The Middle Way
By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee
Self–confidence is essential for a person to be successful in the struggle for existence in this world of ours. Darwin had stated in his famous book “Origin of Species” that in case of biological evolution only the fittest can survive in the struggle for existence. To be fit one has to possess enough self–confidence, which should be built up from childhood and here the help of the parents is essential. But sometimes it happens that parents unintentiolly hamper the child in getting self–confident. It is often noticed that almost every mother wants to tie her child to her apron string even after he or she becomes a grown up young person. In fact, the interference of parents gives rise to acrimony in the family, which could have been avoided if the parents were a little wiser. That is what I suppose can be termed as the much–hyped generation gap.
Young people think that their parents belong to another age and are full of outdated ideas. On the other hand, the parents are of the opinion that their grown up children are unfeeling and uncaring. They need guidance at every step, yet refuse to abide by the parents’ advice. For these different attitudes of parents and children, misunderstandings arise and unhappiness follows as a tural consequence.
During the first few months of life the human infant, though obviously in contact with reality since birth, has hardly a sense of reality at all. At this stage the infant is utterly incapable of taking real conditions of existence into consideration. Only immediate gratification of biological needs is what matters to him. Gradually the baby becomes aware of the social reality. For instance, the infant stops crying when his father or mother comes and attends to his needs. His smile becomes more responsive and he becomes able to give vocalized responses and learns to discrimite between the expressions of the people around. The world of fantasy in which the infant has lived so far gradually leaves him and the child learns to take notice of the realities of existence. During the first year or so the infant is chiefly governed by the instinctive pleasure–principle and he is entirely ego–centric in behaviour and temperament. He is not conscious of the fact that there is a tural order as well as a social order which governs his life. He seems to move in an imagiry world where things are, as it were, what he would like them to be. He seems to regard his entire environment as a device for his instant pleasure and satisfaction. But when he enters the second year or so, he slowly realizes by degrees that his environment is not so easily ameble to his likes and dislikes. He soon learns to put up with set–backs and disappointments, frustrations and failures.
With further growth of the child, he begins to feel consciously his vital needs for emotiol security, acceptance and approval. Consequently he learns to pay attention to what others think of him and gradually develops an attitude of wilful submission to the expectation of others. This is the very basis of the later development of the fundamental social feeling, a feeling which is shared in common by all socialized individuals.
The infant starts his life with no awareness of others and objects surrounding him, nor of his utter dependence of others and on the environment. But gradually he becomes more and more independent of others. He begins to think of himself as distinct from other persons and objects. He comes to form an idea of himself as a distinct identity and he becomes self–assertive. The notion of the self as a distinct identity, that grows within a child’s consciousness slowly, is not only of the individual self, but also to a great extent of the individual self as related to society. This occurs because of the growing notion of the self as socially determined at every vital stage. The behaviour a child acquires and the attitude he receives from others in society determine his notion of his own self. According to William James “A man’s social ‘me’ is the recognition which he gets from his mates”. In C. H. Cooley’s language, an individual’s view of his own self is the “looking–glass self’. If the individual knows or imagines that others think of him in such and such terms, his self–estimate, his entire bearing and behaviour are determined by such knowledge. In this context we can say that in the first five years of life the child needs loving care and attention of others, especially the mother’s attention, so that he can grow up as a normal boy—self–confident, joyful, having self–initiative, optimistic and self– assertive.
It is the duty of the parents to bring up the child in such a way that he grows to be a self–confident and an assertive adult in future. But some mothers are overprotective and it destroys the confidence of the child in himself. The mother should let the child put one foot in front of the other without warning him that he might fall into a puddle. I have noticed that some mothers do not allow their child to play with some children because they believe that they are too boisterous and ughty and thinks that they may lead their children astray. It is true that in these days of violence and other crimil activities, it is tural for them to have apprehensions. But it is not good for a child’s mental attitude. I think a child should be allowed to mix with his friends to make him social. After all, he must grow up in society and as Aristotle said, “man is a social animal”. Let him make mistakes, so that he learns by himself what he should or should not do. The method of “trial and error” is essential for the proper development of the child. He would learn through mistakes and emerge out of them unscathed, if parents give him the right guidance. But he should also be granted some independence to judge by himself what is good and what is bad. If he is not granted the chance to do that, he will always depend on others to make the decision for him. In later life, in the absence of his parents, he will not be able to assert himself, and his life becomes a mass of confusions, uble to make any worthwhile decision. Therefore, self–confidence is very important for a person to make his life worthwhile.
Self–confidence is not born, but it has to be made. A person, who does not possess enough self–confidence, may find it very difficult to survive in this world. Darwin, in his outstanding book, “The Origin of Species” had stated that struggle for existence is essential to survive in this world. Everybody has to struggle for existence in order to lead a successful life. It has become all the more necessary in this age of chaos and mayhem all around. It needs a great amount of self–confidence to live reasobly well and to gain respect from others. That self–confidence has to be built up in every person. Hence it is the sacred duty of the parents to help the growing child to develop his self–confidence.
But it so happens that sometimes the parents themselves unintentiolly destroy the confidence of their child. I read this true story in some magazine, which I would share with you. In a family of three siblings, two of them were high achievers. The elder brother and the sister were exceptiolly gifted. In the academic side they achieved brilliant results and they also demonstrated their extra–ordiry skill in music and sports. turally they were praised by all. The parents were very proud of their two elder children. These two children loved to show their prowess to others and they had enough self–confidence to realize that nobody could ignore them as they had become very successful in education and the sports. Too much adulation perhaps did give them a bloated ego, but that is another matter. But they had enough self– confidence to face any situation that might arise.
Strangely enough the third sibling, a girl was not at all brilliant and she grew up with the feeling that she was the odd one out. Her parents were disappointed due to her poor performance. They asked her to be as good as her two siblings. They also asked her to take her two successful siblings as her role–model. All these comparisons gave the girl an inferiority complex and she became accustomed to saying, “Oh, I couldn’t possibly do it”, or, “They would not be bothered about me”. That is the way the parents idvertently cut the younger girl’s self–confidence to shreds.
After all these humiliations the girl had begun to believe that she was not good at anything, when suddenly fortune smiled on her and she got the chance to demonstrate her talent. Otherwise she would never have realized that she was a person in her own rights, with qualities different from the others, but just as valuable. She was well on her way to become one of those self–effacing women who let other people walk over her, lacking in self–respect, always finding herself at the end of the queue, and keeping quiet for fear that no one would listen if she did speak for herself.
Though no one had ever noticed it she was a wizard in gardening. She used to potter around the garden and her efforts brought forth various kinds of vegetables, including some fruit trees. She also used to grow lovely flowers. The family used them for their needs, but none praised her for her skill in gardening. She also could knit wonderful woollen garments and her embroidery works were magnificent. But the family did not value these accomplishments, as for them these homely works are not recognized by anybody. Yet whenever somebody was ill, she was the person to look after the sick person. Though she was at everybody’s beck and call, she never experienced any appreciation from the members of her family. She never argued with any one and was always submissive to others. It was only tural that the family took full advantage of her docile ture. What she lacked was self–confidence. She considered herself to be a failure and so did her family.
Then her chance came from unexpected quarters. A flower and vegetable competition was organized by some institution. She did not wish to join the competition for fear that she would never be able to win and others would laugh at her. But a neighbour’s son, who had observed her gardening skill, persuaded her to join and contribute some of her products. The results surprised the family as well as herself. She became the winner and got her prize. It was nothing much, but the small recognition of her talents gave her enormous confidence in herself. She realized that she was not a good–for–nothing, but she had other qualities, which her talented elder brother and sister lacked. So long she was an introvert, but after winning the prize she became an extrovert and her life suddenly became worthwhile. She realized that she too could do something worthwhile. From a nobody she became a somebody to reckon with.
Actually parents and society should give due recognition to various aspects of an individual. Mere academic excellence is not the measure of success. There are other aspects too in a human being. Some children may not perform very well in school or university examitions. Perhaps their talents lie in another direction. Some may be very good at gardening, some may have the talent in art and some may be very good with animal care. Every person has some talent in some direction. I know a young boy, who studied only up to class VIII in his village school. Yet I have found him to be very intelligent. He can do certain things which cannot be done by some others. He has the unusual gift to tackle any job that comes his way. Besides that he is very kind to dogs and any stray ferocious dog can be tamed by him. So whenever any problem occurs at home, I have to rely on him to solve it. He loves animals and is always ready to feed any stray or sick animal. It is his habit to sprinkle grains for the birds. I think these are very good qualities, which deserve due recognition.
In fact, we could not do without these sweet–tured people who are always ready to take the tasks which no one else wants to do. They are the uncomplaining souls on whose good ture other people tread. They are the people who have made others happy and they have demonstrated in a quiet way that human values are not yet lost and there is still hope for us in this world of selfish and greedy people. You may see them anywhere. In a bus a young man may vacate his seat for an old gentleman or, sometimes you may see a young boy helping a blind person to cross the road. Another boy may be seen to feed a stray dog. There are only a handful of such kind hearted persons. I wish there were more people like them.
Well, there are some such people, who are kind and generous, but whose noble deeds are not given importance and due respect either by the family of by the society. For me kindness and generosity are more important in a person than all the academic degrees put together or money and power. These people may not hanker for success, but a little appreciation of their selfless activities would surely give a boost to their self–confidence, which is so essential to make them assertive and happy. Without these kind–hearted people the world would be a sad place to live in. Let us then remember that though academic excellence is essential for success, there are also other areas where someone else may do equally well. We really need such people to make our life worthwhile!
(The writer is a former Head, Department of Philosophy, Cotton College, Guwahati)