One of the things that I am very proud of is establishing a set of Parikrma Beliefs very early in Parikrma’s journey, which has been the moral cornerstone of all our actions. It has been necessary to ensure that everyone in Parikrma resonates with these beliefs because that is the guiding principle of what we do in our schools and why we do it.
The other day one of the Parikrma members asked me a pointed question as to which two of our various beliefs do I hold as most important. I did not hesitate to say, Integrity and Compassion. I believe that if Parikrma’s backbone is Integrity and Compassion, all our other beliefs are easy to follow because all others are interconnected. And if we don’t have Integrity and Compassion then our work with our children and communities will never be whole and complete.
Following is the rationale for my choice.
I sometimes think that the word Integrity is very often used without true understanding just because it sounds good. It is often confused with honesty. It is of course honesty but much more than that. It is honesty, truthfulness, transparency and even incorruptibility, all combined. But most importantly integrity is doing the right thing for the right reasons and being right even if there is no audience or supervision.
I believe that Parikrma began fifteen years ago to do the right thing for children who needed help and have tried to do it the right way at every single step. We have called it the Parikrma Way. We, therefore, need to be with people who hold integrity as the most essential ingredient of being. The day we allow selfishness and pettiness to enter our system we will have lost the integrity that holds us together. I have often shared with my Parikrma family how in the early years we walked away from very large grants when we felt we would compromise the integrity of our beliefs of being secular and gender equality. We have also lost out on land and large donations because we have been unwilling to be corrupt. It is these principles of integrity that have helped us to be recognized as a respectable and sincere organization.
I have also been questioned about our other valued belief of Compassion. Many have heard me say that compassion without passion cannot see the fulfillment of purpose, and passion without compassion is good for the self but not the world. I feel the understanding of the word compassion too has been limited and misunderstood. Compassion does not mean you have to feel sorry for anyone. It, however, means that you will recognize the other’s point of view and be understanding of the problem and not just be judgmental or harsh.
In school situations should compassion get in the way of discipline? Not at all. True compassion is working for students’ wellbeing and taking some hard decisions that cause pain in the short term but promises happiness for the long term. So the term “tough love” is also embedded with compassion. I believe that it is important to be clear about expectations in the first place, and then being demanding of these expectations and taking tough action if it is not being followed. This requires vigilance and diligence with consistency. But this tough decision can also be handled compassionately where we do not rob the child’s sense of dignity and self-respect and give out a sense of hope that the child can aspire to achieve. So in no way is compassion an antipathy to discipline. If Parikrma ceases to be compassionate then we will lose our very purpose of having started it.
For the work we do, most of us have to deal with great moral dilemmas many a time. Integrity cannot have many varied interpretations and yet my right way may not necessarily match someone else’s. In an institution where integrity is essential, there has to be clarity amongst all members about what are the boundaries of judgment. I have found that if there is a collaborative understanding of the vision and purpose then collective thinking always happens. In school situations, compassion can be interpreted very differently. In Indian schools, we have many teachers who think beating children as punishment is actually for their own good. Respect is often earned through fear and therefore we have classes of really “obedient” children who are never allowed to question or think critically. It is more comfortable for teachers to have children less energetic and noisy in class. So when they show high energy and inquisitiveness they are termed as disrespectful. Here is when compassion needs to be applied. It is important to put oneself in the shoes of the children and think a little like them and try and understand what is it that they would really want to do. Much to many teachers’ surprise most children really want to learn in class but want to study in an engaging way. When teachers begin to teach the subject and not the children, it is then that the class becomes dysfunctional and undisciplined. True compassion leads to compassionate listening.
Compassion can be taught and followed every day in school and we need to have the Integrity to follow it without fail whether anyone is tracking us or not. It is then that true learning happens.