By Mesha Oh, New Age Islam
20 April 2020
Perhaps the most basic question we could ask ourselves is: “Why am I on this Earth, for this short span of time, a period that lasts, at the very most, for just a few decades or so?”
That is a question that all parents and teachers really ought to introduce children to and help them reflect on. After all, if you come to think of it, having a proper perspective on this issue is key to how a person will choose to lead his life. But how many parents and teachers do even obliquely refer to this issue with the children who are in their charge? Mine certainly didn’t (and my family was meant to be ‘well-educated’ and ‘modern’, and I studied in some of the supposedly ‘best’ educational institutions in the country and abroad).
It’s a really big tragedy if one grows up without any inputs from one’s significant others, such as parents and teachers, about the purpose of life. It could result in acute anomie and purposelessness later on, with life seeming a terrible burden. Or, as is so common these days as to have become almost the norm, it could lead to one being swept away by the crowd into the never-ending quest to become ‘rich and famous’ and chasing after sense pleasures, imagining this to be the purpose of life—for which foolishness one has to inevitably face really tragic consequences. Given this, parents and teachers who truly care about the children they have taken responsibility for ought to seriously focus on nurturing them in developing a proper understanding of the purpose of life. It’s a real pity—and a sign of our complete ignorance of what truly matters—that while many parents make a great fuss about their children learning a musical instrument or a foreign language or using cutlery in the ‘right’ manner and teachers force students to study things like algorithms and the names and details of the conquests of kings who lived centuries ago—information that they will probably never find useful—relatively few of them even remotely broach the subject of the purpose of life with the children who have been given in their charge.
Given that there are multiple understandings of what the purpose of life is, a good way for parents and teachers to help children develop a healthy understanding of the issue is to expose them to a wide range of worldviews, each of which sees the purpose of life in its own unique way. Thus, ideally, over the years a child should be familiarised with how different religious and spiritual traditions diversely see the purpose of life (along with their significant overlaps). The child can also be taught about how life and its purpose are perceived in significant non-religious or secular ideologies. In this way, by the time children have grown old enough to negotiate the world on their own and enter the struggle of life, they would have had a fairly wide exposure to a wide variety of different understandings of what life and its purpose are about and how life ideally ought to be led.
In this regard, it would be useful if schools could set apart say one class a week for this as a separate subject, for children after a certain age. There could be textbooks developed specifically dealing with the purpose of life and how it is conceived in different religions and spiritual traditions as well as secular ideologies and what great men and women in history have had to say about it. This could be supplemented with audio-visual resources on the subject, which could easily be accessed from the Internet.
In these ways, not only might children grow up with a more clear and meaningful sense of life’s purpose and inspiration for leading a more truly purposeful life, but also, having being exposed to various worldviews, being more accepting of religious and ideological diversity and appreciative of the goodness that may be found in different ways of understanding life.