“…principle”, she said firmly between her sobs. “You are being very emotional and sentimental, she is just a 6 year old, and clearly they do not understand the difference between right and wrong yet”, said Satish, her husband.
“And that is precisely why the people around these 6-year-olds need to act up the right way. I am angry not because our daughter lied to me, but how no one else thinks it is worth the attention. I am not being sentimental, I just care enough not to ignore!”, came an angry response.
Devi and Satish both worked for large multinational corporations and their younger one Ishita, the 6 year old, was put in an international school close to where they lived. “I feel we don’t give enough time to our children, and have delegated the job of bringing them up to teachers and their friends, who are constantly bombarding them with their versions of the ‘right'”, said Devi. “I am not saying everyone is wrong and they get only the wrong inputs, but how do we ensure we have a view of it unless we spend time”, she added.
“There you go again, somehow you have this expectation on yourself of being an omnipresent being, especially around your daughter”, joked Satish. A projectile flew past Satish nearly missing his head and he thought it wise to participate in the emotion with a serious face, he could see the soft toy that flew past him behind the sofa and let out a thankful “phew! thank God you didn’t get to something more harder”.
Devi said “I am sorry!”, and repeated the incident yet again to him to get him to understand how serious she thinks it was.
“I knew it as soon as I saw the marked answer sheet, Ishita is not this dumb, she did fairly well in the previous test which was just last month. No way, she could score so low. When I asked her repeatedly, she kept lying in my face, although very innocently, that it was her answer sheet and she didn’t do well this time”, Devi looked inquiringly to ensure Satish was paying attention. “But after a while she realized that mamma was not happy about this and more importantly that I did not believe her, she came back to me after couple of hours and she was being uncomfortable, so I asked her again this time more gently and lovingly. ‘Ishu, it’s okay nanna*, tell me what happened, we will study together going forward more, I will help you understand, but I am sure we prepared well even this time and you knew all the questions, were you distracted during the test? It is okay, I am not worried about your marks, I just want to know if you need help with anything’. And then she said, ‘mamma, my best friend Ritu said he is scared of her mom at home and after the test she told me that she wants to exchange her sheet with mine. Since she was my best friend, I let her take my paper'”, the cooker whistle blew for the 4th time and looking at the intensity with which Satish was paying attention, Devi got up to tend to the stove saying, “will be right back, wait for it, I am not done!”.
“So yeah I felt really bad when I heard Ishita and I could only blame myself. Is this the moral education that I am/we are giving to our daughter. Is it OK to lie to parents so easily? But what was really horrifying was when I called up Ritu’s mom and subsequently Ishita’s teacher stating that this is not right and we should gently tell the kids so. We should talk to them to take out any fears/hesitations that would have made them to act in this way. Imagine my frustration when I received a dismissive response from both of them. I am sorry for this child Ritu that her mom doesn’t think it is important, in fact she said that it is amusing for her that her daughter thought of something smart like this!….and the teacher! I asked the teacher that she should speak to the children, and may be redo the test to set an example to both, and she didn’t think it was worth the trouble! Can you believe this?”, Devi narrated the event third time in the evening, although she was being much crisper the third time around. Satish could sense the ring of sadness in her voice and said, “you tried, and I am proud of you, we will spend more time with the kids and try to pay attention to what is happening in their life. That’s the least we could do”.
That remark calmed Devi a bit and the discussion trailed off as the family prepared to have dinner. The conversation continued after the kids retired to their room.
“It may seem silly to overreact to these things Satish, but don’t you see, kids of today will grow up working in companies like ours and are made responsible for big decisions later in life. How can they be entrusted with fair dealings when their foundation is so shaky? I mean, isn’t it common these days that associates fake the mandatory tests just to get the job done, or don’t find it difficult at all to lie on your face. At least I can see right through the person when they are lying to me and I tell them that it is ok to be honest and it is good in the long run. Getting favors and fake appreciation seems to be the way forward, especially around certain times of the year! I feel for them and I wish I could do something more…”, she said. “…I think especially important to bring them up ‘right’ in the initial days of their career and laying a strong foundation. Else there is an easy pitfall of ‘just get it done, doesn’t matter how'”, she added. “Are you referring to your team not following coding standards again?”, enquired Satish with a wink. “That and many other things! Having objections to what you are told to do is OK, but not openly talking about it and trying to find shortcuts is the issue”, came a firm reply.
As they discussed late into the night, Devi recollected a story from her childhood. “You know I have a fond recollection of this memory from my 6th grade when I lied to my teacher. I was good at pretty much all the subjects, there was this specific instance where I did not understand a topic in Math and I was unable to solve the problem given to us by our Math teacher. I had a huge respect for my ma’am and I could never let her down in any way. So when I tried really hard all evening and could not solve the problem, I could only think more of the embarrassment in front of my teacher than the problem itself…”, Devi stooped from her chair into the kids room to see that everything was ok and continued with the narrative.
“Ma’am yesterday evening I was helping my mother with cooking and accidentally I cut my index finer as I was peeling carrots”, said the 6th grader showing her hand with the finger wrapped in band-aid. “Oh dear! was it painful? you should be more careful ma, don’t worry about homework, I am sure you understand the topic, please take your seat”, told her teacher benevolently. Devi thought she could get by the moment easily and buy some more time to work on the problem, but the thought of cheating her teacher was even more difficult to handle than the embarrassment of failing at the problem. As she saw her teacher interact with the other students and discussing the problem, she felt like burying herself in place. “Do you have fever? you look so pale”, asked her friend from the next table.
This was the last period of the day, and as the children started walking out of the class, the teacher called out to Devi. “I have an easy way to cure cuts from peeling carrots. Come sit with me dear”, she said. And she took the next 20 minutes explaining the math problem and practical applications of it. “If you imagine it this way, it is very easy to understand geometry, look at the shape of that building for instance…”, she continued and helped Devi understand the problem. “I get it ma’am, I can solve it now”, said Devi with moist eyes. “Now shall we see if the wound is healed beta*”, smiled her teacher. “Sorry ma’am, I will never do this again, but how did you know…”, said the kid in between sniffing and sobbing. “You will know beta when you grow up, when you lie you will not be yourself, for instance you were not looking at me, your shoulders were drooped, and you just wanted to run away. Then I saw you sit in your place as if someone placed hundred heavy geometrical shapes on your head”, she laughed.
“That is a great incident, and now I know what gives you strength to be honest…”, said Satish, “…incidents early in life where someone showed you the ‘right’ thing to do with kindness and empathy, wish we all had such teachers throughout our life!”.
“I think we do, if we look for them and encourage honesty in each other. It is a matter of principle and practice. You can’t be casual all the time and expect guidance from outside. And of course when someone does take the initiative to be forthright – makes a mistake for instance and comes forth boldly talking about it, he/she should not be thrown under the bus, rather, made an example to others and should receive help. I say this to my team all the time. Be honest and bring out the problems early. While sometimes it is frustrating to rectify the issues, and sometimes people don’t seem to react the right way, eventually they will like you for your honesty. The world is desperately looking for people who could be trusted, more than anything else. Skills will come along the way…”, she concluded philosophically as Satish struggled to stifle his yawns.
*nanna, beta – terms in the local language of the characters to mean “dear” usually referring to kids