By John Mary Vianney
In the last (July) issue of this Magazine, I wrote about the importance of soft-skills in children’s education as well as the life of any human being. In this article, I wish to continue with the same conversation by particularly focusing on the irreplaceable role of parents in the family. I did state that soft-skills are those skills which enable a person to navigate his/her environment and work well with others to achieve personal and social goals. Empirical studies as well as life-experience have demonstrated that success in life and human flourishing of a person cannot be limited to academic grades, degrees or certificates. Yet, most families and schools are almost singularly focused on ensuring academic success at the expense of what is required in life.
This is a consequence of the parents’ neglect of their God-given mandate to educate their children. A family is not just a group of people living together for any reason. It is rather “a community of love and solidarity, which is uniquely suited to teach and transmit cultural, ethical, social, spiritual and religious values, essential for the development and well-being of its own members and of society” (See Charter of the Rights of the Family, page 6). This necessarily means that a family cannot be forged but rather an original cell of society in which the unifying factor is love, which if put aside, becomes very difficult for the young to grow and mature in.
In social settings such as the world of employment and social economics, these values are often termed as soft-skills while the church refers to them as values or virtues. For this conversation, I will use the term soft-skills. These skills are better developed at home and at an early age of one’s physical growth and development.These skills include “creativity, cooperation, diligence, industriousness, prudence in undertaking reasonable risks, reliability and fidelity in interpersonal relationships, as well as courage in carrying out decisions which are difficult and painful but necessary” (See Compendium of the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church: 343). As the common saying goes that strike the iron when it is still hot, when children are not introduced to the idea of work and taking reasonable risks, it becomes practically impossible to learn them when they are old.
At times, it is common to find most of us, as parents, over protecting children from work for fear that they will get tired. This is educational poison. It could be the reason we are experiencing a generation of too lazy youth but who want to enjoy life. The church constantly reminds us that economic initiative is an expression of human intelligence and of the necessity of responding to human needs in a creative and cooperative fashion. But, how can this be nurtured within the family? The best way to educate the young is not through instruction. It is rather through life witness and prayer. Let me give focus on prayer for now.
I cannot overemphasize the role of prayer in developing most of the soft skills among the young. Through praying together, children learn work and live together in unity which is a very key virtue and one of the 21st century skills that is missing among most of us. Living together has been identified by UNESCO as one of the four pillars of education. If we could manage to teach ourselves and the young how to live together, it would enable us to move miles towards eliminating the rampant divisions and intolerance of our time. Through prayer, children learn to forgive and to ask for forgiveness once one wrongs another. This is very important because it touches both the vertical and horizontal relationships of a human being – man being essentially a relational being. In the vertical relationship, the young need to know and remember that their life is a gift – it has been given to them and so they need to keep it sacred.
This is very essential as it builds within the young a spirit of humility, stewardship and accountability. If we are lamenting about reducing levels of accountability among our leaders, it is simply because they (we) are not keeping their (our) accountability to the source and origin of all things. In the horizontal relationship, on the other hand, the young need to know and remember that the human being is because others are. Communication and interpersonal relationship skills are critical soft-skills and without which it becomes hard for one to flourish on the job or even life in general.
By learning how to pray, children learn to say “I am sorry”. This is a phrase that is disappearing from our vocabulary which is a consequence of lack of humility. Humility is a virtue that children can ably learn when still young. As said earlier, however, it cannot be learnt through instruction but through the manner in which parents relate between themselves and others.
When children learn to pray at an early age, they develop the capacity to reflect upon their actions as well as what they may have failed to accomplish. Reflection and meditation are key steps in nurturing one’s high order thinking skills such as reflective thinking, critical thinking and problem-solving. We are living in a society that is “bombarded” with a lot of information, cultural infusions and has become unavoidable for one to make a choice among all these. However, it may not surprise most of us when the young (youth) are unable to make choices or decide on what to take and what to leave. This would have required one to have developed skills in decision making which can be ably nurtured through reflection. Having a quiet moment to reflect on the action of the day and plan for the next day.
Finally, I wish to point out another virtue (skill) that is nurtured when children are taught to pray together. In praying as a family, children develop the ability to live and work together. In most cases, children who have not experienced living and working within a family atmosphere find it hard to work within teams of other people. This not only affects their ability to work with others but also their ability to form their own families. We, however, need to emphasize that at times parents live with their children as if they did not exist. It is at times merely a group of indifferent people who have come to live under one house. This does not make it a family and consequently, children are unable to develop the skills and virtues which they would have developed while living in a genuine (unconditional) family.
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