But having said this, what is the life of a child today?
A child now grows up within the four walls of a plush apartment, in the company of gadgets. He is distant from nature, distant from his natural instincts. There is no play, there are no grandparents, no bedtime stories. The child is walled off from a world of infinite beauty. Walled off from the fantasies that float in this world. Most of his senses remain unstimulated and unawakened; his potential at perceiving the infinite beauty in the simple things that surround him, is permanently lost. Within him is a child that is locked up, a child that has never been allowed to step out into the world…
Within him is the emptiness of a repressed childhood.
The moment the child is old enough to go to school, he is burdened with the painful process of goal-setting. Parents and teachers teach the child to set goals in every activity he pursues…
Study because you must be the class-topper.
Participate in extracurricular activities because you must win prizes.
Learn swimming, dance or music because you must win medals.
Be friends with somebody because there is something you gain from him.
Don’t be friends with somebody else because there is nothing that you gain from him.
Take a walk because you want to burn calories.
In summary, do something only if you can define an achievement at the end of it.
So what is the problem with obsessive goal-setting?
A documentary comes to my mind. The documentary discusses modes of transport, exploring how development has changed the picture of travel and how travel has changed as an experience. It dwells upon a time when man had to walk in order to reach a destination. It traces man’s journey on foot.
A man walks, observes much as he walks, and then eventually sits down to rest. He is joined by other weary travellers. They share their experiences over a meal. Then they resume their journey and part ways. The man seeks shelter for the night at a house that is kind enough to provide him shelter. The hosts receive him with much hospitality. Again, there is a heart-to-heart conversation wherein the hosts and guest share their tales of joy and sorrow. The man engages the children in conversation and play. In the morning, the man bids farewell to his hosts and resumes his journey. He reaches the banks of a river. He joins passengers waiting to hop on to a boat that will ferry them across the river to the opposite bank. The boatman helps them get into the boat and then rows away. The passengers and the boatman strike a conversation. An old man rests his head on his neighbour’s shoulder. After a long journey that has accommodated their varying moods, the boat reaches its destination. The travellers, now exhausted, alight with relief. The man is at the end of his journey. He is weary and exhausted, but enriched by the experiences the travel has gifted him. The journey has transformed him.
As motor cars, buses and trains replaced travel on foot, the comfort and convenience increased, but the experience dwindled. And then came the era of air travel. A man now boards a flight, goes off to sleep, and wakes up at his destination, miles away. The entire experience of the journey is replaced by comfort and convenience. The joy of arriving at his destination is a momentary thrill, as opposed to the journey discussed earlier.
This analogy helps us understand the problems with obsessive goal-setting:
- Children learn to fall in love with the outcome, and not with the journey. But, the joy of an achievement is short-lived. So children are robbed of the ability to experience long-lasting happiness, fulfillment and contentment.
- They miss out on the experience of the journey. Sometimes, they even take short-cuts to the goal.
- The journey is transformed into stress because of the pressure to arrive at the outcome.
- The possibility of discovering new paths and new destinations is abolished.
- Undue importance to the goal encourages unhealthy competition; children see others as rivals. ‘Who is first?’ becomes more important than ‘What did I learn from the journey?’
Obsessed with goal-setting, children always have one foot resting into the future; they are never still. They are either planning or executing; they are never feeling. They end up replacing their feeling space with thought and action- a factor that is responsible for poor emotional development.
So what are we feeding into our children’s lives? At a time when they should have been exposed to nature, fantasy and the joy of perception, we end up replacing the beauty of this journey with stress. Stress is compulsorily fed into their lives today.
The question that we must next ask ourselves is: ‘So how are our children handling stress? Are they equipped to handle this enormous stress that is fed into their lives?’