Mr. V.K.Talithaya is the President of Primacy Industries Limited an Export Oriented Unit at Mangalore. He is an HR professional both in Public and
Private enterprises. He has served with distinction in organizations such as Steel Authority of India, Metallurgical & Engineering Consultants, Deccan Herald group of publications, Kinetic Honda Motors, Bharat Electronics Ltd., Mangalore Refinery & Petrochemicals Ltd. A thinker and practitioner, known for his transparent and solution based approach for long term benefits. His areas of specialization are Human Resource Management, Transactional Analysis, Communication and Neuro Linguistic Programming.

Friday 27 January 2012


Address to Parent Teacher Association – St. Theressa School, 21 July 2007

I was asked to be the resource person today. I do not know what that means. However, since this is the PTA annual meeting, I thought it would be appropriate to speak on a topic of interest to both parents and teachers, concerning children. That is how I picked up the topic – Creativity and Choice.

Let me begin the discussion with an interesting story. In his famous book, The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint Exupery records this conversation between the prince, who has just arrived on a new planet and the first person he meets, the lamplighter:

‘Good morning, why have you just put out your lamp?’
‘These are the instructions,’ replied the lamplighter. ‘Good morning’.
‘What are the instructions?’
‘The instructions are that I put out my lamp. Good evening,’ and he lighted his lamp again.
‘But why have you just lighted it again?’
‘These are the instructions’, replied the lamplighter.
‘I don’t understand’ said the little prince.
‘There is nothing to understand,’ said the lamplighter.’ Instructions are instructions. Good morning.’ And he put out his lamp.
Then he mopped his forehead with a handkerchief decorated with red squares. ‘I follow a terrible profession. In the old days it was reasonable. I put the lamp out in the morning and in the evening I light it again. I had the rest of the day for relaxation and the rest of the night for sleep. ‘
‘And the instructions have been changed since that time?’
‘The instructions have not been changed, ‘ said the lamplighter, ‘That is the tragedy! From year to year the planet has turned more rapidly and the orders have not been changed.’

Are we making our children lamplighters?

A few days ago I asked a group of about twenty post graduate level students: would they prefer to have ten or twenty offers of employment, or would they be happy to have only one offer, or at best two? Almost all the boys in the class said that they would be happy if they had one or two offers. Most of the girls said that they won’t mind if they had even more than twenty offers.

Most of us like less choice, because if we have more, then we have to really choose. Choosing means taking responsibility for our decisions. We are afraid of owning responsibility fore our decisions. If we have less choices, we can blame some one else – the society, our parents etc. for lack of choice. It is a huge burden to take responsibility for our decisions and actions.

This reluctance to own responsibility is the result of the lessons we learnt from our childhood. We learn lessons from our parents, teachers and elders – to behave in ways they feel comfortable. They all used to feel comfortable when we move within the limits of their expectations. You should become a doctor, an engineer, a manager and so on. Oh, don’t think of photography – what will you do becoming a photographer. History has no scope. Music is for the lazy. 

Like our parents, most of us feel happy when our children grow in the expected way. That is what psychologists call script. In other words others wrote or helped us write our scripts, and we live the script. What those others, our parents, teachers and elders did was to provide us with strategies for living. But, along the way, as we grew, what we forgot or never realized was that those strategies were taught to us when we were small urchins, and as we grew they became outdated. We continue to live with obsolete strategies. That is what those students did when I asked them the question. The boys were told by parents that they should take up a job early and settle in life early, marry, run the family etc. Do not take too much risk etc. etc. So, the boys did not want too many choices. The girls were told, as it happens in our society, not to worry about career. Study well. Take up any job. Once you marry it does not matter, because you will have to leave your job and go with your husband.

This is the life most live – lives without choice. But it is a life of extreme comfort. Yet it is a life without the excitement of discovery, the excitement of learning, the thrill of achievement. While one is prepared for a job by one’s parents, and lives the script they helped one to write, one does not have to be creative. Creativity, the outcome of that human urge for self discovery, the thirst for knowing, the curiosity of the child, the amusement when you question the existing order of things, that has no role to play in a life lived for the sake of stability and comfort. That is a banal life – as Eric Berne, the great psychologist said. Like the Bourbons, when we live that kind of a life we learn nothing and forget nothing.

God has given us the resources of imagination, belief, faith and a creative mind, so that if we choose we should be able to live our lives free of scripts, according to our own wish, learning our own lessons, drawing our unique strategies. And, that is what God has, indeed, given our children also. As the popular Kannada saying goes – Devaru Kottaroo Poojari Bida – even if God gave, the priest won’t allow – what God gave our children we deny to our children for our selfish reasons of money, ego, and greed. 

Choices do not occur. Many complain that they did not have a choice or that they did not have the opportunity. But choices have to be created. To create choice we have to be creative.

There is great need for encouraging creativity amongst children. In another class of under graduates I asked them to come out with a unique design for a pen – a pen which does not exist today. But it should basically do the function of the pen. Many of them came up with brilliant ideas – such as a pen which will keep in its memory everything you write, a pen which will read your thoughts and write on the paper by itself, a pen which will draw chemicals from solar energy and convert it to ink, so you do not have the hassles of filling ink or refills. When I asked them if they thought of such ideas before they said no. What were the biggest obstacles to such so called outlandish ideas?  The entire class put the blame on the doorsteps of their parents and teachers. Parents and teachers not only do not encourage such ideas, but also make funny comments about them – idiotic, stupid, time wasters etc.  That says volumes about the way we encourage creativity amongst our children.

How do we encourage children to be creative?

Before I go to that let me tell you about an advertisement of a multinational company which appeared in a business magazine last week. The advertisement proclaimed “Our strategy for the future is to create the future”. Future does not unfold by itself, it needs to be created.  Creating future needs creativity.

Now, back to how do we encourage children to be creative?

One, Aristotle said that “probable impossibilities are to be preferred to impossible probabilities”. The first lesson we teach our children to quit creativity is to make things look either impossible, and if per chance they are possible, then they should be improbable. The essence of creativity is to make what appears impossible probable and then possible.  There is no quitting creativity. We have to teach our children never to quit. They need to quit quitting.
Two, as T.S. Elliot said:  Towards the door we never opened. Imagine you have drawn a big enough circle on a sheet of paper. Now, I ask you to put a dot on the sheet. See where that dot is. I am sure most of you had put the dot somewhere inside the circle. Many of you have put it somewhere close to the centre of the circle. It is a few of you who wanted to open that door who have put the dot outside the circle, and some of the most creative amongst you have put the dot  even on the other side of the sheet.

Three, let us debunk the myths about geniuses – They are born, they are recognized in childhood, they are superior people who are talented in everything, and that geniuses are accidental. Such wrongheaded beliefs drive us load our children with tons of useless information, and sometimes make them pseudo prodigies, like the boy whom his doctor parents foolishly wanted to make a child prodigy surgeon, or the child whose parents pushed him to drive from Hyderabad to Mysore, the police catching up with them at last at Mysore! Creating synthetic prodigies!.

Four. Discover the genius of the Inner Child in you, and through that enable your child to discover the genius in your child. It is good to be childlike, curious, fun-loving, playful, teasing etc. with our children sometimes.

But, we have all to make one decision before we embark on this journey of creativity – that is, do we want our children to grow as mature individuals making their own choice and owning up responsibilities for their choice, or you want them to be breathing robots acting on your commands. The former is a difficult choice, but that is what will provide the living strategies for the child. That is the choice not to allow her/him to be the lamplighter. Let her/him discover, let her/him unravel the truths for himself/herself, let her/him innovate ways she/he can face the challenges of life. Along the way she/he will shed light on truths unknown so far, for her/his own benefit and of the world at large. At the same time she/he will also learn, as the great scientist Jacob Bronowski said, that there will always be some truths beyond the reach of man which will always remain in the realm of God. And that humbling thought makes our journey more meaningful.

Thank you.    

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