Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Trade Winds

Read this quote by Mahatma Gandhi in the book The Leader's Way :

“I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.”

I cannot think of any better way to communicate to my eight year old daughter J, the importance of appreciation, understanding and empathy for other cultures and value systems while staying true to one's own. I read the lines to her and then had her read them herself. We talked about what it means. Clearly this is a quote that will be revisited more than a few times in our household because application is much more difficult than understanding.

First generation immigrants and other culturally displaced people strive for just the balance that Gandhi talks about and yet it seems the hardest thing to achieve. Not everyone is able to withstand the strong gusts of foreign cultural influences blowing through their home and not everyone has roots deep enough that can hold them steady.

We try to teach our children about a land and culture that they have never come into intimate contact with, recreate the ambiance of our own childhoods in a home that bears no resemblance to the one we grew up in. We try our best to give them roots they need to stay firm and steady. We are deeply convinced is for the best - that it is something they will come to appreciate and value as adults.

While those are exactly the right things to do, we frequently err somewhere else. Instead of allowing the "the culture of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible" as Gandhi suggests, we allow our prejudices and preconceptions to impede their flow or worse direct them in a way of our choosing.

A lot of us have never stepped outside the parochial confines of our hometown until a combination of circumstances throws us in a foreign land. Unlike Gandhi we lack the perspicacity to embrace the unknown and unfamiliar without feeling that it challenges what we believe to be our identity. We try to sift and sort through everything that comes our way trying to determine what works in harmony with who we are and what clashes.

So the roots become shackles instead of the unwavering anchor, the balmy breeze of foreign culture and influence turn into a Harmattan or a Tramontana, scorching or freezing in their wake. We are left to wonder why despite our best efforts to get our children to appreciate and understand their culture and heritage, they don't quite acquire the qualities and characteristics we may have desired for them to. Why it is that they end up being two dimensional shadows of our vision of who we had wanted them to become.


Sunil Deepak said...

To be a parent is full of doubts and uncertainities. Fortunately, in spite of all our good-intentioned stupidity, the kids grow up with the right mix of values and roots! At least, ours did. So best of luck.


Beautiful, this is a lovely post. Lovely lovely.. !!! There is so much hard truth in this.

Heartcrossings said...

Sunil - I hope I am just as lucky :)

Life Refactored - Thanks for stopping by. Hope to see you here again.