Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Papadam Paradox

Linda was enjoying her lunch at the new Indian restaurant which recently opened up in the busiest section of downtown. She relished the warm spicy food after that long walk down China Town. But her bliss was rudely disrupted when a waiter flashed a plate full of crispy golden discs, courteously asking,  "More papadum, ma'm?" She shook her head and was puzzled at why that bothered her. Then she knew - her model of an Indian restaurant contained Indians serving their traditional food, not white men like the waiter. There was a reason why she loved being a multiculturalist. She wanted to enjoy, visit and be part of every culture, in its true ethnic, authentic form. It ruins that cultural experience if she were to realize that the curry was being prepared by an Italian chef and the place was owned by Americans. Doesn't matter if the food tasted authentic. She no longer felt being part of a culture. But this would mean that every culture should stay pristine and isolated, while multiculturalists like her continue appreciating and experiencing diverse and exotic cultures. But such a distinct cultural diversity seems like a paradox to the meaning of multiculturalism, doesn't it? (Original Source: The Pig That Wants To Be Eaten, Julian Baggini)

In this era of intermingling cultures, this paradox is common to all of us. India is proud to call herself a nation of diverse cultures and traditions, exemplifying the meaning of unity in diversity. However, respect and tolerance for other cultures is not the same as being ready to appreciate and be part of another culture. Multiculturalism is a notch higher. It is exhibited when people start to imbibe and embody aspects of other cultures. In my definition, it is cherry-picking some interesting, significant or meaningful values, traditions and practices of multiple cultures and living one's life by them. But when multiculturalism percolates wide and deep, soon there will no longer be distinct cultures to experience or "pick" from. What might remain is a morphed amalgamation of multiple cultures, with the roots fading into oblivion. But unlike Linda, this consequence, of losing the authentic forms doesn't bother me. I don't believe that any culture has one distinct authentic form. Every culture has evolved, is evolving and continues to evolve. With very generation, there is a gradation. But thanks to history, mythology and scriptures, we can still manage to trace our way back to the original roots, as arduous and obfuscating as the journey may be. We try to figure out the original meaning and significance behind every present tradition and end up with unresolved questions and debates. But it doesn't justify or make sense to try and preserve the current definitions of one's culture. The evolution of human society and its culture are inevitable. Besides, it is unrealistic for the entire world to morph into one homogeneous culture. There will always continue to be variations of the present and past mishmashed cultures, and the future multiculturalists can wade their way through those variations. Isn't it how we function today, with Indo-Chinese food and American Pizzas?

The other question is - in what ways do a multiculturalist truly appreciate other cultures? Appreciating and adapting to dietary habits, purchasing ethnic art and materials, wearing exotic clothes, having a good time celebrating fun and interesting occasions? What is the point if such superficial elements are emulated? How does it matter if one doesn't resonate with the deeper meanings, symbolisms and principles behind the food, the clothes, the art and the celebrations? But this seems to be our current trend - selectively following superficial aspects of a culture without any integrity to its significance or to one's principles. This is not multiculturalism. It is a serious problem of identity crisis, mostly just a shoddy external pretension, a pompous act to call oneself an elite multiculturalist.

A true multiculturalist transcends cultural, material and religious boundaries, seeking to genuinely learn, appreciate, imbibe and practice those values that resonate with the inner self. 

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Reflections: The Giver

As an incurable idealist, I have often imagined a futuristic Utopia, where civilizations will coexist harmoniously in a society that offers both equality and individuality. As I keep getting older, each little brick defining this imaginary castle is being taken down. I am coming to terms with the inevitable reality of human existence, reconciling with the fact that it is perhaps unrealistic to hope for Utopia, for there are too many unanticipated eventualities in the process. Many essays and books have been written on how the path to Utopia can turn devious and lead us into Dystopia, but this book is one of the first that explores how the extremes of Utopia can erode some of our fundamental elements. It makes us question if it's worth sacrificing the essence of humanity, for a harmonious life which guarantees peace, equality, and resources for all.

Jonas is a young boy awaiting his eleventh birthday with a bitter-sweet anticipation. On his b'day he will know what his future career would be, and how it would change his life. The momentous day arrives. Based on meticulous monitoring and survey of his potentials and skills, he is assigned the society's most honorable, unique, yet incredibly demanding and challenging job.

He is assigned? Does he have any say? How was he monitored? These are the pivotal questions. Every person in the community gets monitored - their every action, every utterance, and sometimes even thoughts. The Chiefs in the community decide the apt role of every individual in the society, and on their eleventh birthday, assign their future roles/jobs and begin training them. It is an optimal strategy which utilizes every individual's fullest potentials, thus guaranteeing growth and profit to both the community as well as the individual. A picture perfect model of resource allocation, isn't it? Individuals are also mostly content with their assignments. But Jonas's assignment is one of a kind. There is only one person in the entire community who takes up the job and he often gets burdened with intolerable pain and grief. His job is to hold centuries worth of human memories all to himself. Jonas realizes the bitter truth of how his community functions, and the more secrets he unravels, the more convinced he is that his community needs to revert to the days where people could feel emotions such as love and empathy, despite the prevalence of poverty, wars and inequality. Humanity was too heavy a price to pay for Utopia.

Jonas' guide calls himself the Giver. The people in the community have no access to books, have no means of knowing the history of humanity, and the causes and consequences of the evolution of their existence. The keeper of memories shields the people of any kinds of pain - physical pain, pain of losing, pain of hunger, pain of death. Everything in the community is regulated and controlled, such that people are never exposed to any kind of discomfort, let alone pain. Regulated and standardized meals were always provided, any physical pain was immediately pacified through sophisticated drugs and any cause of turbulence was instantly identified, crushed and terminated. Families did not form by themselves. "Family units" were formed based on the capabilities and personalities of males and females. Babies were assigned to those family units which demonstrated good parenting skills, and who seemed compatible with the baby's personality and needs. When people aged, they were sent to special retirement homes, where based on the supply and demand of resources, the aged were provided for, or they were "released" painlessly. A delicate balance of resources was diligently calculated and maintained. Equality, or "sameness" was exemplified. With advances in genetic engineering, every person was born with the exact same traits - skin, hair, eyes, and all other features. Discrimination based on any kind - caste, color, creed, was eradicated. The cones in the eyes were manipulated and the meaning of colors was obliterated. Weather and temperature were minutely controlled - no one knew what rain or snow meant. A world in monotones, where everything worked like clockwork, nature controlled, animals eradicated, history eroded, memories locked up, emotions diluted, individuality meaningless, and humanity -- was lost. Here is a flip side of Utopia when we try to perfect, equalize, standardize and normalize everything.

The tone of the book is reminiscent of Orwell's 1984, although here is a Utopian society of perfectness with nothing to depress one. Too much perfectness perhaps. An automatized society that churned out rational decisions according to relentless numbers. An interesting discussion that Lowry brings out is the importance of memories in helping us gain wisdom and learn. I have discussed this before, but devoid of memories, we are emptied of our precious experiences which help build our wisdom. But memories don't just end with our own. Imagine if we didn't have any means to learn about the world around us, no permission to books that stimulate thinking or to learn what happened in the past, and how they are playing into the future, how appalling would our ignorance be? The memories of humanity's past is equally important to our growth. While the community's motto was "ignorance is bliss", the lack of wisdom heads the Utopian society  to an unstable future.  Besides, pain - be it physical or emotional, also helps us grow (however unpleasant it is to grow through them). A pampered society oblivious to pain, learns very little about life. The keeper of memories attempts to provide the society guidance on their decisions but it turns futile.

Lowry's writing is simple but powerful. I appreciated how she strings the details on the community without any explicit narration. There is an element of mystery and the pieces on how the society functions slowly fall together. But I have to mention that this books is lauded with the Newbery medal, meaning it is a literary children's classic. It is my personal opinion that the topic of discussion is a trifle too heavy for children to comprehend or come to terms with. It will probably offer a good introduction to young adults to ponder on idealism in society. Lowry definitely reinforces the importance of our core values and she beautifully brings out the true meaning of humanity, and being a human.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Reflections: Crime and Punishment

Someone once asked me what classifies a book as a classic, jeering that most classics were merely outdated books written in another era and that they gained their exotic title because of merely ascribing their dense text to literary significance. Reading a classic is an experience, and I decided to save my breath trying to argue about an experience which clearly the other person hadn't felt. In all the scores of books I've read, very few have had the intensity to suck me into their depths, where I merge with the characters, their thoughts flowing in parallel with mine, the world shifting with every turn of the page. When the last page is turned and I struggle to yank myself out of the surreal world, and when the words and the intensity remain etched in me, the book was not just read, but lived. Crime and Punishment is one such a book. No matter how many times I read the passages, the words don't tire me; I only gain a new understanding and live a whole new feeling.

I first read the book as a teenager, and the book was so powerful in its intensity that I fell in love with it. I'm sure that not every page, nor every paragraph made sense to me, for this is a book that has to be read many times before every ounce of wisdom and truth in it can be felt and understood. Despite being too young to grasp the whole book, it captivated me. After all these years, when I finally am at a phase where I question the meaning of morality, the concept of sin and crime and the true limits of our rationality, Crime and Punishment was the most apt book for me to re-read. Rereading the book has only amplified my reverence for it and I'm glad that I could glean more wisdom from it this time. But I know I still haven't got everything from the book, and rereading it is an exercise to undertake again in another few years.

Raskolnikov, a young student in the grips of utter poverty, tries to rationalize the meaning of crime. He convinces himself to murder an old, miserly pawn-broker, originally with the intent to rob her and put the money to good use, helping his family climb out of the rut of poverty. But as he sets out to execute the crime, something in him doesn't agree with his will, yet he brings himself to murder the old woman, and her sister, who unfortunately happens to enter the scene. Raskolnikov faces a lot of ordeal in trying to escape the scene of crime, but thanks to a streak of luck, he manages to scurry out. Although his grand scheme hinged on the loot he would rob, he somehow didn't have any interest in robbing, and in his fluster, he carelessly scooped in some random trinkets and some odd money. Even this little loot, he buries under a stone and has no interest in touching them. He spends the next few days in fever and hallucinations, driving himself insane on why he committed the crime, if he still justified the crime, or if he should confess it all to give himself some peace.

How curious a man...he commits a crime that he thinks is not a crime, and yet he can't be in peace. He is skeptical about God, his intellect and rational mind assuages him that he merely killed a parasitic old woman who was tricking the poor and collecting their hard-earned money, that the money he robbed could give himself a new future, save his family and help him do much more good to the people of Petersburg than he ever could as a law-abiding citizen residing in a little hole of filth with not even enough money to wash and feed himself. Despite the logical arithmetic of killing two to save many, there was something in him that wouldn't stop nagging him -  his conscience. Here is where I merged with Raskolnikov. Although I am not contemplating any dire crime, I can relate to his qualms of stepping over the barriers to do something unconventional and extraordinary. And no matter how many hours, days, weeks, months and years are spent in trying to straighten out the logic and the rationality of it all, something never quietens. And there is no way out. Raskolnikov couldn't have walked away without executing his actions, neither could he be at peace after his actions. Having stuck oneself in the horns of a moral-dilemma, there is no painless way out. And the scars are deep and will remain. It just becomes a matter of which horn to gouge oneself with. And in Raskolnikov's case, he gouged himself through both horns.

And that is the essence of the book. It tests the limits of human conscience. It's a debate between the rational mind and the inexplicable voice of the conscience. Dostoevsky is a master analyst, and an astute psychologist. No matter how many times I have already talked about his perceptive genius, I can't tire. Here is an era wherein DNA fingerprinting and other sophisticated means of criminal investigation are unheard of. Yet, he weaves a suspenseful drama of how the crime is solved, with no material evidence...but all based on psychology. This is Dostoevsky's trademark... he used the same "double-edged sword of psychology" in the courtroom drama of The Brother's Karamazov. But in this book, he doesn't go into as much explicit analysis.

He propounds a thesis on what makes a man extraordinary. What made the great Kings and leaders who are now immortal in the history of Mankind, so great? They could break rules and make their own. They didn't subject themselves to the letter of the law. They were brave enough to rise above it, to realize that certain rules need to be broken, that morality has to be redefined in their hands, and that only their essence needs to seep through for them to murder a few to save millions, and still have a peaceful conscience. Those who can't step over such man-made pickets of rules, who are unable to see such moral clarity and act with conviction, are but ordinary. Raskolnikov strove to be such an extraordinary man, but failed. He failed despite his intellect, and despite his lack of faith in God. I marvel at Dostoevsky's deftness in glorifying humanity, no matter what decision Raskolnikov took. He stresses on the innate goodness residing in all men, despite their efforts to rationalize crime and be blind to retribution from a higher authority.

Through his other characters, he also compares the shades of legality and morality, and how each measures the goodness in a person. There are many men who circumvent and stay clever and obedient in the eyes of the law, yet their moral character is far more loathsome than a person like Raskolnikov, who goes against law and commits the highest "sin" - murder. Conscience is one factor, the other is the intention. Many philosophers and spiritualists have emphasized that an action by itself cannot be classified as good or bad... it is the intent behind it, and the purpose it serves. This is cleverly brought out in the book.

Another aspect that comes out is, how the murder affects Raskolnikov physically and mentally. The weight of his conscience and his immense resistance to the crime makes Raskolnikov feverish and delirious. These physical manifestations imply the psychosomatic effects of his inner tempest. Dostoevsky hints at how a person physically and mentally wears out every time he works against his conscience. This reminded me of the Horcruxes in Harry Potter. In my interpretation, this is exactly what Rowling also seems to imply. Every time Voldemort commits a horrendous crime, his entire soul suffers and splits into pieces, so much so that he deteriorates in both spirit and body.

As I mentioned, I'm sure there is perhaps more to the book that I have missed and need to re-read. But such is the beauty of this classic. It analyzes all the multiple complex facets of morality, crime and punishments, packed into words that are so impassioned and vivid. Truly a masterpiece.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Reflections: My Posse Don't Do Homework

LouAnne Johnson is a former Marine Corps Officer and a journalist in the US Navy who restarted her career as an English teacher, aspiring to teach at a University. In the course of her certifications, she took up a part-time job teaching high school students English in a California public school. She is assigned to a class that held the terrifying reputation of having harassed and driven away multiple teachers in the past, the most recent of whom had burst into tears and fled out of class. With trepidations on one hand, and enthusiasm in the other she walked into a class full of stubborn, closed, boisterous, obnoxious, and defiant teens who try as they might couldn't dampen her spirits. Instead, they inspired in her the unwavering grit to make them learn and reform them for the better. In this book, Miss. Johnson recounts her real-life encounters with "problem" teens, sharing her strategies, challenges, frustrations and extremely inspiring and moving experiences.

In the Hindu tradition, a teacher (Guru), is highly revered and is regarded to be a life-altering influence in the pupil's life. Respect for the teacher was implicit, and their command and authority were unquestioned. With such cooperation, discipline and obedience in place, the Guru could concentrate on imparting lessons and molding the pupils. But in recent times, respect is no longer implicit for anybody. Without the stringent enforcement of law, even basic respect for fellow human beings cannot be assured. Knowledge is no longer as isolated and concentrated in the heads of a specialized few. Besides, education is now a service. One pays, the other delivers. With little respect and discipline, unfortunately, a teacher's foremost task is to establish trust and respect, before delving into any serious teaching. With unruly kids who don't hesitate to insult and harass, and who don't seem to care about their grades or future, the task gets exponentially harder. We have all witnessed many such scenes with fellow classmates. We have seen such students being verbally abused, "punished", failed, and tormented, all in a vain attempt to discipline and reform. Yet, every year the same events unfold until everyone reaches a dead end, gets tired of flogging and being flogged at and there is unanimous resignation. Indifference sets in. The teacher no longer cares if anyone learns, and the belligerent ones no longer have to try to care.

In all these years of countless classes and numerous teachers, I can remember only a few... the rest no longer have a face, or a name, until memory is sufficiently squeezed. These few stand apart from the faceless crowd, not necessarily due to their exceptional teaching abilities, but because they truly cared, supported and helped. Miss. Johnson is one such a teacher. Rather than blame, criticize and get disheartened, she always took the initiative to first understand the student, their personality, and the life they led. As in most public schools, the "less-ambitious" students were cooped into a different set of classes. Most of these students hailed from the low-income minority communities. When forced to voice out their lives, we see how riddled their lives are with emotional abuse and poverty. If an adolescent grows up in an atmosphere that demeans their self-respect and motivation, corrodes their perception of the world, and demoralizes their spirit, why would they care about a homework in class? The bigger problem is getting one meal a day and escaping a beating from their step parent. These students put up vile defenses to guard off their inner insecurities and vulnerabilities. Their defenses cannot be broken down through meaningless punishments. Teachers like Miss. Johnson turn their world over by first offering them emotional support. It's miraculous how people turn over a new leaf, if given the right encouragement, acceptance and trust.

The stories are full of hopeful, sagacious and inspirational techniques. The most crucial trait that sets teachers like Miss. Johnson apart, are their abilities to adapt and innovate. If one technique of reinforcement doesn't work, they try another, and another, until they get through to the students. They never give up, nor do they keep butting against a dead end. They have the right knowledge of psychology to apply them at the right instances. In the journey, they erase the line between them and the students, get accepted as one among them, while still commanding respect and admiration. They realize that forging such a bond of trust and acceptance is a culmination of plenty of tiny steps, and they patiently work on their steps like dribbles of water trying to erode a stone. Tagore says, "Not hammer-strokes, but dance of the water, sings the pebbles into perfection."

But not every story is a success. She relates her experiences of students with whom she could never reach through. The bitter truth dawns - we can't help somebody who does not want to be helped. No matter how far we reach out into the waters, we can't pull someone out unless they try to hold onto our hand. Parents and guardians also play a significant role. Without any cooperation from them, some students continue to deteriorate. Despite such emotionally draining experiences, Miss. Johnson has still not given up. She continues to help hundreds of kids make a decent life. I truly envy such a satisfying profession, wherein one can retire to bed with the contentment of having touched someone in a significantly meaningful way.
In Miss. Johnson's words, "For every student who slips through the cracks, a dozen or two dozen step over the cracks and walk out of high school with a diploma in one hand and a dream in the other. It's these kids - the ones you don't read about in the newspapers because good news doesn't sell - who keep me coming back every year to my lopsided wooden desk, my crumbling bulletin boards, my outdated textbooks, and my own handful of dreams."
My lofty (and often scoffed at) ambition is to be able to do something as constructive with my life and career. Stories such as these galvanize and encourage it further.

Through the book, she also highlights the discrimination, unnecessary politics, power play and stagnant policies present in schools. Constrained by rules, policies and skeptic higher authorities, she has to fight many battles for her students. Each battle reiterates her commitment towards her students. As a former journalist and an English teacher, Miss. Johnson's writing is impeccable. Her words are touched with humor and insight. Her frustrations are palpable. Her genuine care and persistent dedication to help students advance in their courses, and in their lives, make us reminisce on our favorite teachers who made a difference to our lives.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Reflections: Play Therapy

A few months back I read the deeply moving book - Dibs In Search of Self; a true story of an emotionally withdrawn, socially maladjusted boy, who after being rejected and ruled off as mentally deficient, recovered himself with the help of Play Therapy. Play Therapy is the pioneering work of Dr. Virginia Axline, a developmental psychologist. Dibs' story was not geared towards an academic (or uber-curious) audience, and consequently, there was very little elaboration on the principles behind Play Therapy and the reasons for its purported success. It seemed miraculous that a young boy such as Dibs, who was already pained with so many emotional problems, could learn to accept and take responsibility of himself and his life through a seemingly "simple" string of therapeutic encounters, which enabled him to vent and express himself through his most convenient medium of expression - play. Hence I had earmarked to read Dr. Axline's seminal book on Play Therapy to understand its roots, and I'm glad I took the effort to read this book. It has convincingly answered my questions and has turned me over into a fervent believer of this therapeutic principle.

Dr. Axline has comprehensively explored the principles of Play Therapy, shedding ample light on its theoretical foundations. She also details the explicit roles and attitude that the therapist/teacher needs to take, provides recommendations on how to set up a playroom and the kinds and range of toys that would afford the suitable medium of play. Finally, she has included an array of case studies with annotated notes on important turning points, explanations and critiques on the therapists' responses and insights on the child's verbalization, all of which cohesively come together to offer a holistic understanding of the therapeutic principles and procedures. What impressed me is Dr. Axline's open-minded discussion. She doesn't thrust, tout or campaign for this therapy. She discuses limitations, addresses concerns and questions that the reader would have, in an unbiased manner. Her annotated notes on archived case studies were extremely helpful in distinguishing which aspects were poorly handled by the therapist and which responses were aptly handled and why. The book includes over 10 case studies, each of which focuses on a unique challenge with a child. The successful cases reinstate the import and potential of Play Therapy.

The Principle
Adults make sense of their world by writing, talking, communicating. We verbalize our thoughts to express ourselves. Children are not linguistically mature enough to do this. But their behavior is a transparent expression of themselves. And a natural medium such as playing, gives them a channel to express themselves. At its core, Play Therapy is based on the principle of Non-Directive Therapy. The therapist does not attempt to lead the child, the child leads the therapist. The therapist does not correct, encourage, persuade, discipline, probe, question, or instruct the child. She attempts to provide a neutral atmosphere, wherein the child is accepted as s/he is. This is the most crucial cornerstone of this therapy. However, this doesn't imply that the therapist plays a passive role. She plays a very active role and participates in the child's dialogue and play, but doesn't direct the child in any way. If the child exhibits aggressive behavior and thrashes a doll, yells, swears, rolls on the ground, splashes paint or water, the therapist does not try to reprimand or discipline. Neither should she compliment and encourage a child if s/he painted a wonderful picture. This seems absolutely contradictory to what we are used to. So what does the therapist do? She lets the child vent out his/her emotions without attempting to stop the flow. The therapist's most important role is to reflect each of these emotions back to the child. If the child says, "I want to kill my dad", the therapist reflects the emotion back to the child, "You are angry with your dad that you want to kill him". Beneath every surface-level aggressive and "inappropriate" behavior lies deeper problems. It's incredulous, but such honest reflection of the child's emotions and feelings, and an open acceptance of the child, go a long way in helping the child excavate deeper problems, such that s/he trusts the therapist enough to share/verbalize them. This same child, after venting his surface emotions, ventures to say, "I don't really mean to kill him. But he is just so mean to me. I wish he comes to see me sometime." I am not making this up. Case after case discussed in this book teems with such revelations.

Children who are sent to therapy are not meant to be "fixed". The goal is not to change them, or discipline them. The goal is to comprehend what their inner turmoil is, and let the child face his problems and accept them. It might seem miraculous and impossible that a child can accept his problems just by confronting them through the therapists' reflections of his behavior. But it has been shown to work. And there are plenty of reasons why it works.
  1. Each of us have the urge for self-realization within us. There is a force within us trying to understand ourselves and the world around us better and struggles to adapt to it. It's the simple law of nature. Growing children have this spurt of curiosity and resilience to survive that is much vigorous in spirit. It wants to learn, to grow and adapt. Play therapy is one medium that gives the spirit free rein to be expressed, without being constrained by rules.
  2. Young children require very little out of life. They want love, warmth and acceptance. No fight is taken seriously, no word is uttered to intentionally hurt, and no thoughts harbor any ill towards anyone. They are at a stage where they are innocent and forgiving, if given a chance. When they are accepted completely for who they are, their defenses break and they truly confront their emotions. Once they deal with their emotions, the release helps them move on.
  3. Acceptance and approval are not the same. A child who says he wants to kill, is not approved or encouraged, but is merely accepted, despite the statement. There is an ocean of a difference between the two. A disturbed and traumatized child does not come to therapy to be disciplined and questioned. The therapist first needs to establish a bond with the child, without emotional attachment. When do we bond with friends? When we are accepted non-judgmentally. Whom are we willing to share our problems with? A person who listens and lets us express ourselves. When do we withdraw into our shells? When we are not given the respect and consideration to make our choices and are constantly told what to do. Don't these translate to children as well? They very well do.
  4. In the heat of an argument we utter many things and teeter on the verge of violence. But if those emotions and sentences are reflected to us and when the heat cools off, do we really mean those words? Our problems were deeper. But confronting our every own strong emotions, shocks us and it helps us introspect. Children are capable of this too. The time it takes and the means through which they understand about themselves is different. The fundamental problem is the adult's skepticism that children are capable of accepting and dealing with their problems. They do. The book shows numerous real-life examples. It is vital that we have faith in them.
Does this mean children should never be given any positive reinforcement and should never be disciplined? No. It only means that every once in a while, it pays to let the child explore himself without violations. It will help the parent/teacher learn more about the child, and the child will learn more about himself, if his emotions are deftly reflected to him. It is also unrealistic for a parent or anyone who is emotionally attached to the child to play the role of a therapist and bring in an unbiased exocentric view of the child's problems. A parent who hears her child's open confessions cannot deal with them objectively. It is also shown to lead to devastating consequences if the therapist emotionally bonds, supports and reassures the child. It is common for an emotionally deprived child to get emotionally dependent on the therapist. And it's quite natural and humane for a therapist to want to reciprocate. But the harsh truth is that when the child says, "Take me home with you, you said you love me", the therapist cannot fulfill the child's requests. In a sense she fails to live up to her promises to the child and the child is severely hurt yet again, and it opens a can of complications when it comes to severing this dependence. Such a therapy is futile. Children who are abandoned and who switch between foster homes have a bleak reality to face. The objective is to help them face, accept and adapt to their circumstances. The therapy teaches them to be independent and to be socially adaptive survivors. It instills responsibility in the child by providing confidence in his abilities and respect for him as an individual.

There are limitations to this therapy - the question of when to end therapy, and how to help children sustain their understanding of themselves, remain primary concerns. But there is no doubt that this technique holds immense potential to help children. The case studies are so heart-wrenching that I couldn't hold back my tears while reading. But each case history also carries with it immense hope for all the millions of unfortunate children the world over. It is a cry of hope for our future.

Dr. Axline's writing is empathetic, perceptive and beautiful, heightening the impact of this book. I know I haven't done justice in articulating my thoughts on this book and this therapeutic principle, but I can't emphasize enough how valuable this book is for parents and teachers.