Friday, September 30, 2011

Teaching Children To Fly

Years ago I used to conduct a training program for children between the ages of 8 to 13. It was my dream project which gave me more satisfaction than any other training I have ever conducted. Unfortunately, like most dreams this too was shattered. Somehow parents who thought nothing of spending Rs.5000 on the latest toys and gadgets for their kids, suddenly became money conscious about investing a fraction of that amount for something which would stay with the children for the rest of their lives. The program wasn’t meant to generate profits, just break-even, but instead it broke my spirit. After hearing umpteen parents tell me that ‘it was too expensive’ (at that time is was only Rs.1600 for 2 days including meals), I lost my cool and told one father who was bargaining with me to tell his wife to shop for one dress less this season and they will have the money for their kid’s future! Needless to say the shopping spree won and I vowed never to conduct this program again.

Parents think that if their children are getting good marks at school then all is well. If teachers and neighbours are not complaining about their behaviour then the child is well adjusted and doing just fine. But the sometimes the real story is very different. In one of the sessions I conducted, a little girl whose father was the country manager for a large multinational bank, nearly broke down in tears during a desensitizing exercise in which she was asked what hurts her the most and who is responsible for this hurt? He reply was ‘my parents don’t think I’m as good as my older sister’. Upon probing further I learnt that the parents had a habit of always holding up the other sister as an example to “motivate” her to excel. But the kid was not excelling at anything, instead she was withdrawing further and further into her shell, and the parents had sent her to the program because they wanted to enhance her self-confidence. These parents were not evil, nor were they partial towards one child, they were merely following what they had learnt from their own parents.

My objective during these sessions was to create a safe, fun ‘adult free’ environment where the kids could learn to fly without being judged on the number of attempts it took. NLP techniques were used in the session to boost their self-confidence, raising their self-esteem and removing the effects of past negative conditioning and criticisms. My facilitators and I spent time with the kids individually to understand their communication strategies, we assessed which of the 7 intelligences were predominant in them. We taught them techniques of memory enhancement so that learning could become fun for them. All this information was passed on to their parents with suggestions on how to deal with them. I’m not sure how many parents actually took that advice on board, not many I’m sure, perhaps because it required too much effort to change their own behaviours.

There can be no satisfaction greater than to see the child whose mother claimed cannot be left alone because he would start crying amongst strangers, tell his parents to please leave and come back at 5 to pick him up. To see a petite 8 year old girl break a ½ inch wooden board with her fist, through sheer focus and mind power constitutes one of my personal proudest moments. When the shy introverted kid is cheered by his team to complete a task we renew our own faith in humanity. When 30 kids are told they are free to do what they like and they still behave with responsibility, then you know our future is secured.

Why did I focus so much on such small children when this program would have been easier to sell for the teens? Simply because I feel that most damage is done at this stage. If we can teach life skills early on, the chances are we will have confident, focused and strong teenagers. My disgruntlement over the parents’ attitude made me lose sight of the basic objective – the kids. Perhaps now I am ready once again to get up, shake-off the dust and make my dream a reality once again.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Required - New Candidates To Substitute Hope

According to Greek Mythology, Pandora was the first mortal woman sent down by the gods to punish Prometheus for stealing fire from them. Prometheus knowing what the gods were up to refused the gift however his brother Epimethius instantly fell in love with her and married Pandora. Pandora brought with her a box which the gods had told her never to open, but of course she did, just like Eve who ate from the Forbidden Tree (according to Islam, in Christianity she ate the Forbidden Fruit). Its funny how the beginning of all of mankind's ills and sorrows are blamed squarely on the first woman. No one seems to notice that the men weren't exactly forced to comply with the woman, why should she be blamed for their gullibility?

Coming back to Pandora and her box - the gods had put into the box all manners of ill which if released would plague mankind forever and when she opened the box out came flying little winged creatures named death, illness, pain, old age etc. Frightened she quickly shut the box but by that time these woes had already escaped. There was another creature that was also put into the box by some benevolent god which did not escape with the rest. That creature was Hope and her job was to alleviate the suffering caused by the rest of her boxed companions. When the box was opened again Hope too was released and since that time she has been providing relief to the suffering humanity.

Hence Hope is what makes the world go round, it is her presence which gives people that strength to fight the battles of life and chase their dreams. But I'm not too sure about this rosy picture we paint about her. Sometimes I think she is perhaps the most sinister of all the inhabitants of Pandora's box. People live out their entire lives in quiet desperation just hanging on to hope. They fall and hope comes and helps them stand up only so that another blow could be dealt by life and they find themselves flat on the ground again. Perhaps she is the vehicle through which destiny can release a variety of misery upon human beings? A kind of prolong mechanism for slow torture.

If you want to see Hope doing its best work then Pakistan is the place. We are a nation living in hope, we are a nature in which generations have grown up hanging on to her. Each time we face a problem we turn to Hope and she tells us "all will be well, you are strong and are being tested". We face whatever crises we are going through only to be thrown in the middle of another one. Lately I think Hope is on a retirement deadline in Pakistan. The problems are coming fast and furious and she seems to be weakening day-by-day, soon she might not be present in our midst anymore. We will have to find a substitute for Hope if we are to survive in the future.

There are some canditates which could fill this post - how about Commitment? I'm sure with him in our midst we would be able to go all out to perform our responsibilities and deliver results. What about Responsibility? she could help each of us realize that it is futile to look at others for the solution to our problems, if we need things to change we need to take action oursleves. Oh and yes there's Self-Confidence as well, now that is a good candidate! With him on this post we would not need Hope nor keep praying for miracles all the time. And then there is Integrity, but it seems that many people, mostly in powerful positions have taken immunity shots against her, so we will first need to find a way of taking care of that issue, but if she could then take over and run rampant amongst us we would be unrecognizable (for the better of course).

Which one we choose will require more careful deliberations, however one thing is for sure, Hope cannot be kept on this position for long. If, because we love her so much we don't want to retire her, perhaps we can give her an honorary lifetime position, but the task of leading us out of our present mess will have to be given to another candidate.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Great Flood Through The Ages

If there is one event that almost all historians and researchers of ancient myths are fascinated about it is the Great Flood. Not only are there accounts of this catastrophe in the religious texts of Judaic, Christian and Islamic traditions, we also find a similar story in the ancient Mesopotamian texts most notably in the Epic of Gilgamesh, which predates the Torah, Bible and Quran. Besides these there seems to be an account of some kind of deluge or an event involving a large body of water after which a large number of people perished and new mankind emerged in many cultures. These myths are not confined to the Middle East alone, we find such stories in some Native American tribes, Greek, Roman, Celtic, African, Indian, even Chinese mythologies.

At the advent of civilization it seems flooding played a vital role in the purification of the human race. Initially I used to think that it was perhaps a metaphor for spiritual cleansing of people – in other words the evil and the impure were washed away while the pure survived (which is really the central message of all religions). Later as more geological data became available we found that there indeed tell-tale signs of rising water levels caused due to melting ice-sheets and water erosion due to heavy rain fall. Perhaps it was these distant global events that were preserved in mythology as a way of passing historic knowledge through the ages?

The recent change in weather patterns, however leads me to believe there is a more mundane explanation for such a proliferation of the Flood Myth. In Pakistan the province of Sindh has been ravaged an unrelenting downpour for nearly a month. Like the Flood of Noah the sky is ruthless in its rage and the earth does not have the capacity to absorb its wrath, hence the water keeps rising. Whereas Noah built one huge Ark to save people and animals, the modern day victims of this disaster find any means they can to save their lives and any livestock they can manage to snatch away from the certain death which awaits them either by drowning or starvation. The population of this one area is much larger than entire ancient empires, perhaps in those times one large boat could save all of Noah’s people and animals but given the present population figures such a feat would have been impossible. Primitive means of transport restricted the distance travelled by people, indeed many generations never ventured away from their village, so it is no wonder that if there was such widespread rain and flooding it would have seemed a global event to them. Since it is completely probable that many parts of the world at some point or the other fell prey to this fury of nature, it goes without saying that various flood myths would crop up all over the world.

But the ending of the ancient floods myths and the modern flood saga are completely different from each other. Those who survived the ancient floods went on to build new civilizations, those who survive the present day Sindh floods have lost whatever little they had built over years. The ancient survivors claimed their stake on a brand new world, the present day survivors cannot even find a roof over their heads. The ancient flood ended on a glorious note of hope, the modern flood sends its victims into an abyss of hopelessness these already battered victims had not even thought possible could exist. These humble yet strong people who lent their name to an entire sub-continent now find themselves in a situation where a battle between dignity and hunger rages, and hunger wins every time.

If mankind survives another 2000 years or so, perhaps a new Flood Myth will be written, one with an ending which is more tragic than glorious. Our future generations will not be saying how the righteous are saved and the evil wiped out, rather the moral of the story may be how the righteous pay the price for the wrong doings of the corrupt and the morally bankrupt.