Monday, August 14, 2006

Children are not confident, shy or impatient

I had gone to meet a friend of mine. He introduced me to his young daughter, Cheryl, and said that she is very shy. After being with her for more than a day, I realized that she is as ‘forthcoming’ as any other person.

Ritika is a good painter. She was told to draw a painting consisting of a background of a box which is shaded with a pencil. On that box, she had to draw three birds. She drew the box beautifully. But she botched up the birds. Her teacher complained that ‘Ritika’ is impatient. And if she could learn to build patience, she has a bright career for herself.

I met Siraj. He looked withdrawn and isolated. Her mother told me that he is an average in his studies and lacks confidence. When I started playing ‘chess’ with him, I saw a different Siraj.

What is the mistake that parents of Cheryl and Siraj or the teacher of Ritika make? They are assuming that ‘confidence’, ‘shyness’ or ‘patience’ are absolute traits. They assume that these traits are within a person and a person displays them ‘irrespective’ of a situation.

Now look at the following examples. Have you met Amitabh Bachan, the famous Bollywood actor? People who know Amitabh Bachan say that he is a very shy person. The same is true about another Bollywood actor, Dharmendra. Shahrukh Khan once told in an interview that going in a new country is very nerve wracking for him because people do not know him. And remember, these are actors, who are in a profession which demands outgoing nature, confidence posture and vocal articulation.

Confidence, shy, patience are context-dependent attributes of a person. A person may be very confident in buying a company worth millions, but can become very diffident when buying a vegetable. Do not get misled by the newspapers and other discussions which brand a person as ‘confident, disciplined, and matured’? Psychologists call this fundamental attribution error. It means that we ascribe many behaviors of a person to his ‘fundamental nature’, when they are infact ‘contextual’.

Psychologists also say that individuals make this mistake because it is simpler to do so. Instead of saying Harish is ‘honest while dealing with friends, confident while studying mathematics and impatient while studying painting’, it is more easy to say that Harish is ‘honest, confident and impatient’.

One of the problem of attributing these traits to a person is that the person himself/herself starts believing in it, and slowly ‘develops’ that trait. A child called ‘shy’ becomes more and more shy, a child branded impatient becomes more and more impatient, a child branded untidy becomes more and more untidy and so on. It is a surest way of ‘making’ your child acquire all the wrong traits and habits.

The second problem in attributing these traits is that it could be totally wrong. For instance, when i talked with Ritika and managed to ask her ( in the right way) why she did not draw the 'birds' properly, she said that she did not understand the 'relevance' of birds in the drawing. Because she did not understand the relevance, she simply lost the interest and drew the bird 'shoddily. Being a child, neither she could articulate her thoughts well enough and therefore could not muster the required conviction in questioning her teacher's wisdom. In other words, Ritika's 'impatience' was absolutely appropriate to the situation.

Therefore, please take care, next time, when you are branding children, friends and others in a specific manner. It may be true in a very specific situation or may be completely wrong description of a person, as was in the case of Ritika.

1 comment:

Hiren said...

Wonderful explanation. Even generally, making sweeping statements or generalisations is a sign of bad thinking.