Why are children conditioned to speak less, in the name of being disciplined? Why is talking back to parents or questioning them seen as unruly behaviour? I was in class fifth when I understood that it is not right to police a child for speaking too much. While returning from a friend’s birthday party, which my parents did not usually allow me or my siblings to attend, my father was red with anger. He was upset because my outspokenness had crossed a limit, set by him. When we were back home, he scolded me like never before and even threatened to outcast me if I didn’t leanr to “behave myself” in public. I might have said something wrong or something that my friend’s family weren’t supposed to know. But was it right on my parents’ side to tell me to not speak too much? If parents scold or slap their children for being outspoken, will they ever be able to speak confidently in front of others? Without thinking that it was incorrect or impolite? I can’t do it, even today.
When the elders of my family get together on any occasion, they tend to speak about the kids of the family and rank them according to their behaviour. And in that rank list, a shy, timid kid who speaks less is adored the most, while the one who speaks her mind is not. I was ranked the first while my sister was last. I couldn’t stop wondering whether I should be happy that my elders liked me or should be upset about why they don’t approve of my sister when she isn’t at any fault? From this experience, I learnt that a good child is the one who is quiet and respects everyone without questioning their actions or thoughts and I began chasing it. Gradually, I even began judging those who were extrovert and distanced myself from them.
But keeping quiet felt like I was suffocating. It made me less confident of my thoughts, I lost the ability to trust my judgement of right and wrong. I became dependent on my parents for deciding how I should speak, think and act. I bore the worst brunt of this self-deception when I was sexually harassed. Because of my shy attitude, I could neither protest nor speak about it with my parents. Even though at times I knew that something was wrong in how my life was unfolding, I couldn’t speak up. The long-drawn silence had created a hard mould of fear, diffidence and unworthiness which I couldn’t break out of. It’s not that I didn’t try, but each try made me question my own intentions and behaviour? But then my younger sister finally told my parents about what happened to me. But even then, my parents expect me to be kind and respectful to the person who groped me because that is the socially accepted behaviour of a child from a good family.
I am not trying to say that it is wrong to ask children to behave properly. Kindness and politeness is something that we are lacking in this cruel world. Then where did the efforts of my parents to bring up a good child go wrong? It is in the way they conceptualise what it means to have good behaviour. Being kind is good, but not at the cost of one’s own self-respect. Questioning, criticising and disagreeing with what others think or how they act is not wrong. But dismissing someone’s thoughts and opinions completely without understanding the context and giving a chance to improve is wrong. Rather than asking children to be quiet, parents should encourage them to question and share things with them. I don’t think being quiet should be a part of any moral education at all because it is always more important to speak up, even if what you say is wrong. Because incorrect words can be corrected but how can we mend the wrong that will be done by assuming silence on injustice?