Most often, we do not allow our children to think. Have you ever given a case study to a three-year old? If you do, you’ll be surprised at the speed with which they answer, the quality of the response and the number of alternatives they can come up with. Ask children for their opinion on any matter, and they will have one – but no one is asking. Every question you ask a child builds their repertoire, or the mental muscle. As exercise builds physical health, stamina, resilience and strength, questions are exercise for the brain. If questions are about Math, History, Science etc, i.e. the syllabus in school, the brain will respond accordingly. Similarly, if questions are about life, the brain will answer. These answers make the “unfamiliar familiar,” constructing ever-new mental models. The more the mental models, the more the perspectives, the lesser the problems and stress and the richer the life. This positive state of being can trigger the “reward” neural circuitry, building the fortunate habit of self-rewarding, instead of being dependent on others or a system to validate or reinforce.
Similarly, at the workplace, are you asking your juniors questions or giving them instructions? Even if you have the answer, asking questions is a people-development leadership style that enables people to think for themselves. Else, they will remain dependent on you – which, of course, secures your job, but doesn’t do much for your promotion or your team’s empowerment.
We are born with the capacity to do wonders. Every child is a genius in her own way. When this capacity, or potential, as it is often called; is developed, many a times through questions, the child/person becomes able. That’s when capacity transforms into capability. The word ‘capability’ is two words, capacity and ability. When one is capable, then can we be responsible.
The brain makes up 2% of the body weight but consumes 20-25% energy. To conserve energy and be efficient, it builds neural pathways. The human brain is estimated to have 100 billion neurons which can connect in trillions of ways. The richer the exposure, the more the connections as there will be greater associations from the past to compare the new and be more empathetic toward receiving and accepting it, instead of rejecting the unfamiliar and losing opportunities. It’s these unconscious habits that directly affect our ability to make choices and decisions from the higher brain. The narrower the choices, the more we fear. Fear leads to stereotyping people and situations, narrowing opportunities to what is “acceptable.” The larger spectrum of choices provides internal psychological safety, making the individual more secure and confident. A person with a narrow spectrum will rely on external safety stimuli and will remain psychologically insecure.
Such a condition of internal uncertainty puts the mind in a state of constant conflict, mostly about the question, “Who am I?” Since the mind has not learnt to think, there is only a prescribed answer – the one we have been brought up with.
Having observed parents and how they react to their children’s behaviours, it is more often that parents are not nurturing children. Mostly they are conditioning them, that too with fear and shame; while the rest of the upbringing involves indoctrination. This psychological doctoring centers around ages-old social norms and customs of what is acceptable behaviour. The curriculum is different for girls and boys; for different economic strata; varies geographically and prescribed by religious and personal belief systems. And so the child acquires a pseudo personality, complying with what is acceptable. Others become the source of acceptability and respect, to validate the self. Thus, we get rid of the confusion and conflict aroused by the annoying question, “Who am I?”
With this comfortable formula that the brain acquires of getting respect from others and having the neural pathways conserve energy and work efficiently with this habit, we lose our ability to self-respect; or rather, that never quite develops. This ‘hanging on’ to others for one’s self-concept and identity breeds outward-looking mental models, on which we rely for reward and acknowledgement and turn into a ‘complaint’ society. Such peoples often are followers of the dictates of others.
This state of being can spread through society making most of us depend on each other for our self-esteem. Since ‘each’ has not much to ‘give’, as that ‘each’ is looking for it in the ‘other’, the alternate becomes to ‘take’. To take away from the other. I’ve seen grown men celebrate, clap, cheer when the other looses. These cheering men did not win, but they find solace in the loss of others. That is a glaring sign of a hollowness typical of a pseudo existence. Backbiting is another good method of pulling the other down so as to self-aggrandize. This becomes the neural pathway for reward.
Through history we can see such societies and even civilizations carrying on for hundreds of years in this state of survival. Many self-destruct, where the ego (the embodiment of selfishness), becomes all consuming. Such emphasis and focus on appeasing the form and neglect of the spirit, shrivels the soul, causing the entity to implode. Where are the great Greek, Roman and Mughal empires?
An indicator of fear and shame-centric societies is that they are consumers. Research and development and invention, innovation require a high level of patience, faith and perseverance, an elevated state of service for the larger good.
How can we come out of this downward spiral and become what we ought to be? Just for one day, ask questions. This requires you to acknowledge that others, too, know, and may know better. This vulnerability makes you powerful and them stronger. Be patient with their answers – remember you are facing generations of indoctrination. You cannot break neural pathways by asking once only. Keep at it. Results may not happen in your lifetime, but the transformation has begun.