Teaching kids to think about othersAs a parent, the one thing that constantly has me worried is about a generation growing up with an inflated sense of entitlement, and that includes my son. He is a child of the consumer culture. I grew up in an era where we had two channels, Doordarshan 1 and 2, in black and white, and we waited some eight years after application to be allocated a MTNL phone. I grew up with one doll for all the years that I played with a doll, and I kept my books in pristine condition so they could be sold back to the raddi wallah at the end of the year at a good rate. He has more WWE action figures than I can count on the fingers of both hands.
Trying to teach him that he is privileged and he must not abuse this privilege by being uncaring about those who aren’t as privileged as he is, has been a tough, grim battle, but one I must fight. It starts right at home, with wastage. I start with water. A tap left running needlessly has me point out to him that he is wasting water. A couple of times of this going unheeded had me then have him read articles about the drought in Maharashtra and the pitiful plight of residents in the hinterland who get water tankers once a week. I made him sit through news reports on the news channels when they spoke about the drought situation. Today, he is a careful user of water. He takes only as much water as he will drink in a glass, so he doesn’t need to discard the rest.
While there was never an issue of food wastage when he is around, the occasional times when we’ve taken doggy bags from restaurants, he’s seen me hand them over to the children at traffic signals and now does the same. These children are to him the India he doesn’t know, but the India he sees every day. The fact that they have no food, no clothing and nowhere to live horrifies him. I speak to him about poverty, about rural to urban migration, about inflation, about so called grown up topics in a manner that he can understand that not every child has the luxuries he has, and for them, every meal is a struggle and the education he takes for granted and doesn’t focus on as much as I would have liked. He knows that there are organizations that sponsor the education for street children, he would accompany me occasionally to a street school that I was once associated with. Now he keeps unused stationery and books to be handed over to the children of my domestic help, as well as return gifts he might get from birthday parties that he isn’t really keen about. I don’t need to tell him to do so anymore.
‘What can we do for them?” he asks. Somewhere, I know I’m doing my job because he is asking himself this question even if we don’t have any solutions to give him apart from the handing out of clothes he’s outgrown. Ever so often, he culls the contents of his toy basket and puts the ones he doesn’t want anymore into various plastic bags to be distributed to the maid and cook, for their children, and to be given to an orphanage. He is careful too, that he only puts in the toys that are in good, usable condition. Ever so often, we sit together and cull his wardrobe. Clothes he has outgrown but are in good, usable condition are given away. He decides whom he wants to give his clothes to, and is encouraged to hand it over himself.
On his birthday this year, we had no grand celebration. He wanted it that way. Of the toys he was gifted, he gave some away. After the recent, horrific Uttarakhand floods, he wanted to know how the people there were living without homes, food and clothing. I spoke to him about organizations like Goonj and how they were, with the help of volunteer efforts, collecting food, clothing and supplies for the flood affected.
Does he have a social conscience yet? I don’t know. Right now, I’d settle for empathy, for concern for others, for a sense of knowing about how wastage is a form of selfishness because one is privileged to have it—whether water or electricity or food. And once that is in place, the rest will hopefully fall into place too.