Archive for May, 2012

Rebuilding the Trust

May 28, 2012

One of the fast disappearing qualities in the self centered, “freedom” seeking, “modern” human beings in the fast paced present day Indian society is trust. Trust is becoming a rare character trait. Someone asked what it means to trust another person. How should one react when a spouse or a loved one is found dishonest, unfaithful, lying, selfish and inconsiderate? Is it possible to rebuild trust in the person who disappointed us greatly?

What does trusting someone mean?

Trust, along with honesty, is very essential to maintain a strong, healthy relationship, be it between wife and husband, or parents and children, or friends or business partners.

Trust, in a practical sense, means that you place confidence in someone to be honest with you, faithful to you, and keep promises, vows and confidences. It is where you expose your vulnerabilities to the other, believing that s/he will not take advantage of your openness.

However, trusting another person requires a realistic perspective about that person. Because we all define and understand what is right and acceptable in a slightly different way than the other. Depending on a person’s perspective about right and wrong, what is right and acceptable for one person may be considered wrong by the other. Therefore, having a better knowledge about a person’s perspective of what is acceptable and right is helpful to have a better understanding of that person.

A person’ perspective is generally based on her/his belief system, value system and experiences. We need to consider other person’s fears, belief system and value system that may cause her/him to act differently than what we would expect. Understand that the other person may have her/his own set of fears, expectations and judgments, all unrelated to ours. These things influence the choices s/he makes. Even if s/he tries to do what we expect or want her/him to do, s/he can only define what we want based on her/his belief system and value system, which may be different from ours. Because of this s/he fails to meet our precise expectations, thus leading to disappointment and heartache. So be prepared for all possible outcomes. We are all humans who make mistakes or make decisions that have consequences that we don’t expect or don’t like.

Therefore, trust needs to be combined with a willingness to forgive and reconcile. However, forgiveness FOLLOWS confession and repentance of the offender. As Joan Borysenko rightly says, “Forgiveness is not the misguided act of condoning irresponsible, hurtful behaviour. Nor is it a superficial turning of the other cheek that leaves us feeling victimized and martyred. Rather it is the finishing of the old business that allows us to experience the present, free of all contamination from the past.” The “finishing of the old business” should happen in an environment of love, transparency, commitment, acceptance and empathy.

Trust grows over time. As the concerned persons spend time together, they grow up in knowledge, understanding and authenticity. Each person gains insight into the other person’s character, needs, motivations and fears. Someone said, “Trust is a peculiar resource; it is built rather than depleted by use.” People are complex. Their previous hurts, fears or losses can hinder their determination to trust and/or be truthful in a relationship.

But human beings have ability to change and to grow in trust and truthfulness. We can rebuild trust in broken relationships when we make a choice to do so with the help of God.

Trust Violations

Trust violations occur when a person’s confident positive expectations of the other are proved wrong. This results in the reduced trust level, which in turn stifles mutual support and information sharing. The offended person experiences a distressed emotional state which is likely to be composed of a mixture of anger, disappointment and frustration at herself/himself for trusting the other person and also at the offender for exploiting the trust.

In some cases, a single trust violation may seriously damage or irreparably destroy trust. In other cases, one trust violation may not be that damaging when considered in isolation, but a pattern of violations create a serious damage to the relationship. That means, the degree of effect of trust violations vary, depending on the kind of offense.

For example, minor offenses may be met with simply a reduced level of trust. Even though the relationship is not terminated, it continues with reduced cooperation and information sharing.

However, serious trust violations cause greater damage to the level of trust and relationship. The offended person is more likely to engage in severe negative reactions, including exacting vengeance and/or terminating relationship. Violations of integrity and benevolence are more severe and damaging. Examples may include intentional deception, purposefully breaking a promise or obligation, and rude, disrespectful treatment.

Rebuilding the trust

Can broken trust be rebuilt? Yes. Rebuilding trust is, however, not as straightforward as building trust. The key question is whether the victim wants to reconcile. Only if the victim is willing to reconcile, rebuilding trust is possible. If the victim believes that the offender will not make any effort at righting the wrongs and minimizing future violations, s/he will not be encouraged to reconcile and restore trust. So rebuilding of trust requires or demands commitment and effort from both the offender and the offended.

Reconciliation occurs only when both the offended and the offender make determined effort to settle the issues that disrupted the relationship. This should take place in an atmosphere of transparency, honesty and willingness to listen and understand.

Actions speak louder than words. So it is imperative for the offender to show in actions that s/he is serious about honouring the trust, and correcting her/his misguided belief systems, value system and behaviour. Remember that communication and action are central elements in reconciliation and rebuilding trust.

The offender should voluntarily offer a thorough and sincere apology which conveys remorse for harm inflicted, and an explanation of the details surrounding the betrayal, and a promise to honour trust. Both the offender and the offended should recommit themselves to the ideals and values upon which the relationship is built.

Some salient points to rebuild the trust:

–          Stop lying: Continuing to lie, twist or deny is simply adding insult to injury. If you want the relationship to work, then you can not continue to lie about your secret relationship or marital infidelity. Marital unfaithfulness can be anything: sexual involvement with another person, or secret exchange of emails, text messages and phone conversations with a friend or an acquaintance or a complete stranger. Whether the extra marital cheating is a passionate sexual affair or an emotional affair, it will greatly undermine the trust in your marriage.

The only hope of regaining trust of the offended person is to share the truth, thus demonstrating your commitment to being honest and to restore relationship.

–          Do not get defensive or blame others: Do not blame anyone or anything for your actions or wayward behaviour. If you blame someone or something for your errant behaviour, the offended person will view it as an attempt to continue to keep her/him in the dark and to make her/him a fool.

Skip the excuses and just take responsibility. Justifying and making excuses may help you in the short term, but in the long run it does nothing for your character or the level of trust you are given. Accountability is a rare trait these days with most people wanting to avoid negative consequences at all costs. Dare to be different and you will win the trust of others.

This is the time to be contrite, repentant and honest. The best way to effectively start the process of rebuilding trust is to take complete and full ownership of your own selfishness, immaturity and basic destructive relationship behaviour.

–          Establish consistency: Every effort should be made to ensure that words are consistent with actions. This determines your integrity and determination to honour the trust.

Be consistent in your behaviour. Don’t engage in the behaviour once in a while when it seems convenient. Your consistency is the key to your trustworthiness. Small actions add up and a track record of good character is invaluable in any relationship. Become intensely principle-centered and trust will follow easily and consistently.

–          Communicate accurately, openly and transparently: Act transparently and be willing to communicate your motives and intentions for your actions.

–          Show concern for the other: Trust often grows when you show sensitivity to the needs, desires and interests of the other. Refrain from engaging in self interested pursuits to the detriment of the other.

–          Show unconditional love: Unconditional love develops trust. As you show it to the other, s/he will sense your acceptance and feel comfortable to be vulnerable and honest about her/his feelings, fears, failures and opinions. It builds self esteem in the other person and alleviates fears of rejection. This results in growing trust in the other person.

Apostle Paul clearly describes the unconditional love: “Love is patient, kind, not envious, or boastful, or arrogant, or rude. It does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice in wrong doing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (I Cor. 11.4-7).

–          Take an honest look at yourself as well

You are not perfect and so will probably disappoint your loved one as well. You can promise never to say something hurtful or never tell a lie or always keep confidentialities and keep up promises. This will result as both the persons grow in God, seek God and ask him for strength to change so that they may be humble, honest and trustworthy to each other.

The ability to reconcile and spirit of humbleness prove your love and commitment for each other.

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God’s Constant Providential Care for the Righteous

May 22, 2012

Life is often very hard for the righteous. They go through afflictions, troubles, fears and heart-broken situations (Ps. 34.4,6,17,18,19). They are not spared from pain, suffering and affliction. There is no divine guarantee that the righteous will be immune to crises and trials in their lives. The Psalmist says that the righteous go through life’s harsh experiences, unlike Job’s friends who understood that only those who commit sin, not the righteous, go through such experiences. Even the Son of God went through humiliation, pain and suffering. Hebrews says: “Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested” (2.8), and “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death…Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered” (5.7-8). The Gospels portray Jesus Christ as a righteous sufferer (Lk. 23.47). Moreover, the instructions from Psalm 34.12-16 are quoted by I Peter 3.10-12 to support the exhortation in verses 8-9 and 13-18. This exhortation presupposes that Jesus is a suffering servant (cf. Is. 53) and instructs the reader how to live in response to Christ’s suffering.

Although the heart of the righteous is broken and their spirit crushed, they experience God’s nearness within the crises situations: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted” (Ps. 34.18). The Lord also rescues them from troubles (Ps. 34.17, 19). God protects the righteous so that not one of their bones will be broken (Ps. 34.20). This promise is fulfilled in Jesus Christ (Jn. 19.36). The soldiers pierced his body, but did not break his bones.

There is the continuation of the divine oversight and care. “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are open to their cry” (Ps. 34.15). God has concern and is attentive. He is concerned about their distress and listens attentively to their cry. That means, God takes their prayers seriously. With this confidence believers in God can face trying situations in life. They may even rejoice, as Paul, in such situations (Phil. 4.4-7). Arthur Weiser writes: “The true happiness of the godly consists in the nearness of God and in the living experience of his help, and not in being spared from suffering and affliction.”

The Psalmist describes his experience of God’s deliverance. He summarises in a nutshell the three step sequence of his deliverance: I sought the Lord, he answered me, and he delivered me from all my fears (Ps. 34.4). This theme is repeated in verses 6 (“The poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord and was saved from every trouble.”) and 17 (“When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and rescues from all their troubles.”). In times of distress and troubles, the Psalmist approached the Lord through prayer, and God heard and acted. The Lord delivered him from his fears and troubles.

The psalmist’s experience of God’s deliverance from his fears and troubles forms the basis of his resolve to praise God at all times (Ps. 34.1). The essence of his praise is the acknowledgement and public declaration of God’s greatness (Ps. 34.2-3). Such praise does not change the divine essence, but creates awareness of God’s greatness in the perception of others. This public acknowledgement and awareness of God’s greatness brings gladness to the “humble”, those who are afflicted and troubled (Ps. 34.2). What the Psalmist saying is: “This is my experience, and it can be yours too.”

In the present days people have many fears or anxieties due to uncertainties about job, marriage, conduct of children, and the unknown and unseen. That’s why many people go to religious and non-religious soothsayers. However, Paul says, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4.6-7).

Having experienced God’s saving power and faithfulness, the Psalmist encourages others to seek God: “Look to him, and be radiant, so your faces shall never be ashamed” (Ps. 34.5). They are never put to shame by being neglected or forsaken by God. He invites them to “taste and see” (Ps. 34.8). The metaphor of invitation is powerful, for it suggests action on the part of those invited to perceive the greater saving action of God. The divine deliverance requires movement, namely the response of faith that tastes, and as a result of that they experience the goodness of the Lord.

The Psalmist also invites God’s people to experience God’s provision (Ps. 34.9) and good things (Ps. 34.10). He says that the self-sufficient predators, the young lions, may lack their daily sustenance, but the God-fearing would not lack any good thing (Ps. 34.10). Of all the beasts, lion is the most powerful and least likely to lack prey and go hungry. And among lions, though old lions may lack prey, young lions are active and successful as hunters (cf. Job 4:10–11). Young lions, thus, symbolize the essence of self-sufficiency in the provision of physical needs. In contrast, those who fear the Lord are not self-sufficient; they depend on God for the provision of their basic needs. The good God does not disappoint them, for he gives them good things such as protection and provision.

However, the prerequisite to experience the goodness of God is the fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord is not merely learned, it is lived. The Psalmist teaches that the fear of the Lord is manifested in words and deeds (Ps. 34.13-14). Speech and action are intimately related, for evil and deceptive words are as destructive as evil acts. On the other hand, speech and action also construct lives.

With our tongues we can do both good and great harm. It is said, “Words and hearts should be handled with care…for words when spoken and hearts when broken are the hardest things to repair.” James exhorts clearly the importance of controlling the tongue: “Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle” (3.2); “…tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark” (3.5); “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (3.6); “All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (3.7-8); “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness” (3.9); “Out of the same mouth come blessing and cursing” (3.10).

Proper use of tongue is also a prominent theme of the Book of Proverbs: “The tongue of the righteous is choice silver” (10.20); “The lips of the righteous feed many” (10.21); and “Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (12.18).

Those who fear the Lord must also turn themselves from evil (Ps. 34.14; Prov. 16:6). Instead of doing evil, they must practice what is right (cf. Am 5:14) and pursue peace. In short, to receive God’s goodness one must do good (cf. Dt. 6:18). That means, the fear of God is manifested in action.

The psalmist exhorts that the fear of the Lord is foundation of good life, and a key to joy in life and long and happy days (Ps. 34.12). It also gives satisfaction or fulfilment in life.

 

 

Hurried and Harried Children

May 22, 2012

“Avoid rush hour” is a common suggestion in cities. It may be easier to evade rush hour, but it is becoming very difficult, though not impossible, to avoid the rapid pace of life in the present technological era. Technological advancement has brought many changes. Some are good, while other bad. On the one hand, it has contributed to faster production of commercial goods and instant information and communication obliterating the constraints of time and space, to say a few. On the other hand, it has increased competition in various fields. The strife to compete and excel has greatly increased the pace at which people are required to accomplish tasks. This rapid pace of life, in turn, is negatively affecting health and families. People are so busy to fulfil their job requirements that they have very little time to spend with their families — their spouses and children. Sometimes work schedules stretch mothers and fathers to the breaking point with little time left for their children.

In many families the economic pressures on parents systematically rob them of time with their children. As a result, television, video games, magazines and peers become children’s constant companions. They grow in a culture determined by technological and economic forces, rather than their parents and grandparents. Consequently their lives are shaped by the worldview and value system promoted by these forces. The glitter of commercials generates impulse shopping. The personal preferences of children in clothing, toys, food and luxuries are very much influenced by the flashy advertisements. Junk food such as pizzas, burgers and soft drinks is popular among them. The advertising images replace parents, grandparents, relatives and neighbours, who the children once looked upto, as role models. Children strive to emulate the MANUFACTURED “perfect” idols of the advertisements. The artificial consumer culture is, thus, being foisted upon children.

The consequences are:

  1. Increasing violent behaviour in children due to continuous exposure to violent video games and television shows.

To address the question “What is the impact of this new environment on children, and which is the particular effect of images of violence in the media?” UNESCO in 1996 and 1997 conducted the Global Media Violence Survey in which more than 5000 twelve year old students representing a broad variety of cultural, social and economic conditions from 93 countries participated. It found that media content offers an orientation, a frame of reference that determines the direction of children’s behaviour. Even if the child does not necessarily adopt the behaviour portrayed, the media images provide a model, a standard for what may be considered normal and acceptable.

 

  1. Distortion in the development of children due to the influence of consumer culture and peer group. Promiscuity, teen pregnancy, adolescent suicide, and drug and alcohol addiction are on the rise. They indicate not only insecurity and a craving for love and happiness, but also fast growth. David Elkind, professor of child study at Tufts University, bemoans that children are missing out on some very important stages of development and the innocence of childhood is becoming a thing of the past. He says that the type of clothing, entertainment and other products marketed are making children in 8-12 years age to become more like teenagers “leaning more and more toward teen styles, teen attitudes and teen behaviour.”
  2. More self-centered, isolated and depressed, and less tolerant and generous. Take the example of American children (since Indians, in general, ape American consumer culture). They are insecure, depressed and troubled.

An estimated five million of them are being given at least one psychiatric drug. This disturbing trend is growing rapidly. The number of children ages 2-4 for whom stimulant and anti-depressant drugs have been prescribed increased 50 percent between 1991 and 1995. In the following four years, prescriptions for anti-depression drugs rose even more steeply, climbing 151 percent for children in the 7-12 age group, and 580 percent for children six and under.[1]

There have been atleast 91 school shootings in the US during 1991-2011, claiming about 177 lives.[2]

Not an encouraging scenario!

It seems obvious that an increasing materialistic, self-absorbed and morally ambivalent society is failing its children. Can there be any doubt that without family-based moral teaching, anarchy is the natural outcome?

There is unquestionably no substitute for a positive home atmosphere to provide children the best environment to grow with love, happiness, security, emotional support and moral values. In the traditional Indian family there has been a healthy relationship between different age groups and children have the stabilising and character-shaping influence of their parents and grandparents. Children learned to respect elders, and to be sociable and generous.

However, due to globalisation and increasing urbanisation, and the resulting constant mobility and lifestyle changes, extended family system is virtually collapsing, giving way to nuclear family system. This has an adverse effect not only on older people, but also on children’s personality development, conduct, academic performance and attitude towards life and society.

In this scenario the fundamental answer to the healthy development and care of children lies squarely with parents. This requires effort and sacrifice on their part.

Some of the practical suggestions to help parents to grow their children in a healthy environment:

  1. Recognise that spending time with your children is important

When there is not enough family time, children will miss the stabilising, character-shaping influence of their parents. Therefore, start by recognising the importance of spending time with your children. Be willing to make it a top priority.

In the present fast paced life, time is very precious. One has to be prudent in the use of time. Too many outside activities can cut into family time, which is already scarce. One of the best ways to find time for family is to cut down on the number of outside activities, especially those that take place at the time of family meal. Be sure to set aside some time every day for your children. One of the casualties of busy life is family meal. It is a good tradition to have atleast breakfast and dinner together. Breakfast gives family members a chance to know what each one will be doing on that day. Family dinner reconnects the family members after a long day at school or work. This helps parents to know what is going on with their children, and assures children that their parents are concerned about them.

It is important to have family meal without any disturbance or distraction. See that the television is switched off. Do not take phone calls, unless there is an emergency.

  1. Know that spending QUALITY time with your children is important

If both parents are working, they often feel tired and stressed that they don’t have any emotional and physical energy left for their children. It is good to relax and rest quietly for a few minutes, instead of switching on television for relaxation.

Most of the leisure time is usually spent in sitting before television. Someone said, “We have become a society of watchers.” The domination of our life by the media has enormously contributed to our lack of connectedness to others. Robert Putnam, a political scientist and professor of public policy, bemoans, “We spend hours upon hours looking at screens instead of into faces. Are we doing this because we are too alone? Or are we so alone because we spend too many hours looking at screens? It could be both. By choosing to devote so much of our life to the passive distractions of media, we have isolated ourselves from others. And, in turn, this compensates for the isolation we have unwittingly created by our mobility and our independent lifestyles characterised by striving for success.”

We should remember that children want to spend quality time with their parents. They do not need their mere physical presence. William Doherty, professor of family social science, says, “It’s important to remind yourself that your kids are never going to be young again. Once this time is gone, you can never regain it. We ought to enjoy them for the brief flicker of time we have with them.”

  1. Be willing to set limits

Parents are leaders of the family and children need to follow that leadership. Discipline is probably one of the most important elements in which a mother and father can lead, guide and direct their children. Setting limits to what a child can do means that you love your child. If you allow your child to do all the things he/she would like to do means that you don’t care much about your child. Do not be afraid to set clear moral standards and guidelines. Be sure to say “no” when it is needed. John Rosemond says, “Give your children regular, daily doses of Vitamin N. This is vital nutrient consists simply of the most character building two-letter word in the English language—“No”…Unfortunately, many, if not most, of today’s children suffer from Vitamin N deficiency. They have been over-indulged by well-meaning parents who have given them far too much of what they WANT and far too little of what they truly NEED.” However, it is important to explain to your child why you are saying “no”.

Set limits to the amount of television watching and internet browsing. Parents should have a say in what their children watch. Encourage them to watch educational programmes. At times parents may join their children in watching a programme and later discuss it. It is always good to have a single television in the living room.

Parents should be able to say “no” if their children watch a programme or wear a dress which they consider inappropriate. Your child may be the only odd person out, and you may be the only parent going against the tide. There may be pressure not only from your children, but also from their peers and peers’ parents. For the sake of your children you should be firm in doing what you think is right for them. Make it clear that you are their parent and your decision is final. Someone said, “Parenting is not a popularity contest.”

In order to understand their children better, parents should be familiar with their world. Know their friends and teachers. If possible, encourage them to bring their friends home occasionally. This helps parents to have a better idea about what kind of influences are there on their children.

One of the important things is to make your children feel comfortable to share anything with you boldly. At the same time they should be conscious that you are their parent. When your child comes to you to talk, stop whatever you are doing to listen. Be a good listener.

  1. Be united in Parenting

It is important that parents work together in parenting. Because at times a parent forms a coalition with a child/children against the other parent. Parents use children to settle personal scores. This undermines the authority of the other parent and damages the relationship between children and that parent, which in turn causes serious damage to children’s overall development.

Children also often try to play their parents off of each other. So it is important that parents make sure that they are working together and making decisions that are consistent with each other. Except in cases of child abuse, passively not supporting the other parent or actively undermining the authority of the other parent will have adverse effect on children. It is vital that parents support each other in the presence of their children. If parents disagree on parenting issues, they should discuss the issues privately without the children present. Parents should love each other and treat each other with respect. They should not speak belittling each other. Then it becomes easy for parents to instil into the hearts of their children love and respect not only for their parents and elders, but also among children at home.

  1. Resist the pressure to compete

We live in a very competitive, success-oriented society. Parents want to see their children to be successful. There is nothing wrong to have such a desire as long as “success” is understood holistically. However, one needs to think about overscheduling their children with a lot of “mind-stretching” and “success-ensuring” structured activities. As parents they feel obligated to provide more opportunities for the benefit of their children. They see everyone else’s kids involved in a lot of different activities and that just seems to be the thing to do. Otherwise their children may lag behind others, they think. They also tend to feel guilty of not providing their children better opportunities to succeed.

Also parents have very high expectations of their children. So they push them harder and harder without thinking whether they can cope up with the pressure and stress to deliver the desired results.

If children are continuously occupied with a lot of activities, then they will have very little time left to play and be kids. By overscheduling their children with continuous activities and thus overstrectching their minds, parents may, probably, be doing a great harm to their children by depriving them of their childhood fun and to grow gradually. Playing with their peers, Elkind says, “gives children the opportunity to learn about themselves, to create and to innovate, and to learn how to make independent judgments. They also learn mutual respect and how to work with others.” Doherty adds, “There are developmental ‘tasks’ at different stages of a child’s life. Children have plenty of years ahead of them to face the tasks and developmental challenges of adolescence and adulthood. Childhood is a time to be mastering what they need to master as a child — to learn at school to relate to a peer group, to be part of a family, to learn to be with siblings, and to play…The competitive ‘career pursuit’ role — developmentally (it is) meant to come later, when a person’s brain and body are developed well enough to handle them. But the child’s brain and body are not developed well enough to handle these pressures”

As a result of continuous “overstretching” activities, children may develop stress-related health problems like nervousness, headaches, and eating and sleeping disorders. Overdose is always dangerous and causes side-effects. Children also grow with the idea that “success” is more important than relationships. They will develop success-oriented values with least importance to character.

Instead of forcing their children into a lot of activities, parents may do well if they take time to understand their child’s potential, weaknesses and strengths, and then plan accordingly. Give right amount of dose.

Encapsulating the way children are treated these days, Thomas Szasz said, “In the United States today, there is a pervasive tendency to treat children as adults, and adults as children. The options of children are thus steadily expanded, while those of adults are progressively constricted. The result is unruly children and childish adults.” Aren’t we, Indians, trying to emulate this model?

 


[1] Helena Norberg-Hodge, “Beyond the Monoculture: Strengthening Local Culture, Economy and Knowledge.” www.countercurrents.org, 3rd April, 2010.

Power and Decision-Making in Family

May 22, 2012

There are few things that prove more intoxicating than power. A thrill comes from dominating, controlling and affecting the life of others. Frederick Nietzsche, German philosopher, said that human beings are hungry for power. He declared that “will to power” is the basic human drive and the essence of our humanity. Every action towards another person stems from a deep-down desire to bring that person under one’s power.

Power politics may also be seen in families. There are wives and husbands who think that it is their right to exercise power over what goes on in each other’s life. Men, in particular, are socially prescribed to be dominant over their wives. In a traditional family husband is in charge making all the decisions and wife complying with those decisions with little resistance and questioning. However, this dominant-submissive family model is slowly changing due to cultural changes taking place in India. Women are becoming more and more assertive due to better access to education, employment and income. However, men are not as willing to adapt to the new situation and demands. Marital problems persist as Indian family moves from dominant-submissive model to an egalitarian model. The root cause of many marital problems is an unequal relationship or struggle over who has control in the relationship. When power balance is not mutually acceptable, serious problems may arise.

Power struggle in a family may lead to a cycle of violence. This cycle of violence often begins with a pattern of verbal denigration and emotional abuse, and intensifies until it manifests itself as a form of physical abuse. Verbal abuse is probably more sinister than physical abuse. Even after the healing of bruises and broken bones from physical abuse, verbal abuse continues to silently erode its victim’s self-worth. Because the abusive spouse conveys to the other that he/she is responsible for his/her abusive behaviour; he/she is a failure in most or all of the roles he/she is performing; and he/she is helpless without the abuser. Victim of abuse eventually come to believe that he/she is powerless and object of shame.

Spousal abuse may be the result of various factors. It may be a learned behavior that a child observes occurring between parents and later repeats in his/her adult relationships. Abusers are often motivated by feelings of powerlessness and insecurity. Spouse abuse inflates the ego and provides a false sense of power and control. It may also be due to a misguided sense of love that results in unhealthy possessiveness and jealousy.

Power struggles often emerge at the time of decision-making.

There are four major types of decision-making:

  1. A spouse habitually makes decisions and implements those decisions or announces the decisions in the family with the expectation that these decisions will be accepted and carried out without challenge. Here communication is mostly unidirectional, from the dominant spouse to the submissive one, as there will be no room for discussion or interaction.

However, questions of clarification or how the decision is to be carried out are allowed. Questioning the appropriateness of the decision is discouraged or even not tolerated. Other spouse’s perspective, needs and satisfaction are not at all considered while making a decision.

  1. A spouse makes decisions and tries to persuade the other to implement them by explaining the advantages. In this style, communication is mostly unidirectional, from decision-making spouse to the other. At times it is bidirectional and interactive.
  2. A spouse, before making a decision, presents the problem to the other spouse and his/her input is sought in order to make a better decision. Interaction or discussion is encouraged. Needs, wellbeing and satisfaction of both spouses are considered.
  3. A spouse presents the problem and both discuss the problem taking into consideration the needs, wellbeing and satisfaction of both. Decision is based on consensus after open and frank discussion. Spouses communicate with each other as equals.

Couples get into power struggles because they fail to properly consult with each other when faced with important decisions. One sure way to drive a wedge between you and your partner is to begin making decisions as if you were single. This makes your spouse feel marginalized.

 

Consulting with your partner is a responsibility of being part of an intimate, committed relationship. You now exist as part of an “us”, in addition to being “me”. Major decisions impact the entire family. So it is wise to consult your partner, discuss the problem and take a joint decision.

A major contributor to successful marriage is learning how to become a team player, replacing the selfishness of the ego with an “us” and “we” mentality. For this to happen one has to

  1. acknowledge that your spouse is a unique individual with his/her own wishes, needs, preferences and experiences;
  2. accept your spouse’s uniqueness of perspective which is both different and valid;
  3. create enough space so that each of you has a voice in decision-making process. This is possible when judgment is suspended and you and your partner take time and make an effort to understand each other’s perspective—even when you disagree with him/her.

As it is said, “Joint decision making, sharing marital powers, perceptions of both self and partner, doing a fair share of family work, and a feeling of equity appear to be positively related to marital and relationship satisfaction. In the marriage companionship there is neither inferiority nor superiority. Marriage, in its truest form, is a partnership of equals, with neither exercising dominion over the other, but rather, with each encouraging and assisting the other whatever responsibilities and aspirations he or she might have.”

 

Whither Marriage?

May 22, 2012

With the new strains and challenges that have emerged for the Indian family, it has been going through a transition. Due to the impact of globalisation, families have been wavering between traditional and western models. The family values and priorities are also in a flux, with increasing emphasis on individualistic, materialistic and self-oriented goals over family wellbeing.

Not so long ago husband was the provider and wife the home-maker. It’s no longer so. The economic liberalisation, which opened markets in India, has generated more employment, especially for female members of the families. Thus, it has facilitated more and more women to come out of their traditional space into male bastion. However, the growing number of women in the work force, the stress of occupational life, large-scale shifts in the economy, constant mobility of family, and the enormous challenges of raising children in a fast-paced, media-centered society, in which values are constantly changing, are affecting marriage.

Although globalisation has paved way for more and more women to enter into labour market, it also made it imperative for both husband and wife to earn in order to cater to family needs. The rising cost of living and the declining ability of men to earn sufficient wages along with the growing need for cash for family maintenance has resulted in an increasing number of female members in the family engaging in economic activities. In many households, both husband and wife have full time jobs, and commute an hour or more each way to work.

For many, work is no more a cushy 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday job. With globalization and people working across time zones, the concept of fixed working hours is fast disappearing. Instead people spend close to 12-16 hours every day at office. Moreover, having incredible advances in information technology, coupled with increasing competition in the talent supply market, has led to a “performance-driven” culture. This creates an enormous amount of pressure to perform. Men and women find it difficult to say “no”, especially to their superiors, and usually end up over-burdening themselves. This is due to concerns people have that if they don’t put in long hours, they may lose their job. “Nowadays there’s this pressure that if you don’t work 50 to 60 hours a week, you will get laid off when your company is downsized.” Working overtime and weekends, and being on call 24 hours a day, is common for employees at many companies.

The result is a rushed, hurried lifestyle for everyone in the family. Even in families where only one of the spouses is working, life is still more hectic nowadays than it was in the past. Weekends are usually taken up with house work, grocery shopping and other errands. Everything is so fast, so mechanical and so much is demanded of each person. People have to fight to find time to be alone and to be together without interruptions.

For women, managing responsibilities in office along with domestic affairs, and managing children at home take a toll on their health. Although women have come a long way with regards to the traditional family set up, in most cases men have not been as willing to come along. Women are expected to carry out significant domestic workload. Individual career ambitions, intense competition at workplace and the pressure to cope up with family may cause problems for the smooth functioning of the family. The working women expect that both husband and wife should be equally responsible for the provider and housekeeper roles. They expect cooperation and adjustment from their husbands. This demands a radical restructuring of marriage relationship and functions. From a dominant-submissive relationship, marriage has to transform into a relationship of equals. While women have become assertive, many of the males have not learnt to adapt to the new demands and situation. The result is frequent ego clashes.

With the lack of time to interact with their husbands and lack of time to provide adequate love and care for their children, women end up having unsatisfactory relationship with their husbands. The other reasons are physical and mental exhaustion due to heavy and never ending work, and indifferent attitude of their husbands. This puts a lot of strain on the marital relationship, which might result in marital conflicts.

It’s almost impossible to keep a healthy perspective on life and very difficult to have the emotional presence needed for healthy relationships if you are constantly working 50 to 60 hours or more a week. Many of us find ourselves too pressured and stressed out to devote much time to the cultivation of lasting relationships. Nearly everything in life is moving at rapid pace, and most of us have probably joined the rush to keep up. James Gleick in his book Faster writes, “A compression of time characterises the life of the (20th) century.”

In this fast paced life, we are ignoring what matters most in human life: our relationships with one another. We are becoming increasingly disconnected from family, friends, relatives and neighbours.

Apart from the fast paced life, another factor that is contributing to the decrease in relationships is an emphasis on individualism. Laura Pappano, a journalist, says that often we may want to connect with others and to have a deep and meaningful relationship, but we want it on our own terms. “We have moved from a society in which the group was more important than the individual,” she says, “to one in which the central figure is the self…From the ashes of duty we have risen to claim not merely a healthy dose of freedom but individual supremacy…We want success, power and recognition. We want to be able to buy or command caring, respect, and attention. And today so many of us feel deserving of the service and luxuries once accorded a privileged few. We may live in a more egalitarian society, but we have become puffed full of our own self-worth.”

Pappano says that the concept of self-sacrifice is no longer a significant part of our modern cultural makeup and is often seen as weakness, not strength. More and more people are evaluating their relationships in terms of cost-benefit analysis and weighing friendship in light of investment and return. Today, instead of considering others, people are more likely to put their own needs first and ask, “What’s in it for me?”

By promoting individualism and competition, the present economic system has succeeded in driving people into isolation. As people are cutting themselves off from one another, they are surrounding themselves with the consumer goods – latest electronic gadgets, cars and material things. People are trying to derive from THINGS what they have wilfully forfeited in human relationships.

We are becoming too much of a consumer society – discarding the old and acquiring the latest. This consumer mentality is also affecting marital relationships. If problems between spouses persist for sometime, and either one of them or both come to a conclusion that “it does not work”, they break the relationship and move on. “If this marital relationship is not working, I’ll not waste more time in fixing it. I’ll go shopping for a new relationship.” Because it is always more exciting for people to develop a new relationship than to stay and work with an older one. It is no longer “old is gold”. Now the slogan is “new is gold”, atleast with regards to relationships. Commitment and loyalty to a relationship are fast disappearing in this consumeristic Indian society. Assertion of independence and diminishing urge for adjustment have become the order of the day. The increase in divorce, once a taboo, and its increasing acceptance in the society are evidence for the way globalisation has affected marriage.

Mind you, the present economic system requires the basic unit of society (i.e. family) to be weak, vulnerable and broken in order to have an unopposed sway in the society. When family is weak or broken, individuals become vulnerable to the enticement of an alternate value system based on consumerism promoted by the greed-based economic system. To a large extent globalisation has succeeded in doing that in India. Divorce rate and cohabitational relationships are on the rise. People are not willing to have commitment to marriage. Promiscuity and cohabitation express that people have become very self-interested and are not willing to sacrifice anything, and don’t value the importance of a long term relationship.

Sustainable marital relationship requires a different outlook than a worldview based on self-interest. The worldview based on self-interest undermines our ability to gain what we aspire to: lasting fulfilment, security, satisfaction and happiness. Sustainable marital relationships must be built on love that is selfless, giving and unconditional. It seeks for the welfare of the spouse. This relationship is characterised by selflessness, sacrifice and service. This kind of marital relationship strengthens marriage commitment, and adds stability and willingness to help and support each other through both good times and bad.

The essence of success in marriage is “understanding” between spouses. This helps in marital adjustment. Conceptually, the two main elements of marital adjustment are cohesion and affection. This does not mean that there would always be perfect adjustment. Since marriage involves two persons with unique personalities, perfect adjustment is a myth. Some differences at times are inevitable.

From the practical standpoint, the concept of adjustment between spouses “is not that of assimilating the one into the other but of togetherness and simultaneity in behaviour with the greatest possible level of feeling for each other. Marital cohesiveness is the glue that holds partners together. The other side of cohesiveness is marital commitment…Commitment springs from emotional bonding and the belief about the permanence of marriage per se.”

David H. Olson, professor emeritus in family social science at the University of Minnesota, suggests four ingredients that make up a strong marriage: communication with each other, skill to resolve conflict, closeness and feeling intimate, and being flexible. He says, “Those who have these four things are the ones who are going to make it in our society. The ones that don’t have them are going to be pretty frustrated and end up in divorce.”

The hope is that in this consumeristic culture, where permanence is not valued, couples may see more clearly that there are advantages in staying together “in sickness and in health, in joys and in sorrows, until death.”

 

 

Sadistic Pleasure – A Click Away

May 22, 2012

With the advent of internet, pornography has become mainstream. “Mainstreaming” is the term which best designates the present day position of pornography in our society. There is the vastly increased imprint of pornography in popular culture. This is accelerated by both the fact that pornography has become available in greater quantities and the fact that it is easily available. Parallel to the greater supply and availability, “there is a clean-up tendency, through which regular pornography becomes respectable.” This clean-up is done by fashion industry, advertising industry, movies, SMS texting jargon, music videos and the mass media, and now-a-days sports. Take for example the Indian Premier League (IPL). The introduction of cheerleading into the IPL with gyrating “white” women with skin tight and skimpy clothes to entice crowds feeds deeper, insidious notions about sexuality. The 22–year old cheerleader from South Africa who was thrown out of IPL recently for revealing in her blog some of the activities in the IPL night parties, described how the dance routines and the normal workouts of cheerleaders were rejigged to make it more of show of their body than about the original concept of cheerleading. No wonder she stated in one of her blogs, “We are practically like walking porn.”

The real agenda of mainstreaming pornography seems to be to challenge the cultural norms and shift boundaries. It is argued both explicitly and implicitly that it ought to be acceptable to say and show things which some people regard as going beyond the limits of decency, and it is implied that the reader’s or viewer’s acceptance of pornography and its presence in popular culture is merely a question of “broadmindedness”. In other words, if one has reservations or objections on the matter, he/she is simply not “broadminded” or “liberated” enough. So the real purpose is to legitimise and normalise pornography.

Recently a friend of mine told me that a pastor in India suggested that married couples could watch pornography. On the other hand, religious conservatives condemn watching pornography, but some of them watch it behind the closed doors.

The mainstreaming of pornography gives rise to a set of problems. The gender-role stereotype presented by pornography seeps into the popular culture: women exhibit themselves, allure with voluptuous movements and then provide sexual servicing; and the men fall for it and are virile. This portrayal is increasingly present in the advertisements and fashion. This one-dimensional, limited representation of gender is pervading the popular culture and thus becoming the sole valid view of femininity and masculinity. The diversity of gender representation has been marginalised. When the range of gender images available in popular culture presents one-dimensional view of what femininity and masculinity can mean, the possibilities for identification at the disposal of young women and men are drastically limited.

Also, there is a link between pornographic images consumed and the cognitive make up of the viewer. Pornography, being heavily centered on imagery, tends to ingrain in the viewer a hypersexualised augmented reality. The constant exposure to pornography can escalate into dependency for ideas of sexual behaviour of both women and men. Moreover, pornography promotes a brand of sex devoid of genuine relationship, respect and intimacy which must permeate real life. This is evident in the numerous cases of internet and mobile cell-camera sex scandals (MMS clips) across India. Thus, people’s life practices take shape from images produced by popular culture seeped with pornography. They contribute to forming the reality.

Pornography, at its core, is sexualising of male domination and female subordination. Women are portrayed as not fully human beings but objects for the sexual pleasure of men. So they become the targets of cruelty and degradation for the sadistic pleasure of men. The predatory industry of pornography that encourages exploitation for profit undermines other values such as respect, dignity and equality. It numbs the critical faculties of men from recognising the cruelty and degradation towards women, and that women are human beings with flesh and blood like them. What men fail to realise is that a significant majority of women end up in the pornography industry under various circumstances – human trafficking, economic hardship, cheating etc.

Images that present women as sexual objects to be used for the pleasure of men undermine the ability of men to be fully human. The industry works from the assumption that the men who consume the vast majority of pornography are not really human beings with heart, mind and soul. Because men consume pornography specifically to avoid love and affection. In a patriarchal society in which men are conditioned to see themselves as dominant over women, cruelty and degradation of women fit easily into their notion about sex and gender. They are men in patriarchal culture focused on their own pleasure. To see women as persons deserving respect and dignity – to see her fully human – would change the status quo!

However, men and women should be concerned. They should reject pornography for three reasons. Firstly, it is a justice issue. Those men and women who view pornography are contributing to the subordination and exploitation of women. Secondly, men are robbing themselves of the possibility of being fully human. Do you want to trade your humanity for a quick, cheap thrill that end up costing you your humanity? How can a society that claims to be civilized accept material that continues to reject full humanity of women? Thirdly, and most importantly, it is against God’s creation of women in God’s own image (Genesis 1.26). Women are created with dignity, value and worth, and as equal with men.

If we are serious about realising the ideal of equality of women and men and wish to create equal opportunities for women and men, it is imperative that alternative popular cultural images and narratives about gender are created for girls and boys, and young women and men. If there are no images and stories of women who contribute for the development of society like female educators, community developers, medical professionals, engineers and activists, or of vulnerable, caring and loving fathers, how can the new generation ever realise that these possibilities exist? And how are they to learn that gender need not limit options? Probably an alternate media and/or community based media should promote the diversity of gender representation in order to counter the one-dimensional, limited representation of gender promoted by the popular media.

Missing Daughters in Modern India

May 22, 2012

A doctor in a north Indian town flashed “V” sign after ultrasonography of a pregnant woman, meaning that it was a son. The other sign language devised by the son-obsessed Indians, Gargi Parsai writes, is “laddu” for a son and “barfi” for a daughter.

Preference for a male child is on the rise in India, particularly in North India, resulting in declining child sex ratio. According to census 2011 the child sex ratio in the age group 0-6 is 914.23 girls for every 1000 boys. This trend has been continuing for several decades.

Child Sex Ratio (0-6 yr) 1961–2011

(Girls per 1000 boys)

1961    1971    1981    1991    2001    2011

976      964      962      945      927      914

The 2011 child sex ratio is the worst in the history of India since independence. Most of the north Indian states have low child sex ratio according to census 2011: Haryana (830/1000), Punjab (846/1000), Jammu & Kashmir (859/1000), Delhi (866/1000), Chandigarh (867/1000), Rajastan (883/1000), Maharashtra (883/1000) and Gujarat (886/1000).

The appalling child sex ratio is due to sex-selective abortion or female foeticide (it means killing female foetus in the mother’s womb). Female infanticide is also to blame for this ratio. A study on female foeticide conducted by Dr. Ashish Bose in Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana categorically states that female foeticide was the result of an unholy alliance between the traditional preference for a son and modern medical technology, and increasing greed of doctors and rising demand for dowry that makes daughters a financial burden. To have a daughter is acceptable if the couple has already a son, but a daughter’s arrival is unwelcome if the couple has a daughter already. With more money and material demanded in dowry, a girl has become a potential financial drain on parents. So girl is no longer desired.

 Prabhuji mein teri binti karoon

Paiyan Paroon bar bar

Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya Na Dije

Narak Dije Chahe Dar…

 (Oh God, I beg of you,

I touch your feet time and again,

Next birth don’t give me a daughter,

Give me Hell instead…  – An old Folk Song from Uttar Pradesh)

In Asouti, a village in Haryana, Lakshmi Devi had five abortions, each because the child was a girl. She already has four daughters. Even then her husband and his family wanted to have a son and when it was found that the child was a girl, he got it aborted. “It is better for a mother to die than to kill her daughters,” Devi says. “I was under immense pressure from my husband’s family to provide him with a son. My mother-in-law even demanded I get another woman to sleep with my husband to give him a son.” Finally, she gave birth to a son and her agony was over.[i] Sons are traditionally viewed as the main breadwinners who will take care of the family, continue the family name and perform the last rites of the parents – an important ritual in many faiths.

The declining child sex ratio also shows the lack of determination on the part of the Indian government to implement the law which bans sex determination of unborn child under the Pre-natal Diagnostic Tests (PNDT) Act and the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act. The report, titled “Progress of the World’s Women”, released by the UN Women – a United Nations organization dedicated to gender equality and empowerment of women – says that the effective implementation of the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 2004, which prohibits test selection, is a major challenge owing to the low conviction rate under the law.

According to the Indian government, ten million girls have been killed, either before or after birth, by their parents over the past two decades. The United Nations estimates that about 2000 unborn girls are illegally aborted every day in India.

Ironically, the districts, which have a high tribal population, record sex ratios which are more egalitarian. Gender bias is far stronger in urban rather than rural areas, and among literate rather than illiterate men and women, thus exploding the myth that growing affluence and spread of basic education alone will result in the erosion of gender bias.

The consequences of less number of females are practices such as polyandry – where several men, often brothers, share the same wife – which is already emerging in areas where there are fewer women, and brides being sold and trafficked. According to the UN Report Human Trafficking and HIV: Exploring Vulnerabilities and Responses in South Asia 2007, “(There is an) emerging pattern of trafficking in girls from West Bengal and Assam to the more prosperous states of Punjab and Haryana, where ‘gender gaps’ are most acute. The trafficked women and girls are sexually exploited and forced to give birth to a male child. The woman is either abandoned or passed on to another man after the birth of the child.” The desire for a son has resulted in not only severe shortage of marriageable young women, but also in making girls and women mere commodities that can be bought, sold and resold. The price of a girl or a woman depends on her age, beauty, skin colour and virginity.

The Independent, a British newspaper, ran the story of a girl who was sold by her poor parents from the state of Jharkhand to a man from a village near Delhi: “Tripla’s parents sold her for £170 (about Rs. 11900) to a man who had come looking for a wife. He took her away with him, hundreds of miles across India, to the village outside Delhi. It was the last time she would see her home. For six months, she lived with him in the village, although there was never any formal marriage. Then two weeks ago, her husband, Ajmer Singh, ordered her to sleep with his brother, who could not find a wife. When Tripla refused, he took her into the fields and beheaded her with a sickle. When Rishi Kant, an Indian human rights campaigner, tracked down Tripla’s parents in the state of Jharkhand and told them the news, her mother broke down in tears. “But what could we do?” she asked him. “We are facing so much poverty we had no choice but to sell her.”…When the police arrested Tripla’s husband, he could not provide a marriage certificate. Generally there is no real marriage. The women are sexual “brides” only. Sometimes, brothers, who cannot afford more, share one woman between them.”[ii]

In the case of Munnia, a 17 year old girl from Jharkhand, she was sold three times in the space of a few weeks. “My father sold me to a man called Dharma,” she says. “I don’t know if he paid for me or not. I came to Delhi with my mother on the train, and then Dharma took me to his village. He used to beat me very badly. He used to hit me until I allowed him to sleep with me. Usually it went on for half an hour.” After 20 days Dharma sold her to another man in Haryana for Rs. 30000, because Munnia was a beautiful girl. When this man wanted to sell her to another man, she ran away. Luckily she found a social worker, who helped her escape.[iii]

The demographic crisis will also lead to increasing sexual violence and abuse such as molestation and rape against women and female children, increasing number of child marriages, and increasing maternal deaths and psychological trauma due to abortions.

In the modern, “civilized” and increasingly urbanised India the female child in her mother’s womb is as vulnerable as girls and women in the society. The only difference is that the very people who would have brought her into the world – her parents – exterminate her when she is in the place considered to be safest – her mother’s womb. Her crime – not being a male.

Gender discrimination is, probably, seen only among human beings. Animals never display discrimination in the kids on the basis of gender. Have you ever seen a dog feeding only its male puppies? Have you ever seen a lion or lioness killing its female cubs? It is only among human beings that such crude preference for male child is visible to the extent that parents on not conceiving the right gender can go to an extent of exterminating the baby.

In the process what is forgotten is that both male and female are equally required to carry forward the human species. And both are equally important for the wellbeing, growth and development of family, society and world. Equal opportunities for girls and women to education, income and political power, and a change in the mindset of both men and women regarding female child will contribute to that end. As Thoraya Obaid, UNFPA executive director, remarked, “Equality benefits everyone. Where girls have equal opportunity to education, societies become more prosperous. Where women have equal access to income, assets and services, families become healthier. When both men and women are able to participate equally and exercise their full human rights, the world benefits.”


[i] Justin Huggler, “The Price of Being a Woman: Slavery in Modern India,” in The Independent, 4 April 2006.

[ii] Justin Huggler, “The Price of Being a Woman: Slavery in Modern India,” in The Independent, 4 April 2006.

[iii] Justin Huggler, “The Price of Being a Woman: Slavery in Modern India,” in The Independent, 4 April 2006.