On Raising a Humanist

Two communication scholars, Dr. Manisha Pathak-Shelat and Kiran Vinod Bhatia, from a management institute in Ahmedabad, India got together to write a book, Raising a Humanist; Conscious Parenting in an Increasingly Fragmented World. How relevant is that in the current world where people are crumbling not just under the pandemic but also under the burdens of a changing, turbulent era where nothing seems as it was earlier! The impact on children cannot be undervalued. In a time when masks and social media seem to be the only way to survive, how would we bring up our youngsters to be considerate good human beings? How do parents need to respond to their children’s needs to prepare them for a challenging future? In this exclusive, the two scholars answer questions on how to address issues we face bringing up children. Kiran Vinod Bhatia moved to University of Wisconsin- Madison midway to complete her PhD. They completed the book together and answered these questions to give us a glimpse into their book and their ideas.

How did the idea for this book come about? How difficult was it to coordinate across the ocean and get it out?

The book is one of the outcomes of our several years of collaborative work. So, it was kind of a natural progression from writing purely academic papers- which we have several by now and an academic book- and then wanting to share the insights with a larger audience. My meeting with Manisha Mathews from Sage was a catalyst because she immediately saw the merit in the idea in our first meeting at MICA (Mudra Institute of Communications, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India) and kept pushing us till we delivered the book.

Our collaboration started way back in 2017 in India soon after Kiran joined the FPM (Fellow Programme in Management) at MICA so Kiran moving across the ocean hasn’t made a huge difference in our capacity to work together. Technology of course helps but we do miss the face-to-face conversations over tea or lunch.

You have spoken extensively of the role of family, school and media in child rearing. Can you reflect briefly on these three issues? Especially media?

These three, family, school and media surround a child constantly and there are many informal, sub-conscious lessons learnt ever day. We still look at media such as cartoon shows, mainstream movies, lyrics of the pop songs, and mythological stories as benign entertainment but they heavily influence the discourse on class, gender, caste, religion and so on. They make systemic discrimination acceptable. Of course, they also have the power to bring positive change in the hands of sensitive and thoughtful people.

You have spoken of the process of unlearning. Why do you see it as a necessary tool in parenting? How important is openness and transparency in parenting? 

Openness and transparency are the backbones of conscious parenting. Gone are the days when children will mutely accept everything you say. They have a vast number of alternate sources of information, they would want to know the reason, the rationale backing your claims. At times they are much more progressive than you are and you have much to learn from them. Encouraging your children to question things and critically introspect can be very beneficial to parent’s worldview too!

What would happen if we stopped bothering about what others say? You have emphasised that it is not good to bother about other’s opinions — what others will say to be precise. Would you have people disregard and openly rebuff each other’s views?

There is a difference between being genuinely concerned about other people’s feelings, rights, and lives and pandering to their opinion to keep appearances even if you strongly believe in the justice of your action. You must have noticed that in our book we constantly emphasise dialogue, respect, and tact in interpersonal interactions. We encourage critical thinking where you do consider all opinions. We argue that you have a right to stand by your values if they do not harm others. Ultimately, when you recognise discrimination and unjust behaviour you have to be brave to do what feels right to you.

One of the things I have sensed is a hatred between the genders in India. Women have a sense of resentment towards the patriarchal norms imposed on them and men feel that marriage is unnecessary (I have read articles) if women do not role-play. How do you bridge this gap and make parenting work? What would be the impact of such an issue on children?

This is a very complex issue and both parents normally bring their own baggage to marriage and parenting. Open communication, a genuine concern for each other’s well-being, openness to new ideas and to questioning harmful serotypes, and treating marriage and family as a collaborative undertaking and not a role-playing game to serve one’s self-interest are the practices that would keep family dynamics healthy.

Many ‘successful’ women no longer want children in India. Some think marriage as an institution has failed. Do you think it is alright to feel this way?

We are nobody to pass a judgment if someone feels this way. Personally, I have found marriage and motherhood fulfilling but there is no way I can impose this experience on others who do not see them this way.

How are children impacted if parents believe in caste or class and impose it on them? If parents employ domestic help and shout at them, what would be the impact on children?

There could be several different outcomes. Some children would internalise these values unquestioningly and turn into similar insensitive and entitled adults. Some would get exposed to other ways of thinking and behaving and would question their parents. This might result in conflicts, at least initially, until the parents see merit in their children’s questions. Some might just decide to focus on their own practice and behaviour become sensitive, humane adults.

How do we give our children a safe home, even technologically? Is a peaceful life necessary for children to thrive, focus and grow as human beings? Why is tolerance and compassion important in child rearing?

It is too utopian to expect that life will always be peaceful. To be resilient and realistic children do need to be exposed to conflict and risk but not in a way that numbs them into insensitivity or harms them irrevocably. They should be brought up to value peace, harmony, justice, and compassion but with the realisation that the reality out there is grey. If we can help them see the darkness in the world and at the same time feel hopeful enough that in their small ways, they do have the power to shape their own and other lives in a positive way it would be an important contribution.

How important is learning to forgive the perpetrator of an abuse towards yourself in parenting? Is it not right that justice be meted out to the perpetrator? Is tolerance and forgiveness of patriarchal mindset acceptable when it comes to parenting?

As they say, forgive but don’t accept. Keep striving to bring the change. Forgiveness does not mean encouraging the same abusive behaviour again and again.

What is the impact on children of news on rape, lynching, communal violence on TV and social on a young child in the age range of 1 to 10? How do we explain this to the child?

We have published another book- Bhatia, Kiran & Pathak-Shelat, Manisha (2019). Challenging discriminatory practices of religious socialisation among adolescents- Critical media literacy and pedagogies in practice. Springer Nature-Palgrave UK.

In this book we talk about many pedagogic strategies to help young people become media and information literate.

Do you think that exposure to these can affect children?

Yes. Absolutely.

How authoritative does a parent need to be? Are laying out rules not necessary to a child’s disciplined growth?

Rules are necessary but at an appropriate age they can be co-created and with a reason. All adults and children must be then expected to obey them, not just children.

How important is it to communicate with your child to raise a humanist? How do you communicate with your child, given that he has no time after school, friends and social media and your own career and social needs? Especially for adolescents.

Communication is the key to a healthy parent-child relationship. At least keep some no-distraction one-on-one time with each other and these times don’t have to be preachy — have fun together and have unstructured but deep and meaningful conversations; get them interested in your own career, get genuinely interested (not snooping around) in their friends, the games they love, their technology interests; have a practice of doing chores together…earlier all this begins in the family the easier it is. Have family movie nights or cookouts. Seek their opinion on important family matters when they are old enough.

This is an online interview conducted by Mitali Chakravarty.


Click here to read the review of the book.


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