Thursday, January 08, 2015

For a Peaceful Planet

I often have tell students in class to show self control when they have a strong urge to retaliate when someone hits them or abuses them. "It is only fair," they say, "that a person gets what he deserves." I ask them to express their feelings politely rather than create more animosity. Telling someone "I feel angry when you hit me" is a far better way than hitting them back. It may work if the person guilty of the act is conscientious. It gives the the chance to correct himself, to apologize, to come clean. "Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone deserves a second chance." After repeated interventions, most children do understand.

On some occasions, I am asked to arbitrate on the matter. In that case, I use a system of a classroom trial, where there are witnesses on both sides being asked to present their view. There are pre-defined rules and consequences in the classroom that the students are aware of. The consequence is not differentiated between the one who initiated the act and the one who followed in the act. If I differentiate then, in a way, I am accepting a justification for the violence and unkindness of one over violence and unkindness of the other.

I have a simple philosophy. Violence as the preferred way to attain justice creates a vicious cycle of hate and anger, that amplifies from one round to another. When truth in its incomplete form is accepted and systematically taught, it leads to dogmas propagating and spreading in the society causing further marginalization of the free minds. Communities grow up feeding on the idea of religious or regional fundamentalism. When such communities meet motivated, misguided and gifted people like Hitler or bin Ladin, they are mobilized into forms (like terrorist organizations) that unleash their anger on thousands of innocent people.

My student Firdos had once said "In my community, children are friends and grown ups fight." The simple statement had such a deep meaning,not only in the context of Shivaji Nagar, but the world itself. Children are born without these prejudices, but are systematically brainwashed - more so in communities where exposure to media is incomplete, comprehension of information is poor, scientific thinking is absent and the wisdom to independently choose the right path missing. The difference between an Ajmal Kasab going to a college and an Ajmal Kasab becoming a terrorist could have been that one mentor, that one teacher or that one parent who could gift him the voice of reason.

9/11 shocked me. When the attacks of 26/11 happened in Mumbai, I felt deep anger and hatred. But the question in front of me was "Who is this anger and hatred directed towards?" On reflection, I realized my anger and hatred were not directed towards the terrorists, their country or their religion. My anger was directed at the ignorance that led them to believe that walking on the path of violence and hate could lead them to finding their own peace.

People, like you and me, have  the skills, knowledge and exposure that is not ours to keep. If we have inherited our world, it is our responsibility to leave it in a better place. One of the ways to do this is to use whatever intellectual wealth we have to impact lives of the tens, hundreds, thousands or millions who don't - any amount of difference that you will make is going to be significant.

Through what I do, I have chosen to give children an excellent education. What will you do to save our world?

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