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Growing up as parents

January 19th, 2010

shriIn my travel across America and other parts of the world, I came across many people who are concerned about raising kids, especially if they are away from their homeland. Typically, parents fear their children will never know the culture they themselves grew up in, and might not make them a respectable and successful individual. Born out of this insecurity, for the most part, is the motivation enforce rules and a strict discipline.

There are myriad cultural differences between India and the US in ways of going about things. For instance, when I had my first son, Neil, he had his independent room even when he was just a few months old This is in stark contrast to India where the child is under constant care and watch of some elder. I remember my mother was visiting us after Neil was born. I would not hold the baby all the time, or pick him every time he cried, as I believed it was not necessary. But mother saw this as a very strange and cruel behavior towards the infant. Per me, it makes no sense in classifying one system as right and the other wrong. Rather, it provides us with a great opportunity to choose the “best practices” in all cultures.

My experience is that kids rebel when forced into doing something or dictated to follow rules. I was well aware of this, and always used more creative and persuasive methods. Like, I knew my kids were good readers. So instead of instructing what books to read and what not to, I would simply keep the right books around them making them readily available. They would pick them up sooner or later to read. That’s how I would gently I would work my way, and it worked well.

Another thing I learnt young is kids be treated and interacted with as adults. My father was a simple man with modest ambitions. He however was a great delegator; he assigned me to take important decisions and responsibility, including making a deal for our new home, while I was but a teenager! This made me think and act responsibly. I do the same thing with my children. The fact that American society promotes “individualism” does help in the process. As a practice, we do not hand out decisions at home; we as a family try to clearly discuss the issue, take opinions from everyone and come to a unanimous decision.

I remember, after living in St. Louis for over two decades when we wanted to move to Miami, FL, my younger one, Samir, rebelled. He didn’t want to leave behind everything he had – his friends, his circle, his environment – and move to an entirely new place. He was quite stubborn, and couldn’t stand even the idea of change. I thought about it for quiet some time as to how to help him understand. It then dawned upon me that, though I had provided him with best of everything, I had not prepared him for a very important thing: to face and handle change. And so, this move became all the more important. We did move shortly after, and gradually Samir adopted to new environment. Looking back, he feels this was certainly the best for him.

A few days back I saw Neil writing his Statements of Purpose for applying to business schools. I was tempted to read his SOP and give my inputs. I could have used my influence to get him in the country’s top institutions. But I refrained. I knew that by doing so I would provide him with “crutches” and not train him to take needed efforts, or make his own informed decisions.

In spite of these apparent cultural, traditional and social differences, it boils down to the same fundamentals, anywhere. Train children to face the real world independently and develop a strong sense of self-confidence. Imbibe in them a sense of rights and wrongs, and an ability to take informed decisions. Once the fundamentals are well founded, irrespective of where you are under the sun, the peripherals will take care of themselves.

Land of opportunities

October 29th, 2009

shriFor decades, America has been synonymous to ‘Land of Opportunities’. It welcomed me with open arms over two decades ago. I was happily surprised to see that, on more than one occasion, it was more accepting and tolerant compared to India, where the widespread yardstick to measure ones position in the society was caste or religious sect or ones financial background. I literally had nothing when I came here, but for a dream to do something and to make a difference. This land provided the fertile soil to let that dream see the light of the day and flourish. And came many dreamers like me in the centuries gone by, the English and the French in 1600’s, the Germans in 1700’s, the Chinese and the Italians in 1800’s, the Dutch, the Hispanics, the Asians… And a great nation was born!

The red hot growth years from the 60s to the 80s drove hoards of immigrants to the United States welcoming the skilled and talented. Contrast that with the 21st century, where America is going through a severe economic downturn while the “expat dollar” nations are thriving. They now have more opportunities to retain their best brains. This is the time when US should take stock of the situation and take definite steps to attract talents from across the world. Rightly so, whenever there was an increase in the number of Green Cards awarded to immigrants, the entrepreneurial activity has significantly shown an increase. We need such entrepreneurs who can create more jobs. A stringent immigration policy would not, and has not helped in the past. It has always thrown a challenge to the employers and their immigrant employees. It has but one outcome – hindered progress for all!

welcome2I must say that even today America has a lot to offer for the deserving. During my travels across the world, I have observed that the work culture and work ethics prevalent here are much better and stronger than those in Asia and Europe. Capitalism’s ‘invisible hand’ rules here, and rules well; acquiring wealth is not frowned upon. This country, unlike most other ones, has always encouraged enterprise, without systemic roadblocks of red tape or bureaucracy. If you have it, you get to show it- that’s the American system based on meritocracy.

However, several sections of the American population advocate ‘protectionism’. That immigrants will take away jobs is more a myth than a reality! This country is built by the best talents emigrating from the world over. For instance, back in the 60’s and 70’s, foreign born physicians were handed green card on their entry into the country. Per the state regulations, these immigrant doctors did their residency or rural internship, thereby increasing the standard and coverage of healthcare across the country. Today, the United States can boast of the best health-care professionals and research, and the immigrant population has a lions share in it. Isn’t it a clear ‘win-win’? Wouldn’t hindering such a process stunt our growth? Also, why do we forget that mingling of various cultures has enriched the fabric of the American society?

I therefore believe that there is a strong need to educate people and to make them aware that a sound immigration policy is in interest of the nation. I would go further to state that there is an impending need for an organized effort to lobby at the state level to ensure that the legal immigrant’s rights are protected and their contribution acknowledged. Someday, I’d like to see an ‘Immigrants Day’ to celebrate their accomplishments in this ‘Land of Immigrants’.

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