September 14, 2016

The most difficult words to say

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Have you wondered about the relationship between an artist and the audience? And, I'm not referring to the successful celebrities and their fan following frenzy. I'm talking about those unassuming people we see in our everyday walk of life. The ones who seem ordinary at the outset but carry a special skill  within that outshines when pitted against the rest.

Don't we all know of, in our immediate circles, a master chef, a pitch-perfect singer, a skillful painter, an imaginative craftsperson, a graceful dancer or even someone who's a bit of all of these? These are artists in their own right, some perhaps bidding their time to make it big and some just content being a devotee of art. At different points of time, we could well be that artist or one among the audience.

As an audience, how many of us walk up to the unsung hero and applaud his/her efforts? How many of us generously spend from our tightly-held purse of appreciation without a grudge or an expectation of a return compliment?

It's easier to be a mere spectator of the artist's mastery over respective genres, pausing only briefly to register his/her excellence. And then, move on. Without a word. To either wallow in self-pity or to sharpen our own set of strengths to feel worthy enough.

I often wonder why we don't praise easily; or generously and genuinely enough?

I assume it's because we are entwined in low self-worth and insecurities. It's very likely that we are ourselves a struggling chef, singer, painter or dancer and lack the confidence to showcase whatever talent we have. We begrudge the other person who has risked criticism and is brave enough to expose the raw self. The feelings of 'if only', 'what ifs' and 'why me' throng the egoistic mind, building up an invisible, impregnable shield between the self and the artist or even rest of the world.

Perhaps, this is also a reason why we're able to freely congratulate and applaud someone whose skills are disparate from ours. Here, there's no basis for comparison and therefore no green monster raising its ugly head. Again, it's easier to be in awe of a celebrity figure because somewhere in your mind you have accepted the fact that the artist and you are on different planes and there is no scope for the juxtaposition.

However, when the tables are turned and we do not see our talent being recognized and appreciated, do we smile knowingly? Ah, the complexities of a human mind! As slaves of an art form, we are constantly seeking a discerning audience, some constructive feedback, a bit of admiration or adulation.

Appreciation from external quarters is a validation of all the hard work the artist has put in to create a beautiful artwork for the world to see, touch or experience. The words that speak highly of a job well done serves as a throttle for him/her to do better each time.

A creative person's world is often lonely. Even among a company of those similarly endowed, he/she embarks on a long-winding path that is traversed alone. Thick boughs of a criticizing audience dotting the sidelines form an intimidating canopy. The path itself is strewn with thorns of self-doubt and fear. At such times, when a kind face waves out encouragingly and cheers him/her, all the obstacles seem to fade out into the oblivion and the journey becomes enjoyable.

The perspective changes dramatically by simply reversing the side you're on! Yes, it's tough to make that switch but not completely impossible. So, the next time our ego stops us from patting someone's back, we must try to put the self for a while in the artist's shoes. It might then be easier to smile easily and say those simple but difficult words, "You did a great job!"

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What are your thoughts? Would love to know what you think.


September 1, 2016

Parenting fears: Is there a right way?

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Of late, we are seeing an increase in the number of students taking rash steps on account of studies, unable to cope with pressure and the fear of facing the society, including one's own parents. As is wont with the online space we are quick to take sides and debate the incidents, the merits, and demerits of various parenting styles. A classic case of 'have an opinion, express it'. Yet, for all its faults, the social media also rises in humanity to calls of distress and shows care and empathy as seen in many a case of missing loved ones being found by the virtual human chains.

So, when this delicate layer of goodness within the virtual world is ripped apart by callous attitudes, I feel disappointed and wonder about the future of compassion. The case, in this instance, is a young student who decided to walk out of her home because of low scores. It was not a step taken in a moment of weakness, we learnt later, but of thoughtful, careful planning. The trauma and trouble she put not just her family into but the entire community of strangers that helped to trace her to safety got trivialised as she spoke confidently in front of the camera accounting in detail how she travelled and survived on a shoestring budget, barely seeming repentant of her deed. The parents too seemed to be taken in by their child's ingenuity.

If ever there's a job that does not require a prior experience, provides no roadmap, is extremely demanding and confusing, it's got to be parenting.  The dividends, though delayed, are richer than the salary any job would provide, but oh boy, the journey is arduous, to say the least. Fraught with worries, self-doubt, and questions at every step and phase of the child, the parent truly grows up with the kid.

Parenting today, in a nuclear setting, means a chance to be a hands-on parent, to challenge and change archaic, rigid methods of disciplining and conscientiously nurture the generation next. Also, today, there's the internet and social media. A place teeming with articles on how to be a better parent, how to raise better kids, why the parents err, and why the children err. So, that should be make up for the lack of hands-on support, right?

That's the tricky part. While I cannot deny the advantages of having a wealth of information at hand, most of it well-researched and well-meaning, it does not necessarily make the task at hand any simpler. If anything, today, we parents face the challenges in a two-fold manner. We not only have to walk the tight-rope alone, we also do that under the limelight of the ever critical and watchful society.

We new-age parents truly want to create a better world for our children and do not hesitate to question our methods. And, while our newsfeed is filled with all the supposed model methods of parenting, we do not have the model child for whom these methods were devised or tried upon. Our child is always different. Every child is different. And, no one method can apply or fit like a glove magically.

If we critiqued the old methods of parenting, we are faltering no less than our own parents. We do not want to reprimand the child too harshly because we want to bring up empathetic people. We are careful not to question a low academic performance because we fear the child might take extreme steps and we only want to encourage progressive learning and not cut-throat competition. While these are well-intentioned goals, somewhere we are failing to factor in an important aspect.

Trusting our instincts 
We are so entangled in the external feed of what ought to be done that we have lost the connect with our internal voice. The voice that may not conform to the teachings and findings of better parenting yet might be right; right for us, for our child. We tread on eggshells fearing to make mistakes because we believe that our mistakes will cost our child's future. One moment we give in to rage at our child's mistakes and the other moment, when the inner critic seasoned with external knowledge rebukes us, we placate using rash promises. We border on extreme reactions confusing the child further.

I wonder if the girl's parents are similarly confused. If they realise the negative impact of showcasing the brighter side of their child's errant behaviour. It was such a lucky chance that she did not get into a bigger trouble, the horrifying ones that dominate the headlines these days. I wonder if the girl realised this. I wonder if we, as a parenting generation, are raising a more confused lot who want to succeed but do not wish to undergo the exacting tests in life, who want to take the easy way out and look to blame the parents and society for their stumbling blocks.

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What are your thoughts? I'd love to hear.