta’alluq Ma’Allah, respect for the Sunnah, confidence in Islam or in their own culture. What it probably did buy you is recalcitrant attitudes, arrogance, embracing the worst values of the West instead of the best, enslavement to gadgets and brands and a burning desire to go to Europe or America to study immediately after graduating from school but at your expense and not on their own merit. An entitlement mentality that is the cancer which is at the root of all degeneration and family disputes, especially in business families. Most sadly it probably also bought an attitude of looking down on others including in many cases, their own parents who pay their bills. And to think of it, none of this was promised in the prospectus when you put your child in the school, was it? Talk about the Aha! Experience and getting value for your money!
So what to do? Solution: Win the RACE. What race? RACE is my acronym for what you need to do to deal with the challenge of raising children you can be proud of. RACE stands for Read, Anticipate, Create and Execute.
Reading has become a redundancy and this is the root cause of most of our problems. Not reading disconnects us from our own history, our culture, religion and from Allahﷻ
. Reading enables us to know what is happening, to put it in perspective and to anticipate problems and opportunities – two names for the same thing. So ask yourself how many books you read every month. Ignorance is not bliss. It is ugly and shameful. So start reading. Read and encourage your children to read. Read and analyze and discuss and debate. See what questions they ask. The questions are much more important than answers. Let powerful questions arise in the mind and answer them yourself or find others who can answer them. Cultivate the company of those who read and who have intelligent conversations – not Gheeba (backbiting and slander) disguised as social talk. Cultivate the company of scholars of all kinds of knowledge. Go to them and take your children with you. Don’t worry if your children tell you that they can’t understand anything that is being said. That is a sign of the result of the kind of upbringing you gave them and what they failed to learn in school. Consider it a sign of sickness. That is why you took them there, to stretch their minds and to expose them to the expanse of knowledge. What you hear today and don’t understand gets stored in the memory and comes to your aid years later at unexpected moments. You need to change your habits and your social life. If your social life consists of attending random weddings and re-eating biryani then none of what I have said will be possible. You have to do first what you want your children to do. Make no mistake. To give you must first have.
Learn to read the signs both in your children and in the environment and prepare for them by being proactive. Combative and harsh attitudes usually get negative results. You need to be able to reason and convince, not force. To reason and convince you need to have knowledge and be convinced yourself. Brings us back to reading. Another great resource is the company of wise people. Wisdom begins with Taqwa so people who disobey Allahﷻ
by definition can’t be wise, though they may have some skills or some specific knowledge. Seek the company of the Muttaqoon who obey Allahﷻ
and follow the Sunnah of His Messengerﷺ
Monitor your conversations. Monitor your company. Who do you meet with your children? Who are your children exposed to? What are they likely to learn from them? Make sure you keep the right company and expose your children to the right company. Most children today spend time with their own age groups. The question is, what can a fifteen year old teach another fifteen year old? Children need the company of wise and knowledgeable elders to learn life skills. This is how mammals learn – from elders. Sohbat say Sahaba banay. The Sahaba learnt from the Sohabt (companionship) of the Prophetﷺ
. Our children are starved of the Sohbat of wise elders and the tragedy is that most are not even aware of what they are losing.
Now that you have an idea of the challenges ahead and you have anticipated how some of them are likely to touch you and your children, create solutions. Teach tools because your answers don’t work anymore. Teach tools because they are timeless and can be applied to all kinds of problems. Among the most important tools are:
How to connect to Allahﷻ
Managing money – earn/not spend
Take ownership – no excuses
Social graces and manners
Humility – No arrogance
Finally execute, implement, because only results can be banked, as the saying goes. You must create a schedule to impart these skills and knowledge to your children. Parenting is a contact sport. You can’t outsource it, no matter how competent the care taker. And remember that children listen with their eyes. If you don’t wake up for Fajr it is no good telling your child to pray Tahajjud. If you don’t read, the child will not read. And if he reads because his teacher inspires him to do so, soon he will know more than you and that is shameful. Remember you signed up to raise your children the day you decided to have them. Whatever you did until now, it is time to take stock and ask yourself what you need to change. It is eye opening if you ask your children what they learned from you. I began this series of lectures by asking you how many of you had one of their parents as their role model and you know the pathetic result. Ask if you want your children to think the same? If not, the time to change is now.
It is simply not enough to feed, clothe and gadgetize your children and then leave them to their own devices except to refill their bellies or accounts. You have to get serious with their upbringing.
For the children an even more critical message: Remember that one of the seven who Allahﷻ promised the shade of His Arsh on the day when there will be no shade except His, is the youth who grew up in obedience to Him. So this is a very critical time in your life. This is the power of the multiplier. During this stage every action of yours has a far higher reward than the reward of older people doing the same thing. Everything you do that is obedience of Allahﷻ and the Sunnah of His Messengerﷺ and every temptation you reject because it is against the order of Allahﷻ or the Sunnah of His Messengerﷺwill take you closer to Allahﷻ, make your dua more accepted and be a witness for you on the Day of Judgement. This period of grace will end when you grow older. So focus on making the best of this time and don’t lose this period of grace to please some loser who is your friend.
The effect of friends, both positive and negative can’t be overemphasized. It is huge.
I constantly hear the lament after a final exam, ‘I only got so many marks.’ My question is, ‘’Why? Did they run out of stock?’ Their answer is, ‘Friends. My friends who I gave more time to than to my studies.’
I say to you, ‘Wake up! Convert your friend to your way of being or delete him from your list. You can’t afford losers as friends, no matter how cool they look. So get serious. We only live once. Let us live it right.’