#11 - Dealing with adversity, the Kalam way
Welcome to the 11th edition of The First School! (And a warm welcome to the newest subscribers of this newsletter. I hope you will find the content useful!)
Let me begin with a couple of quick questions:
Do you want your children to succeed?
Yes, of course!
Do you want your children to succeed, always?
Well, maybe not.
It’s not that I have anything against succeeding, but how can we expect children to tackle the realities of life, which contains sufficient dosages of uncertainty, new information and failure (in addition to all the other loveliest of things we have been blessed with) if they haven’t been through any adversity in the first place?
There are so many situations in life that we have no control over.
Sometimes, life gives us only half a glass of water
In these scenarios, do we want our children to approach the situation with gratitude (“My glass is half full, yay!”) or indignation (“Why is my glass half empty?”)?
I would presume the former. Because life is not a bed of roses.
So it’s all about the mindset, don’t you think?
And there are two of them that shape our lives:
Fixed vs Growth Mindset
To explain the fundamental difference, let me share an anecdote involving one of my role models; the late people’s president and renowned aerospace scientist, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam.
The below is an excerpt from the book “How I taught my grandmother to read, and other stories” by Sudha Murthy (another person I admire a lot). This is what happened during one of her face-to-face conversations with the icon:
“Once I was sharing my experiences in Chandipur, Orissa and a lesson I learnt from a young fisherboy called Javed. He was a poor schoolboy who helped his mother sell red crabs. For an entire day’s work he received only Rs 5. Yet he was happy and enthusiastic. When I asked him how he could always remain so optimistic, he said, ‘It is better to be worn out than to be rusted.’ As soon as I told this story to him, Kalam wrote Javed’s words down on a piece of paper and exclaimed what a great piece of advice it was.”
What Dr Kalam exhibited here is a growth mindset. For a man who has achieved so many things in life, he could’ve simply brushed off the experience of a young fisherboy. But he chose not to. He focused on the message, evaluated his “knowns”, and accommodated this new piece of information with humility.
Maria Popova (of Brain Pickings), brings out the definitions of growth and fixed mindsets in a beautiful manner.
A “growth mindset” thrives on challenge and sees failure (or new information) not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities.
A “fixed mindset”, on the other hand, assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens which we can’t change in any meaningful way.
But here is the punch:
“Out of these two mindsets, which we manifest from a very early age, springs a great deal of our behavior, our relationship with success and failure in both professional and personal contexts, and ultimately our capacity for happiness”
Our mindset determines our capacity for happiness!
I feel this is a fitting tribute in summarising the brainchild of the great Carol Dweck, an American psychologist who is a pioneering researcher in the field of motivation.
How can we nurture a growth mindset in children (and in ourselves)?
Let’s dissect Dr Kalam’s actions to arrive at three relevant strategies:
Appreciate: As Dr Kalam puts it: “What a great piece of advice”. I often feel that I could appreciate people and things around me a lot more than I do. (When it comes to people, I sometimes get caught up with “who” did it instead of “what” was done. This is something I’m trying to get better at!) My wife has been writing gratitude notes every day. She often tells me that it is liberating (I’ve found it to be the same too!) and that she is able to appreciate the goodness in her environment. It’s high time I get back to it. (What about you?)
Model the behaviour: “Kalam wrote Javed’s words down on a piece of paper”. Dr Kalam’s act of noting down the piece of advice is worth observing. Here, he models the intent to learn.
Acknowledge: Dr Kalam could model this behaviour only because he acknowledged that there was an “unknown” in the first place. “I don’t know” is as powerful as “I know”!
I hope this post will kindle the growth mindset in you. See you next week!
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