Saturday, May 01, 2021

3 Life Lessons I want to teach my kids from fast-disappearing everyday experiences

Our lives today are characterised by constant change. Many changes are driven by technology advances (e.g., mobile, e-governance, e-commerce), while many others are brought about by economic and socio-cultural advances (e.g., nuclear families, urban lifestyles, inter-caste marriages, employee-employer relationships). The technology advances tend to be more abrupt and constant, while the economic and socio-cultural advances are more gradual and are usually iterative - i.e., they'll keep coming full-circle and each time encompass something more. And then there are many that are a mix of the two - i.e., economic and socio-cultural differences brought about technology changes (e.g., how kids spend their leisure time, social interaction within families, role of religion in our lives, mobile device for every household).

We may have our own human tendencies of resisting change and there's always a certain sentiment, certain attachment and certain matter or habit that contributes to this resistance. But in general, change is inevitable and the quicker we adapt to the change, the smoother our lives will be. 

Personally, although I embrace change enthusiastically, a few of these changes come with a hidden price: life lessons that are getting lost. Many everyday experiences held important life lessons that we used to learn implicitly. As those everyday experiences change - which they will and they must; and change for the better - we have to find new ways to learn & teach those lessons that came with it.

Here are 3 lessons from fast-disappearing everyday experiences, that I hope I will somehow be able to teach my kids:


Car Repair Shop shared under Creative Common License from https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a8/CarService.JPG

LESSON 1: REPAIR INSTEAD OF REPLACE

In my childhood, purchase of consumer durables - especially appliances and electronics - was a mini-event in itself and a source of excitement. Buying something new wasn't something that was done often. If something went wrong, we took it for repairs. The mechanic (or technician or electrician or tailor or...) rambled out a list of things that were spoilt or had gone wrong, a list things to be done to fix them and what it would cost. If it was an expensive repair, you'd get a comparative quote or try to source the parts directly or negotiate on the price and finally get the repairs done. This was applicable from the zipper of your shorts and your shoes, to the TV & refrigerator in the house.

But that changed -  at first, gradually and then, rapidly. As equipments and appliances became more sophisticated, warranty schemes & service organisations became more structured. Soon, if something went wrong, the technician would come visit and replace the faulty piece. Even sooner, there were no questions to be asked, no price to be negotiated - the deals became more transparent and fairer. And even sooner, things came to a point where it was easier to replace than to repair - either because the cost of repair was more than 50%-60% of the cost of a new purchase or because a replacement part was no longer available or often, merely because the economic circumstances allowed you to upgrade to the latest model. 

And that's where we are today. 

You can get a microwave for about Rs. 7,000/- but the magnetron in it costs about Rs. 4,000/-. So if the magnetron's gone bust - unless its under warranty - you are better off replacing the microwave, even if the magnetron for that model is still available. Earlier, you'd keep a car for 15-20 years, but today, at the first sign of mechanical parts starting to show trouble, you choose to replace the car. Previously, you wouldn't thinking of spending a month's salary on gaming equipment for kids - today, we not only spend it but it doesn't hurt to throw it away in a few months and get a newer model.

While this change is inevitable and in fact helps improve your standard of living, I find that the mindset of "repair" brought with it, two important learnings: (a) the temperament to identify what has gone wrong and work on fixing it. In life, you don't always get a chance to REPLACE; you have to learn to REPAIR - this is especially true of relationships and (b) in undertaking repairs, you learn a lot about things you would never care to learn or no one would even think of teaching you.  

No one ever called out these implications of repairs; these were just imbibed in us naturally because of the way our lives were led. I learnt a lot about cars and anything else that I have had the opportunity to witness being repaired that I would otherwise never have learnt. Today, from a simple cycle pump to an XBox Gaming Console, our inclination is to replace it if it doesn't work. With that, we're diluting the mindset of problem-solving: diagnosis through a healthy investigation into identifying the problem, understanding the different components that come together to make it work AND the mindset of MAKING IT WORK AGAIN.


LESSON 2: UNDO & REDO - THE PENCIL & THE ERASER

As kids, we were allowed to use only pencils in primary school. Pens were to be used only after you "grew up to be in Std. 5". So to our innocent minds back then, getting to use a pen was a privilege, a status symbol, a mark of being a grown-up, a symbol of having moved into secondary school. 

Once we "grew up to be in Std. 5" though, we quickly realised that the price we had to pay for this privilege was that we could no longer undo our mistakes. This, combined with the "repair" mindset, taught us implicitly to deal with our mistakes and move on. 

Today, for children and adults alike, the triad of undo, redo and reboot-and-restart is prevalent in most aspects of our lives and provides a significant leeway in recovering from mistakes. Or in (automatically) making things work that don't work the first time. 

In itself, this is great because it provides us with the flexibility to fix the problem. 

But inherently, flexibility and discipline do not go hand-in-hand. 

Moreover, not all disciplines have the luxury of affording this flexibility - e.g., try applying the undo, redo and reboot-and-restart to what an architect or a production engineer or worse, what a doctor does! 

The absence of an undo/redo feature meant that we invested time in thinking, problem-analysis and diagnosis before executing - for high school homework, that meant doing some working on a rough-sheet before "writing on the fair book"; for other professionals it meant critically reviewing our own plan/design or consulting with peers before we started executing.


One of the areas in which our workforce is found wanting today, is in problem-solving. It's a welcome move that the New Education Policy 2020 formally includes critical thinking and problem-solving in its curriculum. While both these are of course much larger topics, I'm convinced that the "repair mindset" and the absence of an undo feature are both useful building blocks in addressing this issue of problem-solving.   


LESSON 3: SCARCITY-DRIVEN HUMILITY


Queue outside a shop during the Covid-19 lockdown in April-2020

I have been sufficiently blessed to have had my basic needs always taken care of. But I have experienced a "scarcity economy" first-hand and looking back, I realise I am grateful for that experience. 

In the India of the 1980s, cheese was still in short supply even though Operation Flood had already made India a milk-surplus country. Basmati rice was an exotic idea - one usually queued up for supplies at the ration shop. Rice procured there and also purchased at the local grocery store had to be cleaned to remove stones and other foreign particles before it could be used for cooking. A "Priya" scooter had a wait time running into years and usually became a family heirloom. People booked cars to make some "ON" money on the side (premium paid for transferring your booking to someone else when your turn had come). It was not uncommon to draw water from the well for daily use, because the taps had run dry. Many fruits were truly seasonal and baby-corn and bell peppers were exotic stuff you saw only in imported recipe books. Even road trips for leisure were a measured activity, with fuel economy and fuel prices being a dominant variable.

All of this had a deep impact on my upbringing - and my friends and all kids of my generation. Wasting anything was absolutely prohibited. We learnt to respect resources and we learnt to be grateful to Mother Earth for the resources we took from Her. It made a lot of sense to me during my thread ceremony when the priest taught me prayers we make to the elements of nature, expressing our gratitude.

For sure, the economic liberalisation that began in the 1990s radically changed all this for the better. But with it, came the silent death of the humility with which we used resources. 

When I lived in the US for a few years, the per-capita resource consumption there was the only culture shock I suffered. That was one of the things I truly disliked about the US - from food & packaging materials to space and fuel, wastage was an intrinsic part of life. I quickly realised that it had become intrinsic only because scarcity hadn't been experienced there for generations together. 

With the prosperity that the liberalisation of the 1990s brought in for India, we too now have at least one generation that's completely isolated from the "scarcity economy" experience. Which is a great thing and something to be proud of; except for the inherent loss of regard for resource consumption that it has created. It's a pity environmentalists find it easier to vilify industry than to bring about a mindset change in per-capita resource consumption.



I love technology, I love change and I love the change that technology facilities. But as we change for the better, our conduct must also change for the better. I hope I will find a way of teaching my kids these invaluable life lessons without the pain & inconvenience of the circumstances that taught me these lessons. 


Comments:

5 comments:

Rui Monte Da Silva said...

Enjoyed reading this. Painful as it might be to admit, we all lose ourselves in success at some point. We all need a refresher on these life lessons.

Samarth Talaulikar said...

Was a real pleasure reading your article & refreshing our childhood memories... Infact today's generation really needs to be educated on the above topic esp. on scarcity economy... We all have these values inbuilt,as our generation has grown up with this culture. Today's kids being exposed to internet always want to follow the West.. it's high time they learn to offer gratitude to our mother earth for the free & unlimited resources it provides us to make our lives easy

Suhas M Mallya said...

Thank you, Rui and Samarth - glad you enjoyed the article. Thanks for your thoughts & views too :)

Prasad said...

Nice one Mr. Mallya!!
Any specific reason that you are writing only in the month of May? Birthday Month?

The Repair concept is very true and that's something we are all losing out on. The worse part is the service industry which works, is terrible and their own aim is to extract money and not really repair.

Scarcity Driven economy is something the current generation is less likely to face. Its more of an money-driven economy they would face.

Btw, time to change the Blogger template :)



Suhas M Mallya said...

Hahaha... when posting this I too realised my last one was in May-2020 - maybe as I turn a year older I pause to reflect on life :D

Thanks for your appreciation; blog template revamp is on the cards - just hasn't bubbled up to the top of the list!