Echoes or voices?

Teaching can provide us with learning experiences. Here is one that proved an eye-opener for me. M was a student of Class VIII. She was doing fairly well but certainly not among the top ten. Her parents came to me, quite disturbed. They maintained that she was a ‘brilliant student’, one who had consistently topped the class in the primary school. Now her grades had dropped alarmingly.

They hinted that partiality of some kind was at work. I assured them that I would talk to the child and look into the matter. I found that she had no physical disabilities and that her home was a secure one. She had quite a few friends, too.

What could the matter be? Then came a clue. She told me that she had difficulty in remembering things. In the lower classes she was able to ‘by heart’ her lessons but not so anymore.

The questions were more difficult too because the answers were not in the books. I realised what the problem was. She had been parroting her lessons and writing down what she had committed to memory. She lacked true understanding of the lessons and wrote her answers mechanically.

By drilling her continuously, her parents had turned her into an echo rather than a voice. They disagreed, however, and chose to put her into another school.

Perhaps this case is an isolated one, but I wonder how many of us in the adult world are merely echoes and not voices. Admittedly there are reasons for this. On the one hand, knowledge in every field is expanding rapidly. On the other, media, books and advertisements are letting loose a stream of suggestions. They tell us not only what to wear, eat or buy but also what to think and do.

Confronted with this barrage of opinions and advice, it seems easier to forfeit judgement and go with the crowd. After all, conformity lifts the pressures weighing on us.

It allows us to do what others do. It also wins us acceptance. And so, for instance, we use up scarce resources at an alarming rate, accept deforestation as a price to pay for progress and get rid of garbage by putting it out of sight in lakes and oceans. We justify this because others are doing it as well. It is better not to raise one’s voice because being an echo is a much easier option.

The need for exploration and thoughtful action however does not go away. It only becomes more urgent.

 Each of us needs to give up repetitive behaviour and instead of merely copying others, find our true voice.

This hardly means airing opinions. It rather calls for thinking before acting and taking the responsibility for it. We cannot allow the thinking of others to turn into our own thinking.

Recalling the beautiful words of Rabindranath Tagore, we must ensure that ‘the clear stream of thinking’ does not lose its way into the ‘desert sand of dead habit’.

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