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March 06, 2018 Tuesday 03:45:26 PM IST


3rd Eye

Our Lives are full of goods and services. We have got used to procuring them for our children. We buy them toys. And happiness too. Also, good education, meaning, mostly, expensive, education. The time has come to shift from buying to doing. Then you will find yourself ambling along the way of helping… Buying is, in most cases, an alternative to helping.


We must help our children; for no one else might, at least in certain crucial respects. And it helps to be aware that it is so, lest we goof up in parenting by default.


An extremely important thing we can do for our children is to train them to see that there is always another way of seeing people, situations, and events than what is on offer. If there is a right hand,there is a left one too. If the brain has

a right side, it also has a left side. The importance of this ‘life skill’, if you like, of seeing the other side, will become clearer to us, if we think for a moment about ‘peer pressure’.


Peer pressure ushers in harm when children exposed to it are unable to see the given situation from a different angle. Don’t be misled by the word ‘pressure’. External pressure is directly proportionate to inner vacuum. So, it is, in elementary physics. The case of life is no different.


Peer pressure becomes irresistible when our children are unable to see a situation, a prospect, differently from their peers. Peers are not ogres or dragons. They have no magical powers. Their strength is that they see a prospect — say, that of cutting classes — clearly as a desirable thing If our children know only to conform, and not think for themselves, they will, very likely, succumb. The fact is that this implies, primarily, a lacuna in parenting. We, as parents, play a role, howsoever indirect and unwitting, in making peer pressure more irresistible for our children than it needs to be. That also means that there’s something we can do about it.


Of course, we cannot anticipate every situation our children will face in the world out there. Nor is it necessary. Nor should e exaggerate the problem. The world is not a wild jungle teeming with dragons and man-eaters. There are issues; but they are manageable, provided the basics are in place.


The idea of bunking classes to have a ‘good time’ — ‘good’ in such contexts means whatever is external to classrooms — can be seen differently. If your children are to do so, two things are necessary. They need to be trained to think, or to look beyond the given. Second, they must have a taste for learning. Parents can help their children realise that learning is a privilege and, more importantly, a joyous privilege.


The peer pressure that infiltrates this situation is premised on the idea that learning is boring and that classrooms are garages of gloom. Our children need also to be trained to be true to their own dispositions. Even if your child is fond of learning, and would rather attend classes but for the peer pressure, his better self could fail him if he is not trained to be true to himself.


It is basic to this training that  parents should have the courage to disagree with their children! It is  awkward, but necessary to underline this; for parents are increasingly becoming, through a dangerous misunderstanding of love, obsequious to children. We must not only disagree with our children, when situations so warrant, but also explain to them why we do so.


Furthermore, we must have the strength of character to stick to our convictions and not succumb to ‘offspring pressure’, (sorry, if this is a neologism, but we are in need of it today) either out of exasperation or due to infirmity of purpose. Principled dissent at home is a necessary climate for inculcating in children the ability to disagree with their peers, when they need to.




Often children go against their good sense and slur over the unease of their conscience, because they do not understand the difference between ‘courage’ and ‘vanity’. The lure of boycotting classes, in order, say, to watch a film in a nearby city, or watching a cricket match, may be sold to our children camouflaged as courage.


There is thrill in nibbling the system, in going against the routine, in subverting the familiar. Often it is ‘courage’ that is appealed to, in such contexts. What, then, is courage? How can we blame our children when they succumb, if their idea of courage is no different from that of their peers?


I began to understand the meaning of true ‘courage’ through a saying of  Jesus Christ. “If you save your life you will lose it; but if you lose your life for my sake, you will find it.” If we analyse the situations in which our children are ‘tempted with courage’ we will see that the key to understanding them is fear — the fear of loss. (Aristotle tells us that fear is nothing but the anticipation of evil.) The reality of ‘missing’ the classes is what makes watching a film on the sly a thrilling thing.


In common understanding, the unwillingness to incur such losses is equated with cowardice. Such students, boys in particular, are ridiculed as sissies. They are presumed to lack manly temper! So, children allow themselves to be led by their nose just to be able to avert ridicule.  That is to say, they succumb in order to save their self-image. They conform in fear.


What does the phrase, “he who loses his life for my sake”, mean? How does it differ from the first idea of loss, to which this is a healthy alternative?


What Jesus does here is to counterpoint a spurious value with a positive value. In the first instance, the reference is to saving  one’s life according to prevailing ideas, which could well be injurious to life. Its strategy is necessarily one of conformity. Peer pressure is its familiar example; the reason why I chose it in the first place.


In the second instance, the value posited is infinitely higher, “for my sake”; that is, for the sake of God. Now, God symbolises the highest and the noblest potential in human beings. So, ‘losing one’s life’in this context involves the profound paradox — all profound truths are paradoxical — that courage involves the readiness to risk life for the sake of life. If this readiness is not inculcated, our children could become cowards, as in succumbing to peer pressure.  If the readiness to incur risks is not conjoined with a higher value, it becomes indistinguishable from recklessness, which is the very opposite of courage. Courage implies commitment to life; recklessness, indifference to it.


In this instance, too, what is at work is the ability to see the given situation in a different light, rather than tamely conform to what is thrust upon oneself. I have been parsimonious in addressing our theme and in illustrating its aspects. But, fortunately, it is part of our work-a-day world and, as such, we can continue our reflections on this crucial theme in light of our first-hand experiences and those of others.

Dr. Valson Thampu

Former Principal of St. Stephen's College, New Delhi

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