Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The sea and the sky beckon

Antoine de Saint-Exupery, French aviator and author of “The Little Prince” came up with this metaphor, “If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”.

Don’t get into the tedium of teaching a child every step of the way, hoping to make him or her into a great scientist, musician or player. Just create the conducive grounds, inculcate that love for a subject and provide the platform for the child to build on. The rest will follow, was his message.

Did Alexander Bell wake up one fine morning and tell himself that he was going to invent the telephone? No, the seeds for the invention were sown many years back, through certain circumstances in his life.

Graham Bell had a fascination for ‘sound’ right from his childhood. His mother had been unable to hear and so he had grown up in a family where understanding how to communicate sound was central to every task.

His grandfather had been an elocution expert ( George Bernard Shaw had modelled Professor henry Higgins in Pygmalion partly on his example). His father had spent so much time helping his wife communicate that he’d done extensive research on the process of creating sounds. So, two generations of sound-researchers had preceded him.

And, when Alexander grew up, he fell madly in love with a girl called Mabel Hubbard who, due to a bout of scarlet fever when she was five years old, had suffered permanent loss of hearing. Helping her to communicate became an obsession.

So, the creation of sound had been Bell’s special interest and this ‘love of sound” put him on the path that led to the invention of the telephone. (Source)

Similar to this is the story of Dr. Katy Payne, naturalist and bioacoustics researcher, who after years of studying elephants in the wild, came up with the hypothesis that elephants communicated through infrasonic vibrations that are at frequencies below the audible range for humans. Elephants, according to her, can actually detect underground, seismic vibrations transmitted by a distant herd running away, or even the sound of rain many miles away.

What led Dr. Payne to this insight? “Standing close to some elephants” she says in her book “Silent Thunder’, “I felt that I was listening to a faint sound, that was strangely familiar. As a child, I had loved to be part of the choir in the local church and it struck me that the sound that I heard from the elephants was similar to the sensations I used to feel when the pipe organ struck a low note”. This ‘connection’ led her to explore further and to conduct more experiments which finally led to the discovery. Love of choir-music eventually led her to study elephant sounds.

So, if you want your son to become a Marine engineer, just take him to the beach every morning. Let him be charmed by the sea. He will automatically become a good sailor. Or, if you want your daughter to become an astronaut, take her to the balcony every evening and show her the stars. Not film stars on TV, the real stars in the sky.


Karthik Sriram said...

Good one, Raj! But from what I see of kids nowadays, do they have the time to take a walk at the beach or have a half hour of time at the balcony? Its one mad rush, making those kids stereotyped to believe they HAVE to be engineers / doctors....


Anonymous said...

Just wondering, what you did as a kid ?? writing diaries, or witnessed some elders writing a diary............really wonder!!

- Shiv

Anonymous said...

Or (as a kid) maybe just noticed the expression on the faces of people who read some interesting books and got inspired and worked towards the same.......

- Shiv

Cmreddy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cmreddy said...

I wonder what it takes to get kids into Selling.. Take them shopping?

Raj said...

karthik, this bit about the stars and the beach was just to illustrate the point. What is important is to kindle the child's curiosity, whatever be the setting.

shiv, I should check out with my mom, what I did as a kid.

cmreddy : If you want to get your kids into selling, take them shopping. That sounds true.

dipali said...


Raj said...

dipali, thanks