Sunday, December 19, 2010

Adjustments in a relationship.

Womens web has invited opinion on adjustments in a relationship quoting examples of three young working women. I have dealt with a slightly broader perspective and reached the conclusion that adjustment based on mutual concern and respect works well enough but it becomes a burden when it is one sided irrespective of whether it is the man or his wife that adjusts.

Adjustment is an ambiguous word that cannot be properly defined. It has one meaning when applied to women and quite another when applied to men. It applies to the wife and daughter in law but never to one’s mother or sister or daughter. Does adjustment mean submission? May be or may be not. It depends on a person’s expectation from those around him/her. An alcoholic’s mother may expect her daughter in law to adjust with her son’s drinking habit but how about handling the alcoholic son for a few days in the absence of her daughter in law? After all he was her son for 30 long years before he became her husband. And perhaps she was the one who got him married to an unsuspecting girl to shift responsibility.

When does adjustment become submission one may ask. It is a difficult question without a correct answer. It perhaps depends on one’s own level of tolerance. May be adjustment becomes meaningless when one begins to feel that the relationship is onerous and untenable. No relationship is an equal 50:50 partnership deal. This applies not only to marriages but to any relationship that involves give and take. But when one is in a mood to adjust if not a perfect 50/50 ratio, a 40/60 or a 35/65 ratio may work. Beyond that it becomes a burden. Think of a situation in which a whole wing of an apartment complex has to share water from a common overhead tank. Of the 6 households in the wing some may waste more water than others. This may be tolerated till the others manage to get a decent amount of water for their personal use. But if those that use water responsibly have to face water shortage due to the callousness of the others there is bound to be tension to the extent of making civil behavior among them impossible. Water, after all is an essential commodity.

In quite a similar manner adjustments have to be made in a marital relationship. In India marriage implies the union of two families. Very often the boy’s family has an upper hand and the girl and her family adjusts. There are also cases where the boy has to adjust with a whimsical wife who has decided to dislike his family from day one. The boy’s family, in such cases, reciprocates in equal measure making life a living hell for him or maintains a safe distance from him in their effort to ensure peace in their son’s life. It is also seen that a whimsical, demanding spouse just uses his/her partner’s family as an excuse to start a quarrel. Their behavior persists even after all demands have been met with and there is no interference from the extended family. So one is forced to conclude that in several relationships adjustments made are one sided and the person who is the more adjustable feels unhappy at the thought of having been at the receiving end of a dominating partnership.

It is often said that a woman is expected to be more adjusting and this is the advice she gets from her own family at the time of her marriage. In the Indian context there are several reasons for this expectation from a woman. The girl child is considered as ‘paraya dhan’ or property that actually belongs to her husband’s family entrusted to be cared for by her parents till her marriage. She becomes an outsider in the very home that she was born into once married. She has to deal with any discomfort she may face in the new set up. If such is the expectation by her own family, her in laws are no better. She has no probation period nor is she gradually initiated into a family of strangers with alternate ways of handling a situation. No one realizes that she needs time to accept the family acquired by marriage as her own.

Another reason for such an expectation is perhaps the misplaced expectation from a son. In the Indian set up a son’s birth is welcomed because he is expected to look after them in their old age. A daughter’s arrival unfortunately seen as a wasteful expense since she would be ‘given off’ in marriage and would be of no practical value to them. Till such an attitude persists girls would be expected to adjust even in the most difficult situations and her return to her paternal home would never be encouraged.

I tend to deal with cases that indicate that the woman is the one who adjusts. These are the more debated examples. But men have also adjusted stretching themselves beyond normal limit to make a relationship work. Society looks down upon a man who adjusts and he prefers to maintain a low profile and never lets on that he too has had to put up with an arrogant boss or an uncompromising wife. It is plain to all who wish to see that adjustments are meaningful only when all those involved in a relationship are equal contributors in an effort to make it a pleasant and long lasting one. This is possible only when there is mutual respect and sufficient breathing space to allow it to flourish.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Informal Education

It is long since I posted anything the reason being the onset of winter and the tendency to curl up on bed with a book whenever possible. I am reading an interesting book by Dr. Bruce Lipton – The Biology of Belief and it has given me an insight into the role played by the mind in shaping one’s health. No, I am not done with the book yet but being a biology teacher myself I realized that there was lot more to biology than what is being taught in its conventional form. It is like learning my subject all over again.

While dealing with Biology in its unconventional form I was inspired to think of the unorthodox modes of teaching and was forced to admit that those who broke away from the routine of class room teaching and practiced self learning in varies forms have actually benefitted from it. A look around me does identify a few people known to me who were criticized when they broke away from the tried and tested path but have indeed proved their critics wrong. Ramani was one such person.

Rmani was in class 9 when he ran away from school and returned after 24 hours saying that he was drugged and abducted by a stranger who offered him sweets in the local train while returning home. He managed to escape when he gained consciousness. Apparently his abductor had left him unattended and had gone off to have a cup of tea. The boy gave him a slip and boarded a train to Chennai to return home. His version was authenticated by the station master of Katpadi junction whom he had approached for help. The boy was brilliant but was never regular in class. He would not finish his assignments on time and ask his teachers pesky questions much to their irritation. He managed to finish school and joined a prestigious college in Chennai. He dropped out within a year saying that he found classes boring and he did not expect to benefit greatly by the outdated syllabus that was being followed. He wanted to be left alone till he decided on what was best for him. His parents almost fell at his feet asking him to first finish his course and ponder on what he wished to do with his life later. The boy was adamant and their pleas fell on deaf ears. Six months later he purchased books on computer technology and for the next 3 years did a lot of self study. Without a degree to support him, the boy started his career as a software consultant working for up and coming companies. He charged a pittance for his services if at all. Very soon word spread around and today he works from home earning not less than a lakh per month. He is invited to Latin America, Korea and Portugal to train those with engineering degrees and he has the final say on the structure and duration of the course. His wife is an MCA graduate but she gladly admits that he is more knowledgeable than her. He now admits that the story of his abduction in class 9 was not true. It was an experiment he tried out to escape the monotony of his school routine and simply an extension of his imagination.

Lalita was always drawn towards nature and believed that one could learn more from nature that all the conventional text books put together. She left home with her children - two of them minors – and lived in an aashram in the Western Ghats. She encouraged them to learn from their surroundings and at their own pace. She bought a lot of books for them and allowed them to apply the knowledge gained from books to their daily lives. Her children are now settled in life. To call them brilliant would be an understatement. With no formal education they are experts in their respective fields. When I think of them I wonder if we are doing the right thing by pressurizing our children to learn by rote or imposing a curriculum that has no relevance or application to their career or day to day life. Yet how many of us are willing to take a chance? I may appreciate such people from a distance and refrain from criticizing them but would I have the confidence to try it out on my own children/students? I am afraid not. The famous saying ‘better safe than sorry’ is perhaps more applicable to most of us.

Having said this it is only fair to add that informal education only benefits children that are receptive to it. I know of a father who was of the opinion that children ought not to be coerced into following any routine. He had a successful career and according to him, since his own father never imposed anything on him and he would do the same and let his children decide for themselves about what they would do with their lives. Unfortunately his son needed the guiding influence of a father and was unable to cope with the strain posed in the prevailing competitive environment. He was an average student with a flair for painting and music. With a little encouragement and a lot of appreciation the boy could have done well enough in class but the father being disappointed with him chose to blame his wife’s upbringing as well as her genes for his dismal record. His only argument was that since his own father had allowed him to study at his own pace and he turned out to be successful there could be nothing wrong with his method. He never even suspected that the method that worked for him may not be appropriate for his son. Today the son lacks confidence and longs for a kind word from his father more than anything else.

I haven’t yet finished the book but the title The Biology of Belief is impressive. Belief in one’s potential enables one to make an appropriate choice from the available environment. If a child is able to believe in his own capabilities he can make it big even if he is a school drop out because he imbibes life’s lessons by practical methods. If on the other hand he lacks confidence it becomes the duty of his parents and teachers to give the necessary moral boosting to acquire it. Whether the required training is formal or informal hardly matters. If the child’s potential has to be awakened a chain of mutual trust linking him to his environment on the one hand and his parent on the other has to be established. And once this chain is established it can work wonders to the internal system of an individual