So If I have to summarize here, the questions that we need to answer are
- What is the reason for our obsession with percentages?
- Who are the stakeholders and can they play a role?
- Who is ‘The Elephant’?
Obsession with percentages
I think this is a fool proof method of handling scale. It puts in the value of ‘forced discipline’ which ensures that any person coming out of this system will fit into the middle of the bell curve with a probability of 95% or more and shall continue in the middle of the bell curve for the rest of their lives. They would be the conformists. They know a formula that works, and they would stick to the formula. 5% of that 95% will somehow figure out that this is not what they want and move towards being outliers. So please do not undermine the value of this obsession!. Two of the current CEO’s of the two greatest companies(Google and Microsoft) are a product of this obsession!. So make no mistakes. This obsession works, and this obsession possibly needs to continue till we find an alternative that can guarantee a success probability like this obsession.
Well, if that sounded like an anti-climax to my argument, please hold on.
There is a cost to this obsession.
The cost is decreased curiosity and joy. Somewhere in this race, we make our children lose the connection with their inner core and convert them into a machine. Few of these children re-discover their inner core at a later stage in life, and few of them never get a chance to do that.
Who is then ‘The Elephant in the room.’
This is where the stakeholders come in.
Stakeholders and their roles
The stakeholders are
Children – Some children have this phenomenal clarity of what they want to be, and they get this clarity pretty early. No matter what, they have a vision of themselves, and they will stand by that vision, no matter what. You just cannot shake that vision. Unfortunately, this population is minuscule.
Teachers – Some teachers spot a certain unique talent in certain children and make it their life mission to ensure that these children achieve great heights. They wage a committed battle with all other stakeholders to ensure these children remain insulated from all other pressures. Many of these teachers are unsung heroes or heroines, but they do it because of their inner voice. We should worship these teachers.
Governments, Institutions – I would spare them, but I wish institutions can take a leaf out of what is emerging in the world and adapt. Especially, the prestigious institutes can make a real difference at scale, but somehow they remain reluctant. Both governments and institutions operate for success at scale, and quite frankly I do not think there is any other formula than the obsession with percentages
All the above stakeholders, excluding the category of children with early clarity, play a crucial role and shall continue to play a crucial role, but their utilitarian function of ‘Greater good for the greater number’ is in my view a valid argument.
So it boils down to one stakeholder, who can make a difference.
And they are ‘THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM.’
If it looks to you like I have scored a self-goal, you are right.
It is MEA CULPA.
As ever, I will leave you with my thought process, and if it hits one neuron in your system, then I would have made my point.
I think the first thing we want our children to be is a higher version of ourselves. We want them to succeed in things that we were hopeless. I will be frank. My joy will be absolute if both of my kids get into IIT! And then my KPI as a parent would be met.
All my subconscious behavior and actions would force me to do that in the name of well-intentioned parenting.
My son is an avid gamer. He is in his eighth standard. He is in some top percentile of the international gamers in some very popular games. Give him any game, and he will figure out in flat sixty seconds on how to navigate that game.
However, my behavior towards him as follows
- Daily lecture to him on why video games are harmful to his mental health.
- Making him read articles on why video games are harmful
- Block the port in which the game is played in my router firewall without his knowledge and make his day miserable
- Talk to him about the greatness of institutions like IIT, which he does not like to listen.
- Starting a battle with him on why his Hindi tuitions are important and emotionally threaten him to attend that when he has no leaning towards learning that.
I can see me killing his curiosity day by day and shortly I will succeed in my mission to put him right in the middle of the bell curve.
I will come to my daughter. She is in her sixth standard. Any stage she will grab the mike, a decent orator for her age and she has some inclination towards the traditional form of dancing Bharatha Natyam.
Somehow, I am very clear that I will allow this indulgence of hers for next two years. After two years, my coercing of her will begin. I will ensure that she follows the playbook and kill the above two skills of hers.
I have seen this pattern in everyone close to me as well. I have seen kids who demonstrated brilliance in singing, sports, being pushed to academics after a certain age. I have remained a mute spectator to the vanishing of their boundless enthusiasm and joy.
All this boils down to the below
- I know what my children what want better than them. My vision for them is better than their vision of their selves.
- I want society to measure children and me by an external metric. I cannot be seen as a failed parent.
Above all, given a chance between a probability of failure and Safety, I chose safety even if my all my experience has taught me it is OK to fail!
I go to bed in peace, having achieved the satisfaction of putting my two children in the safety of the hedonic treadmill.
That is all folks.
I am ‘THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM.’
Unless I find the inner strength to tell my kids
“Go after your dreams,” without any conditions; I shall remain ‘The Elephant in the room.’
Enjoy Maadi (Have Fun)
PS: I have used a lot of ‘I’ and parenting is about ‘We’ (Me and my spouse). However, despite all the discussions we have, I force my way to ensure the buck stops with me and I did not think it is fair to include her when I am paying lip service to her views.