Enculturation

A few years ago, I happened to read a book on anthropology, which had something like this: “Human mind is an empty cabinet at birth, and whatever knowledge we acquire is through a process called enculturation that includes parenting, education and environment.” Well, psychologists and biologists will dispute the usage of “empty cabinet,” citing our DNA pedagogy. Behavioral scientists even contend that we carry the entire evolutionary history of more than 90000 years within us. Let us keep this ‘acidic element’ and evolutionary hereditary-chip aside and look at the three points mentioned by the author.

A new-born baby begins its mental journey from the very first day of its birth. So parenting starts from that day itself. Though a baby has only a tender-bodily existence, it has got a mind that is ready to learn new things. A child should, hence, be given attention and importance like an adult gets. For example, it is not at all right for a mother to change dress in front of her child even if it is only a few months old. A child’s mind is like a sponge that takes imprints of everything that it sees or hears. Responsible parenting demands that a child does not get wrong mental imprints but the right ones from the day one. 

In a sense, parenting translates into creating role model for your children. Parents are the first role model for a child. And what parents do in front of their child are the roles that form this model. If a father smokes before his child, it is highly likely that he is playing a role which makes imprint in the child that smoking is an okay behavior. Constantly quarreling parents create an impression in their children that infighting within the family is all right. Such a behavior from parents can have far-reaching and debilitating impacts on children. 

In a television discussion, a psychologist said that 80% of the children who came to him for treatment was from families where parents had marital problems in between them. The reason for such a high rate of mental problems is that these children find a mismatch between what they see at home and what they see in the society as well as hear from their friends. They will be confused and unable to make out whether the disharmony they see at home is the correct behavior or harmonious stories they hear from outside form the correct behavior. Such a confusion, finally, will lead to a state of mental illness like rebellious behavior or depression, etc. Besides maintaining a healthy and harmonious relation based on mutual respect between spouses, responsible parenting also demands parents giving love and care to their children without over-parenting as well as treating children with respect. 

Over-parenting is as bad as poor parenting. If poor parenting produces badly behaving children, over-parenting produces arrogant and self-neglecting children. Over-parenting is upbringing children without allowing them to understand and go through the difficulties of life — parents shoulder those difficulties on behalf of their children and keep children at comfort zones. A parent who takes porridge and minimal food due to financial difficulties but arranges Biriyani or Hotdogs for his/her children is actually making the children live in a world of luxury when the family’s means do not allow it. Such children, when grown up, will not be inclined to live within their means and are likely to lead a life of debts as they are used to luxuries though they can not afford it. Let children grow up knowing the realities and difficulties of life, and this will make them seasoned to face the challenges of life, besides, capacitating them to have a realistic approach to life, with their feet on terra firma. 

George Washington said; “Education is the key to unlock the Golden door of Freedom.”Education is also the key to unlock your future because it gives you knowledge, the power capable of clearing off any bottleneck that comes in your way. Also, knowledge that accrues in you can not be taken away by anyone. A river changing its course during a deluge can take away your land possessions — it happened in Bihar, India, during a flood when Kosi river changed its course, submerging many villages; banks going bust can deplete your cash reserves completely; high-rise buildings can collapse in the wrath of an earthquake, etc. In Malayalam language, there is an adage, “വിദ്യാധനം സർവ്വധനാൽ പ്രധാനം,” which when translated reads like “Of all the wealth, wealth of education is of paramount importance.”

We can look at education from two angles: role of teachers in moulding up good individuals and learning. Building up a foundation to create responsible, sensitive and productive individuals is the purpose of education. How far a teacher understands this concept and can put it into action is very important because after parents, teachers are the next role models for children. Children pick up cues from teachers and imbibe it in them as a part of learning. A teacher who behaves irresponsibly like being irregular in classes; an insensitive teacher who fails to empathize with students who were not able to pay tuition fees on time due to financial difficulties; and a teacher whose classes fail to deliver promised-knowledge to her/his students fail to do their duties of building up that foundation. Every teacher should strive to build in their students the foundation of knowledge that forms the base to create responsible, sensitive and productive individuals.

Education has no meaning unless we learn from knowledge provided by education and internalize the learning. In other words, education should make an individual to not only acquire knowledge but also to learn from and use that knowledge in life. Many a time, we come across people who, though not having not much formal education, behave in  a more praiseworthy and cultured way than an educated person does. Why so? Knowledge is a constant and independent of you. But if you learn from knowledge, it can make you see the world in a better way. Knowledge can come from formal or informal education, but learning from that knowledge is a deliberate option. That is why we call someone who is brilliant as a learnt person, not an educated person. Education provides knowledge which enables one to think intelligently, and being intelligent is a prerequisite to have wisdom. This chain works only if we learn from the knowledge that education — formal or informal — provided.

Even good parenting and good education can not stop children going in a wrong way if they are exposed to a negative and acerbic environment. Befriending people with bad habits like drug use, eavesdropping, etc. can spoil even good children. The ecosystem in which we are grown up have huge impact on our social behavior. If you are continuously exposed to an environment where usage of foul language is common, it is highly likely that those foul language will go into your system without your knowledge and come out in social interactions without your conscious permission. Environment of upbringing  is equally important as parenting and education in our enculturation process.

Can we modify our enculturation? Yes, it is possible because enculturation is an ongoing process, hence, can be modified through conscious thinking and consequent deliberate action. The second part of the philosophical thought: “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future,” is based on the premise that enculturation can be modified.

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