Speaking Tree: Not Your Brother’s Keeper

Deepak Chopra answers readers’ questions on religion and relationship

Should religious instructions be part of school curriculum or is it better to leave religion at home? Suresh Kumar, Delhi, Class-X student

In public schools the US forbids religious instruction or even the simplest prayer. There cannot even be a moment set aside for the religious-minded students to pray on their own. Only in private schools would this rule be altered. Still, the issue is a contentious one that keeps cropping up.

A private school in India can do what it wants; at one time, I went to a Catholic school, and the Christian brothers wanted to convert us. It wasn’t difficult to say no; the influence of my family’s religion was secure. When I grew up, I made up my own mind about religious and spiritual issues. If your school system is arguing over religious instruction, I’m afraid that I don’t know enough about the particulars to give an opinion. As a secular society, India doesn’t impose a state religion, and it would surprise me if Gita lessons were given in a religious context. There is always the possibility of studying it in a literary or historical context. Even then, it seems only fair to study texts from other religions as well, but then where do you stop, considering how many religions exist in India?

My cook steals from my kitchen regularly. I give him a good salary (market rate) and he eats all his meals with us. Should I confront him or ignore it? How can spirituality help me deal with this disturbing problem? Vandana, Hyderabad

It is a delicate issue confronting someone in your household of stealing, since no one’s feelings will be the same afterward. You will need to make sure that the actual theft is taking place, and if you have other servants, be certain about who might be doing the stealing. Once you are sure, the swiftest course is to fire your cook and give him the reason why. Once caught at stealing, he would probably continue in a sneakier way. If this is happening because of some unknown distress in his life, you can let him present the case, but in all likelihood, he is taking advantage of you because he thinks he can get away with it.

So far, all I’ve done is give you advice that I think anyone would. You ask about the spiritual side of the issue. This is a case where you are not your brother’s keeper. Each of us is responsible for our own personal growth, and indulging in this man’s wrongdoing isn’t spiritual. If you choose, you could confront and forgive him. That could be a spiritual alternative in some eyes. Yet, are you sure that real forgiveness will be offered? If you remain suspicious and he turns resentful, the situation isn’t real compassion, forgiveness, or atonement on anyone’s part.

I have two sons who have children of their own. I love them all but like to be left alone in the sense that I value my space. I don’t like cloying relationships, even if it means children or spouse. But my friends think I don’t care. Sometimes I wonder if they are right — especially when I listen to their constant chatter about the accomplishments or otherwise of their respective children and grandchildren. What do you think? Lakshmi Nath, Chennai,

It sounds as if you are caught between social pressure and individual choice. Socially, proud parents and grandparents spend a lot of time, and derive a good deal of satisfaction, from comparing the achievements of their offspring. This isn’t going to change, and if you don’t participate, you become an outsider. Your friends will talk behind your back or to your face, as they already do. It’s fairly inescapable.

What is a bit intriguing is that you don’t simply join in for the sake of form? Offering a few tidbits about your children and grandchildren is harmless and requires almost no effort. So where is your resistance? Are you so isolated that you aren’t in contact with them? If so, then you have made a choice. Tell your friends that you don’t get involved in your children’s lives and stand by your decision. Your letter doesn’t indicate any deep insecurity on your part.
If you do have real doubts about how much you love your family, ask them what they think. Either they have grown used to your personality a long time ago or they are harbouring resentments. It’s better to find out and face the facts than worry about a side issue like your friends’ good or bad opinion.

Published by Speaking Tree