Passionate Detachment


Every morning at about 9.30, two toddlers march briskly towards the sand pit in the play area opposite my flat. Armed with spade and bucket, they settle down in their habitual spot and start scooping up the sand to fill their buckets. When they are full, the buckets are carefully carried to the other end of the pit and upturned to form a little hill. This seemingly mundane, but obviously exhilarating exercise, is performed tirelessly, till the nannies decide that it is time to go home. The kids are briskly brushed down, the tools packed up and the children scamper off, without a backward glance at their handiwork.

It is amazing to see how passionate detachment comes into play so naturally, so unconsciously, in the very young. Children lose this special strength as they grow up, and we contribute unwittingly to its tragic erosion.

As parents, we start to convert their actions into possessions. The piece of artwork stuck on the fridge, the little poem pinned to the soft board, or the medal won on the sports field. All worthy awards to hold and cherish. The sum total of the child's personality is measured by quantifiable achievements, not his alone, but also in comparison with the accomplishments of other children.

Thus the picture on the refrigerator is better than some one else's picture. The poem not as good. The medal, a mere bronze. The sheer joy of painting and writing and running is replaced by the fleeting jubilation of winning or the lingering pain of losing.

We are scared for our children. We are scared that they will lose the cutting edge required to succeed. To do better. To own more. To be happier. So we do not want them to be detached, passionately or otherwise.

Detachment may blunt them. Take away the keeness so needed to forge ahead. Our kids imbibe this fear through osmosis, and grow up ambitious, yet anxious.

We need to rekindle the flame of passionate detachment to reduce the dark despair that engulfs our kids. To lead them on the path of uncompetitive purposefulness. To help them enjoy the process as much as the outcome. And for that, we need to unlearn.

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