All my life, I have grown up in Pune, barring a few years that I lived in Muscat, in the Sultanate of Oman. I have also had the fortune of visiting several countries across the world. During my travels, I observed many differences in how the international populace behaved in their country and how Indians behave in their own country. An amusing thing that I also noticed is that Indians adapt to foreign rules and regulations with ease. This leads me to believe that we are capable of imbibing habits that help keep the environment clean, are sensitive to others’ needs and also beneficial to fellow human beings and animals.
Many who live in Pune would agree that the traffic is getting worse by the day. Every day, as I commute to work and, like many others, am in a hurry to reach, I find the traffic to be pretty exasperating! I realise that there is a lack of civic sense and also lack of empathy for others. People do not stop to think or reflect on the repercussion of their actions at all! Everyone is in such a tearing hurry to save a few seconds for themselves, but they are ready to delay others by several minutes. The same people we see don’t break traffic rules in foreign countries, or spit or throw waste on the road. So how can we bring change? The police and government are doing their bit by punishing the offenders, but with our huge population, getting all offenders to task is nearly impossible.
Good habits and civic sense can be taught to children from an early age. Instead of a reactive approach wherein we wait for them to break a rule and punish them, why don’t we teach them the value of good habits while in school or at home? Teachers in school and parents and grandparents at home can significantly create civic sense in children. Regular sessions can be held in the school wherein children can be made aware of their responsibility towards society and fellow citizens. Small habits such as keeping ones surrounding clean, throwing garbage in the bin, not shouting in the presence of others, not harming animals and being sensitive to others’ needs are just a few small practices that children can be made privy to. As they grow up, they will themselves learn these in larger dimensions.
When children are at home with their parents, the same values of empathy can be taught subtly by asking them to listen to their grandparents, even though they may not like everything that their grandparents ask them to do. When they learn the importance of respecting their grandparents, they will start doing so for others, too, and it will become a part of their natural behaviour. Even empathy for animals should be taught to children by keeping pets at home or even when they interact with stray animals.
Taking children to old-age homes or orphanages is a good way of teaching them about societal issues. I remember, when my children were school going, I would take them to an old age home ‘Nivara’ which was close to my house. I would also take them to an orphanage SOFOSH attached to the Sassoon Hospital and B J Medical College Pune, where I studied. I remember, how upon seeing the children in the orphanage my own children started weeping on their way back home. These two incidents, sensitised my children so much that even today when they are married and have started earning, they donate to Nivara and also visit SOFOSH during Diwali.
Schools, colleges, and homes can all become effective learning arenas if we create the right environment. Let us endeavour to imbue civic sense, good morals and empathy in our children so that we can see the world become a better place to live in.