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The Sum of the Whole Is Our Behavior (a Monday post) November 16, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Karma, Life, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Vipassana, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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This is the post for Monday, November 15th. You can request an audio recording of Sunday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.]

“If we meet other people in a friendly way, they also become friendly. But if we are afraid of them or if we show our disliking to them, they behave in the same manner. These are simple truths which the world has known for ages. But even so, the world forgets the people of one country who hate and fear the people of another country because they are afraid, they are sometimes foolish enough to fight each other.

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Children should be wiser. At any rate, I hope the children who read this will be more sensible.”

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– quoted from the November 1958 “Letter to the Children of India” by Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru, signed “Yours lovingly, Chacha Nehru

As I mentioned during yesterday’s practice and blog post, we’ve all been children and, as children, we were given a world/society and taught different ways to understand that world/society. We were given culture (or cultures) and raised to understand our culture(s) and other people’s culture(s) in certain ways. On a certain level, we could say, that we begin life as “passive recipients.” However, children are curious and children play, experiment, and explore in order to learn and grow. With ourselves, our peers, and our toys, we begin to accept and/or reject the world and culture(s) that were given to us and the understanding that was taught to us. That’s part of being a child: questioning our environment; even pushing back at what we are taught about our environment; and creatively considering other possibilities. In other words, part of being a child is figuring out how we fit into the world.

Do we continue to exist as a “passive recipient” or do we become a “co-creator” of our culture and environment?

I don’t remember ever hearing the terms “passive recipient” and “co-creator,” as related to culture, until I met Merrick Rosenberg. He is a consultant, keynote speaker, and personality expert who often works with companies undergoing change. He is the co-founder of Team Builders Plus and Take Flight Learning; the co-author of the parable Take Flight! (Master the DISC Styles to Transform Your Career, your Relationships… Your Life) and Personality Wins: Who Will Take the White House and How We Know; and the author of the parable The Chameleon: Life Changing Wisdom For Anyone Who Has A Personality Or Knows Someone Who Does and the children’s book Which Bird Are You? (recommended for ages 8 – 12). He is also a black belt who practices yoga – which is how we met and how I ended up reading and recommending his first book.

I was already interested in change management; had already looked into Virginia Satir’s Change Process Model and was fascinated by what it takes to shift culture – on an individual, corporate, and global scale. But Take Flight! (which I highly recommend) and my conversation with Merrick Rosenberg about his work caused me to dig a little deeper into the roles we play when it comes to change and the beliefs we hold that, inevitably, shape those roles. As evidence by his books, Merrick likes a good parable and, so, it’s not surprising that when I searched his work, I found more stories.

Just as I shared one of those stories towards the end of Monday’s practice, I’ll share that story towards the end of this post. But first, a little back story. It’s actually several stories, that converge around behavior, belief, culture, and personality.

There seems to be a single starting point for psychology, exactly as for all the other sciences: the world as we find it, naïvely and uncritically. The naïveté may be lost as we proceed.

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–  quoted from Chapter I: A Discussion of Behaviorism” in Gestalt Psychology: An Introduction to New Concepts in Modern Psychology by Dr. Wolfgang Köhler

 

Wolfgang Köhler, PhD, born January 21, 1887, was a German psychologist whose field of expertise included phenomenology, the study of subjective experience. Along with Max Wertheimer and Kurt Koffka, he was one of the founders of Gestalt psychology, which focused on the human mind and behavior as a whole, rather than on individual elements. (Since November 15th is National Tree Planting Day in Sri Lanka, think of a Gestalt psychologist as someone who would focus on the whole forest rather than a single tree, or on how the whole world is affected by planting trees in a forest.) Dr. Köhler is remembered because of his research with chimpanzees, which provided insight into human behavior, as well as his lived experience as it related to human behavior during Nazi Germany.

After completing his PhD at the University of Berlin and working with Max Wertheimer and Kurt Koffka at the Psychological Institute in Frankfurt, Wolfgang Köhler moved to the island of Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands, and became the director of the anthropoid research station at the Prussian Academy of Sciences. There, from 1913 – 1919, his research included the problem solving skills of chimpanzees, which he choose to study specifically because their brains were structurally similar to humans. In 1917, he published The Mentality of Apes, which described chimpanzees using “insight learning” to access some fruit that was out of reach, rather than trial-and-error.

Remember, when we think of insight from the perspective of Buddhist or Yoga Philosophy, we think of it as wisdom that comes from “[seeing] in a special way” and this is exactly what Dr. Köhler observed. When the chimpanzees realized their food source was out of reach, they paused for a moment and (according to Dr. Köhler’s research) came up with a solution that relied upon an understanding of cause-and-effect. The chimpanzees in the experiments realized that they needed tools to reach the fruit that was too far away or too high and either connected sticks or stacked boxes to make up the difference.

In 1920, Wolfgang Köhler returned to Germany and (eventually) succeeded one of his mentors (Carl Stumpf) as the director of the Psychological Institute at the University of Berlin. He was there as the Nazis came into power in 1933 and while one of his mentors (the physicists Max Planck) criticized the effect Nazi Germany’s policies were having on the field of science, Dr. Köhler was publicly silent for many months. Towards the end of April 1933, however, he wrote an article criticizing the Nazi Party and the practice of dismissing Jewish professors. Then he attempted to organize a resistance movement within the scientific community – but his colleagues erroneously believed the fascist regime would largely leave the universities to their own devices. On November 3, 1933, the Nazi government announced that professors were required to start their lectures with the Nazi salute.

Dr. Köhler refused to passively accept the culture that was being handed to forced on him. Within a month of publicly explaining his refusal to follow the edict, his class was raided and student’s leaving his lecture were forced to show their identification. By May of 1934, he had concluded that there was nothing more he could do and announced plans to retire. By that summer, his interactions with students and other faculty and staff was under investigation. Unable to effectively teach or conduct research, Wolfgang Köhler immigrated to the United States in 1935, where he taught and conducted research at Swarthmore College and (in 1956) at Dartmouth College. He would also eventually serve as President of the American Psychological Association and as a guest lecturer and faculty advisor at the Free University of Berlin.

I know, I know, that’s already a lot of information. So, here are the highlights: Dr. Wolfgang Köhler believed (a) that subjective experience matters; (b) that the human mind and behavior have to be considered as a whole (and that whole includes subjective experience); (c) that, like chimpanzees, humans are capable of problem solving through insight learning; and (d) that people could – and one can argue should – stand up for what they believe to be right and, in doing so, actively co-create the world in which the live.

Problems may be found which were at first completely hidden from our eyes. For their solution it may be necessary to devise concepts which seem to have little contact with direct primary experience.

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–  quoted from Chapter I: A Discussion of Behaviorism” in Gestalt Psychology: An Introduction to New Concepts in Modern Psychology by Dr. Wolfgang Köhler

Fast forward to the 1960’s, and we find generations of researchers standing on shoulders of scientific giants like Dr. Wolfgang Köhler. One of those researchers was Dr. Gordon R. Stephenson (at the University of Wisconsin, Madison) who, in 1967, published a paper entitled “Cultural Acquisition of a Specific Learned Response Among Rhesus Monkey.” The paper detailed research that involved 4 male and 4 female “lab-reared rhesus monkeys… about 3 years of age,” a variety of plastic kitchen utensils, a test cage, and air that was blasted on the monkeys under certain circumstances. (NOTE: I’m just highlighting here. Dr. Stephenson’s paper and experiment are more detailed than my summary and include the fact that the monkeys “had much play experience with each other;” were considered “socially normal;”  and had no conditioning prior to the experiment.) 

According to the paper, the monkeys were assigned unisex partners and then one of the pair would be placed in the test cage with one of the plastic objects. Observations included “passive contact,” whereby contact between the monkey and the object was not intentional, and active engagement that ranged from intentionally moving the object to playing with it and/or mouthing or chewing it. For the most part, the interactions were consistent between each group based on the different objects and all subjects tended to manipulate the novel objects more than the familiar. Higher and lower manipulation trends were experienced by all the monkeys during the same periods of time throughout the multi-week experiment. Although, there were some statistically differences in manipulation rates between males and females when they were alone (in general the male rate was twice as high in the first block); between males and females when they were with a partner; and between objects (regardless of sex).

In the first part of the experiment, an individual monkey that intentionally manipulated an object, was “punished” with an air blast. In general, the monkeys stopped manipulating the objects after two or three blasts. Later, when the conditioned monkeys came back to the test cage for the second stage, they avoided the objects without any air blasts. In the third part of the experiment, the (now) conditioned monkey was brought into the cage with its naïve partner. and the plastic object. In the fourth part, the naïve partner was brought into the cage with the plastic object. 

Dr. Stephenson wanted to see if (and how) the conditioned learning would be transferred. He observed the following:

(a) many of the naïve monkeys were cautious about the plastic object when they observed the behavior of their conditioned partners;

(b) most of the conditioned male monkeys (in various ways) intervened when their naïve partners approached the plastic objects and this sometimes altered subsequent (fourth stage) behavior*;

(c) most of the conditioned female monkeys did not interfere when their naïve partners approached the plastic objects; and 

(d) some of the conditioned female monkeys approached the plastic objects when their naïve partners were not blasted with air (indicating that they learned through observation that the “punishment” was not being applied).

Later experiments, conducted with different monkeys and under slightly different – including some that used food, showed a higher (baseline) manipulation rate with the female monkeys, but similar results in the interaction between conditioned and naïve pairs (i.e., male monkeys were more likely to interfere when their partners tried to manipulate the objects). Some of these later experiments found that female monkeys with infants were more likely to pull their offspring away from an object than a naïve peer.

*NOTE: Later experiments also found that the level of interference, with regard to male monkeys, may make a difference in the naïve partners interaction with the test object in the fourth stage. 

I regard culture as the constellation of behaviors characteristic of a single social group, behaviors which are transgenerational and socially learned by individuals as members of the group. The present report describes an attempt to apply controlled laboratory methods to a social learning situation suggested by the above field and laboratory observations. My particular interest was whether the learned avoidance behavior of a conditioned monkey toward a conditioning object could induce a lasting effect on the behavior of a second toward that same object.

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–  quoted from A. Introduction” in Cultural Acquisition of a Specific Learned Response Among Rhesus Monkeyby Gordon R. Stephenson, Department of Zoology, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Fast forward again, to 2011, when an article entitled “What Monkeys Can Teach us About Human Behavior” appeared as a Psychology Today post. The post was written by creativity expert and author Michael Michalko, who served as an officer in the United States Army and worked with “NATO intelligence specialists and international academics in Frankfurt, Germany, to research, collect, and categorize all known inventive-thinking methods” and then applied those methods to problem solve. He has since extended that knowledge about problem solving into the corporate and public sphere. In his 2011 post, he described the now infamous “5 Monkeys” experiment, which is the story I came across some years ago after meeting Merrick Rosenberg. And, maybe, it’s a story you’ve heard.

The “5 Monkeys” experiment goes like this: Researchers placed 5 monkeys in a cage with a set of steps placed underneath bananas tied to the top of the cage. Whenever the monkeys started using the steps to get to the bananas, the researchers sprayed them with ice cold water until they stopped. Once the monkeys were conditioned to not go for the bananas, the researchers replaced one of the conditioned monkeys with a naïve monkey and observed the four conditioned monkeys intervening, sometimes violently, whenever the naïve monkey headed for the steps. Once the new monkey was conditioned, the researchers replaced another conditioned monkey with a naïve monkey and repeated the steps until the cage contained the steps, the bananas, and 5 monkeys that had never been sprayed with water – but had been conditioned by their peers to not go after the bananas!

It’s a great story. It’s a really great story, especially if you want an easy-to-follow, scientifically-supported business lesson about culture and conditioned behavior. It’s a really great and inspiring story if, as one CPA and Controller stated in 2019, you’re “not a big fan of fiction.”

There’s just one problem.

The “5 Monkeys” experiment, by all indications, is fiction.

In a comment on Michalko’s blog post, primatologist Frans De Waal expressed some skepticism about the experiment and asked Michalko if he had a scientific reference for this study. In response to the comment from another reader, Michalko posted the following:

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‘FIVE MONKEYS. This story originated with the research of G.R. Stephenson. (Stephenson, G. R. (1967). Cultural acquisition of a specific learned response among rhesus monkeys. In: Starek, D., Schneider, R., and Kuhn, H. J. (eds.), Progress in Primatology, Stuttgart: Fischer, pp. 279-288.)’ ….

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… His research inspired the story of five monkeys. Some believe the story is true, while others believed it’s an exaggerated account of his research. True story or not, his published research with rhesus monkeys, in my opinion, makes the point.’

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–  quoted from the Psychology Today blog post What Monkeys Can Teach Us About Human Behavior: From Facts to Fiction – When creativity crosses the line.by Dario Maestripieri Ph.D. (Reviewed by Ekua Hagan), posted March 20, 2012

By his own words, Michael Michalko knew the published details of Dr. Gordon Stephenson’s experiment  and knew that that experiment did not use food, a ladder, water, or more than two monkeys in a cage at a time. Neither did it include a naïve/community-conditioned monkey that “took part in the punishment with enthusiasm!” as he described. Although, that description kind of parallels Dr. Wolfgang Köhler’s observation that once his chimpanzees came up with a solution, they executed their plan with “unwavering purpose.” Given the similarities and his work in the Army (and specifically in Germany), I think it’s safe to assume that Michael Michalko was familiar with Dr. Köhler work – and most (if not all) of the significant research in the same area. It’s also possible that he knew a little bit about Dr. Köhler’s experience with the Nazis. At the very least, he knew German history and (I imagine) he knew about the papers of Drs. Köhler and Stephenson and the experiments they cited in their work. Regarding those citations, it’s important to note that Dr. Stephenson’s introduction specifically references experiments and field observations that theoretically imply that the conclusions of the hypothetical “5 Monkeys” experiment could exist in a real life scenario. (In fact, those implications were part of Dr. Stephenson’s inspiration. You know, they established a hypothesis.) Finally, we know, based on Michael Michalko’s work in the public and private sectors, that he knows how to communicate and teach ideas.

So, it makes sense, that he would tell the story that he told. It’s a great story and we can easily see the truth of our lived experience with regard to violent conditioning in our own society. The thing is, while some people might focus on that lived truth – and others might focus on the fact that there’s no evidence the experiment ever happened – my focus today is a little different. I’m looking at how and why the story came to be; how it’s become part of some people’s culture; and how the belief that the story is verifiably true plays a part in our actions.

Remember, what we believe bridges the gap between what we conceive and what we achieve. This is true on an individual level and on a community/cultural level.

Some people tell the “5 Monkeys” story as a cautionary tale. Some people use it to underscore the importance of examining why they – individually and collectively – do the things they do. But a lot of people tell the story because they think it’s true. And, given the truth, I find it interesting that the “5 Monkeys” story highlights perceived male monkey behavior, but not the wisdom of observation exhibited by the female monkeys in Gordon R. Stephenson, et al, experiments. I also find it interesting that the “5 Monkeys” story doesn’t highlight the insight exhibited by the chimpanzees in Wolfgang Köhler’s experiments.

In the real life experiments, the chimpanzees and monkeys recognized that things change, from day to day and moment to moment. In the real life experiments, the primates were curious about their environment and their culture. They weren’t ever (really) passive, even when they weren’t directly engaging. Which brings me back to where we started: with childhood and the fact that we’ve all been children who inherited culture(s) and cultural understanding about our individual and collective communities.

Whether we like it our not, our lives are a reflection of our beliefs. Not, I might add, a reflection of what we say we believe or what we want to believe, but what we actually believe. And our beliefs are built around the stories we’ve been told and the stories we tell ourselves.

Stories… that sometimes aren’t actually true.

If we wish to imitate the physical sciences, we must not imitate them in their highly developed contemporary form. Rather, we must imitate them in their historical youth, when their state of development was comparable to our own at the present time. Otherwise we should behave like boys who try to copy the imposing manners of full-grown men without understanding their raison d’être, also without seeing that intermediate phase of development cannot be skipped.

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–  quoted from Chapter II: Psychology as a Young Science” in Gestalt Psychology: An Introduction to New Concepts in Modern Psychology by Dr. Wolfgang Köhler

 

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

### “I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.” ~ Rosa Parks ###

 

A Day for Children (a Sunday post practice post) November 15, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Men, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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This is the post for Sunday, November 14th. You can request an audio recording of Sunday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.]

“You must have read many fairy tales and stories of long ago. But the world itself is the greatest fairy tale and story of adventure that was ever written. Only, we must have eyes to see and ears to hear and a mind that opens out to the life and beauty of the world.”

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– quoted from the November 1958 “Letter to the Children of India” by Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru, signed Chacha Nehru

 

How many of the fairy tales, stories of adventure, and lessons from childhood do you remember today? How many of them have you internalized and used as you’ve navigated your way through life? How many have you gone back and re-read, as an adult, only to find you remembered things differently or have a different understanding as an adult? It happens to all of us. We learn so much about the world and so much about ourselves as children, but there’s a lot we don’t fully understand until later in life. Then, just as we are (maybe) starting to figure out the lessons of life, we find ourselves teaching others. The problem with teaching children, however, is that sometimes we’ve forgotten the best parts of being a child. And, sometimes, we are so busy teaching children how to be adults, that we forget to celebrate what it means to be a child.

Both Buddhism and the Yoga Philosophy highlight the mindset of a child with practices like shoshin (“beginner’s mind”) and santōsha (“contentment”), respectively. However, being the adults that we are, we can take these practices so seriously that we lose the wonder. We forget to celebrate childhood… and children. We forget that there is wisdom (and strength) in being a child. And so, sometimes, we need to literally put ourselves in the position of a child.

“So we must also think of their country and of many other countries in the world and remember that everywhere there are children like you going to school and play, sometimes quarrelling but always making friends again. You can read about these countries in your books and when you grow up, many of you will visit them. Go there as friends and you will find friends to greet you.”

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– quoted from the November 1958 “Letter to the Children of India” by Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru, signed Chacha Nehru

Take a yoga class – almost any yoga class – for about a year, and at some point you’re going to come across a position you naturally found yourself in as a kid: Bālāsana, “Child’s Pose” or (quite literally) the “Child Seat.” The Sanskrit word shares roots with the Sanskrit word for “strength” and the “force [of an army]” as well as a medicinal plant, which is why some traditions call it “Leaf Pose.” In sacred philosophical texts, like some of the Upanishads, bālā is the word used for “boy” or “young child,” and so it is also associated with the power of wisdom. And while I just said, you could take almost any yoga class for about a year and come across “Child’s Pose,” in some styles and traditions it will be the very first pose on the very first day.

To get into the pose, you bring your big toes to touch behind you, sit on your heels, and then fold forward until your forehead and nose touch down and your arms rest by your hips. There are some extended variations where the arms rest on the floor over your head and there are some variations where the knees are spread wide. Some people can do it without props; some people can only do it with props; and some people do it with props even when they can do it without them. However, how ever one does it, it is a pose that we’ve all pretty much been in at some point in our lives. In that sense, it’s like a lot of other yoga poses; in that it occurs naturally in nature.

True and funny story, though: You won’t find the pose in very many texts on the physical practice of yoga, regardless of the style or tradition – and definitely not in any of the early texts (even though it seems very similar to the seated and supine poses found in classical texts). Even more interesting, to me, is the fact that when you do find the pose it is considered an energetically “neutralizing” pose and assigned a difficulty level of 1 (meaning relatively easy). However, the pose offers a lot of benefits and can be quite difficult for some people.

For example, if you have knee issues; tight hips; tight quads; ankle issues; some digestive issues (particularly stomach issues); and/or issues like claustrophobia, you might find the pose really challenging. Some of these challenges can be overcome by sitting on a prop like a block or using a bolster to support your head, torso, and hips. You could also use a rolled up towel or blanket to support your head and even place a rolled up towel or blanket between the backs of thighs and the calves (i.e., between your hips and your heels). In some cases, you might feel best when siting in a chair with your toes tucked back (if that is accessible to you) and then folding over a table – with or without something to cushion your head. In the absence of props, you could rest your head on your stacked fists, hands, or forearms.

An option I often give, for people who are not pregnant, is to just lie flat (with or without props). Lying flat on your belly can provide the same opportunity (that Child’s Pose does) to physically and mentally rest between challenges. It can also help you get centered at the beginning of the practice and can provide similar release in the low back, the neck, and – depending on the arm placement – the shoulders. Laying flat can also be a similar way to mentally and emotionally decompress and turn inward. However, there are some benefits to practicing Bālāsana (and it’s play-cousin “Puppy Dog”) that you won’t experience when you lie down flat. For instance, Child’s Pose not only helps you release your low back, it also helps to stretch the entire length of the spine. It also helps to stretch out the quadriceps, knees, hips, ankles, and tops of the feet. According to some modern texts on āsana, Child’s Pose and it’s play-cousins (like “Puppy Dog” and “Downward Facing Hero”) relieve breathlessness, dizziness, fatigue, stress, and headaches; reduces high blood pressure; reduces acidity and flatulence; and alleviates menstrual pain and depression associated with menstruation.

I usually say “Child’s Pose is a modification for every pose,” because not only can you hang out / rest in Child’s Pose until you’re ready to re-join the sequence, but also the extension of the torso creates the opportunity to approximate the engagement of other poses. The adaptability of “Child’s Pose” is very much reminiscent of the flexibility and adaptability of an actual child – which we have all been. Funny thing, though: what happens on the mat is a reflection of what happens off the mat. Just like we can progress and mature in our practice in such a way that we forget the beauty and possibilities of a pose, we can progress and mature in life in a way that can cause us to forget the beauty and possibilities of life.

“As I write I think of the vast army of children all over the world, outwardly different in many ways, speaking different languages, wearing different kinds of clothes and yet so very like on another. If you bring them together, they play or quarrel. But even their quarrelling is some kind of play. They do not think of differences amongst themselves.”

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– quoted from the November 1958 “Letter to the Children of India” by Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru, signed Chacha Nehru

There are several days throughout the year when children are celebrated. November 14th is India’s Children’s Day (Bal Diwas), which is observed every year on the anniversary of the birth of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s First Prime Minister. Prime Minister Nehru was born [on this day] in 1889 and was a prominent figure in India’s independence movement. He was known as “Pandit Nehru,” because of his Kashmiri Pandit heritage, and had such an affinity for the children of his country (and they for him) that Indian kids called him Chacha Nehru (Hindi for “Uncle Nehru”). He advocated for the rights, care, and education of children – who are the light of the world. He specifically supported the idea that a well-rounded education resulted in a better society and considered children the foundation (and strength) of the nation.

Prime Minister Nehru was born into wealth and was able to pass wealth and other resources down to his children. His early childhood included governesses and private tutors, as well as exposure to Indian philosophy and theosophy (which was created in the United States). In fact, his family was friendly with Anne Besant, one of the leaders of the Theosophical Society, and he was initiated into the society at the age of thirteen. He studied natural science at the Trinity College, Cambridge, and graduated with an honours before moving to London and studying law at the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple. He was called to the Bar (i.e., qualified to practice law) in 1912 and returned to India where he planned to follow in his father’s footsteps, at least as a lawyer. However, his father, Motilal Nehru, would eventually serve two terms as president of the Indian National Congress (1919 and 1928); India was changing; and all of his studies about politics, economics, socialism, and philosophy ended up interesting the young barrister more than the existing laws. He not only became involved in the Congress, supported Mahatma Gandhi’s efforts for social change in South Africa, and campaigned against indentured servitude and other forms of British-enforced discrimination against Indians.

Later, the future prime minister would be jailed for following Gandhi’s example and illegally making salt and he continually fought for India’s independence. As prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru changed laws in order to criminalize caste discrimination; increase the legal rights and freedom of women; and provide more education opportunities for previously disenfranchised populations. He also attempted to redistribute land wealth; maintain a political friendship with Great Britain; and establish India as a secular, global power.

The Nehru family’s involvement in Indian politics did not end with father and son. Jawaharlal Nehru married Kamala Kaul, who became an activist and organizer in her own right. In addition to reading his speeches to the public when he was jailed, she organized women’s groups in boycotting non-Indian vendors and created a dispensary to treat activists, their families, and the surrounding community. She and her popularity in India were, ultimately, recognized as a threat to British rule. Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit (née Nehru), the oldest of Prime Minister Nehru’s younger sisters, was the first woman appointed as the (6th) Governor of Maharashtra (1962-1964) and the (8th) President of the United Nations General Assembly (1953-1954). In addition to taking over her brother’s seat in Parliament in Lok Sabha (1967-1971), she also served as India’s diplomat to the Soviet Union and the United States (as well as the United Nations.

Krishna Nehru Hutheesing, the youngest of the Nehru siblings, was also an activist; however, she may be most well known as the biographer of her brother and her niece. That niece – Jawaharlal and Kamala Nehru’s daughter – Indira Gandhi held several political offices and became India’s 3rd Prime Minister and the only woman (to date) to hold the office. While a BBC poll named her “Woman of the Millennium” in 1999 and a 2020 issue of Time magazine listed her as one of the 100 powerful women of the 20th century because of her leadership, her times in office were marked by strife, calls for revolution, and suspension of civil liberties. She served from 1966-1977 and was re-elected for a third term in January of 1980. She served until her assassination, by her own bodyguards, on October 31, 1984. Her son, Rajiv Gandhi, was immediately appointed as her successor and served as India’s 6th Prime Minister until December of 1989. He was India’s youngest prime minister and his time in office was also full of controversy, scandal, and civil rights issues; but he continued to hold other political offices until his assassination on May 21, 1991. His widow and their son have also served in Congress, parliament, and other political offices.

“A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.”

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– quoted from “Tryst with Destiny” address to the Constituent Assembly of India in New Dehli, August 14 – 15, 1947, by Jawaharlal Nehru

Thinking back to the practice about fate and destiny, we can look at a family’s legacy and see the lessons that are passed from parent to child and then on to the following generations. Looking at the political legacy of the Nehru-Gandhi (which is only politically connected to Mahatma Gandhi’s family), we can clearly see an emphasis on education and social / political engagement. Additionally, we can look at letters, speeches, and family recollections to find which lessons were direct and deliberate and which lessons were inferred. Either way, it is interesting to notice what sticks.

It is not uncommon, as we have even seen in the United States, for parents to encourage their children to follow in their footsteps. But what happens when the child has different interests? Even more importantly, what happens when a child is encouraged to follow their own interests no matter where they might lead? It is, after all, possible to serve – and even to promote social change – without going into politics. In this day and age it is possible for a child to serve – and even to promote social change – in ways that were not available to their parents…. even in ways that were beyond their parents’ imaginations.

Children, and children’s lives, are full of possibilities. But those possibilities can be limited by our imaginations and our conditioning. Here I am specifically referring to the imaginations and conditioning of adults. We have, after all, learned to see the world in a limited fashion; while children are still learning how to see the world. It’s possible that we do them, and us, a disservice when we forget that there are other was to see them and ourselves.  It’s possible that we do them, and us, a disservice when we forget to discover what’s beneath the labels, superficial layers, and trivialities that we use to separate ourselves from each other. It’s possible that we do them, and us, a disservice when we forget to keep our minds open with wonder and curiosity. We are, after all, all microcosms, little worlds.

“Our country is a little world in itself, with an infinite variety of places for us to discover. I have travelled a great deal in the country and I have grown in years. I wish I had more time, so that I could visit all the nooks and corners of India. I would like to go there in the company of bright young children whose minds are opening out with wonder and curiosity. I should like to go with them not so much to the great cities of India as to the hills and and the forests and the great rivers and the old monuments, all of which tell us something of India’s story.

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– quoted from the November 1958 “Letter to the Children of India” by Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru, signed Chacha Nehru

 

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

“If we meet other people in a friendly way, they also become friendly. But if we are afraid of them or if we show our disliking to them, they behave in the same manner. These are simple truths which the world has known for ages.”

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– quoted from the November 1958 “Letter to the Children of India” by Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru, signed Chacha Nehru

 

“This is based on a true story. While hiking in the hills of Rishikesh in India, we encountered a holy man who approached with light in his eyes and love in his heart… just beaming with inspiration. He spoke as if he were channeling the divinity ever present in that wonderful country and spoke these words… “Light of sun in the sky sends the message: Be Fearless and Play!” We were fascinated and inspired by his simple but insightful words.”

 

– quoted from the liner notes for the song “Be Fearless and Play” by Wookiefoot

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### Be Mindful What You “Teach Your Children Well” ~ with all respect to CSN&Y ###