There is a way to be good again

It has been exactly one year since I wrote a letter to you. On the occasion on Children’s Day 2017, I recounted my first days as a teacher in Levelfield. It was a nostalgic account of how you and I grew up in the last six years and what a memorable journey it had been. I also recounted proudly how all of you have shaped up to be nice and capable people who are going to make the world a better place.

And that account was indeed correct in many ways. I still feel very confident of giving you any responsibility — be it volunteering for any event that happens inside the school or making a question paper for a junior class or conducting contest prelims. I still show your example to junior classes to tell them how a class should be together, rather than divided into small groups of friends. I still feel very happy seeing any of you in the morning when you walk in the school. You are still the people with whom I want to go out for dinner.

You all are indeed much more special than scores of people out there. There are very few 14-year olds who were on the path to be as sensible and responsible like you. And this year’s letter is precisely about that.

I want you to take a moment to appreciate the extraordinary education that you received and continue to receive in Levelfield and what that has done for your life. I don’t know if you understand the extent of it, but the training that you got here will make your journey far easier compared to most people outside.

If I was to distil the objective of all the movies, books, discussions, common meetings, tweets that we did in school, then it boils down to two main areas — building your skills (reading, speaking, writing, logic) and building your character (helpful, kind, humble, empathetic).

Yes, you lived up to our expectations in the first area: skill-building. You speak well, you grasp things fast, you read and write well. As a result, teaching you have been a pleasurable activity for me.

It is the second area, character, that I’m worried about. I am concerned that you are not giving it the importance it deserves. Possibly the relentless focus on scores in our school of late has narrowed your vision. You are no longer thinking much about the real purpose of this education. If you are forced to think, the thoughts are shallow and confused. Nothing captured it better than this year’s essay writing competition. It pains me to say that it was a bit of a disappointment.

Some of you have written in your essays that you want to become a writer of some sort, some of you want to become a counsellor or a psychiatrist, some want to become a movie director, some dream of opening many schools, some of you want to open malls in Suri.

Even though most of your writings reflected an overall desire to do good, your dreams mostly come across as immature. Some show a lack of humility. Some others show a lack of appreciation for the difficulties of life. Most importantly, they do not reflect what you experienced yourself.

There are surely multiple ways to be successful. There are multiple ways to serve the needs of the society. How does one choose, then? The choice must come from your own experience. The choice must reflect what you are have personally encountered. The choice must build on what you are good at doing.

While I do not for a moment imply that there is only one route for all of you, I still want to dissect some of your ideas to show you have not thought deeply about them, neither do those ideas reflect your own experiences, skills, and frustrations with the way of the world.

Take writing, for instance, which is an area some of you want to work on. Without belittling the power of the pen, just passively writing a few articles in English papers or blogs or even writing some great quality movie/book reviews isn’t enough. Most great writing comes from deep experience. The strongest writers fought for a cause they cared deeply about. Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote to eradicate slavery. George Orwell wrote to fight totalitarianism. It is not enough to say you want to write. What’s your cause? What suffering have you seen that has moved you?

Moreover, how many people of India do you think will read or understand your writing? Why don’t you think about teaching them to read first?

Let’s take another dream that you wrote about: psychiatrist. The profession is obviously useful. Depression or troubles in relationship does afflict a lot of people in the world. But there are two points here: One, did you experience it yourself (or through a friend, family member etc) so that you feel moved to do something about it? Two, do you, through your experience till now, feel that it’s an urgent need that you, with your unique abilities, must solve?

In a country where there is still widespread poverty, lack of quality education, lack of basic awareness, suffering from mental depression is a luxury most of the population cannot afford. Do something which will help 98% of our population, rather than the elite 2%.

Some of you expressed your desire to be entrepreneurs. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with it. India needs a lot more entrepreneurs. You will spot scopes of improvement in every area that you look at. Suri, for example, has no malls, no area of entertainment. Surely, I will be delighted if you can create such fun spaces.

But again, do you think that’s the burning need for people in Suri? People can indulge in entertainment only if the basic needs are met satisfactorily. You wrote about Hammond’s Jurassic Park. Well, he invested in Jurassic Park because US is a developed country, where most people’s basic needs are met. We, as a nation, are very far from those standards.

Some of you said that you want to build very high-quality hospitals or schools, which will also be free. If you have read any economics in our school, you will know that it is not a viable plan. This dream also shows how little respect you have for money. While reading these essays, we felt that you thought that colossal amount of money will be somehow showered on you, and with that wealth you will be able to do plenty of ‘social work’.

Yet again, I would like to remind you of all the so-called philanthropists of the current world. All the Zucks and Larrys and Bills do ‘charity’ with money coming from exploitation. We would be gladder if, in the future, all of you can have just a happy existence earned through your hard work and you have no excess money to do ‘charity’. That will show that you took what you deserved.

I don’t even want to explain why the cog dream is not correct. Some pretenders might say that sitting out of a different continent, in an insignificant cubicle they will ‘change the world’. India needs work to be done here and now. Urgently and on the ground. It will be good for ‘world’ if there is less posturing.

Charity begins at home. Anybody who has any real desire to change the world for better, must begin with small steps. You must improve yourself. You must help your family, your friends, your community, your village, your town. Anyone who talks about changing the world without doing this basic thing is at best, naive, or at worst, an impostor.

The ‘world’ is not some far away country/village or an intangible, theoretical idea. It is your immediate surrounding. If all the people on earth took care of their immediate surroundings, the ‘world’ would have been a better place anyway.

Also, you must understand which need is more urgent and important. And how in our limited capability can we help in meeting those needs. It is important not to forget that we are indeed grains of sand.

You are lucky to be part of an initiative which is already doing its bit in improving the world and doing it quite successfully. But it always wasn’t so. There were too many hardships, confrontations and challenges that we had to face on our way to gift you this perfect oasis.

Now that we have attained some level of success, we are excited to do a lot more. And that is why we want the most talented, the most passionate, the most genuine with us in this journey.

Starting your own initiative is always laudable, but you must understand that out of many who attempt it, only a few succeed, even to our level. It makes far more sense to assist in the work which already has gathered impetus, where contributions will not be frustrated, which is known to you intimately.

All the skills that we have taught you will come to no use if you are not humble, mature and helpful. Contentment does not come to people who pursue selfish goals. Happiness does not come to people who have no appreciation of suffering.

However, I have not given up hope, because there is still a way to be good again.