PAM: Welcome. I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca. And today I’m here with Roop Bhadury. Hi, Roop.
ROOP: Hi Pam.
PAM: So just as a brief introduction, Roop is an unschooling dad with two children. His wife, Susan was on the podcast a little while ago (EU220), and I will share that link in the show notes, but I’m really happy Roop has chosen to join us to share his experience. I thought that it would be lovely having the two perspective, the two lenses on it.
To get us started, can you just share a bit about you and your family and the brief introduction?
ROOP: Sure, Pam. So, we’re a family of four. I met Susan, almost 19 years ago now, it was 2001, so yeah more than 19 years ago. And we’ve had a very loving, extremely communicative sort of journey together. It’s the best way I can put it. We’ve always communicated deeply. We’ve always disagreed strongly. We’ve also always agreed strongly as well. And, what’s been, I think the defining part of my last, nearly 20 years with Susan is, is really the ability to nut out the things that we disagree on and the magic that happens when you realize that all the bigger picture stuff you’re already on the same page with.
So, that’s been a real bonus. We might disagree on the smaller stuff, but we’ve never really had problems with the bigger stuff. So, it’s been a real pleasure that way and we’ve grown together in the last 20 years. We have these two amazing kids, in this photo behind me.
Krishna and Nishika and, I believe Susan would have shared, we lost a baby along the way. Our very first, boy that we were going to have. So, we’ve had a bunch of challenges along the way. We lost my mum to multiple myeloma, around the same time. And, one of my ventures, it seems odd to mention a startup with human life, but it’s one of those things where when you’re starting something, a startup isn’t supposed to survive as most startups fail, as we know. But that was another one of those things happened as well. We went through a phase where we had a lot of challenges, but together we came through and then Nishika came to our life, and then Krishna a few years after. It’s been a very fulfilling, happy, loving, challenging sort of all-encompassing journey. And here we are and I couldn’t ask for anything more in my life.
PAM: I love the way you described that Roop. I mean it, and it is really important to take those moments. Like you were saying how you know, bigger picture, you guys have always agreed on that aspect. And when you’re deep into a challenge, it’s really helpful and important to pull back a bit and remember those things, those connecting pieces. It helps you move through those moments
ROOP: Very much so, Pam and that’s one of the keys. When I think of our relationship and our family and everything else, the somewhat unusual life. And I’m sure Susan’s shared some of that with you, but, being an entrepreneur, being a career entrepreneur has its, weirdness. It’s not super structured, but it can be ridiculously structured one day, very unstructured the other and to have a family that you’re able to be on the same page with more often than not.
And to have the communication toolkit amongst ourselves to be able to constantly recalibrate whenever there is a disconnect or there is something that goes out of sync, to have that ability to do that as a family, has been the difference between sanity and insanity. It’s been brilliant
PAM: And I will encourage people to go back and listen to Susan’s episode because she did talk about the entrepreneurial lifestyle as well, and her shifts to understanding it better, which helped her understand you better as well, like as a human being and what drove you and how that, lifestyle meshes so well with you as a person and your personality.
I wondered if you could dive in a bit more, because you touched on the importance of the communication, and those skills. I’d love if you could speak more about that.
ROOP: Sure, sure. Pam. So, a key sort of bulwark that our relationship has been built on, has been the ability to call what we see and say it in a non-confrontational way.
There is no question that we’re all on the same team. There’s this old quote that’s from politics. It’s got nothing to do with this, but you’ll get what I’m trying to say. It says that I may disagree with you, but I will fight to the death to defend your right to disagree with me. That’s one of the bulwarks of democracy, one of the underpinnings of freedom of expression, freedom of speech. It’s a weird segue, but having a relationship where you respect the ability to communicate, the ability to disagree and not have that cloud, the overall fabric of that relationship has been critical to our being able to raise a nurturing family, to be able to, have a loving household.
To get a little bit more specific, I know I’m talking in generalities here still, to get a bit more specific. I remember two instances, if you don’t mind indulging me, one of them, was right after one of my earlier ventures had finished up and it wasn’t a great outcome. We had lost a bunch of money. We came awfully close to making it, but in tech it’s sort of winner takes all as, as you might know. And so, at the end of that, it was a significant length of time during which all the also lost a baby. We also lost my mother and all of that. And that was one of the most challenging phases of our life.
But right after that, we went through a short phase where everything was up for questioning. The decisions I took in the venture, the sort of quality of those decisions then leaked into other things. Are there other parts of my decision making I need to examine and that created some semblance of friction between me and Susan for a little bit.
And I know now, if we didn’t have the ability to take a step back and discuss, not just that bigger picture stuff, but when the going gets tough, the ability to get down to specifics and then really tease out the underlying reason for that, that sort of equation that sort of dynamic that was starting to form between Susan and myself. We went from to a point where I felt that I was being judged for a while. We’ve talked about it multiple times now, Susan sort of unbeknownst to her, to be fair, at that time, she sort of ended up judging me for a bit. And then the key bit was that we kept talking, we kept discussing and we kept discussing and got to a point where we, we both sort of realized that this is our life. This is who I am. This is the person she loves as well.
And so, we can choose to make more surface level judgments but ultimately it comes back to a decision, right? You have to decide to trust yourself. You have to decide to trust your partner. And we got to that point fairly quickly. It was a matter of months, really, not even a year in our life. It was a matter of months where we got to that and to the point that when I decided to start another thing, Susan was the one that prevented me from second guessing myself.
I was more tentative. I was always sort of caught between this idea of should I, or should I not, should I go to a regular job. I remember distinctly, she telling me one day, sitting me down and saying that “You’ve got to accept that you’re an entrepreneur, this is who you are. I have accepted that. I had a slight wobble in that acceptance journey. I have accepted it, but it’s important that you accept yourself the way you are without that, no amount of acceptance that I have is not going to get us to that next plane.” And so, that was an amazing sort of, outcome in our relationship.
And so that was one really key inflection point I felt. And then other was only a couple of years ago when we were, again, hitting a little bit of a rough patch. We were in San Francisco. I had decided that we will be spending a bit of time in the Bay area, with the venture. And then, I had a bit of a crisis of belief that we again discussed and got to a point where, again, it was Susan that came around and said, “No, no, we’re doing this. We’re not going to constantly second guess ourselves.”
And there’s this old thing that we say in Indian movies, like Bollywood, if you like, that says that, “It’ll all be fine in the end and if it’s not fine yet, that means the movie isn’t over yet.”
PAM: I love that.
ROOP: So it has to be fine in the end, because if it isn’t fine, that means the movie isn’t over. So just keep watching.
PAM: Oh, I love that. That is inspirational as in you keep going.
ROOP: Absolutely. Absolutely.
PAM: What jumped out at me, in your stories, which thank you very much for sharing, was how important it is to keep digging. Like you talked about when we’re on the surface, it’s so easy to stay there and to just say this is how it is. And keep those judgmental lenses because, conventionally, that is kind of the life that we’re shown, right? People are just busy, they’re doing their thing. They’re following their path. They clash, sometimes they clash with people. Sometimes they get along. But so much of it is at that surface, but when you dig deeper, that’s when you can actually find where, the conflict or just the disconnect is. And so, so often it’s a misunderstanding, maybe it’s as you said, a lot of that journey of that first story was Susan understanding who you are as a person and, and how being an entrepreneur meshes so well with who you are as a human being. But that took a lot of digging for her and you as well.
PAM: Yeah, and we talk about that on the unschooling journey, how on the surface you can understand intellectually what unschooling is and implement that lifestyle in your family, but to truly understand it and to help it thrive, you need to dig deeper. You need to truly understand your children, your partner, how unschooling work so that you can support that lifestyle even better, it’s so much richer when you dig deeper into the details. Isn’t it?
ROOP: Of course, of course. And it’s one of those things, right?
You can’t live life as a series of Instagram photos. That’s not life, your best life is all of the messy bits and even the great bits have messy bits. So, it’s about embracing the whole organism of life rather than the little vertical snapshots that’s people often get seduced by.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah. I still remember that time, on my journey where I realized that my life wasn’t trying to get rid of the messy bits or have less messy bits so I could finally have this good life.
At first that’s it, you’re striving for this good life. All those messy bits are bad things. But the realization that they are just as valuable, that they’re all part of a wonderful full life. The messy bits are just as valuable. We learned so much there, about ourselves, about the people in our lives, about the world that it’s just so valuable. Life encompasses both, rather than striving to get rid of one to have just the other.
So, yeah, I love that.
ROOP: Of course, of course.
PAM: When we connected, you shared some topics that you’d be interested in touching on. And I was really struck by the language you used. I loved it. So, I wanted to stay with your wording.
I would love to hear your thoughts on your first point, which was about curiosity and guard rails, and do they complement or compete?
ROOP: Yeah,thanks for bringing that up again, Pam. when you emailed me about having me on and asked if there were things that I want to discuss and bring up, I went through and I thought, ‘Well, what are the, sort of key markers that we’re experiencing as a family, I’m certainly, experiencing as a dad and as a person?’ And some of this stuff was connected to unschooling, but also in, by definition, connected to who we are and who I am as a person because unschooling and being an entrepreneur, sort of goes really well together. I started looking at it from that perspective as to why are we here? How did we get here?
I was raised in a certain way, by my parents and my grandparents had a strong influence on both on my father and mother’s side. And one of the key things that I, grew up with was this idea of basically never losing the ability to nurture your curiosity. I remember my father telling me multiple times, so many times, I’m sure he read it somewhere, but it’s one of those things.
“In life, always be careful to get what you like or else you will be forced to like what you get.”
It was one of those things, and that’s combined with the idea of just being led by wonder, being led by that particular bright star that particular phenomenon that interests you. That’s sort of defined in whatever way or formed me and us and our family.
But then all around us there are frameworks all around us. There is regimentation. And so, Susan and I went for a walk today, just to the grocery store actually and we were talking about something and she was telling me how, her way of preparing for this call and my way of preparing for this call was so different. She had notes and made notes, and I had no notes, I have made zero notes. And so, she’s like, this is so you, but I’m sort of thinking about it.
I’ve been thinking about it for the last three days. I just didn’t write it.
And so, we were talking about something where I remember saying that regimentation is the enemy of creativity.
And that speaks to this point again, is at what point, and I understand the value of having certain parameters within which we move, perhaps that’s just called society, I suppose. Having some parameters and people talk in terms of a social contract and things like that, especially with everything that’s happened with black lives matters and so on. The idea of a social conscious tracks, that you get something from society and you give something back in return.
But if you expand and that, the idea of general parameters that you live life by and you pursue happiness, pursue your sense of wonder, the debate that’s in my head always is at what point do those relative parameters need to be completely gotten rid of, or do they help you stay in a certain track or do you need little exit ramps? ust like on a motorway, right?
In many ways, it’s life journey and you’re on the motorway. You need on ramps and off ramps. Where if you want to take a detour, so it was just that thought that was quite interesting. Not in terms of having a right or wrong answer here, but the idea of at what point do we need breaks in those guardrails. Breaks which allow you to sort of exit out and then explore some other journeys, some other motorway, perhaps, and thinking of life’s journeys being the crisscrossing of multiple expressways. Or it’s just a really boring road analogy. That’s probably the way I interpret this, you know? Does that make sense?
PAM: It makes so much sense. It really does. I love that. I love that analogy, that image, the idea. I love the idea of, societies or conventional wisdom, et cetera, as those guardrails. When we’re exploring by wonder, I love that word wonder, and curiosity to me has always been, a beautiful way to wake up and pursue our days. What am I curious about? That star, following the star because that is so unique to the person. And that is a shiny aspect of unschooling, right? Is that’s what we’re nurturing and that’s what we’re supporting versus, the curriculum kind of structure and control that that is not individualized.
I was just thinking about when you’re bumping up against the guard rails, it’s really interesting to think, do we have, off-ramps do we kind of choose where off-ramps are, because another aspect too, of when you’re following your star, your curiosity, how that changes. How your path can weave here and there, you can be leaving some things behind, moving on to other things. And we learned so much when we bumped against the guard rail and back to what we were talking about at the beginning, we dive deeper, right? Understanding how we’re meshing with that guard rail.
Is that guard rail keeping up safe or is it, keeping us safe and in the lane way, or do we feel it’s important enough for us to hop the guard rail or open an off ramp because we want to go exploring a little bit off the beaten path? It’s just, it is a great analogy.
And what a cool way to think about when we bump up against those more conventional norms, those social contracts, because unschooling isn’t about tossing everything. It’s not a reaction to conventional wisdom. It’s all about seeing which pieces fit well for me as a person for who I want to be as a person.
Because we’re always growing, changing and learning. So, it’s super valuable to notice when you’re bumping up against things and to take that time, to dive deeper and understand it because then you can truly choose instead of being a reaction to something. You can actually make the choice. Does that makes sense?
ROOP: Absolutely. Absolutely. I remember a couple of things that I’ll just share with you quickly. Pam, something again around guardrails and around rejecting guardrails where they don’t suit your journey, and you sort of making your own exits, if you like.
I remember my mom and again I was very close to my mom. She passed away when she was only 59 and but I was very close to her and she used to tell me something that left an indelible mark in how I’ve grown up and who I’ve grown up to be so far. She said,
“Look, if you think of yourself as a creature in a jungle, in a forest, we’re all in this world. If you had to ever pick an animal to be, I wish you would pick an elephant.” And here’s a reason, she said, “People talk about the lion being the King of the jungle, but an elephant follows no one’s path. Wherever the elephant goes, it creates a path for everything else to follow. So, be the elephant.” Because what she was basically saying is make your own way and, you create the guard rails for others to follow.
There was a lesson in leadership and all of that but that really stayed with me pretty strongly. This idea of pursuing your journey rather than just following someone else’s. And that’s sort of, again, along with this idea of pursuing curiosity and, and so on, I thought I’d mentioned it along with this conversation.
PAM: That’s beautiful. Yeah. Oh, I love all these little pieces, and I’m just imagining you growing up with, you’re just sharing a few of those messages that you’ve got, and it sounds fascinating. What beautiful lessons, they’re the ones you absorbed. I’m sure there were other things that weren’t retained. Those are the ones that resonated and you brought them forward. So, that’s beautiful.
ROOP: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And I mean, as you get older, we all say this, right. As you get older, you realize that as you become a parent, you realize that your parents were pretty wise really. You may not have thought of that when you were 16, but, all of these things that have been in your subconscious that have really guided you in your life, they sort of come to the fore because now you’re in parenting your now you’re the person that is hopefully adding some value to your children’s life and providing them some markers, that hopefully they will remember one day.
PAM: Yeah, no, that’s beautiful. That’s beautiful.
Next you mentioned positive and negative empathy, and I thought that was really interesting. I hadn’t heard it framed that way. So, can you describe what you mean and share how you see those playing out?
ROOP: Sure. Empathy is generally viewed as a positive term. When you think of empathy or being empathetic, there is implied positivity to that term, to the way that we interpret that emotion. There is some research, if you look at some psych literature, I remember reading an article somewhere that negative empathy is still viewed as a positive thing in a sense that you’re so overwhelmed by identifying with someone that it negatively affects you.
But that’s not the context in which I was mentioning this, the way I’m referring to this as there’s some research that’s of late, that looks at emotion and how people can interpret and manipulate emotion. And that’s how some of this, new terminology around positive, negative empathy is starting to emerge. You know the saying “With great power comes great responsibility.” From spiderman.
So, if you’re a deeply empathetic person, but you have extremely high emotional intelligence and you’re able to read the other person’s emotional state you’re able to assess where they’re at. The great leaders in business and otherwise have that skill, but you can then use that for good or use that to manipulate. And I find unschooling is a journey of rejecting the ability because with children you’re so in tune, if you’re trying to be on that unschooling journey, you know almost by the time your child gets up in the morning, what kind of a mood they’re in, so it’s the idea of progressively rejecting the inherent ability that parents have to modify their child’s behavior because of that deep emotional imbalance that actually exists in that equation. It’s not quite a power imbalance. You can call it that, but it’s really this emotive imbalance, right?
The child’s emotions are a reflection of you in so many ways. And, if you’re in a cranky mood, your child’s in a cranky mood. So, being able to identify with your child’s emotions and then deliberately and consciously, divorcing yourselves from the ability to influence your child because it will make you happy as a parent.
So, the child knows that, then they try to comply and it builds a lifetime of resentment. So, being aware of that at a hyper level, being extremely empathetic and being aware of this really, it’s a very subtle thing.
You can flick a little switch and the child will follow your lead. Or you can choose to not flick that switch and let your child explore their own emotional journey with you.
So, that’s kind of what I was trying to allude to in life in general, but also specifically on how that can apply to a family setting with children.
PAM: Oh, I love the way you described that. I really do. And it’s really true. And I think that’s why, I have taken to describing our relationship, as the dance of parenting because it’s like, who’s leading in that moment. Sometimes you are connected that deeply, that is what we’re looking for, what we’re wanting with unschooling and just as parents in general. Even, you know what, like you said, bigger picture even if school happens to be in the picture. This relationship with our children is a wonderful place to be. And sometimes when you’re there, like you said, there’s that little switch you can flip, but there’s also understanding from your child’s perspective, what they’re looking for.
Sometimes they would like you to leave. They would like you to flip that and fall away. But as a parent and I love the way you brought power into it and spoke about how it’s not so much about the power per se, but to understand that we have that ability, to manipulate. And I love the way you put it in those terms, because I think that can help people better understand it.
I talk about it as, looking through our children’s eyes, because it’s so easy, relatively easy for us to put ourselves in their position and put myself in their shoes. But then I’m still looking through my lens of what I think is good for me. My next step would going in this direction.
So, that’s more comfortable for me. That is what I would judge as better because that’s what I would do in this situation. And if you don’t take that step to remove yourself and actually look through their eyes, and knowing their personality, their goals, their aspirations, their strengths, and their challenges. It can be a step in a completely different direction. A step that works best for them. And to tease that out and understand that difference so that we’re not influencing. And like you said, eventually building resentment because they’ve been subtly following your path rather than really discovering for themselves what steps they would like to take, what experiences they would like to have and because that’s where their best learning is too. Because this is the choice that they would like to make. And as parent we can get in the way.
ROOP: Absolutely. Pam, I was discussing this only today. Susan and I were talking about it. She was saying, “I’m wondering what my interests are.” Sometimes because I’m a bit of a geek, I’m a nerd, I’ll dive into computing. I’m a bit of a tech nerd, it looks on the surface that I have a bunch of interests and because Susan, after a decade of being a professional is now raising our family and do I think is doing an incredible job. And I’m, as far as possible, a willing participant.
When she asked me that, I said, “Are you happy?” I mean, the question is simply, are you happy? The answer was “Yes.”
We’re happy, happiness cannot come if you’re not pursuing your interests.
It’s the social conditioning we grew up with. What are your interests? So, I mean, I remember as a kid, people ask, “What are you interests?” I don’t know. And like how many, how many eight-year-olds know. What are your interests? What do you want to be when you grow up?
To accept that, if we’re happy and if we’re enjoying ourselves, if we’re looking forward to the day, then it must be that we are doing interesting things. Things that interest us. It doesn’t matter whether we can name our interests.
I remember writing on a blog many, many moons ago now about describing me at that time. I had to write about me. I was going, I don’t know, this is like nearly 20 years ago. I would just find interest in interesting things and that just rings true even today.
I just find interest in whatever interests me and it doesn’t matter that we are defining it or not. And if we can imbue that in our kids as well, pursue an interest, but don’t worry about labels, see if you are happy. Well, that means you must be doing interesting things.
PAM: I love that. I love that because we are so apt to label things. And one thing wanting to have that label, so that we know what to do next. But no, it’s back to the details, right? It doesn’t matter the overall surface, the naming of the thing. It’s that what next little choice feels more fun to you?
Often, I’ll just bring it back to fun. So often, I’ll sign off on emails, “Just have fun. Have fun with it, play with it.” It’s all about what seems fun in the moment, the next little thing, whatever it is. When you can label it, I think is when is looking back. And I think of it as a thread, especially with kids, but with ourselves too.
When I look back now, at what I chose to take in school, what I chose to learn about, what jobs I had over time and then the choice for parenting and staying home. They all seem very different, but I can see the thread of that interest of that curiosity that wove through all those seemingly disparate things. So, it’s not about the label and the thread in the moment, in the moment, it’s like, “That looks interesting.” Later you’ll see why that was interesting to you personally, but it doesn’t matter in the moment though.
ROOP: No, it doesn’t. You just reminded me of this very famous commencement speech that Steve Jobs gave at Stanford. I don’t know if you’ve watched it, if you haven’t, I’d highly recommend watching it and he talks about this very thing on how he dropped out of university, but dropped in to whatever interested him and took calligraphy classes that he found really interesting at the time. Because he says you cannot connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect the dots, looking backwards.
So, get rid of dogma, just let go, and be driven by your interest by your curiosity and trust that it will come together. That’s just magical.
PAM: Yes. I have come across that speech. And I used it a couple of times when I was talking about that. And also I love his quote about creativity and creative people, how creative people just have had experiences and more time to just let them simmer. I’m butchering it, so that new connections are made between those different things. And I was struck by how close that meshed with unschooling when you’re following their curiosity, not needing to name it, but in the moment, they’re just going for experiences that seem interesting to them.
ROOP: Right. Absolutely.
PAM: They’re collecting, they’ve got the time to collect all these different experiences and they also have the time to lie on the couch. That’s the thing though, those just bubble up in new ways for them. That’s creativity.
ROOP: Absolutely. If we all were able to nurture this little fragile thing that where the metaphor really is of being like children on a beach collecting colorful pebbles or shells and things like that. And if that is how you pick up your knowledge, knowing that the beach itself is the vast universe of knowledge available that you could never collect at all and if you just ended up with your little bag of trinkets of things that were interesting and fun to you.
To me, we lose that too often. Kids lose that. Adults certainly do and if we can somehow nurture that all children are born with it. If we could somehow just nurture that little fragile thing of having that sense of wonder, looking at little shells, going wow. And never getting jaded, then we would have all done some good as parents.
PAM: Oh, I love that. I love that. And I think that might lead nicely into our next question, because you use the phrase creative chaos in play, and I love that image. And you know, we’re talking about creativity.
I love the image of building our own collection of trinkets. That’s so unique to us. It’s so much more valuable to a child, to a person, to a human, than somebody handing you stones, “Here’s your stones. These are the ones that I, as an adult, think that you should gather.” It’s just so clear how different that is. How valuable it is to have your own collection.
Creative chaos in play. How do you see that?
ROOP: So this is something that’s very close to my heart, Pam, a core idea, and it comes from again, and I keep alluding to my upbringing, my childhood, my parents influence and my grandparents, because I was blessed. I know that now, it was normal to me at the time, but I know that now through scores of interactions with my own peers and with Susan of course, but also my general professional and peers, as well as my other friends that, there were so many aspects to the lessons that were imparted to me, that unbeknownst to me became so much a part of me, I’m just so thankful for that.
One of those is this core idea of creativity and chaos being literally two sides of the same coin and it comes from a lot of ancient Indian philosophy. The idea of the dance of Shiva, as they say, without going all religious. The idea of Shiva being the God of destruction, because without destruction, there is no need for creation and without any creation, there is no need for preservation, hence the Trinity, and remove the religious connotation and that’s important I think in this context, the core idea of that destruction, creation, preservation, that is all around us. And that is inherent in how children play and how they learn.
When we look at our kids, they might build something whether it’s Lego. Like it was a really easy example here that we can be quite readily use and Lego as a company, I have deep respect for because of their serious play and all of the stuff that they do around play and, creativity, even for adults.
But if you look at how children play, they will spend hours free building something that is extremely valuable to them at that point. And then five days later, they’ll just break it. They’ll just make something completely different. And how many adults have you seen that are crafting a Magnum Opus that are going to go, you know, what, “Delete.” That just doesn’t happen.
As adults, we have these barnacles stuck onto us, that continue to weigh us down and make us less mobile, less agile in our thinking. I view that as barnacles, right? They encrust us in a way that prevents us from having this really nice natural flex that kids have.
And to me, that is magic. Anything that feels that magical that can connect ancient philosophies but a thousands of years to arrive at totally to go, ‘Well, every child has that. So there.’ So, then you go, well, child is the father of man, right? I mean, you know, it makes so much sense when you think of it that way.
PAM: Oh, geez. So, what jumped out for me when you were talking about that? I wrote a book called The Unschooling Journey and it follows the hero’s journey. And for me, the part of choosing a guide. So, typically in those stories, they’re older mentors, you know, you’re talking Obi wan Kenobi and Dumbledore, etc.
But for me on my journey, my guides were my children. When you think about it, like you said, children, they have beginner’s mind, they’re not acculturated. They don’t have the barnacles on them yet. So, they make wonderful guides as well and watching them, exactly what you’re talking about, building a big, huge block tower, and then kick it down. And then building another one like that. That taught me so much, to watch them in action and just to see what their choices were and to see how little they were affected by it.
It goes back to that. It’s part of the way that I’ve learned that all the messy pieces of life are wonderful pieces, too. Because they throw themselves right into every moment. So, if something goes wrong, they can be super upset about it. And five minutes later they can be on and joyful about something else. Like this is all life, that’s all flow. Isn’t it?
ROOP: Because kids are not encumbered by what I would like to call a completionist mindset. We were raised to believe that if you’ve started something, you need to finish it. It doesn’t matter that you’ve changed your mind, that now you want to go down a different rabbit hole, in the Wonderland of life, but no, you’ve started to see you finish it.
I think that’s a terrible thing. No, just pursue what makes you happy. Don’t worry about finishing things, we’ll all be dead one day. Let’s not find neat little drawers for everything. It doesn’t matter. Kids have that in their DNA. It’s within us. So, we just have to not stomp it out.
PAM: Exactly. Exactly. That’s what so much of it is. It’s not putting those things on them because they have such a wonderful approach. And when you hang out with older unschooled kids, you see that as they get older, you can see more and more difference because more conventionally raised kids, kids in school have started to take on those. I don’t know what you want to call it. That weight, really, to me, it feels like a weight, but that completionist attitude, that worry about what other people are thinking, that stay in your lane. You know, all the different images and analogies because we,
ROOP: Because society absolutely rewards completion rather than rewarding excellence, rather than rewarding curiosity. If you can try something and fail, you should be as celebrated for trying, because people are too afraid to try, you know? So, it’s things like that the kids have within them and that is so important to nurture. Anyway, I interjected.
PAM: Yeah, no, no, that’s exactly it. And Sir Ken Robinson’s talk about how schools and that conventional wisdom of parenting, kill creativity and curiosity, totally through the judging, through the grading, through the insistence on completion, through not celebrating the effort, even though they talk about it, but the way the system is set up for the grades and for the show your work and everything.
So, no matter what the words say, the system is still sending those messages because we absorb those messages just as well from our environment, from the framework that we’re living in, not just the things that we’re told.
ROOP: Yeah. We talk about it at home and I’ve shared this perspective, maybe not a very popular one, to our regular, non-unschooling friends as well. We talk about classical education, school education, and again, schools are trying, and I know that. There’s plenty of different schools that are trying different things.
But what has to be recognized is that mass education is the industrial revolution applied to education. Therefore, it’s not the best way to disseminate. It’s the cheapest way to disseminate mass education. So, it doesn’t matter whether it’s private school or public school, it doesn’t matter. It still comes back to, it is mass manufacturing, of so-called educated kids.
So, it’s time to question that, this is 300 years old, let’s go back to ancient civilizations. What did they do? How did they nurture? It wasn’t about, let’s put 500 people in the room. I’ve taught kids, I’ve taught them in university and there’d be a marketing course that’s a compulsory course. That’d be 400 bored kids that don’t want to be there. So it’s about recognizing, let’s move away from that industrial revolution, mass production mindset, producing educated kids is not the same as producing, 10,000 cans of beans.
It’s the same mindset, so it’s seems commonsensical, but yeah, here we are.
PAM: That’s a great point, how the system came about is very interesting and the realization, I think that’s part of the journey too, is realizing how relatively new that system is like you said, since the industrial revolution. You can understand how the system is, the way it is, because what its goal is. Its goal is to educate children but like you said, mass education of children anyway. I don’t want to get deep into that, but it is a valuable point when you’re choosing something different. We’re choosing of course, individualized nature versus, the more system-based mass nature. And then you get into the whole idea of that choice and figuring out ways to make that choice work for your family. You also see so many creative ways too, that families are making it work, just because if that becomes a priority, if it becomes a choice that they want, for their own family, it’s just as individual, how families make unschooling work for them. It’s just as unique and fun as it is for each of the kids too, right?
ROOP: Yeah, of course.
The last point you mentioned, “knowledge is free, pedagogy isn’t and its ongoing relevance.” I love the way you framed that. What are your thoughts around it? What were you thinking when you put that phrase together?
ROOP: There’s a quote. I think I forget who said it, it’s a really famous quote, Rousseau maybe, some French guy, I think it was, that says, “Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.” and, and I think that speaks to all limitations are in the mind. So, when I look at it, the pursuit of knowledge, and you think about universities, why did universities exist? Go back a thousand years, the world’s first modern university was in Italy, then go back even further.
Then you’ve had Eastern civilizations that have had some way of a university like teaching, before as well. But why did universities exist? Universities were the custodians of knowledge. They were the gatekeepers, as well as the creators and the custodians of available knowledge.
And then the last 30 years, for the first time in human history, we have access to the world’s knowledge, literally on our phones at the tip of our fingers, and yet we, are left with the vestiges of attributing value to *how* you acquired the knowledge, not the *knowledge* itself.
If you really think about it. Earlier going back 200, 400, 300 years, how you acquired your knowledge was connected to the fact that you couldn’t acquire knowledge in any other way. But now you have open curriculum, you have MIT giving away their resources. You have, if you go to tactical, a massive open online courses.
So, you have a Harvard giving away their curriculum and their lecture notes the whole bit. This is not even talking Google and Google searches and Wikipedia, right? I’m just saying, the structured custodians of knowledge in the world are readily giving away access to the knowledge.
Now they are trying to differentiate based on, well, you can have all of this information if you want it. If you want to learn, you should not be prevented from learning, but if you want to learn the way we want you to learn, then you pay money. And so, I find that transition is quite a significant one.
Knowledge itself should have inherent value. We’re still transitioning as a species now to realizing that should be enough. Not where you got that knowledge from and what is the evidence of that knowledge? And so that dichotomy is, not just interesting from an academic standpoint, but also, to me, that’s this transition that organizations, if they want to carry themselves through this transition, they will need to survive. Because the avalanche, the flood of knowledge, as an available thing is going to subsume them otherwise.
So, I feel the idea of knowledge being available to whoever cares to want to learn. As opposed to holding onto the old school that says, no, unless you went through these halls, your knowledge is not worth anything. That seems pretty archaic.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah. That’s a great point too. And you see also, we’ve seen on some company’s part them starting to take out the requirements for just a general college degree, focusing more on the knowledge itself.
Understanding now, that people are able to amass the knowledge themselves and that the beautiful thing about it is the people that have done that are the ones who are most interested in it. Because at this point now, if you’re not being feed it, you are taking it, you’re pursuing it and you’re bringing it in yourself.
So, imagine as a company, who would you want? Someone who was given the knowledge and then told there’s your next step apply for a job here or someone who’s interested enough, who’s chosen to learn those pieces and like you said, it’s all there. So, they’re actually choosing over other things to pursue this knowledge and starting to understand the value. I want that kind of person who is actually interested in the kinds of things that we’re doing as a company, not one who followed that guard railed path and just been told what they should do because the difference in the learning too is like night and day.
Sometimes, I think most often, because when you’re just learning what you’re told to learn, it’s not connecting with you as a person. So, it’s more, to me anyway, and looking back at my own career at school career, university I did well in engineering. But how much of that I learned and lost later because it wasn’t something that fed my soul.
It wasn’t something that I used every day. It wasn’t even when it went into an engineering position, I ended up within a few years, I was working in systems and computers, and designing systems. But in that engineering area supporting, the company, but it’s fascinating to see how that thread, talking about threads again, wove through so much.
And I took that whole degree and everything, which got me into a place, but I still navigated my way, not even consciously, but because that’s what I loved. So, I was really good at it. That is just where I went. And what, if we could let people do that right from the get go.
Just what are you curious about? Let’s pursue that.
PAM: And out we go into the world.
ROOP: Absolutely. Back to my own journey as a technical person. I’m a weird hybrid. I’m a marketer, as well as, I have an engineering background, but also some, weird, left and right side brain person.
So, I’m quite creative, artistic at the same time, I’m quite deeply logical. Which is an entire challenge in and of itself. But I realized a few years ago I wanted to delve into a specific kind of programming and I had never really been a hardcore programmer in my life. We’re talking, I’m 46 now.
When I was probably 42 or 41 when I thought, well, I find that really interesting. So, I got into statistical programming, turns out it’s called data science and turns out it’s a really cool skill to have. I had no idea, I wasn’t even thinking that I still, because I was doing a PhD at the time and speaking of pursuing different rabbit holes, I have. I spent four years across two PhDs without completing a single one of them, which is bizarre. Each time I ended up starting a company and I go, hold on, I’ll go to juggle both. And I realized that I’m just going to run the company but I decided I wanted to learn statistical programming because that was the most efficient way to do something. And before I knew it, I ended up starting a company that had that sort of thing baked into what we do from the get go. I had no idea. And this is, talk of teaching an old dog new tricks, right. Here I was doing fairly complex things, because I was interested in it.
And that comes back to availability of knowledge. I don’t care about the piece of paper that tells me I know, because I know, I know.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah. And tying that back unschooling and with our kids, because that’s one of the first questions you get when you’re unschooling. “Well, how do you know they’re learning? They still have to do tests, right?” Because that’s what’s so ingrained in people yet. We are with our kids, we’re seeing them in their days. We see what they know and not through asking them. It’s back to the interest. It’s not like, “Well, what are you interested in today, honey?” No, that’s more surface, that bigger picture level. It’s like, “What do you want to do today? How do you want to feel today?” It’s all about those, those little pieces, actually engaging in our days. It’s so fascinating to think of that difference.
ROOP: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. We won’t trust you that you’re passionate enough to know. We’ll give you 17 questions that will tell us everything we need to know about how much, you know,
PAM: Oh, no, that was like one of my favorite things, especially because sometimes kids also have, they have flows to their days as well. That’s the other lovely thing is that learning isn’t like in steady steps like you’re led to believe in school. You learn this thing today and the next thing tomorrow and the next day and tomorrow, and they’re pretty equal steps.
Whereas when you see kids as your guides to learning and action, it can be diving in deep and totally into it for hours at a time. Other days, it can look like lying on the couch and you’re just like zoning out and people start to worry, thinking they’re not doing anything, but they really, really are.
ROOP: Yeah. That baffles me though. That perspective baffles me, Pam, because being an entrepreneur, if someone told me every morning, 9:30 AM, I have to do the exact same, topical area, I’m going to go mental. I’m going to go crazy. There are times where I’ve done the best work I could have thought of at three in the morning. And there are times where I’ve done that at five in the morning. One being, I got up early, one being I stayed up late and there’ll be times where in the middle of the day, I’d be wondering around looking unsure and restless, but it doesn’t mean I’m not, do you know what I’m saying?
It’s going with whatever works at that time. It’s not about creating artificial regimentation and hoping it all fits in that timeframe. With kids, you can see that naturally, they know, sometimes they’re really productive in their own way and other times their minds are working. They don’t look that way, but it doesn’t matter. You got to trust that the human condition is designed to absorb, irrespective.
PAM: That’s beautiful. That’s beautiful because it really is. That’s where you get to, and that is how human beings. I’d say function, but that, that’s how they shine.
Without putting that control, that framework on top of them, they just naturally do. We are born to learn. We are naturally curious, as we said, it’s about not putting all this other weight, all this other, framework on top of them and letting them be the natural human beings that they are.
And it’s just amazing to watch. Which leads to the next question beautifully.
What’s your favorite thing about the flow of your unschooling days right now?
ROOP: Yeah, that’s a great question. I was mulling over that, earlier today. And there are so many things that I love about our unschooling journey. It’s actually hard to pick.
The obvious one is the gift of time. The flexibility and the ability to, it sort of goes together with my entrepreneurial journey actually, because it allows, because I have more flexible work hours and because my kids are around, I can take some time off in the middle of the day and we can go Pokemon hunting and we can come back and I can get back into work.
And I would not give that up for anything. I find the ability to have the best way to describe what it is that our structure, is the lack of it. And that is a magic to me because, it allows me to dip in to their life when I’m able to. And dip in and dip out because of my work as well, but allows me that flexibility to dip in and dip out.
And they also know that I’m around. I don’t have a door to my study. There is no door. So, I don’t have a dynamic in the house, where if I’m in the study, no one is allowed to come into the study because all the doors locked. Kids understand, kids will come in. Sometimes I’ll be in the middle of a call and Krishna will come in and say, hi. Why not? And so, I just love that kind of flexibility. So, time and flexibility is I think the best, gifts, of this journey.
PAM: Yeah. I have a call, called the gift of time because that’s what we were talking about, because that is something I think that in unschooling is so unique and it is a huge gift of this lifestyle, because that is something that we’re so often led to believe. We don’t have time. We need to keep busy. We need to be productive. All those things such as those completionist messages, that can that really do steal your time. And that time to do what we’re drawn to as a human being. I love how it all just goes full circle. Really it’s a lifestyle.
As an unschooling dad, what piece of advice would you like to share with dads that are just starting out on this journey?
ROOP: That’s another great question, Pam, I’ve given it some thought, ever since you said that. I suppose, in many ways, being on this journey, you sort of have those bits of advice whether solicited or unsolicited that you tend to hand out to people. And so this was about me sort of collating some of the bits that didn’t annoy people that much and going well, what can I share here that won’t irritate, some good advice.
PAM: You know, five years down the road, they go,’ Oh, now I know why he said that.’
ROOP: But you know, we, in my company, we talk about insight being inherently useless, actionable insight is the only thing that’s valuable.
So, in the spirit of actionable insight, since I do have something that can happen eight years down the track. Sure. But what can you do tomorrow and the next six months? I think that two key bits, one is, and I can’t stress this enough, but one is to actually delve into what this means, don’t expect everything to just happen magically.
This is the advantage that we have in this world today that if you have some intuition, backup intuition, and the curiosity that led to that intuition with actual knowledge, read, empower yourself with the knowledge that is available, as we’ve spoken. I think there are too many people that, and I’ve actually learnt a lot of that, especially in this journey and some other things around this from my wife.
Even the way we decided to have our babies and so on, so she would empower herself with knowledge that is readily available. So, if you have the curiosity to explore something and then you have some intuition around it, that’s all great. It’s a great starting point, but that does not make a successful journey in and of itself, because you can get frustrated and then you’re going well, it’s too hard I’m not going to do it.
So, read. Empower yourself, whether it’s this blog, post, this podcast series, your book, or a multitude of other resources available on the web around this idea. I think that’s really important and that’s something anyone can do. So not knowing, not going to a first principles approach, not empowering yourself with knowledge, there’s no excuse.
So, that’s one thing and the other, which is a bit more tactical that can be done without reading a lot of things, is deciding to trust your children more than you would otherwise be, given to doing. So, the instinct of parents often gets sort of mixed up with not allocating enough trust. And I think a big part of this journey is not to be protective, by all means being protective, that’s part of instinct that’s nature.
But also balancing your protectiveness, with allocating trust. It’s a very simple leadership thing that we do in companies. If I say that I trust that you will do this, that person is more likely to redeem that trust than if you are constantly second guessing. So, trusting your kids and knowing that they will fall down, but so do adults. I mean, adults fall down metaphorically all the time.
It’s not about avoiding error. It’s about trusting that we’re all looking to find the answer. And so, I think that is something that people can do literally overnight. You have to decide to do it. It’s a bit of a journey, but you can decide to do it every single time and the other is read.
PAM: Okay. So those were amazing.
ROOP: Thank you so much.
PAM: So, the trust piece, because I love the way you’re relating it and connecting it with your entrepreneurial, experience because it is about being human. Right? So much of unschooling is about diving in to, supporting and respecting who we are as human beings.
So much of that has been removed from our lives. Through all those control and protective aspects but taking that step to realize that this is how humans work, because it’s totally true, whether it’s with an adult or you don’t even need to use the words with children because it’s so innate.
But with adults use, I trust you. I trust that you’re going to do this, the handing this to you, and if you need help, just come ask. And that truly means I’m not going to come asking you every day or every two days, how’s it going? How’s it going? Because if there was a hiccup, you were going to come to me, right. Because we’ve given you that trust. You can totally know, children are so capable of that trust.
And you’ve set up a relationship where they’re good. They come to you when they need help or when they want help. And mistakes are not bad things anymore. Like we were talking about before, the messy bits are all part of life. That’s all how we learn.
ROOP: Right. We’re building a newsletter in our business and we call it “Win or Learn.” There is no third thing. So, either you win or you learn, you still learn either way, but you know, it’s taking away a negative connotation from lose.
There’s no such thing as losing, it’s always learning.
PAM: And those, that those learning pieces are how you tweak your path.
ROOP: Of course.
PAM: That’s how you’re figuring out your journey. You’re figuring out your next step and you only lose when you stop. Bringing that full circle, we were talking about, if it hasn’t worked out, keep going.
And then your piece about, learning and diving deeper. The first piece of advice I talk about, take the journey and that was part of the idea behind The Unschooling Journey book is because it is so important to keep learning about unschooling about, how this works about how human beings live life, because then you understand it. So, there’s the trust piece, but it’s not trust, like in the process without understanding it. You can say, ‘Okay, I want to take this path, but it’s also so important to keep learning about it. So, you understand it because then at that point it becomes a truth.
It becomes a point where you understand it enough that when a situation comes up, that you haven’t had before, you don’t know, you have to go running to other people for advice like, “Oh my gosh, this just happened. I don’t know what to do here.” But when you understand that lifestyle and just the relationships and the kind of parents you want to be, when you’ve done that thinking and that reading to really understand it, you can be in that moment and take that next step.
Not having to call a time out and go run out to, ‘Oh, I didn’t know about this. This is different than this little original piece. Now I’m stuck.’
ROOP: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, I get reminded of the quote again, growing up again. I mean, so many references to my childhood.
So, growing up in my study, my grandfather had a quote from the Buddha, framed on a big poster just above my study table on the wall. And it basically comes back to this question of trust and the idea of trust, but verify. It says, it said “Believe nothing merely because you have been told it or because your teacher said so, but only after verification do you find the truth and cling to it and take it as your guide.”
Something like that. And it’s so, so important, in all of this, no blind trust, that’s how you create cults. Trust, verify, empower and that’s sort of how it goes. So yeah, I just got reminded of that as you were talking.
PAM: I love that.
What I loved about doing that book was going out and finding other stories and seeing the same kind of language, written thousands of years ago, ideas, that fundamentally say the same things, because this is about being human. It really is, when you dig into unschooling, it’s really not about not going to school it’s so much more than that.
ROOP: Exactly. It’s a lifestyle. Absolutely. It’s a way of life.
PAM: Well, thank you so much Roop for taking the time to speak with me today. It was so much fun. I really appreciate it. Thank you. Thank you.
ROOP: You’re most welcome Pam and I thoroughly enjoyed the chat. I was entirely expecting to have a fun conversation with you and I think that’s exactly what I’ve had. It’s been a privilege. Thank you.
PAM: Well, thanks so much. And before we go, where might people get in touch with you online? If they’d like to connect.
ROOP: So, I can give you an email address. Roop@engag3d.com, but we spell it as E N G A G 3 d.com.
PAM: I’ll put it in the show notes. Well, thanks so much again, Roop, and have a wonderful evening.
ROOP: Thanks again, Pam, it was lovely.