On my second visit to Pittsburgh, I learned that my landlord of the student days there, an Italian old widower living alone, had died. When a terrible stench began to waft from the house, the neighbors informed the police, and the police informed the old man’s children. The door was broken and the man’s body was found badly decomposed.
This is common in the West now. Individualism has flourished. Filial love has largely evaporated. Family has broken. Only around 50 percent people of marriageable age wed and 50 percent marriages end in divorce in America. The rat race for career and comfort has pushed family down in priority. Children leave old parents back or send them to old-age homes. The old die, deprived of love and care.
Similarly, the Cultural Revolution, one-child policy, and migration have broken Chinese families. The Communist Party encouraged children to snitch on their parents to suppress anti-communist activities in the Revolution and children complied. When the parents were jailed or killed, the children became orphans. One-child policy shrank the family size and social net. When the only child left for town, parents became lonely and helpless in village.
To repair the damage, China has recently enacted a new law – Protection of the Rights and Interests of Elderly People — that calls on the children living apart to frequently visit their parents and regularly send greetings. But for many Chinese, it is too little too late.
Family breakdown has not gone as far in Nepal. But growing migration, emigration and materialism are taking their cruel toll. Nearly 3 million people are working abroad. The 2011 census shows most hill districts have lost population in the last decade. With people moving to greener pastures and individualism making inroads, joint family has given way nuclear family. The commitment to intergenerational care built in tradition and law has weakened.
Traditional family itself is under threat. These days, one seldom hears and reads inspiring stories of self-less Shrawan Kumars. Rather, the media are replete with such tormenting incidents as children abandoning their old parents in the street or an old-age house, widows eloping with men leaving small kids behind and fathers dumping toddlers for new women. You don’t have to live in an irretrievably dysfunctional relationship. But you should not break it without trying to retrieve it. Such incidents set a terrible example for future generations to follow.
This reminds me of an old story. A man carried his old father in a basket to throw over a cliff. The man’s son asked him to save the basket so he could use it when the time came. Mahatma Gandhi aptly says, “Every home is a university and the parents are the teachers.” Your home-university teaches invaluable lessons of life.
The Dalai Lama says, “It is vital when educating our children’s brains that we don’t neglect to educate their hearts.” You educate children’s hearts by being there for them to speak to you, play with you and learn from you. Nothing should deprive you of that opportunity.
Modernization cannot and should not be stopped. But a way should be found to modernize keeping the good and removing the bad parts of our tradition, preserving mutually caring relationship between generations, and protecting family as an institution from existential threats. This is vital for social stability and economic net.
Some people smugly claim they are self-made. Research refutes their claim. For instance, Brian Millar and Mike Lapham found that self-made man is a myth. They have cited several so-called self-made men and women who conceded that help from someone was vital to their success. Well, events, people, values, and ambiance largely determine success and failure.
Events like World War II changed the way people think and interact and the Bolshevik revolution in Russia ushered a new political and economic regime. Progress in education opened new frontiers and in health delivered healthier and longer life. A car accident kills or disables for life. The self-immolation by a fruit vendor in Tunis, after a woman police officer slapped him, triggered the Arab Spring that pulled down long entrenched dictators in Tunisia and other Arab states.
More importantly, people and values shape our lives. Children’s first role models are parents. Senior siblings and other close relatives also greatly influence how children think and behave. They instill values in children and help them stand on their feet. Kids often do what their parents and teachers consistently motivate them to do. Great political, spiritual and intellectual leaders inspire the grown-ups.
Unfortunately, people seldom appreciate all this. They take it for granted. They forget that, as children, they relied on parents for our bare survival. As they grew up, they veered away from their senior relatives who urged and chided them for one thing or another. When they got a job, they thought they had a million more important things to do than talk to their parents, siblings or children. When they realize what they missed, it might have been too late.
I have my experience. I left home for education when I was nine and could not spend much time with my family. When I grew up, I was busy with my jobs and hobbies. If I can live my life all over again, I would spend many folds more time than I did with my close elders, who are no more, listen to them, learn from them, or just give them company.
Outside the family, a good Samaritan may present himself as a guiding light. Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam prescribe tithe – usually 10 percent – to help the less fortunate than yourself. In 18 epics he wrote, Ved Vyas has, it is said, essentially two messages: Charity for piety and trouble for sin. A fodder collector inspired Poet Bhanubhakta to do things for others. Poet Laxmi Prasad equated helping the poor, diseased and weak with serving God.
I have been a beneficiary of a good Samaritan’s help. In my teens, I moved from Rishikesh to Varanasi with a friend without informing my father. The money that could last for months in Rishikesh vanished quickly in Varanasi. Impecunious, we spent days on a meal a day. Khom Prasad Adhikari, of Arkhaule in Dhankuta, who was a Home Guard and who lived across our room, witnessed our predicament and proposed that we cook for him and eat with him.
We agreed. Adhikari paid not only for our food, which was part of our understanding, but also for our application fee for high school exams, which was not. I passed high school from Varanasi, continued my education in Nepal and the United States, and pursued a career in the Nepal government and the United Nations. Without Adhikari’s help, I might not have been where I am today.
Although I paid Adhikari back when my family sent me money, I can never requite the enormous debt of gratitude. I would like to meet with him and say a big thank you once again. But unfortunately, I lost his tracks after I left Varanasi.
Most people help when they can without expecting returns. They donate money, material and labor to help the needy – victims of disasters or unfavorable circumstances. It ensures cohesiveness and mutual care in society. But politicians are an exception. These self-claimed servants of people don’t assist anyone but their voters. Maybe, self-less charitable work is not up their alley.
The West allowed society to irreparably decay. China is trying to save it. Nepal should learn from their mistakes and protect family and society before it is too late.