The obedient child in India is applauded. Which is why we find so many adult yes-men, unable to take their place as an adult spouse standing by their wives.
As a society, we seem to have a special fondness for the compliant or obedient child. A model child is one who ‘chup chaap’ (read: without questioning) follows what an adult instructs him or her or expects of him or her, without having their own individual preference. The one who dares to defy the rules of the adult world, on the other hand, must face the consequences of it.
Our Asian culture particularly extols this virtue and everything including our folktales, upbringing, schooling, and admonitions constantly drill this into us. But is obedience and passive acceptance really something we should hold in such high esteem?
I remember the first time I went abroad for studies, I was struck (and unnerved) by how open to discussion, debate, and questioning the classes were. I also noticed that in the first few months, my Asian colleagues and I seemed to have a hard time adjusting to this. We hesitated and doubted ourselves before asking a question or expressing an opinion, particularly if it contradicted the one expressed by the professor, because that is how we had been trained all our lives.
It was a process of unlearning and relearning, but eventually the very natural tendency of having and expressing your view came back, and along with that a bit of our sense of self-worth.
With the dawn of the fourth industrial revolution the fundamental skills needed for success in the coming times is undergoing a huge transformation. Skills of repetition, which served well in the third industrial revolution and for which it was essential for adults to be compliant (because the tasks are so mindless) are not seen as a shortcoming.
What the world looks for now are critical thinkers, creative problem solvers who dare to challenge the status quo and go beyond what anyone has tried or thought possible. And these skills cannot be developed suddenly once a child becomes an adolescent or adult – they have to be nurtured from the early years. Alison Roy, lead child and adolescent psychotherapist at East Sussex Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), says: “A child will push the boundaries if they have a more secure attachment. Children who have been responded to, led to believe – in a healthy way – that their voice is valued, that all they have to do is object and action will be taken – they will push boundaries. And this is really healthy behavior. Compliance? They’ve learned there’s no point arguing because their voice isn’t valued.”
Closer home, Ronit Baras, parenting guru and happiness coach, maintains that in her experience an obedient child is weaker, more fearful, and less confident. The emotional state of obedient children is much more frail and they are easily manipulated by figures of authority. They are less likely to stand up for what they believe in, even under extreme situations. She goes on to to say that if a kid is arguing or has the space to argue they are likely developing critical thinking skills and if they are stubborn, it means they are developing their persistence skills.
Indeed, the consequences of blind compliance and passive submission can be catastrophic as demonstrated in the famous Milgram Experiment, by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram. The study was designed to ascertain whether the Nazi soldiers were simply following orders when they committed the atrocious crimes. The findings summarized in an article titled ‘The Perils of Obedience’ highlight that adults are, in fact, capable of going to ‘any lengths on the command of an authority’.
Obedience then isn’t a virtue in today’s times and can actually be detrimental for both the individual as well as the society. Adriana Velez, a blogger, beautifully summarizes the debate on obedience when she says, “I feel like there’s this notion that raising a child means taming a child. And I think that approach totally oversimplifies the job. My role as a parent isn’t just to teach my kid right from wrong. It’s way more complex than that. I’m supposed to be teaching him what empathy is, and why it matters, and how to do it. I’m supposed to teach him to reason, to question, to explore, and to trust himself. I’m supposed to teach him how helpful cooperating with the grownups in certain situations is — and how to use his judgement to choose when not to follow orders. Abandoning obedience-based parenting doesn’t mean you’re raising your kid to be an inconsiderate little jerk. I’m supposed to help him develop his own moral compass — not one I’ve imposed on him, but one of his own making.”
Published here earlier.
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