Inculcating Civic Sense in Children

Most of us are born with five senses, exceptionally few with a sixth sense but no one is born with Civic Sense. Though a child has the ability to speak but words and languages are taught by the adults. Similarly civic sense too has to be taught and inculcated in children.

With the exception of a couple of lessons in school or at home, not much attention is given to civic behaviour of the child. Faced by tough academic challenges and expectations to excel in exams, both teachers and parents do not bother to educate the children about the importance of civic sense and how it could make a difference to the country as well as contribute to the betterment of their own lives. While preparation for examinations is given priority, value formation, character building and focusing on building ethical standards in children regrettably are not given adequate emphasis in our school curriculum.

Civic sense is nothing but social ethics or the unspoken social norms. It is not just about keeping the roads, streets and public property clean but also has to do with abiding with law, respecting others point of view, etiquette, maintaining decorum in public places. Vandalism, intolerance, racism, road rage, etc. are all examples of lack of civic sense. The current state of public places, for example, is disheartening. There are spit marks, urine, vulgar graffiti, random garbage and overflowing sewers at every nook and corner. Roads are not dirty because nobody cleaned them, but they are strewn with garbage because we threw the muck in the first place. As human beings such dirt and grime is not acceptable to us but it still exists around us because we accuse everybody for it and want someone to remove it. Dengue – a disease which has proved fatal for many and has spread across the country – is caused by the absence of hygiene.

No one is to be blamed but ourselves for this condition. At home or in work places, we put the waste in the bin and teach our children to do so but overlook it when the child throws it on the road. We should realize that teaching civic sense is as important as warning him against fire. The latter harms him directly whereas lack of knowledge of civic sense can or has proved catastrophic for society.

The situation was not always so bad; we were never as uncivil as we are today. Civility is conspicuous by its absence. Why this deterioration in civic sense? Self containment could be the plausible reason. We do not bother about the needs of others. This attitude is harmful for society in the long run.

Right from the beginning since man started living as a social being, efforts have been made to instil civic sense either through stories or religion. Civic virtues have historically been taught as a matter of chief concern. Constitutions of many nations defined for the public the virtue civic virtue of honesty.

All ancient civilizations had taken upon themselves the responsibility of maintaining and propagating moral teachings through storytelling. Be it the Holy books like Quran, Ramayana, Bible, all were a major source of inculcating in people a deep sense of moral values and spread the message of kindness, compassion, generosity, non-violence, self-sacrifice, charity, etc. and exemplified the dos and don’ts of life. Even today, moral lessons from them are adopted by millions as a reference for day-to-day living.

In the classical culture of Europe, concern for civic virtue started with the oldest republics of Athens and Rome. Attempting to define the virtues was a matter of significant concern for Socrates and Plato.

Rome produced a number of moralistic philosophers such as Cicero and moralistic historians such as Tacitus, Sallust, Plutarch and Livy. They tended to blame the loss of liberty on the perceived lack of civic virtue in their contemporaries, contrasting them with idealistic examples of virtue drawn from Roman history. It was felt that instead of punishing sinners, sin could be prevented by raising virtuous children, this being the responsibility of parents, teachers and authors. Parental and academic authority too was included in civic virtue, but it changed dramatically during the enlightenment era when parental authority began to wane. Freedom became popular. Laws had to be obeyed for the sake of conscience, rather than fear of the ruler’s wrath. Then came the Conservatives who emphasized family values and obedience to the elders and the state. Civic virtues focused on individual behaviour and responsibility there in. I recall the oath we took as Girl Guides in school which read as –

On my honour I will
do my best
To do my duty to God
and my country
To help other people at all times; and to obey the Girls Guides Law.

Words from teachers and their encouragement to read books with such content could be a strong foundation from where each one of us could start building national culture of civic sense and sensibility in the future citizens of the country. Social norms should not just be followed but should become a way of life.

A few years ago, when Tsunami hit Japan and there was complete power failure in Japan, the world was shocked by the tragedy but also marvelled at the conduct of the people affected. When the city was plunged in darkness, people left the shops, leaving the merchandize on the counters. No one took advantage of the darkness. There was no looting or ransacking of stores. No wonder Tokyo is among the most affluent, progressive, safe and orderly cities in the world.

Presently a whole generation is in the danger of becoming trapped within a false value system chasing a ‘materialistic world.’ Becoming rich fast and amassing wealth seem to be at the ‘core’ of all things. In the pursuit of ‘material success’, ethics and values have been relegated to the list of forgotten things. Lust has overcome love; selfishness has superseded generosity, apathy for sympathy, negative and destructive thought for positive constructive thought.

Civic sense comes from a ‘sense of belonging’ which creates pride and a sense of ownership. As teachers we have to address this problem in a pro-active way and need to build a sense of accountability and pride in our surroundings and personal behaviour. We must instill social values among the younger generation until it becomes second nature to them if we want our children to have a better tomorrow.

With inputs from Neelmani Bhatia

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