Just getting old doesn’t make you wise, so stay polite! – 22 Sep 14

I would like to start writing about a topic today which is important for each and every one of us, no matter of which age we are: the relation in between old and young, the generations before us, our generation and the ones after us. Today I will start by writing about a rather negative attitude that I see especially in elderly Indian men and women: they believe that being old made them not only the wisest person on earth but also gave them the right to declare all others as stupid.

In general, I have to say that life in India is usually quite good for old people. Joint families are still common and the younger generations see it as their duty to take care of their parents and grandparents. That’s how they – in the most normal cases – live together with their offspring and as far as they can support the rest of the family at home by cooking, taking care of children or with their knowledge.

Also, in India, respect for the elderly is a very important value and it is taught already to small children in a way that I have not experienced that strongly in the west. Now before I start pointing out the problems, I would like to say beforehand how much I really cherish this fact. I believe we should all be able to live together with respect for those who have lived more years than we have. However, they need to respect the younger generation as well!

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always seem to be the case. In India, it is normal for a father to tell his son when he thinks he is going the wrong way. Ideally, the son will listen, accept his mistakes and change. The right to point out mistakes and scold another person is however not only reserved to relatives by blood! Practically any person elder than you is, by tradition and culture, entitled to ‘set you straight’ and give you a piece of his mind. Tradition and culture also wants you to accept this as it is said and not talk against it. That would be disrespectful towards a person elder than you!

The problem that I see here is that age does not necessarily make everyone wise. Or polite. I recently had a case in which I was told by an elderly family friend that I was not of the age yet to talk about politics. He mentioned that I should be ashamed of the political view that I had expressed. For me, this was insulting and he thought he had the right to do so only because he is older than I am. This in itself is ridiculous, regardless the fact that in India you are old enough to vote with 18 and that I, with my nearly 43 years, have passed that age a few years ago.

I want to appeal to everyone who reads these lines: don’t think that only your age makes you better, more intelligent or in any way entitled to insult another person. If you are the older one, you may share your wisdom, knowledge or experience in a polite way with those younger than you. But never, ever believe that the other one is stupid just because he or she was born some or even many years after you!

If you are the younger one and the advice is given in a nice way, listen with respect, find out if it applies in modern times as well and be thankful for the help. If you didn’t ask for it, if it is insulting and you feel suppressed instead of supported, say it. Don’t be afraid to be outspoken about this!

Respect goes two ways and age gives nobody the right to insult others!

Creating Adults with Self-Esteem – Teach your Children to say ‘No’! – 14 Apr 14

For more than two years now, I have been a proud parent. Parenting is something that I enjoy more than I could ever imagine. Giving my child the basics for a good life, helping her discover her surrounding and herself. There are so many important things that I want her to learn and today I would like to tell you about one of these: I want my child to learn saying ‘No’, especially when people get closer than she is comfortable with. I believe especially in India this is a lesson of incredible importance.

Let me give you an example of such a situation. Ramona had gone for shopping with some friends in the main market of Vrindavan. Apra, of course, had come along. So while the others were looking at clothes, trying them on and were spread in the whole shop, Ramona and Apra were playing in front of the mirror.

A saleswoman approached, smiled and greeted the two of them. Ramona greeted back and Apra was too immersed in her play to notice. So the woman came down on her knees just next to Apra and, obviously in an attempt to get her attention, stretched out her hand. She touched her in this one way which children so obviously dislike but which has become a usual habit for adults: she took Apra’s cheek in between her thumb and middle finger so that it looked as though she wants to pinch. Obviously she did not but nevertheless, Apra was everything else but happy about this touch. She retreated two steps backwards in Ramona’s direction. This lady did not take the hint and stretched out the other hand as well, cupping our baby’s other cheek.

This is the point when we want our baby girl to be able to say on her own that she does not want this touch. I want to hear her say ‘NO!’ loud and clear to this stranger. I don’t want to teach her that she has to endure your fingers in her face!

What kind of habit is that anyway? I realize you find our daughter cute – I do so, too – but do you touch every stranger in the face just because you think they are cute? If you and all of us really behaved with adults in this way, it would be fully fine. Apra would not have a problem because she would see this happening the whole time with everyone. But you don’t!

You believe that you can breach my child’s comfort zone simply because she is not even a full meter tall.

Ask any small man or woman, adult but not fully grown, just smaller than the average person, how degrading it is to be treated like this! Ask any teenager and even young adults and they will tell you that they hated this. Being touched by a stranger. Something that happens in your childhood and stops suddenly once your body shows that you are a person whom others should respect. A person with dignity and a private space that you are not supposed to intrude.

Why do you do something like this to children?

Because they cannot say ‘No’? Because they cannot object? That should be a reason for you not to do it and I hope I am not the only one to teach his child the opposite. If you don’t, your child won’t ever learn to say no, not even in adulthood! You will have adults who cannot say no, who just do whatever they are told, who let others invade their privacy and comfort zone. Who have problems with self-respect and self-esteem. Do something against it and teach your child to say ‘No’!

Tomorrow I will describe how Apra and Ramona reacted and the possible solutions Ramona and I found afterwards for such situations.

Indian Men: What you need to change if you don’t want to be seen as a possible Rapist! – 28 Jan 14

I have spent the past week describing the dangers of sexual harassment in India for western women, explaining that Indian women face the same but in every day’s life, making my point that clothing has nothing to do with rape or sexual harassment and finally looking at the root of the problem: the taboo that sex presents in Indian society. Today I want to write an appeal to all Indian men, because we have to make a change!

Yes, you, too, are responsible for this change!

When I write about rape in India, there are always some reactions that say ‘But only criminals are rapists, the common man doesn’t think in this way!’ I agree, you have to have a criminal mindset to go that far but nearly every Indian woman you ask has experienced sexual harassment in her life at least once. So what does this tell us? There are either a whole lot of criminals or that a big part of the male population in this country has the basic inclination towards such disrespectful behavior. Sexual harassment is based in our society, in the way we treat women in daily life.

And I tell you one thing: as long as there is so much sexual harassment on India’s roads, you, the common Indian man, will be seen as a potential threat by every woman passing by, Indian or non-Indian.

I believe you, reading my blog, would never go as far as raping someone. I even hope that you are not one of those who touch women, who pass inappropriate comments when they walk by or even stare at them in a way that makes them comfortable. But what about your thoughts? How do you talk to your friends about women? How about your actions towards women in your family and surrounding? How do you feel for women in general? How do you treat your wife? What do you teach your son? Do you treat your daughter different than your son?

In the general Indian culture, mindset and mentality, Indian men lack respect towards women. They are presented as a Goddess in temples but come last in home, are suppressed and not valued for who they are: individuals with equal rights, with dignity. Do something against that by making a change in your daily life.

Please teach your sons to respect women, to see them and treat them as equal. Show them this behavior yourself and be an example for your friends. Give your wives, daughters, sisters and female friends exactly this respect. Most of all, teach them to love and respect themselves. Don’t tell them what they should wear or not. If they have the wish to study and work, encourage them to realize their dreams. Let your daughter choose a man on her own, someone she really can love. Give them strength and support.

Enjoy your sex life to the fullest. Don’t suppress sexuality but talk with your wife about your and her wishes and fantasies. Realize as many of them as you can. Take time for the two of you, to pamper her and to surprise her. Make your relationship an example of love and respect for your children and friends, showing them what it means to really respect a woman.

Sexual harassment on India’s roads is not something that you can brush off as an act of criminals. It is bad for you. Yes, for you, not only for the reputation of the country and not only for the tourism industry because female foreign travelers choose other destinations. No, it is bad for you because you are seen as a possible rapist by these women, no matter whether you are or not. Do you want to be seen like this?

You are the possible threat until we manage to change our society inside out.

So act towards this change!

What to do when your Friendship doesn’t go deep due to different Beliefs and Interests – 17 Dec 13

I yesterday explained that there may be friends in life whose beliefs completely differ from yours. What can you do if that is the case and you have developed a relationship that seems rather formal and not as deep as you would wish it to be?

The first thing that you can do is just to tell what you believe in. Express the issues in which you have different opinions so that both of you know where you are at. If you then feel that there is no way that either of you change, just accept the fact that you don’t agree with each other.

Don’t let this destroy the bond of friendship between the two of you. At the same time however, don’t expect too much of it. Keep up the love but don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t go deeper than meeting and seeing each other from time to time.

If I look at my grandmother and my father for example, I can see that they have changed a whole lot but of course they will never change as much as I have. They have spent their whole lives believing in religion and although they have left behind a lot of the things that go with it, they won’t completely change. And I am not demanding that either.

The key is that you need to understand and respect each other. Let them live as they like and live as you want as well. As family members remain family members, no matter what happens, it is mostly easier to do this with them than with friends but with friends as well, you can have such a relation. In fact, if you have a real friendship and love and one of you changes while the other remains the same, you will be able to go along with it.

One thing is for sure however: there is a certain gap in between you. You are not able to share what is deeply in your heart, you cannot get very much involved in each other’s lives and you won’t sit and talk for hours.

There is no dishonesty in this friendship. You still wish each other well but your thinking is so different from each other that you cannot have those pleasant experiences that you have with someone who shares your emotions.

Please accept it. If you can accept that the other one is different, then you also need to accept the fact that you won’t be as close as you could be if that was not the case. Respect the other one’s belief and keep love in your heart. That’s what you can do for the sake of this friendship.

Why certain ancient Traditions don’t deserve your Respect – 13 May 13

I have obviously received a lot of responses to my diary entries about arranged marriage. One comment that I have heard in connection with this topic and similar ones is ‘You should respect ancient traditions instead of insulting them.’ My simple answer is no. A bit longer explanation is necessary? Okay, here you go.

A big supporter of arranged marriages gave me an argument: ‘What is love? If you have a dog as a pet and live with him, you will love him, too.’ His argument is thus that it is not necessary to have love before you marry. You just need to live with anybody together long enough and you will love the other one. Excuse me but I cannot respect a tradition that believes that there is no difference in between a pet dog and a wife! This is Indian culture, this is the tradition of our ancestors – they trade women, daughters and wives just like animals. Love is not important, it will come on its own. Maybe.

If it is like this, why do you nowadays even make meetings with the potential bride and groom? If love happens anyway, why do you need to look at the other person’s body? Do you really think that the ancient tradition was like this? In the time of your grandmother the bride and the groom did not see each other before the wedding – such a thought was rejected as an insult to culture and tradition!

Semi-modern parents tell me that they live a modern life while they still respect those traditions. I don’t think so. You seriously tell your children that they are allowed to fall in love but only within your sub-caste! Are you such masters of arrangements that you can even give directions to the love of your children? Do you honestly believe yourself that this can work? You must know that this is an illusion otherwise your next sentence would not be a threat: ‘I cannot accept any partner who is from another caste / another country / another religion!’

If you do this, do you really respect your ‘ancient tradition’? Your seemingly perfect culture does not include falling in love on your own but you know that you cannot stop change and that is why you try to give your children a bit more freedom from the leash of traditions that you keep them on! In reality however you have to see that it is you who is not respecting the tradition as it is – I just go one step further and call a spade a spade!

Your great culture says that falling in love is a crime. You teach your daughters not to talk to male college classmates but expect them to sleep with a complete stranger after their wedding. Isn’t that wrong?

You are doing a business of bodies if you arrange your children’s marriages. You keep your children in an outdated, wrong caste-system if you want them to fall in love within your caste only. You are disrespecting women by taking or giving a dowry and you are disrespecting humans if you go and choose a spouse by looking at the young person’s body. That is all you see in a meeting of half an hour anyway. You won’t reach until the person’s soul, mentality or emotions. And it is thus a deal with bodies, selling a woman into another family. A wedding, normally a happy occasion that should be full of love, becomes a business, an exhibition of wealth.

The male-dominant society of India clings to this tradition because it keeps the power with men, it prevents the caste system from falling apart and it lets men treat women like horses whom you stake and keep in check so that they may never reach their full power.

If you talk about traditions, there are many of them in our country and culture which were wrong and are still wrong. Many have died out already but there are many more, like the dowry, the feasts after a dear person’s death, female feticide and the caste system. Yes, I agree, I don’t respect and I do insult any tradition that does not respect humans and I will always do that. If you don’t like this, I have to tell you that I don’t care.

Children in India and their Respect towards Elders – 25 Oct 12

One of the participants of our Ayurveda Yoga Holiday who has been here in the past weeks was a teacher. She loved our school project, sat in school for some time and played a lot with the school children as well as the children of our Ashram. One evening I had a talk with her and another participant about our children and mainly about respect.

She was impressed not only by the fact that we are doing our charity work but also by the nature of the children in our school. As a teacher in a big city in France, she said you could hardly compare children there with the children in our school! Here children were so disciplined, peaceful and most of all one could see that their respect. As a teacher she said she could only wish that the children in her classes had as much respect for her as our children had for their teachers.

I told her that I had also noticed this difference on my journeys in the west. Here in India children learn to respect their teachers. A teacher, someone from whom you learn, who will teach you how to advance in life and whatever is important when you grow up is an ideal and someone in whose eyes you want to be good. You respect him or her because your parents speak of that person with much respect, too. They teach you to respect the teacher.

Our second participant, who heard this conversation, added that this was not only true for teachers. She mentioned when you come here and walk down the way at a time when the children run around there, in the morning when they come or the afternoon when they go home from school, you can realize that they look at you with different eyes. They greet, they show respect. You can feel that they have a respect for people who are older than them that children of their age in her home country, the USA, don’t usually have.

I have had many discussions with my western friends about the question of respect in Indian culture and in western culture. It is true, you can see respect in children in India which you don’t see there. Of course I agree that there are other issues and difficulties in between generations here in India.

Some people argue that this respect means that children cannot be really close to their elder siblings, parents or relatives. They cannot tell them when they have done something wrong because they respect them. I see this differently here in India. People are very close and children trust their parents. I believe that the respect that they have rather keeps them from doing very big mistakes which they could then not confess to their parents. Due to their respect they stop before, thinking about their respect for their parents.

There are of course many aspects to this topic. You have to consider the atmosphere surrounding a child or teenager, the culture, the way how people live together in family and even the climate, because of which people don’t stay in their homes but spend more time outside, together, learning the rules of being with each other.

Whatever it is that creates this effect, I believe that it is right if a teenager shows respect in front of those who are older than him or her and we should try to teach this to our children.

Mahatma Gandhi – in between Respect and Criticism – 2 Oct 12

Today is Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday, a national holiday on which schools, banks and offices stay closed. The nation celebrates, newspapers print birthday greetings to the late ‘Father of the Nation’, articles describe his life in shorter or longer versions, people post pictures in social networks, TV channels show various documentaries on his life and government politicians offered flowers in his memory at the Raj Ghat in Delhi. Just like all these people I am also thinking of Mahatma Gandhi today and you see, I even dedicate a blog post to him.

I am not however going to write another summary of his life. I am not going to reiterate the dates and events that lead to India’s independence. I guess you have heard and read enough of this already. Maybe you have been fed up with all the Gandhi-praising lines, articles and shows and have then found some articles which were not as enthusiastic of this hero of India. Writers describing his faults, his mistakes, writing about discrepancies in what officials want us to believe and what historically happened and some even wondering about his sexual preferences, his idea of living a pure life and what exactly happened in between him and women.

I am also not going to write one of those articles. You can find enough of these if you just make an online search. No, I want to answer all those people who are currently creating a very negative image for Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, those who are upset by the worship and the honours that people give him and those who want to belittle his role in India’s way towards independence.

There are such people, at least in India, who write statements full of contempt and hate for Mahatma Gandhi. I sometimes can read how people curse him and use very bad words for this man who usually receives the highest honours.

I want to ask these people, who are you to create such feelings for this man? Who are you to even say bad words about him? What have you done in your life that you can put equal to what this man has done? A fight in which he pledged non-violence, a revolutionary way of resistance, an idol for thousands and millions people of his time and the times to follow! There is a reason why people hold him in high respect and I think you should understand those reasons and consider them!

Obviously there may be a justification for some of the points of criticism, too. After all, this man was just a human being and no human being is faultless. We cannot all agree about our points of view, that is normal. And I definitely cannot pass a judgment about his sexual life – for that I don’t know enough about the facts and then also I believe that it might have just been his private matter.

Of course there are always people who are interested in creating a national hero and for them this hero has to flawless, although no person can be that. Others, who are interested in destroying this image will present every mistake they can find. Any of those mistakes however does not take away even a tiny bit of the respect that I feel for this man. Following the concept of equality and non-violence in a time when discrimination and violence were a daily occurrence was and is still remarkable and demands our respect.

Happy Birthday.

Always be where you are needed – and leave when you are not – 10 Jul 12

When I wrote about conversion to Hinduism last week, I mentioned that I could not understand how people would like to join a religion that so obviously does not want to have any newly converted members. Why would you like to go to a place where you are not wanted? There is a principle in life which I believe is not a bad one: you should be where you are needed.

If you feel that you are not needed at a certain place, leave it. If you have the feeling that you are needed more at another place, you should shift there. This can happen in the relation to the people around you, people whom you call friends but with whom you have the feeling that they don’t really need you. If you move on and they did not need you, they will be fine.

It is not only good for your surrounding if you follow this principle, it is also good for you. The feeling of being needed is psychologically very necessary for your mental health. It gives you satisfaction to see that whatever you do has an effect and is necessary for someone.

In a relationship and in a friendship problems arise when one partner or friend feels the other one doesn’t need him anymore. In love it is necessary that you have the feeling the other one wants you. Never give your partner the feeling he is unwanted or not needed. If you give the other one the feeling that he is needed, he will have the pride that he is worth something to you.

Your feeling of being necessary should not however depend on another person not being able to live without you or to do even small works without you – that would create problems. That could give you a feeling of stress when you are the one who is responsible while the other one relies on you.

No, that would not be a healthy feeling of being needed. The right feeling is a feeling of the heart, a feeling that the other one wants you to be there, not necessarily only for what you do but just for who you are.

You do not make anybody dependent or handicapped by making yourself necessary. The whole concept of charity means that you help the needy. The needy are those who need you and you can be there for them with whatever you have – with your pocket, with your knowledge, with your physical effort or with your love.

If this feeling is not there, if there is no such connection that makes you feel wanted and needed, as a person at the place where you are, there is no point in staying there.

One more thing needs to be said here: never leave those who need you. I am not talking only in geographical terms. Leaving means much more than physically changing your place.

Unique, different, you are like nobody else – 30 Mar 12

Yesterday I mentioned that we cannot all like the same things, agree in all topics and act in the same way. When writing this I thought about the beauty of this fact and how nice the world is because of the variety that it has in every small thing.

If you look at nature, it is just amazing that there are so many different plants and that there are so many different kinds of animals. Imagine you only had roses in your garden, all red, all smelling the same. Wouldn’t it be boring? And imagine there was only one kind of bird, so all of them would make the same noise. Would you not get annoyed to hear only this one and the same sound again and again? This is why people travel, too – they want to see something different than what they see at home every day. They want to see palm trees instead of chestnut trees. They want to see tigers instead of cats.

It is not only the nature around us that has a lot of variety, we ourselves, human does, too! Each of us is unique and that is wonderful. We all have different thoughts and this is how we can have a proper conversation with each other. We all look different and that is why we can distinguish one from the other. This is how we can have different taste and we can choose those people whom we want to make friends and with whom we want to spend our time. There are people who are taller and people who are smaller, people who are bigger and people who are thinner, there are people who have white skin and people who have darker skin in all kinds of colours, there are people who like to be inside and people who like to be outside, there are people who work quickly with their minds and others who work better with their body.

This last point is something that we see often in our school, too. There are students who are good in one subject and others are good in another one. There are some students who are very bright and intelligent and there are others who take longer time to understand, need to repeat words more often to remember them and who actually enjoy the yoga in the morning more than any of the other classes. I guess that this is like this in every school in every country.

It is again an aspect of the variety of the world and not a factor according to which we should judge people. This variety is necessary. Not everybody can become a doctor because we also need people who can wash clothes, people who clean, people who do work in the garden and people who cook food. I know that some people may now think ‘I do this all myself in my home and I still go to work, I have a sophisticated job’. But who is cleaning your office or practice? If you are a doctor, you have helpers or nurses, right? So if they all had become doctors or engineers, too, who would do their work?

We sometimes value people less when they look different or think different than we do. The reality is however that this variety of bodies and minds is necessary and also beautiful. Accept others and respect them, no matter if they are of another skin colour, if they are bigger or thinner than you, if they have another opinion and if they are more or less intelligent. It is beautiful that they are here in this world, too.

How to live in Peace in a Family – Secrets for living together – 16 Mar 12

I often write that it is wonderful to be living in a big family. Here in India it is still usual that people live with their children and parents as well as grand-parents together. It is called ‘joint family’ here and I have said so many times that it is great to have support, close relations and the love among each other that we have here. I know however that this is not usual in the west. I have actually often been asked in the west how it is possible here and why it seems impossible to them there to live together with their relatives in this way. There are of course several factors that play a role there.

I hear from many people that they think it is a great idea to live together with their parents but that they would themselves never like to live with their father and mother anymore. They say they would lose their freedom, they would not be able to live the way they want and they would only be fighting the whole day. I often heard ‘I love my mother but I would not want to live in one house with her’.

One aspect that I think plays a role in this is that people in India grow up thinking that this will be how they will live. They grow up in a big family and obviously believe that they will also live like that in future. So they already get used to live together with many other people who have different opinions.

In the west however there is the concept of individuality and individual freedom that they believe is very tightly connected with having your own flat or house. A family is mother, father and children. There are normally no grandparents or aunts and uncles in the same house. It is not the concept. People grow up and learn that they need to be able to face the world alone. They get their own bed in the very beginning, their own room, their own freedom. In teenage time already they do just what they want. Parents encourage them on the one hand, on the other hand they complain about it. But in the end they accept it – their child is getting older, is slowly separating from them and has his own life in which they don’t have any space anymore.

So these are the factors that you may say predestine a person to either live in a bigger family or to refuse such a life. There is however another factor and that is your general attitude towards others in your life and of course their attitude towards you. And this is not only a problem in the west. This attitude creates problems here in India, too, and also here there are families who have problems among the family members. So this is not a problem of the country you are growing up in.

It is a general attitude towards others. How do you treat those people who are around you? How do you live with them? And here I can tell you from the experience of my own family that it is the most important thing to accept each other as you are. You know that maybe one in your family tends to be very negative while you yourself like to be positive. It is okay. You know that another one in your family likes to collect things that you believe are not of use for anything. It is fine, too. You may not like a habit of your parents but you know that they don’t like another one of yours but still they accept it. So you accept theirs. And even if you have a bigger discussion, you know that you love each other, so you just accept that the other one is of another opinion.

You need to accept each other. Take your love that you have for the other one and accept him. It has to come from all sides, I know, but you can make the first step. And with this acceptance, you also give the other one the freedom he needs to be himself. This would be the way for the west to have their individuality and freedom even in a bigger family. You know, once you have reached the point that you really know the other one, you just love being with each other, no matter what the other one says or does.