How working in the development sector is similar to parenting

by Gaurav Shah | 6 December, 2017

While there may be numerous ways of bringing up children out there in the world, there’s one irrefutable, universally-accepted fact about parenting – it’s tough. Funnily, the night-outs, the constant worrying, the trips to the doctor, the never-ending negotiations (give and take on every possible thing under the sun) are not the toughest parts – character-building is.

We want our children to grow up to be adults with good judgement, the ability to tell right from wrong, people who can earn and give respect, etc.  But none of this can be achieved through the moral science lectures at school or home – which are, at best, cognitive engagements for our children.  The only method or process which has the faintest hope of doing the trick is our ability to model these behaviours, to back words with action – and, to use a cliched term, our ability to really ‘walk the talk’. Being a parent really forces you to look internally, reflect on who you are (as an individual) – and motivates you to iron out the creases and keep improving yourself, because children can be really merciless in pointing out any discrepancies between speech and action!

Being involved in the social development sector brings to you a similar motivation and experience – not because you need to practice before you preach (how boring is that!), but because you get to see so much of the real world and its issues that you are left humbled and grateful.

Working in the sector has forced me to rethink my behaviour, beliefs and attitudes on multiple areas. It’s not that I’ve suddenly transformed overnight to become a saint! I am still the same individual as I was – flawed in bits, remarkable in bits – but possibly, just more aware, and at the very least, moving in the right direction.

This awareness comes from many different sources, in multiple different areas. Working with women, specially from the under-served segments of society, brings forth a lot of our inherent biases on gender stereotypes and roles. For instance, ask people for names of drivers and hair-dressers and see the general response! While we can legislate to make women sarpanches, how do we ensure that the real power does not lie with the husband, father or brother? Where do we draw the line in cracking sexist jokes under the guise of meaningless humour?

It also makes us more aware of the systemic bias against the girl child (“who gets the only glass of milk, who gets to go to the better school, who eats last in the house?”). Seeing instances of people walking miles for drinking water every day or living and studying in the near absence of electricity, hopefully drives us to use our abundant resources more judiciously and with care.

Instances of people dying of hunger even in this modern age (with laws like the Right to Food) should drive us to discourage wastage of food by anyone in the family, to learn to order only what we can eat when we go out, and to not throw away food as far as possible. Spending time with people drives home the point that, in essence, we are all the same – there are more similarities amongst us than differences (similar dreams, desires, aspirations, etc.). Some of us are just born lucky, others not so.

Everyone deserves that basic amount of respect, irrespective of the vast number of parameters we use to discriminate among ourselves and against others (caste, religion, class, gender, color, etc.).

A friend once told me that she could not think of working in the development sector, because such realisations would cause too much emotional dissonance – thereby, reducing her ability to enjoy her life. On the contrary, these experiences possibly help us lead more grateful and more balanced lives.

While ignorance can be bliss, awareness could potentially lead to greater joy! One should think of joining this sector not for others, not for charity – but for what it can do for you in any of the roles you play in life, especially that of being a human!

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