I have always wondered what is that single most important thing that parents need to teach their children? Seems like a pointless question for someone like me to ponder over considering that I don’t have any myself, but that’s me, always pointlessly pondering over the pointless. One does that when one has all the time in the world and nothing really important to think about.
Like most people I started with a list of attributes that any parent should inculcate in their child. The ability to differentiate between right and wrong was at the top of this list. Obviously if parents don’t teach this to their children, who else will? And where will civilization be without this basic human quality? Confidence was the next item on my list. When parents encourage and appreciate their children even after a failure, children learn to believe in their abilities - such an important trait during their educational years and later and their adult life. Curiosity and asking questions was also very important. If parents try and answer their children rather than shutting them up, the children grow up with a learning mind-set. As they grow-up their curiosity leads them to ever expanding horizons and growth. Of course there were other characteristics as well such as, compassion, faith, responsibility etc.
But something was missing. I could not put my finger at it but felt that some underlying value was missing, something which was so important that it acted as the foundation on which all other values stood firm. You see experience has taught me that most parents do ensure that their children learn to differentiate between right and wrong but most adults seem to forget that basic lesson. It is not that as adults we become evil or all tread the wrong path, but most of us learn to ignore the wrong around us, hence encouraging it to grow. In our own lives we zig zag between right and wrong telling ourselves that this is being practical in today’s world.
Our confidence also seems to waver depending upon who we are with. With equals and people less powerful than us we are like strutting peacocks ready to display our colours to the max, but when we are with those who are more privileged or powerful we tend to fold into ourselves.
Curiosity and willingness to ask questions also seems to diminish with age. Let me correct myself, the willingness to ask stimulating questions goes down, our need to know the intimate details of other people’s lives on the other hand goes up exponentially.
So what is the magic ingredient that acts as a long term stabilizer which preserves all the other values? I came up with courage. The etymology of the word courage is the old French word corage meaning the heart or innermost feelings. Don’t confuse courage with heroism. While heroism requires courage, courage need not always be translated into heroic deeds.
Knowing right from wrong is one thing, but it requires courage to stand up for what is right and an even greater amount of courage to be on the right side ourselves and listen to that inner voice which constantly guides us.
Confidence too requires courage – the courage to brace ourselves, steel our nerves and hold our ground in the presence of others. We know our abilities but it requires courage to keep believing in them when others don’t, that is what confidence really is. One does not have to be cocky to be confident, one can be very unassuming and yet confident. One of the definitions of confidence is ‘assured expectation’ and that assurance requires courage to first know your capabilities, admit what you cannot do and have belief in your abilities to deliver what you can do.
To ask questions is to invite exploration and the trepid do not make good explorers. When you start asking difficult questions you usually end up with unsettling answers. The truth is not always what is familiar and accepting that is not easy. Even more difficult is to adopt your newly discovered truths into your life and change your hitherto familiar life map. So most people give up this quest the moment they hit the boundaries of uncharted territories. Such a shame, because at that moment they stop living and start merely to exist, inside they die early on although physically they may inhabit this planet for another half a century.
Life has ups and downs and problems are the norm rather than the exception. We each have our share of challenges but to overcome these tribulations requires courage. Living life on your own terms requires courage. To love requires courage. To grow requires courage. To fully explore that adventure that is life requires courage. Courage then is the one thing that parents must teach their children, because this the basic ingredient which makes everything else possible.