When my father was a child…

February 22, 2009

I recently read this story by Alexandra Ruskin in my son’s text book. It is an interesting tale in which a child talks about his father’s childhood dreams. The story goes like this…

When my father was a child, he was often asked what you would like to be when you grew up. He had different answers each time. First he said he would become a night watchman so that he could roam around freely when everyone else was asleep. Next, he wanted to be an ice cream vendor – have as much ice cream as you want, and yet be able to roam around. Later, he aspired to become a railway engine driver. His parents would laugh at his answers. Father’s dreams kept on changing with time – becoming a pilot, to becoming an actor and so on. Finally, he said he wanted to become a dog. As a dog he could run fast on four legs, bark at people, run after them and laze around – all at his will. He had one problem though. He was unable to scratch his back with his leg like dogs do. He started spending time with dogs to learn the trick. One day an army officer passed by and asked him, “What are you doing with dogs”. Father replied, “I am learning how to be a dog”. When the officer asked why, father said,“ I have been a human for some time and now I want a change. The officer asked him if he knew what a human being was. The father said no and asked him to explain. The officer said, “think over it yourself” and left. Father kept on thinking and realized that he must first learn to become a human being. This time when he shared his desire with his parents, no one laughed. Father had finally got his lesson of life:be a good human being.

My son told me that the teacher asked children the same question in their class after the story. Most children wanted to be achievers in terms of position or money. Only a small group said they would like to be a good human being. When I asked about his response, my son said, “I wanted to be in the group that opted for good human being but most of my friends were in the other group. I was not sure how will I defend my choice. So, I also went with the other group”.

I asked him what does being a good human being mean to you. He thought for a while and said doing good deeds, helping others, etc. I said that is very good and posed another question, “If you see some people beating a man mercilessly on road, what will you do? Will you join the party who is beating because it is in majority or you will try to intervene to make peace and help the man. He said, he will try to intervene to help the man. Then we discussed what is meant by being a good human being. We summarized the discussion with three points: a) we need to do what we believe in and what we feel is the right thing to do. If a large number of people do something, it does not make it right; b) being a good human being does not mean that you can’t be an achiever. You must try to excel in your chosen field and yet be a good human being; and c) in race of life, never compromise on your values.

I hope my son will remember this. I need to reiterate this from time to time though. I shared this episode because it has learning for parents and teachers. Peer pressure plays a dominant role in forming values throughout our lives but is more central in formative years.  We need to talk to children as friends and lead by example. Times have changed. Parents have lesser time for children. Children are living in an environment in which everyone wants to get rich quickly. But we need to lay the foundation of core values in our children. We can’t afford to fail in this.