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“Making personalities or puppets”- 23 July 2017.

Written by Rita Aggarwal
Sunday, 30 July 2017 18:52

A strange feeling takes over me when a teenager or a youth says, ‘I do not know what I like to do and what I want to do’. They are at most times good students achieving high percentage in examinations but there a blank when it comes to talking about their talents and their likes and dislikes. One undergraduate student who passed with distinction said something interesting ‘I have passed examinations but now I want to learn!’. A graduate engineer said ‘I hate engineering although I have cleared all my papers without a single failure but I dread to think of doing this all my life!’ Another girl goes a step further to say ‘I wanted a post graduate degree after my graduation so I continued with computer science but I do not like the subject at all’. She further tries to clarify her goals in yet uncertain terms that ‘her aim is to get a government job in whatever sector whether it is banks, railways, life insurance and that’s it. She did computer science only for the post graduate degree and not for the love of computer science’. She was unsuccessful in her multiple attempts in gaining a government job and claimed to be the unhappiest person in the world in spite of two professional degrees. She was feeling suicidal.

The attainment of degrees is taking over the goal of learning. The educational industries manufacturing degrees have robbed the fun out of learning and the development of talents and skills. Earlier people followed traditional vocations of their families learnt the skills and related knowledge from their elders or teachers who refined and honed their skills. Today it seems skills have been replaced with the attainment of degrees with practically no sense of attaining any specific applied skill. Therefore data analytical studies have set the alarm bells ringing by stating that employability among engineers and management graduates are as low as 25% and 18% because most of the degrees are generally hollow in content and application leaving the students confused with the process of learning.

A girl X was forced into dental science by her parents and she was an unhappy soul. She eventually made a circle of friends who were non achievers, indulged in fun and adventure and gradually got hooked onto drugs. Her addiction negatively impacted her concentration, focus and studies. She kept failing and kept blaming it on her parents not taking the onus of responsibility on self. Obviously when we allow students to choose their own path with full consciousness, we push them into positions of responsibility. When parents decide for them the burden of failure and future success is on parents.

Parents may suffer from many types of mythical thinking. One of them is that ‘your life is made when you take a good professional degree’. The second myth is that ‘your life is set when you get a secure government job’. The third myth follows from the above two that ‘to get there you need high marks in school and board examinations so that you can compete with the best’. In this rat race of attaining high marks and high degrees and government jobs, you lose your soul and your life as they fall by the way side. You mind is conditioned by parents, teachers and guardians of society alike so greatly that you are ready to sacrifice and comprise to any extent that you lose contact with your inner self.

Although formal education has become a necessity for every child today in India and the world to earn your livelihood and ‘survive’, it has done much harm to the psyche’ and the soul of the children. For children are forced to study for livelihood and survival and not for the joy of learning and discovering their talents. Children seem split in their minds and personalities as they cannot integrate their likes and desires with an education that has fixed curriculum with no scope for flexibility. Children should be allowed some freedom to be independent and to determine what they like and dislike and be allowed to express their interests in terms of games, sports, artistic hobbies and other creative pursuits besides their formal education. Methods of ‘open learning’ should be introduced in schools beyond class room teaching or should be pursued by parents out of school for their wards. The relevance of learning mathematics, social studies, science and languages to the lives of children needs to be explained to children.


Besides all this is giving utmost importance to the child as an individual and not a cog in the giant educational wheel that keeps churning out masses from the same mould. The talents, originality of the child, their creativity remain hidden under the burden of the fixed curriculum and the teaching methods employed. We believe that every child is gifted by God in different ways and the duty of the educational process is to allow the child to discover the latent talents and manifest them in a systematic manner. According to Swami Vivekananda the great Hindu monk education is “the manifestation of perfection within man”. Therefore the success of nurturing a child lies in the blossoming of its talents and God given gifts which will eventually lead to the passionate pursuit of excellence in those talents. There can be no better goal than this. For the moment we seem to be failing miserably in our educational agenda.

“Empathy- the best virtue”- 9 July 201.

Written by Rita Aggarwal
Sunday, 30 July 2017 18:49

Among all the virtues that humans possess, the best one and the most needed one is –empathy.

‘She is very understanding. She never misunderstands. She interprets what I say in the right perspective. She never takes things in the wrong way. I can trust any thought with her for she will never misconstrue the meaning. She has an uncanny knack of inferring the right meaning and intent of what I am trying to say.’ What these sentences convey to us is the quality of perceiving and interpreting the true intent and meaning of the conversation that you have with another person. Most of us have experienced the fact that ‘whatever I will say will be misconstrued.’ Most of us leave conversations abruptly in the middle when we feel that we are unable to get across to the other in the right manner and mood. Either we are unable to communicate properly or the other has a deficit of empathy and empathetic listening. Many times we react without hearing the other one properly much to the annoyance of the other.

Deepika made a good freelance counsellor of sorts among her peers for she had ample patience to listen with empathy and the courage to digest every detail to keep it confidential. She was never the heart of a party or social gatherings but she was surely the one her peers sought when in trouble and pain. Half their pain would vanish with her attentive listening, understanding and smile. She was surprised one day when her senior professor too shared her personal dilemma with her in the library and she was dumbfounded! She was just a college student for the moment but she realised her strength and her innate ability which came naturally to her. She was flattered actually.

Mr. Y made a good boss simply for the reason that he was quick to understand the body language and the verbal intent of his staff and colleagues. He could empathise with the men and their family problems and could do this with the women folk as well. No wonder he was hugely popular with the women in the office! You can be sure that others were green with envy over his popularity, not realising their own inherent weakness of not being sensitive enough and empathetic about women specific problems.

Mrs. M discontinued her friendship with her childhood friend when she realised that she was gossiping about her and passing on vital information that was too personal and damaging to her image. She had now become apprehensive of expressing anything at all to anyone. The betrayal and backstabbing had profoundly hurt her and she clammed up. But this situation led to another series of problems such as isolation, loneliness, and sadness. She was a depressed woman as she was undergoing some serious personal issues in her life and what she needed the last thing in the world was gossip. What she actually needed was a good listener with an empathetic ear. She also needed someone whom she could put her faith in. However after this, she could not trust anyone any more unfortunately.

People come in all shapes and sizes. They come from diverse backgrounds and mindsets. There are differences in religious beliefs and social culture. Being human requires the ability to empathise with the differences and to try to understand their perspectives. This happens only when you ‘put yourself the shoes of the other’ and try to understand the subjective world from their angle. Reality is at most times subjective and to be able to see that ‘subjective reality’ of the other is empathy. Not a simple task at all- in fact it is a very tall order indeed. The mistake that we often do is ‘to judge them by our own reality and our own self created yardsticks! The ‘subjective reality’ is different for each one as it is influenced and developed by our psycho-social environment we are nurtured with and as we internalise it. Our own world becomes the prism through which we look at the entire world thus leading to distortions in myriad ways. We judge people by our own standards and expectations.

To understand and empathise with the other requires an open mind, the ability to think in diverse ways, the willingness to accept the diversity of cultures and thoughts, and a good degree of logical thinking. Emotional thinking becomes an obstacle in the process of empathy. Empathy also requires a high degree of self awareness and the understanding and acceptance of one’s own biases and prejudices. The emotional biases and prejudices are the filters that block out proper knowledge and rational thinking. It’s a skill that can be developed with thought and effort. Empathy helps in all walks of life- at home, in your workplace and in society. It helps build good relationships and helps build bridge between differences of thought and opinion. Empathy helps in integration of diversity. It is a virtue that is not understood rather it is misunderstood. One person said ‘empathy is the opposite of sympathy!’ The truth is that empathy is many notches higher than sympathy. Of all the virtues that we have been bestowed with by mother-nature, empathy stands the tallest.


“Knotty emotions”- 25 June 2017.

Written by Rita Aggarwal
Sunday, 30 July 2017 18:48

A society that believes in good behaviour may not allow expressions of negative emotions. But negative emotions outnumber positive emotions in our minds as we feel them at all times. We not only teach our children not to express negative emotions but also fail to teach them how to express them in a proper manner. Negative emotions are prohibited and denied expressions in most homes and in schools. Parents do not want to listen to any opposing opinions, do not want any voice of dissent from their children. They take offense if ‘youngsters’ speak up in front of them and take umbrage at putting their emotions on the table. ‘How dare you talk to me like that’, ‘how can you even think like that’, ‘after doing so much for you, you think of your parents in such a horrible way’. They want obedience and ‘good children’ who listen to them and follow their instructions. Parents should realise that negative emotions are real and they are as natural as hunger. Adults and children feel them all the time. Don’t spouses fight with each other to sort it out and clear their system? Children too need to sort out their emotions by being listened to without reacting and be allowed to vent their feelings whether negative or positive. Emotions need to be validated rather than denied, discarded and distorted in their meanings. Most parents will take the negative emotional expressions in a very personal sense and feel hurt. They then get angry in turn, not knowing how to handle the child’s expressions and start showing disbelief and discontent. It is true that for the parent it requires a huge sense of emotional maturity and understanding of psychological matters to listen and digest conflicting volatile emotions.

‘I do not feel like you are my mom’ cries the teenage girl. ‘I do not feel like you are my daughter’ shouted the mom back! The Mahabharata started! Instead if the mom had said coolly and patiently, ‘why are you angry with me, what have I done’? After giving her a good listening she could have given her side of the story which could have resolved the situation. Teenagers are a hot headed lot and need to be allowed to vent out in positive ways. We need to teach our children ways and means to vent out feelings and then to sit down for a dispassionate discussion. Have a talk on ways of ‘calming down emotions’, such as jogging, punching a bag, cycling, meditating, relaxing, talking to a friend and such things, and then follow it up with a discussion with the parents once the emotions are cooled off.

Ali hated himself and felt disgusted with himself. As a result he hated the world at many times and would not make friends. His bad experiences haunted him often and he could not dare to share them with his parents for fear of being reprimanded. His parents were strict and proper and had low tolerance of bad behaviour. He did not know but he had huge amounts of anger inside which he had turned onto himself and hated himself instead. He did not release it ever to the aggressor and nor share it with his guardians who remained ignorant about his plight.

Akhil was a frustrated young man as he had completed his graduation but was unsuccessful in landing himself a good job. He had always been a mediocre student and was chided and derided by his teachers, his parents as he always paled in front of his elder brother who was a brilliant young fellow. He remembered being constantly being compared to his brother in school as his seniors and peers bullied him about his inferiority. And now he had no job too – he was thoroughly disappointed with his life, and himself. He was angry, irritated as he faced hostile surroundings at home and in society. He often would fall sick and strangely refuse medical attention and advice. ‘Leave me alone, let me be sick, let me die, what’s my use of living’ were his refrains. He had muddled up his emotions and distorted them into a psychological disturbance for he felt no one understood him and his problems.

Megha was guilty as hell. She had allowed her family to harass and victimise her only child, her darling daughter, by her husband and her in-laws, who opposed her love and desire to marry a boy of another caste. She was not opposed to the alliance as her daughter’s happiness was important to her and she had met the boy whom she felt was a decent gentleman. But her voice had no value and she was not forceful enough to grant the support her daughter needed. The result was disastrous when the girl committed suicide one day without leaving a note. Megha’s guilt multiplied as she cursed herself and sank into a deep depression.

The story of an emotion is akin to a mysterious tale. An emotion needs to be traced back into history and taken down memory lane several years into the life of a person. The buried emotions need to be dug out from the ruins and ravages done by it and identified. When the emotions are suppressed out of consciousness, they have a way to getting, distorted, disfigured, contorted, disguised and converted into multiple emotions and become unrecognisable. The original emotion changes form and colour and becomes a new identity. To save them from becoming knotty it is imperative that we allow them to flow, express, breathe, and settle down smoothly as soon as possible.


“Quiet as a Mouse”- 11 June 2017.

Written by Rita Aggarwal
Tuesday, 13 June 2017 21:52

She sits with her head down at all times in social situations. Her discomfort is visibly apparent from her demeanour. If she is asked a question she will continue to look down and be silent ignoring the question which she has actually heard but chooses not to respond. You can ask a few more questions and so very politely but she will continue to look down at her lap and be quiet. The silence is unnerving and irritating as she continues to maintain the posture of being ‘quiet as a mouse’. Her comfort zone is restricted to her parents and her elder sister whom she communicates to and through whom she communicates to the world. If she has to request the house maid to do some errand for her she tells her sister who then tells the maid! She however goes to college and is well educated. She writes poems and prose but does not show it to anyone. She is overwhelmingly shy!

Take another woman in her late thirties. She is a qualified and working professional and good in her trade. She has a problem of being tongue tied with her family members and her good friends. If her family hurts her or insults her or subjects her to misunderstandings and miscommunication, which happens often enough at home, she becomes numb and starts crying. She gets angry too and gets red in the face but suppresses her speech. If by mistake she loses control of her tongue and words fly out she feels burdened with guilt and shame. She is submissive at home with family and friends but not too much with strangers. She can manage strangers and their comments and answers them back but gets dumbstruck at home. It’s a reverse kind of shyness at home.

One gentleman refused his promotion consequently for three times and then it became embarrassing as his peers started raising their eyebrows and asking questions. He ran out of excuses that he was giving to his seniors and then decided to redeem him-self with counselling and therapy. Actually his wife pushed him towards it fortunately. The real reason was his acute anxiety and shyness in performing at a higher position. His contention was that the higher post requires a fair amount of leadership skills, such as, holding meetings, addressing staff at regular intervals, meetings and reporting to senior officers of the organisation, handling the grievances of staff members, solving their problems, fulfilling targets and being accountable and many such tasks. The job profile was scary for him and he was avoiding the post. He was a good conscientious worker and very reliable too in his limits of duty. He was unwilling to take on more and be proactive in his attitude. He was thus harming his own chances of rising up the ladder and becoming more accomplished. But he was helpless.

Most people who are shy are miserable about their condition. They do not like themselves as they begin to realise their weaknesses and shortcomings and suffer inside. The truth comes out starkly in social situations, such as, office gatherings, meetings, social and office parties, religious functions. They may be liked by many for being sober and sweet but are not popularly sought out. They are never in the limelight and may remain in behind the curtains doing all the work. If they are abnormally shy they may not be entrusted with work too.

An innocent child made a cute comment about his father- ‘my father behaves like a lion at home but acts like a mouse outside’! We knew where this observation was coming from although through the child’s mouth! His mother corroborated the fact that her husband was aggressive at home and docile in his office and with his seniors and peers!

This is loosely called ‘split assertive’. The individual could be assertive in one type of situation and submissive in another. Most jokes are made on ‘poor husbands being miserably submissive with their wives while being successful businessmen or executives’. It’s a myth we know. Some like the girl I mentioned in the beginning are submissive at all times and in all places except with her parents.

Shyness leads to submissive behaviour and does not allow you to communicate effectively. Shyness is based on the emotion of fear and anxiety and blocks your mind to say and do what you are required to actually do in that specific situation. A situation that generates fear or anxiety will inhibit your response systems and block your mind to act. There is a response generated inside the mind which does not find expression outside itself as it evokes an uncertain or specific fear. It is called the ‘flight response’. The person tends to take flight from the situation by keeping dumb and non-committal in spite of being physically present. The tendency is actually to run away to your cosy comforting corner, rather than face the situation, and since you cannot run away physically from the situation you keep mum. They may avoid confronting the situation at all costs instead of facing it.


Such fears and shy behaviour can be overcome with sincere efforts under a guided approach. They can be trained to control their high levels of fears and anxiety and then help them with the development of social skills. But, for those that are high in the scale of shyness, it is a herculean task indeed but necessary and worth the effort for good mental health.

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