Sustainability lessons from a swimming pool

My daughter has joined weekend swimming classes. And I had agreed to be her chauffeur. At 6.00 AM in the morning, I virtually had to drag myself out of my bed: It was a Saturday (an off day for me); it was still dark outside; it had rained (rather drizzled) most of the night and I could feel the chill. The warm bed and thick bedsheet that I had all over me was so cozy that I hated to come out from it.

But then, my daughter was keen on her swimming lessons: she had just started back stroke, which she was thoroughly enjoying. In her own words, “I enjoy just lying on water, watching the sky. And when the sky is clear blue, it feels like you are in a big blue egg!!!”. I could not disappoint her for those extra winks of sleep. So, I got up and got ready. 

At times, enthusiasm gets the better of my daughter, and today was no different. We ended up being the first to reach the pool. The coach was present. So, we chatted casually as we waited for my daughter’s batch mates to arrive. Within a few minutes, most of the kids had come, accompanied either by their father or mother. And by the looks of each parent, it was clear that all parents sail in the same boat … they had to be dragged out of their beds. 🙂

As kids jumped into the pool, under the guidance of coach, we parents receded to seats near the pool. It was interesting to watch what each of them was doing: couple of them left the venue and headed back to homes to get some extra sleep; of folks who decided to stay back, one of them had bought a newspaper and was just happy to cover his face in it, fully immersed in the politics of the world (Britain had voted itself out of European Union, read the day’s headline); another had bought a laptop, which he promptly opened and started working—in all likelihood he must be working in an IT company; mothers in general seemed more interested in what their kids were doing rather than worry about either the world or work – most of them were keenly watching their kid’s performance in the pool, with a few enthusiastic ones’ prodding their kids and providing tips and suggestions much to the coach’s amusement.

After a few minutes, I decided to take a walk; my daughter was enjoying her swimming and it was not as chilly as it was when we had arrived at the pool. Along with swimming, the school had arranged weekend batches for other sports too: cricket, badminton, football, tennis, and basketball. As I walked past the different sports sessions, parents’ behavior seemed repetitive: from the disinterested to the folks who were impelling their child to be a champion!

As a parent, I had told my daughter to enjoy her swimming sessions – not worry about the outcome. Our children are already under enough pressure to study and excel; there is pressure from teachers, peer pressure, and parental pressure (of which I too am guilty to no less extent). We need to teach our kids that joy is in experiencing what one is doing rather than worry about the outcome or worrying if you are as good as the next person. Our education system (of which we have little or no control) is such that we train our kids to convince themselves that life is about having a competitive advantage and they need to work toward getting one. But somewhere along the way, I think we as parents too believe it with unflinching faith that we extend it to all aspects of life; sports being one of them.

Most agree that it is important for us as a civilization, to be sustainable – otherwise, there will be hardly any resources left for our future generations. But then, I would say that this definition of sustainability is a narrow one that does not address the most important aspect of all: the future generation itself!!!

Just look around your neighborhood or watch your colleagues or your dear ones, one of the aspect that our society, in general, is grappling with is termed as burnout. If you visit a bookshop, you will notice that one of the fastest moving category are books on self-help or ones on health, body and mind. In fact, some schools have started counselling sessions almost as part of their curriculum. Counselling is not doubt becoming a lucrative profession! Also, results time (for 10th or 12th standards) are a nightmare for policemen – they have to guard all the suicide spots so that students do not take extreme steps because of the results. What have we made of our future generation? We have created systems that foster a sense of competitiveness and drive toward perfection to such an extent that people find it easier to give up than fight it out.

Machines can be tuned; humans need to be nurtured. Somewhere along the way, we have started identifying ourselves as resources, which is a term that basically refers to innate objects. We have created a specific area of study around humans as resources!!!!!! We are not machines; we are humans. And I think we need to recognize and internalize this fundamental fact. We need to look at sustainability of human spirit, rather than sustainability of humans as resources.

As I walked back to the pool, I saw my daughter playing in the pool with her friends. The coach always gave the last few minutes of each session for kids to just play around and have fun; they were not his resources that he believed in fine-tuning for perfection, but just kids who inspite of the cold morning had come to have fun!

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