Priming by Subhadra Jayaraman

“Be prepared” was the motto of the Bharat Scouts and Guides, a collection of students from all over India, selected, organized, and trained to face the natural world. We were taught how to sustain in the wild, away from the comforts of our homes – how to tie knots and set up tents, how to coexist with other people from all over the country, how to start a fire and cook in it, how to live minimally, how to entertain ourselves without TVs, iPads, and cell phones. There was a time during all those ten years when we wondered why and questioned where we would ever need to tie reef knots within a few seconds, when we would need to roast vegetables in fires we made, when we would need to climb trees and take refuge in them overnight.

The life most of us lived did not have an imperative requirement for any of those skills. We all were trained to think that this was a preparation for something that we would encounter in the future. The discipline helped mold us, the coexistence made us tolerant, the games and puzzles and hunts taught us strategy and teamwork. We were subconsciously being primed from an early age to tackle different situations that might arise later in our lives. The situations might not necessarily be life threatening or devastating, requiring us to be skillful with ropes and cables or scaling oily poles, but they would definitely warrant some amount of interpersonal and navigation skills. The fact that I barely remember any of those survival skills now, is a classic example of what comfort and availability can do to upturn years of careful training. Once I knew how to navigate woods with just a hand drawn map and with a few marked spots. Now I cannot even visit my dentist a few miles away without a GPS device. Once I knew how to light firewood with a single match and a scrap of paper and tend to the crackling fire for hours. Now I can barely light candles without a long snouted electric lighter. Was I not primed right? Or is priming and preparing only enough to ignite a short-term memory, to be erased by better things to come? Is priming obliterated when our situations change?

When we think we are teaching someone skills, we are probably missing the point that skills become obsolete if not used constantly. Memory plays a huge role in the kind of person one becomes. We likely used to be great at thermodynamic derivations in school and can’t remember the first thing about them now. We knew a lot of things, and now we just don’t. Everyone has some example or the other of that. Sometimes the alleged memory loss is just the lack of constant use, and a refresher might bring the stowed away memories leaping back. Sometimes, we just can’t believe we knew something and just can’t bring ourselves to recollect and use them like before.

Considering this, is it then fair to iterate that the only priming we need is to constantly expect to learn? And perhaps relearn? If children are trained in the idea that life will be a constant chain of learning, instead of telling them that learning stops after school and college and once they get jobs, they might probably learn to look at life in a different way when they grow up. Currently, life is set to a protocol that involves crammed learning from when you are four up until maybe twenty. And then use those things you learnt. But we learn too much and use too little. It’s impossible for someone to use everything they learned in school. We rejoice on graduation day that our days of learning are finally over – it is now time to go use it in the real world. Instead, maybe we should acknowledge that our institutionalized life of time-bound and tutor-driven learning is over, and we now go forth and learn from the world.

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