Life, a game to play safe | Page 2 | Sunday Observer

Life, a game to play safe

24 April, 2022
Socrates submitted to the decree of Athens
Socrates submitted to the decree of Athens

According to a recent poll in America, the vast majority of parents expect schools to perform two important tasks: Teach children to speak, think, write and count; and help them develop standards of right and wrong to guide them through life.

The parents echo sentiments of President Thomas Jefferson who ruled America about 200 years ago. Those who are familiar with his thinking will recall that Jefferson emphasized on writing, calculation, geography and the important task of improving the children’s morals and faculties.

Although what Jefferson said is valid even for Asian countries, another school of thought says children’s character cannot be formed at school. This is because there is no consensus on what to teach or how to teach it. As a result, some teachers deliberately avoid questions of right and wrong or remain neutral about them.

Many teachers depend on value education theories that seek to guide children in developing their own values through discussions and dialogue. However, it has had no tangible effect on children’s behaviour. Sometimes such behaviour leaves children morally adrift.

It is a moot point whether we can teach moral literacy to the younger generation. In fact we do not have to begin new courses to teach morals. We have a wealth of material in our literature, mainly Jataka stories and those found in Panchatantra. The older generation is quite familiar with them but it is doubtful whether the younger generation is exposed to such literature.

If we really want to teach our children the value of honesty, tell them about Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States. He walked three miles to return six cents he had received in excess. You can also remind them of Aesop’s shepherd boy who cried wolf.


Our children can learn the value of kindness and compassion by reading the life story of the Buddha or Jesus Christ. The Buddha showed compassion even to Angulimala, a notorious criminal. The same lessons can be learnt by reading ‘A Christmas Carol’ or ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’. Children in higher classes can draw inspiration from William Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’.

The stories found in Greek literature tell us what faithfulness means. We read how Penelope and Telemachus and even an old dog that waited for 20 years for Odysseus to return home. We can teach how to respect the law by exposing them to the great Greek philosopher Socrates who submitted to the decree of Athens. He could have escaped by bribing the jailors but he did not do so as a man of high principles.

We are facing innumerable difficulties at present. How do we teach our children how to face adversity? Let them read the adventures of Columbus who ventured into the New World amid untold difficulties. Similarly, Abraham Lincoln ruled the United States at a time of civil war.


With consumerism and advertisements on television, the younger generation is tempted to buy various items which may not be essential to life. If you read the story of King Midas, you will realize the consequences of greed. Most young men and women are driven by greed. They have certain ambitions that cannot be realized. Let them read what happened to Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.

The Bible is full of stories that teach morals. Through the Bible stories we learn Ruth’s loyalty to Naomi, Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers, Cain’s treatment of Abel, David’s courage in facing Goliath. Instead of burdening the young minds with psychological theories, we can teach them morals through stories.

When children are exposed to such stories they learn the difference between virtue and vice. On the other hand, children love to read or listen to stories about great men and heroes. Unfortunately, the younger generation is exposed to soap operas, and cartoon films which do not teach anything worthwhile. Their modern heroes are Batman, Tarzan and those acting in films. They see how children are kidnapped but do not read stories that begin with “Once upon a time …”

If the younger generation is not taught what is right and wrong, they are likely to go on the wrong path. Some of them may want to become criminals and amass wealth.

They are tempted to commit crimes as there is no one to guide them. Why are we not encouraging the younger generation to read Aesop’s Fables, Jataka Stories, Panchatantra or even Zen stories? Such stories anchor on children in their culture, history and traditions.

Common sense

Lack of common sense is quite apparent when we view some of the behaviour patterns of the younger generation. Although common sense is something you are born with, it can be improved. One way is to learn how to debate in school. Another way is to observe it in others. You can learn common sense from others quite easily.

In short, common sense means the ability to render sound, practical judgments on everyday affairs. To do this, you have to sweep aside extraneous ideas and get right to the core of what matters. A Texas oil and gas magnate puts it this way: “The key ability for success is simplifying.”

After common sense, specialized knowledge in your field is the second most common trait possessed by successful people. Geologist Philip Oxley, former president of Tenneco Oil Exploration and Production Company, attributes his success to having worked the oil fields. By “sitting on wells, and bird-dogging seismic crews,” he learned the tricks of the trade firsthand.

“Do your homework!” advises an executive vice president of an industrial corporation in the United States. “Nothing helps success more than knowing what you are doing. It reduces the risks and works like an insurance policy for your own ability.”


Another factor to succeed in life is to have loads of self-reliance. Top achievers rely primarily on their own sources and abilities. Self-reliance is not how you feel or how good you are; rather, it is whether you have the gumption to take definitive action to get things moving in your life. It includes plain old willpower and the ability to set goals.

Some parents complain that their children lack general intelligence which is essential for outstanding achievements because it involves your natural ability to comprehend difficult concepts quickly and analyse them clearly and incisively. Recent studies suggest that many types of intelligence cannot be measured with the usual methods such as I.Q. tests. Besides I.Q., you should have an extensive vocabulary, and good reading and writing skills.

From your young age, you should be able to get things done. According to a physics professor, you should cultivate the habit of depending on sheer hard, tenacious work, with the ability to pace yourself.

Take charge of your life

More than other people youth should take charge of their lives. If you assume responsibility for yourself, you will soon realize that time heals all wounds. Despite the healing of time, many people do not fully recover fully from a crisis. Therefore deal with painful experiences actively.

Stop blaming God, planets, fate or other people for your failures. Ultimately, you are solely responsible for your failures. If you start blaming your karma for your failures, you lose your self-worth.

Youth have to make tough choices all the time. They experience problems related to education and career. Never hope that circumstances will turn out well in the future. People grow because of the decisions they make.

In his biography Lee Iacocca writes that decisiveness – the ability to make a decision and act on it – is the mark of a good manager. It is also the mark of anyone else willing to risk and to grow and become their own person.

Most young men and women build relationships which are the web of life. They influence how you think, feel and behave. At times, they affect the course of your lives. Therefore, young people should have friends or mentors who can guide them along the correct path.

A crisis can undermine your self-esteem and place you in a difficult situation. Never entertain the idea that lottery winners and those who earn large sums of money are happier than you. Most of them are unhappy with their lot in life. If you can enjoy your simple breakfast, watch your favourite television program, or receive a genuine compliment, you are happier than others.

Life is a game, play it safe. [email protected]