It's getting harder to read the newspaper each morning. There is just too much that seems to have gone wrong in the world. But most mornings, I keep reading. I read thinking that the world has to be better than this. That we have to be better than this.
I think about what we need to do to change our newspaper headlines. Something beyond tightening laws, increasing government effectiveness and security. That there is something more fundamental that we’re losing.
Perhaps we’re losing our ability to look beyond ourselves and to care for others. Perhaps we’ve lost our ability to care for our world. Our greed has led to a grave environmental crisis. The frantic pace of our life has led us to drive past people in need without noticing them.
At our worst, we’ve lost self-control and have young men committing the vilest sexual acts against women. It’s likely that millions of little acts of selfishness have compounded to get us to this place.
I think our children are our future. We have to believe that our children can grow up differently, and that if enough of them do, slowly the world will change. Perhaps in addition to the social media anger and the protests of outrage we should focus on our children. We should teach our boys what respecting a woman means, and why it matters. We should teach our girls how to look after themselves and not to be scared. We should teach our children that as much as they matter, others matter too.
The difficult thing about teaching children is that they don’t really listen to what we say; but they watch who we are. We can roll out a sex education curriculum across all schools, and we should, but our boys are really watching how we treat our girl children, our wives, our mothers, and our domestic help. We can tell our children they must care for others but they are really learning from the child on the street who turns away as we roll up a car window in their face. We can tell our children to control themselves, but they are watching what we do when we get angry.
Perhaps the education that will change the world is not the education focussed just on what each child wants to become, but the education focussed on who each child wants to be. Perhaps our schools should be as concerned about how our boys and girls talk to each other during break with how much they score on their unit tests. Perhaps they should track compassion in addition to math scores. Perhaps they should welcome integrating children with special needs and children from low-income backgrounds as an opportunity to learn how to care. Perhaps they should introduce their children to people who have survived acts of violence so that they know how a selfish, cruel act can cause a lifetime of pain. Perhaps they should give their children opportunities to serve; to learn that real happiness is inextricably linked not with taking, but with giving.
A colleague once shared a simple line with me: ‘It is ours’. Perhaps in its simplest form we need to just redefine what is ours. Today, I keep my home clean but I throw paper on the road. If I redefined what was mine to include the road, and it became my road, I would keep it clean. Today, I look after my children at home but walk past the child, abandoned, crying at the street corner. If I redefined what was mine to include the child, I would stop and ask if I could help her. Perhaps making the world safer and more peaceful and happier is as simple as extending our locus of care beyond ourselves.
I have such deep faith that a commitment to working on ourselves will enable our children to grow up kinder, gentler and instilled with care for those around them. And that will lead to a different world. One where we don’t look at the newspaper and shudder, but smile and embrace the day.
-- The author is the founder of Akanksha Foundation and CEO of Teach for India