On the major mistakes in bringing up children
The major mistakes in bringing up children are many, but I will talk only about the most important. First: the idea that they belong to you. They come through you; you have been a passage, but they don't belong to you. They are not your possessions. Out of this idea of possessiveness many mistakes arise.
Once you start thinking that they are your possessions, you have reduced them into things, because only things can be possessed, not human beings. It is the ugliest act you can do. And those poor children are so helpless, so dependent on you, they cannot rebel. They accept whatever your idea is. And to protect your possessiveness you make them Christians the moment they are born. You make them Hindus, you make them Mohammedans, you make them Buddhists, you make them Jews -- you can't wait! And can't you see the absolute absurdity of it?
In politics, the person will be adult and capable of voting when he is twenty-one. Is religion something of lesser quality than politics?
But the child cannot even understand language and he is circumcised; he is told that he is a Jew. He is baptized, with no consent from his side -- for the simple reason that you don't need any consent from your furniture, where to put it, to keep it or throw it. You are behaving with your children in the same way, like things.
If the parents are really alert, conscious, they will wait for the child to grow up so that he can choose. If he feels like becoming a Christian, he is free. If he feels like becoming a Buddhist, he is free. But he should choose only when he decides.
My feeling is that if twenty-one is the minimum age for politics, then for religion forty-two should be the minimum age when people can decide. And in fact that is the time when religion becomes important. You have lived life; you have seen all the seasons of life -- forty-two is a very important turning point. You have to decide whether you will continue the same routine life, or you will bring some new dimension to it. And that new dimension is religion.
If the person chooses to be religious -- simply religious, not belonging to any organization, not belonging to any church -- that's perfectly good. He has chosen freedom. But it is personal, intimate, absolutely his own affair; nobody can interfere in it. But parents start interfering from the very beginning. Why the hurry? The hurry is that later on the child will argue, later on he will ask why he is a Jew -- because he was not born a Jew; no child is born a Jew or a Christian or a Hindu. All children are born as a tabula rasa: a clean slate. Nothing is written on them... pure innocence.
The first thing to remember is, don't reduce the child into a thing, by any of your efforts. Give him individuality; don't impose personality on him. Individuality he brings with himself; personality is imposed by the parents, by the society, by the educational system, by the church. If you understand, you will not impose anything on the child, you will help the child to be himself.
Certainly it is difficult. That's why all the societies of all the ages have chosen the simple path: it is simpler to impose something on the child. Then he is obedient; then he is not rebellious. He does not give you any trouble, he is not a nuisance. But if you give him total freedom and help him to be free and individual, he is going to give you trouble about many things. People have chosen to destroy the child rather than accept the troubles.
If you are so much afraid of troubles, it is better not to give birth to a child. But to give birth to a living being, and then to destroy it just for your peace of mind, is very inhuman. Children are the most enslaved class of people in human society, the most exploited -- and exploited "for their own sake."
The child, if he is free, is going to ask questions which you don't know the answers to. And your ego does not allow you to say, "I don't know" -- it is better to force the child to keep his mouth shut. Every parent is continually telling the children, "Shut up. Sit silently. When you grow old you will know the answer."
My grandfather used to tell me the same thing in my childhood. Year after year I continued to ask the same questions, and I asked him, "I am growing, but your answer remains the same: Shut up... when you grow up. Can you please tell me at what age I will know the answer?"
The day I asked him, I was fifteen. I said, "I have been hearing this for ten years. In ten years nothing has changed, and I suspect that even in a hundred years nothing is going to change. My question will remain a question and there is not going to be any answer. And you cannot look directly into my eyes. You also don't know the answer, but you don't have the guts to accept it."
He was taken aback, shocked, but he thought that it would be better to say something, because it was going to happen again and again. He said, "You are right; I am sorry. I don't know the answer, I was just postponing it. I thought you would forget all about it. And that's how it has been all along. I had also asked the same question and I was told, `When you grow up you will know.' And now I am seventy-five, just on the verge of death, and I have not got the answer. Just by growing old, you cannot get the answer. I was hoping that you will also grow old, you will have your children asking you the same question, and you will say to them, `Grow old and you will get it.' This is how it has been done for centuries."
An individual child is troublesome because he is alive, because he is intelligent, because he can expose your ignorance. And you are ignorant in almost all the basic points of life. Do you really know God? Do you really know that Jesus Christ was the only begotten son of God? Do you know that there is a hell and a heaven beyond this life?
What do you know? Do you know yourself, who you are? -- except the name, which is a label glued to you after you were born, except your profession, that you are a doctor, that you are an engineer, that you are a scientist, that you are a professor. But this is not your being, this is your profession. What do you know about yourself?
The whole society has been living in utter ignorance -- and perpetuating it by not allowing children to be individual seekers, because it is through individual seeking that one comes to know who he is, and whether there is any God or just a fiction. One comes to know whether his life is eternal or just confined to seventy years. Only experience... but experience needs enquiry, search. But all of that is being stopped by the parents, by the teachers, by the priests.
Either they say that you will get it when you are old enough, or they give a fictitious answer, which the innocent child cannot argue against. They say that God created the world. Every child asks, "Who created the world?" Every child is being told, "God created the world." Do you really know? Were you a witness when God was creating the world? Was there any witness at the time of creation? If there is no witness, then what are the grounds on which you are basing your fact? And stupidity knows no limits....
Christians say God created the world four thousand and four years before Jesus Christ's birth. They exactly know the time -- four thousand and four years before Christ was born. Certainly it must have been January first, Monday. That can be easily inferred. But the whole answer is nonsense, because we have excavated ancient cities in China, in India, of civilizations which are seven thousand years old. Ruins of great civilizations -- they must have remained in existence for a few thousand years. We have found skeletons of animals fifty thousand years old. And according to Christianity, it is only six thousand years old -- the whole of creation!
But the child cannot ask. If he is too inquisitive, he is punished for it. If he is obedient, if whatever you say he accepts without any argument, he is praised. That's your story of Adam and Eve. Why were they expelled from the Garden of Eden? Because they disobeyed. There begins the wrong upbringing of children. They were the first children, mythologically.
And what kind of father was this God, who told them not to eat from the tree of knowledge and not to eat the fruit from the tree of eternal life? Two trees are prohibited....
The story is significant. It shows what perhaps every father is doing: preventing the child from becoming wise, keeping him ignorant. But it is the natural curiosity of every child -- if you prevent him, if you tell him not to eat the fruit of this tree... In the Garden of Eden there must have been millions of trees. If God had not pointed them out, I don't think we would be sitting here; we would be still wandering in the Garden of Eden. It would have been almost impossible to find those trees.
The whole civilization, the whole evolution of man goes back to the disobedience of Adam and Eve. They ate from the tree of knowledge.
And you can see the antithesis that I was talking about just before: God says, "Don't eat from that tree," and the devil comes in the shape of a snake and says, "Eat it -- because if you eat it you will be wise, and if you eat from the other tree also, you will be as eternal as God, as wise as God. And that old guy is really jealous; he does not want you to be equal to him."
Now this is conspiracy! On the one side prevention, on the other side provocation. And what can you expect of innocent Adam and Eve? They ate from the tree of knowledge. They loved it -- for the first time they became alert, alert of their nakedness, alert of their animalness. But before they could reach to the other tree, they were expelled. They were caught red-handed and expelled from the Garden of Eden, and since then man has been searching and searching for the other tree.
The whole scientific endeavor is nothing but a search for eternal life, and the whole religious endeavor is also nothing but a search for eternal life. The other tree we have missed. And the first tree has been so helpful to make us human beings -- now we know we can be equal to gods. All enquiries are basically to find some source so that life can be eternal... or perhaps it is eternal and we have to discover it.
What God did to his children, every father is doing to his children. It is perfectly right to say, "God, the father" -- they have a similarity. Every father should be called "Father, the God."
Obedience has become the basis of bringing up children, and that is the wrong basis. Intelligence, rebelliousness should be the basis. The child should say yes only when his intelligence says yes; otherwise he should say no. And his yes or his no has to be respected. He is a stranger from an unknown world, a visitor, a guest to your family. Behave with him as a friend, as a guest. He has every right to say no or yes, and you have to make it completely clear that whatever he says will be respected; otherwise we create yes-sayers. That is spiritual slavery.
In offices they are saying yes to the boss, in the home they are saying yes to the wife. They have forgotten completely that the word `no' exists. And it strange that `no' defines you, gives you a clear-cut personality; `yes' dissolves you.
One should first learn to say no.
Your yes is meaningful only when you are also capable of saying no. If you are incapable of saying no, your `yes' is a robot `yes'. It is meaningless.
Children should be treated with great respect. All the societies have done just the opposite: they have been teaching children to respect the parents, respect the elders, the grandparents.
It was a continuous problem for me because in India the families are joined. In my family there were almost sixty people; everybody was an elder, and there was a continual exercise to touch their feet. Finally I said to my father, "Enough is enough. I don't see any point in it. I don't have any respect for these people; I don't see anything worth respecting in them. Why should I touch their feet?" I refused. My father said, "That is going to be a trouble."
I said, "That is your problem, that is not my problem. I have solved my problem. I will certainly touch the feet of somebody whom I feel respect for, whom I feel some deep love for. But why should I go on doing this exercise to every person for whom I don't have any feeling?"
But this is the way the children are being brought up: respect the old people. Why? Just because they are old? Has oldness something respectable?
And this is the same logic: respect the people who are dead, because they are even older. Respect the people who have been dead for thousands of years, because nobody can beat them. You are making the living respect the dead. You are making the fresh, the newly sprouting leaf respect the dead leaves which have fallen on the ground, or are just going to fall down.
In a right upbringing of children, children should be respected, because the old people are soon going to disappear, but children have a long life to live.
And respect has an alchemical effect. If children are respected, the very respect will prevent them from doing many things -- it goes against their respectability. It will make them do many things which they would not have ever cared to do, but now they are so much respected, they feel like being worthy of that respect. But right now the whole thing is upside down.
The children need to be taken care of, they need your help, but they don't need to be made dependent on you. Your real help will be to make them independent; your real help will be such that your help is no longer needed.
They are strangers in the world. You can keep an eye on them so that they cannot fall into a ditch, but there is no need to enslave them just to save them from the ditch. If these are the only two alternatives, I prefer the ditch. At least by falling in the ditch they will learn something. They will learn what ditches are; they will learn not to fall again into any other ditch. But slavery for their whole life, protection for their whole life, makes them incapable of learning.
When you send them to school, a basic education should be given to all children. By basic education I mean: one international language to create one world, their mother tongue, the three R's: reading, arithmetic, writing. You can see it: people's handwriting is so ugly for the simple reason that nobody pays any attention to their writing. And writing is their signature; it shows their whole personality, whether there is a rhythm, an art. Their writing should be a painting, an art.
This should be the basic education. And after the basic education, the teachers, psychoanalysts, psychologists should be continuously learning about the children and what are their potentials. Tests can be developed which can give more evidence that the person can become a great musician or a painter or a poet or a scientist. Right now the whole world is in a chaos: the painter is making shoes, the man who was meant to make shoes is painting. Naturally, if you see the painting it looks crazy -- it is no wonder! Everybody is somewhere where he is not supposed to be. It is such a mess!
I am reminded of a great surgeon. He was the greatest surgeon in his country, very much respected, a Nobel prize winner -- and he was retiring. He was almost seventy-five, but still no young man was capable of doing such artful surgical work as he was capable of. Even at the age of seventy-five, his fingers were not trembling. He was a brain surgeon. In your small skull there are seven million nerves -- you can think how small they will be -- and when somebody is operating on the brain to remove some nerves, the danger is he may cut other nerves which are so close together, so the hand has not to shake at all.
At the age of seventy-five he was still a perfect surgeon, and all the doctors and the surgeons had given him a party because he was retiring. They were dancing, singing, but he was sitting in a corner, sad, with tears in his eyes. One of his old friends came by and he said, "What is the matter? Everybody is so happy and you are looking so sad -- I even see tears in your eyes." He said, "Yes, there is a reason. In the first place I wanted to become a dancer, I never wanted to become a surgeon. My parents forced me. Although I became the most famous surgeon, it was not my heart's desire. I would have been far happier just with a guitar on the street as a beggar -- a singer, a dancer.
"All this fame has meant nothing to me. All these awards have meant nothing to me. Each award has only reminded me of one thing, that I am losing my life and I am not where I am supposed to be. And now my whole life is finished. These tears are... I am crying because... why could I not rebel against my parents, and just do whatever I wanted to do?"
The world is so miserable. Ninety percent of its misery and anguish comes from the fact that everybody is doing somebody else's work. Naturally he is not happy; he cannot put his whole soul into it.
So the parents should not decide where their children are going, in what direction. It should be decided by psychoanalysts, psychologists, teachers who have watched those children for four years during their basic education. The children should be given tests so everything is clear, where they will feel a fulfillment.
Now parents decide for a better job; their reasons for deciding are different. They are not deciding for the child and his potential, they are deciding for financial reasons, for respectability. If he becomes a great engineer or a surgeon he will have a good life, a comfortable life; he will have a respectable life. Their intention is not bad, but the path to hell is paved with good intentions. The question is not their good intention, the question is what is hidden in the child that needs a flowering.
And that is possible now. We can find out what is hidden in a child and let him move in that direction. Perhaps he may not have a very comfortable life, but he will have very contented life -- and what is comfort in comparison to contentment?
Perhaps he may not become world famous, but who cares? How many people know him does not make any difference. But dancing or singing or painting, he will have a fulfillment, a flowering.
His life will be juicy.
His aura will be of joy.
This whole world can be a paradise; we just have to put everybody in his own place. Right now everybody is in the wrong place: nobody is happy, nobody is blissful, nobody is contented. And the whole responsibility is on how we start bringing up children.
- Socrates Poisoned Again After 25 Centuries, Chapter #2