On making our world not just better but happier…

Having continuous conversations with your children is the best way to prepare them for the real world and to help groom them into being smart human beings.
Goldie Hawn, 69, with MindUP kids
Picture Courtesy: The Hawn Foundation Website
The latest issue of Harvard Business Review features an interview by Alison Beard with the famous Hollywood actor Goldie Hawn. Hawn was famous for such hits as Cactus Flower, Private Benjamin, The First Wives Club and Everyone Says I Love You. Hawn told Beard that her Hawn Foundation teaches resilience and mindfulness to 400,000 children around the world: “After 9/11, I realized that our children were no longer going to be living in a secure world. I also realized that the things we do in the first part of our Life aren’t always what we do moving on. How could I make a change and give back? So I brought together neuroscientists, positive psychologists, teachers, and mindfulness practitioners to create a program we call MindUP. It’s designed to help children understand their own neurology, develop mental stability, and reduce stress. People told me I would never be able to teach children how their brains work. And I said, Why not? There are now more than 400,000 doing MindUP worldwide.” Calling herself a “mindfulness campaigner”, Hawn says she wants to “build leaders of tomorrow by nurturing the children of today”.
I second that and champion that totally. The Information Age that we live in today delivers unfiltered, often uncensorable, information to children 24×7. There’s hardly any child who’s not aware of rape or terrorism or break-ups/divorce or poverty or prostitution or child-trafficking or drugs or war. On one side we parents wish to raise our children teaching them to be truthful and compassionate. On the other side, our societies, our nations and even our families are behaving so contradictory to the value systems we preach and wish that our children practice. For instance, you teach your child not to steal or lie. But you watch, often with your child, pirated online links of new movie releases. Don’t we realize that lifting someone’s intellectual property without paying for it is theft? Or consider the fact that we want, especially in the wake of the Nirbhaya episode in India, our male children to grow up to respect women. But we ourselves use so much of abusive slang (our seemingly innocuous MCs and BCs are precisely that!) or crack sexist jokes that deride women. Or we want protect our children from the gory social challenges of terrorism, poverty, child abuse and child trafficking. But the real world – and all our cinema – is full of them. The more we conceal, the more curious our children are to “see” first-hand what the real world is really like. Or the amount of academic and social pressure, in the name of extra-curricular activities, we heap on our children is not funny. We don’t realize that all this stress is perhaps numbing them, making them cold and, in some cases, even insensitive to their role as responsible global citizens of the future. This is where Hawn’s program attempts to want make a difference.
But you don’t need to wait for Hawn’s initiative to arrive in your neighborhood. You can lead as a parent by starting to have honest, open, conversations with your children. Teach them what’s right. Teach them to learn from their choices and mistakes. Share with them the gory details of real world issues from poverty to prostitution and help them resolve to make a difference. My wife and I ran a program on Life Skills for two years at a government-aided school in Chennai some years ago. We noticed that all 60 children we worked with each year resolved never to smoke or drink because they were all from families where a parent, or both parents, were alcoholic or smoking addicts. So, our learning has been that children are very open and willing to make intelligent choices – even better than adults – if they have access to facts and the true, bigger picture. And finally, help children, through conversations, understand that Life is never a straight line. Teach them that Life cannot be progressed in a linear fashion. Prepare them – and invite them – to face Life and whatever comes their way; be it a health challenge, a financial setback for the family, a relationship breakdown or even death. Preparing children to be “ready for anything” makes them less insecure and, in fact, stronger to deal with the ups and downs of Life.
The key is to help children realize the value of living smartly, intelligently. I learnt the value of mindfulness, and the power of being resilient, at age 35. I wish I had learnt it earlier. I would then have lived many more years of my Life meaningfully and fully. Like Hawn, I totally endorse the view that we must “catch ‘em young”! Because a more resilient and mindful generation of adults will not just make our world better, it will make it a happier one too!

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