We often wonder how the world survives given the selfishness of a vast majority of people. It survives because of the few who put others before self. If every one of us were to be selfish, and motivated only by self-interest, then who would care for the many who have no one to look up to for succour? A person who merely looks after himself cannot really be said to be ‘living.’ Life on this earth is precious, and we must use it to serve others.

It is never too early to begin to help others. In fact, we must teach children not to be selfish, and we must teach them the importance of service to others. If they do not pick up desirable values when they are young, how will they grow up to be responsible adults? In our country, children were not just taught appealing rhymes, as is the practice today. They were taught the importance of dharma, the importance of service. Ethics and values were ingrained in them even when they began their academic journey, said Ilampirai Manimaran, in a discourse.

In Tamil an easy to remember one liner that is taught to children says, “Desire to be generous.” So it doesn’t merely tell us to be generous, but urges us to desire to be generous.

In other words, generosity must be spontaneous with us. It must not come through compulsion. Children were taught that there was no greater temple than one’s mother. There was no greater mantra than a father’s words of advice.

The reason for giving children a value-based education, as was the practice in India, was because values picked up when one was a child lasted life-long. Helping others becomes second nature to a person, if that is what he has been doing since the time he was a child. One should not think that youth is just a time for enjoyment, and that acts of charity belong to one’s old age. Charity must begin when one is young, and it is for this reason that our lessons for children have always emphasised this.

Our Itihasas and Puranas too have many meaningful messages for us.

In the Yaksa Prasnam, in the Mahabharata, Yudishtira says that he is who is never in debt is happy, and that among all a man’s children, he is the best who looks after his parents.

Keywords: ethicsdharma

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