By Deepa Majumdar
To raise a child is a formidable task under any circumstance, in any culture, and at any point in history … But given the extraordinary period of World History we are now undergoing, it becomes all the more challenging to raise a child in our world today. A parent is the first teacher of the child. Children learn best by copying the parent. Thus the first qualification for being a good parent is impeccable moral character. For parenting is not a technical “skill.” It is not something utilitarian. It is profoundly moral.
Thus parenting is difficult enough under any circumstances. But in these times the task of parenting is still more difficult for numerous reasons … primarily the breakdown of the family, which serves as the atomic core of society. Today, in the prosperous nations of the world, society is imploding from deep within, with the breakdown of the family. Family values presuppose sexual ethics. Families are breaking up because of unstable adult relationships. We live in a world where the tragedy of teenage pregnancy speaks volumes for how much young girls long to be loved. Having never known love from their parents or other family members, they are having babies so they can find somebody to call their own. Thus we live in a world where children are having children … where the specter of fatherlessness and the high divorce rate have made the single parent household all too common.
If to this litany of woes we add the sophisticated violence of our day, the mindless materialism, an unabashed sensate culture, and a limitless escalation of desires, then we should not be surprised at the epidemic of depression that we see world-wide … an epidemic staved off by a pill popping culture that insults man’s capacity for contemplation and inwardness. For our world today is unusually counter-contemplative … It is a world where, despite all the meditation workshops, contemplation and inwardness are stifled on a daily basis … for meditation is neither a mere technique nor a mere skill. It presupposes years of moral preparation through a rigorous practice of the virtues … especially the anti-capitalistic virtue of renunciation. Neither Yoga, nor meditation were ever meant to be reified into medical products.
In this obtuse world we have created through the twin auspices of capitalism and technology … a world where the ATM machine serves as a minted altar … it is hard enough to be an adult. How much more confusing it must be to be a child or a youth. Everything around us says shop more, buy more, accumulate more. Everything tells us that accumulation of money, a certain sculptured body type, and everlasting youth are the goals of life. The body consciousness and somatic exposure in our times is unprecedented. This has left young persons with very confusing messages about body, soul and the purpose of marriage. Perhaps the most challenging threat to normal family life is the palpable violence in the air … from violent movies, to the violence in the news … to the violence of the hi-tech war and terrorism.
Therefore raising the global citizen is not just about teaching children to respect other cultures and learn about other cultures. It is not just about the commercial aspect of the word “global.” It goes far deeper. It involves understanding the word “global” to mean that which is universal and applies to all cultures in all historical periods. Such a universal notion of global reaches far beyond ordinary multiculturalism, which basically teaches tolerance for differences without discerning which differences should be tolerated. Which moral values and virtues are universal enough to count as global? What are the norms that would make a child a great global citizen? I would list three related moral virtues that were esteemed by Mahatma Gandhi … non-violence, truthfulness, and universal respect for all life forms.
Children are not blank slates. They come with dispositions. Children often have their own share of violence. Kids have been known to torment bugs and bully other kids in the playground. Therefore teaching a child the virtue of non-violence is perhaps the greatest service possible to the child and to the world. But first, it is important to clarify what the virtue of non-violence means … or perhaps what it does not mean. It does not mean being a doormat. Anything but. It means having the courage to face violence without retaliating. It means returning good for evil. But it also means that if a child is not yet capable of non-violence, it must be taught ways and means of sublimating its violence … through sports, artwork, religion etc. … But a child must also be taught self-defense. Non-violence does not preclude self-defense. But truthfulness is perhaps the greatest all-encompassing virtue a child can be taught … not blunt, cruel truthfulness, but truthfulness born out of kindness. If a child is truthful in every thought, word, and deed, it will naturally be global in the sense of universal. And as for universal respect for all living beings, for the planet, and for non-living beings … this means respecting the divine in each … not a sentimental, undiscerning acceptance of all lifestyles and views. It means respecting others enough to enable them to express their divine potential. Therefore, raising the global citizen should be about teaching a child, whether male or female, to always obey the voice of conscience. But obeying conscience means removing prejudices, treating all races as possessing the same humanity, and treating male and female also as possessing the same humanity. Thus global, understood as cosmopolitan means the capacity to love. Children ought to be taught how to love those against whom society has deep prejudices. Where family is concerned, raising the global child entails family values, which are infeasible without the virtue of self-control … without a sacrifice of personal desires for the sake of others … and without privileging the sense of duty above desire.
But the brute reality remains the fact that different societies have really different views on many issues … especially the treatment of the female child. Before such differences, a child should be taught to revere fairness and social justice, rejecting bad practices … like prejudice against education for girls. Indeed, it is also part of the practice of universal respect for others, to reject wholly the evil practices of any culture.
Thus raising the global child is not about utilitarian universals like technology, or the market or an entrepreneurial spirit … but about teaching the child to have enough self-esteem (not narcissism) so that it is confident enough to shed prejudices and love others who are different. A confident, ethical child would stand up for moral values and social justice. Since confidence itself comes from ethics, the secret to raising the global child lies in ethics. Here religion can be of great help, if it is not pushed on the child.
Like Leo Tolstoy, I believe deeply that faith is the very power of the soul. In fact, sometimes I think of depression as a crisis in faith. Therefore, raising the global citizen is also about encouraging the child to discover wisdom and faith for itself. I was fortunate enough to grow up in India, in a historical period when the very air trembled with the power of faith. I know from my own experience that nothing makes a person more cosmopolitan than the experience of faith.
Finally, raising a global child is about finding the greater universal purpose of life, which can never be mere career, money, or desires … but self-knowledge. Part of this self-knowledge comes from self-respect and self-care. This personal dignity is infeasible without a protective ethics of the body and the soul. Children should be taught that not only their souls, but their bodies too are sacred. The more we know ourselves the more clear the deeper purpose of life becomes. This purpose is to discover and unleash our own inner divinity such that we connect with all life forms and radiate the joy of our existence to all life forms. In a world where materialism and a sensate culture have drained the soul, repressing our natural powers of contemplation and destroying wisdom, causing us to become dependent on all kinds of anti-depressants … in a world where the world-wide epidemic of depression is a loud warning that our priorities are wrong … the greatest gift a parent could give a child is to raise it with ethical discipline and wisdom, proper priorities, and moral focus. For this to happen, parents themselves must be part of a larger moral community, created by the inwardness and contemplation of individual members. Thus to raise a global citizen we must begin with ourselves and purify ourselves so that we can return to that natural contemplation that is our inherent nature.