Letter to my daughter
My dear daughter,
With instant communication, the art of letter writing is lost on today’s generation. Of course, there has not been much need for us to write letters to each other, save the year and a half when I was in London. We chose the easier path of just speaking on the phone, but in doing this, something is lost. The thoughtfulness that goes into a letter, the opportunity to reread the contents, savor and cherish the written word for the time to come, is something that instant communication can never offer. There for the moment and gone forever.
When my father was leaving for Tanzania for a period of a year, he made a mere mention that we would write letters to each other. And we did, perhaps once in a couple of weeks. It taught me how to write letters. To articulate one’s thought in a cogent manner is not easy, and it is something that can never be achieved when we speak in the spur of the moment. I do hope that we will maintain this tradition when you go over to your college in the coming weeks.
Here, in the serene environment of a retreat center, I have been reflecting on many things. In such places of retreat, when one goes on a long walk, things become much clearer. I am going to try and pen my thoughts to you, and hope that it will be of value to you.
On deeper reflection, I can only conclude that
the lack of an external force or pressure
to perform should be substituted
by an inner urge to excel.
External expectations should be
replaced by our own expectations.
In the last couple of days, I have been worrying as to how we have fared in our role as parents. Of course, there can be no certainty, and no one answer can satisfy – one can only feel their way to this answer. Have we allowed a misplaced sense of affection to cloud our emotions? It is said that love and discipline should go together. But I wonder how to get the balance right? It is very much like those two taps, one for hot water and one for cold. Is it possible that we have turned down discipline and let in too much love? Of course, the other way could only have been worse. Let me try and communicate my reflections in this letter.
Einstein said, “Genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.” There is no substitute for hard work. In today’s competitive world, it is fairly normal for parents to run rough-shod over their children, with success as the only measure of parenting. Of course, we have been blessed with better sense than that. The question is, what should substitute this external drive to success? On deeper reflection, I can only conclude that the lack of an external force or pressure to perform should be substituted by an inner urge to excel. External expectations should be replaced by our own expectations. Of course, when it comes to our own expectations, we call them goals. We need to set lofty goals for ourselves, and in striving to achieve that is a life well lived.
How to inculcate self-discipline?
We can push ourselves to the goal,
but it becomes a tiresome exercise.
Taking a genuine interest in
reaching the goal does wonders,
for it inspires us on our journey.
I recall the scene where the Cheshire cat tells Alice in Wonderland, “It does not matter which way you go, you will get somewhere, as long as you walk long enough.” Without goals, we are lost. The best talent is wasted. The goal should be well thought out, particularly long term goals. It does not make sense to change direction every other day, for such a course guarantees hyperactivity with no outcome. But, do goals alone lead to success? Clearly not. One other ingredient is critical to the recipe, and that is discipline.
The best form of discipline is one that stems from within. When I do something because I want to do it, it cannot go wrong. But external discipline, of which we see much in the world today, is only imposition, if not slavery. The moment the pressure is off, the person goes off course. How to inculcate self-discipline? We can push ourselves to the goal, but it becomes a tiresome exercise. Taking a genuine interest in reaching the goal does wonders, for it inspires us on our journey.
As parents, we have taken our foot off the pedal when it comes to pushing you towards your goal, but have we failed to imbibe in you the inner discipline to work towards that goal? It is for you to ponder over this question, and not for me to guess. Discipline is hard to imbibe in today’s world, in which instant gratification is everywhere. How to remain focused on the long term goal, and choose that over the pleasures of the moment? How to prioritize the future over the moment? I do not know the answer, but I can only say that a person who lives for gratification in the moment does not get very far. Discipline is the difference between the mediocre and great. Of course, discipline does not mean that we do not have fun. It has to be a healthy mix of making our journey joyful, but never forgetting the goal itself.
Discipline is the difference between the mediocre and great.
Of course, discipline does not mean that we do not have fun.
It has to be a healthy mix of making our journey joyful,
but never forgetting the goal itself.
These are my reflections, but it does not mean that I have mastered this art. I am disciplined in some things, but in many others I suffer from a lack of discipline. I recall a conversation with my uncle when I was in college, all of 19 years old. I had woken up that morning at 9:00 a.m. and was reading the newspaper with the toothbrush in my hand. He gave me a lecture on discipline, mentioning that no one ever became anything without it. He said, “Getting up early in the morning and having a routine that is driven by self-discipline is a basic ingredient to getting anywhere in life.” I scoffed at him, playfully argued with him, thinking that I knew better. After the passage of 26 years, I am still suffering the consequences. I have not given up, and am still working on this. In fact, I have told myself that if there is just one trait that I develop in the remaining part of my years, then, that will be to sleep on time and to get up on time. Buddha said that the chain of desire can be broken anywhere – I feel that self-discipline can be easily fixed by just one act – going to bed early, and many other things will automatically fall in place. I can only hope that you are wiser than me and will learn the rigor of self-discipline at a much earlier age that I do.
The innate abilities that we are born both with are a blessing. In some sense, we cannot claim them to be our own. It is a blessing that you have been born with so much talent, depth of understanding and a spirit of inquiry. Of course, you have also developed yourself in terms of attention to detail and diligence in doing a job. Going back to the point about inspiration and perspiration, I can only say that the perspiration is something that we can rightfully say is ours. And that comes with discipline.
I find that when I speak on the spur of the moment, it does not come out properly, and even if it does, there is no receptivity on the other side. For both parties to have a cool and wise head in the heat of the moment is too much to ask for. I hope that I have been able to articulate what I wanted to say in this letter.
Soon enough, you will be in a college, though we do not know which one yet. Irrespective of the outcome, this subject is of value, and hence my wish to write to you.
We are going to miss you terribly, but I guess that it is part of growing up. And I should grow up as well.
Article by SRIRAM RAGHAVENDRAN
September 30, 2020
September 29, 2020
September 29, 2020