Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Bane of Sabha - Boredom

The academic, who has previously studied the impact of television and videos on children's writing, said: "When children have nothing to do now, they immediately switch on the TV, the computer, the phone or some kind of screen. The time they spend on these things has increased.
"But children need to have stand-and-stare time, time imagining and pursuing their own thinking processes or assimilating their experiences through play or just observing the world around them." 
It is this sort of thing that stimulates the imagination, she said, while the screen "tends to short circuit that process and the development of creative capacity".
This applies to our sabha as well. When kids are bored at the Mandir now, they have a phone or gadget they can turn on and tune out the boredom. Kids misbehave, want to go to the bathroom, don't want to go to the Mandir, in general are apathetic - because they are bored and not engaged.  If they have a phone or an iGadget of some sort, then problem solved. But only in the short term. Taking away the gadget does not solve the problem of lack of engagement. Having the gadget be used while the boring stuff gets done also does not solve the problem of lack of engagement. Only engaging this group solves this problem.

A leader once told us, "I will work with the people who will work with me." Implying that it did not matter that the people around him were not focused on engaging the disengaged. As long as he was able to get along with his working group, and there was an influx of people in the Mandir (through immigration) everything would work out. Implicit in this line of thinking is the lack of importance given to engaging the disengaged. It is implicitly stating that we don't really care about the bored kids at the Mandir. We don't really care about the disenfranchised. We will give a few resources but not really focus on this issue. It is too difficult for us. It requires too much change.

By making sabha engaging we are putting our resources to changing this attitude that many implicitly have. We are forcing a change at the local / grass roots level. We are stating explicitly that the we care about the bored kids, who are bright and have an affinity for Satsang and Bapa. We are not solving the problem with an iBandaid.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Booringgg / Don't Question me

When my mom asked my nephew and niece if they wanted to take violin classes they both sang in unison, "Boooringggg." Visions of Carnegie Hall that my mom may have had disappeared precipitously. I happened to agree with my niece and nephews assessment of the instrument - it can be monotonous. However hindsight being 20/20 I was glad my parents "encouraged" me to play.  With my two kids we never mentioned instrument instruction, however they discovered my old violin hidden somewhere in a closet. One of their friends at school plays the instrument and this discovery fascinated them. They attempted playing, tuning, discovered one of the strings missing. They looked up videos on how to play. Fast forward one month and now they are asking for violin classes. It is interesting that essentially the same demographic of kids have polar opposite reactions.

The perception of boredom is much worse than actually giving a bad talk. In fact the best talk may sometimes be no talk at all. When kids discover on their own they find things naturally interesting. This was the case with our kids and the violin. How do we replicate this in sabha? Many people feel asking questions is the way to go. Ask many many questions. The kids will "discover" the answer. The talk will be interactive. If you have ever thought this or done this, please as a personal favor stop. Don't ever do this again. This one of the two most common ways to make any topic boring (the other is reading off the paper). When we ask questions that are simplistic (even in Bal/Balika 1) the kids don't answer because they understand that there is no point in answering. There was a talk on Maya in Bal 1 that started with: "What is Maya?" One of the precocious balaks (and future sanchalak in my opinion) replied, "Isn't that what you are supposed to tell us?" There was a talk during a KarCon a while back where one of the speakers asked, "Who is the President of the United States?" Nobody answered. These were yuvatis. They knew the answer. It was just not worth their while to answer. Or they may answer in ways which to us may not be the "correct" answer and it impedes our talk.

It is not to say that asking questions is always a bad idea. Sometimes they work wonderfully. During a informal kids talk many years ago (where all ages from shishu to yuvak/yuvati were in attendance). One Sant narrated the story of Shravan and then asked, "Do you think Shravan ever argued with his parents?" This was a wonderful question since it required thought. Not just on the part of the audience, but on the part of the presenter as well. He spend time thinking about what question to ask. He did not use the question as a crutch, he used it as a tool.

Gretchen Rubin shares a blog post on learning to detect if you are boring someone. While it is aimed at conversation, parts are applicable to presentations as well. This is important, since learning to notice boredom in our audience can help us combat it - hopefully by not asking inane questions.

6. Body position. People with a good connection generally turn fully to face each other. A person who is partially turned away isn’t fully embracing the conversation. I pay special attention to body position when I’m in a meeting and trying to show (or feign) interest: I sit forward in my chair, and keep my attention obviously focused on whoever is speaking, instead of looking down at papers, gazing into space, or checking my phone (!).
Along the same lines, if you’re a speaker trying to figure out if an audience is interested in what you’re saying:
7. Audience posture. Back in 1885, Sir Francis Galton wrote a paper in 1885 called “The Measurement of Fidget.” He determined that people slouch and lean when bored, so a speaker can measure the boredom of an audience by seeing how far from vertically upright they are. Also, attentive people fidget less; bored people fidget more. An audience that’s upright and still is interested, while an audience that’s horizontal and squirmy is bored.
I also remind myself of La Rochefoucauld's observation: “We are always bored by those whom we bore.” If I’m bored, there’s a good chance the other person is bored, too. Time to find a different subject.