Friday, 13 March 2020

It's Viral! Is it Bona Fide?

Viral Through Socail Media

Years and years ago, someone dear to me told me about this miraculous thingamajig which would cure a whole range of illnesses. She told me that her mother was using it and feeling so much healthier for it. Soon enough, I took some of the brown fungus like stuff from her, soaked it in some water overnight and then drank the disgusting water each morning as if my life depended on consuming the foul-smelling and tasting stuff. If memory serves me right, I convinced quite a few people to start having the vile drink too. For a while there, we all thought we had found the elixir of youth and longevity! As you can imagine, the enthusiasm died after a while and everyone stopped drinking the ‘elixir’ and of course, each of us realized it wasn’t everything we thought it was. I don’t know of too many people who don’t get carried away by something they read, hear or believe and consequently end up indulging in the absurd or harmful.

I have pondered on this for a while, why do we blindly believe what we do? It probably has to do with how we feel about the person who is the source of information, or whenever the message suits our beliefs and agendas or maybe we end up following the masses. There are those who are masters in taking advantage of the vulnerability and weak spots of people and manipulate information to amuse themselves, feel powerful or fool people.

This passing craze for drinking the fungal tea for health and longevity was in a time before social media helped to spread news and information at the speed of light. In the present times, there is an abundance of graduates from what has come to be known by many, as WhatsApp university.  If we read it on platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter – it must be true. Furthermore, if someone we like or respect has posted it or forwarded it, it has to be gospel truth. If it is a prediction made by a supposed expert – then those who do not believe it are absolute fools. Things go viral in the blink of an eye.

There is no denying that viral news has its benefits, like an unknown artist getting due recognition because of viral posts. The thing we often forget is that viral is not bona fide.

Sometime ago, there was a WhatsApp post of an audio file along with the picture of the Sun; apparently the sound the Sun made was like the Hindu ‘Om’. All one had to do was go to the Nasa site and check the sound of Sun to know that this was a hoax.

That is all that is required in these times of a pandemic of mammoth proportions like COVID 19, it is even more important for us to avoid any sort of panic or false reassurances and rely on the authorities alone. All government bodies concerned are working overtime to do whatever they can and since we don’t know everything there is to know, it’s not just best, it is important to refrain from opining publicly.

It’s not to say that we should keep mum about our opinions and thoughts on what is obviously a grave situation that has brought the world to its knees. Speaking with those we are close to can and does allay our fears and helps in sharing legitimate and invaluable information. Airing our half-informed thoughts and experiences on Social media is another thing and is often damaging. Then there is mass hysteria, we go with what the crowd is doing, and uncontainable harm ensues, the Chicken Little Syndrome takes over.

While the main intent of this post of mine is to tell those who will care to listen not to spread or believe any old message about Corona Virus; there is much virtue in our validating all information that doesn’t originate from the authorities concerned. Just yesterday, somewhere in some village in India, some people buried thousands of live chickens because somebody informed them of chicken being the source of the ailment. That is the power of unvalidated information – it causes hysteria and uncontrollable fear.

If each of us stays focused on taking the right care, using reason and following the recommendations and instructions of the government bodies concerned I am sure we will be making the right choice.

Friday, 28 February 2020

Your Confidence, is it Noisy or Still?

Genuine Confidence

We all know that person who speaks frequently about how great she or he is, or at least conveys it loud and clear through anecdotes or social media posts. For a while, some may envy, admire or maybe even idolize such a person and wish they could be as confident. This is exactly what the ‘confident’ person wishes for and believes. Truth is, we make the most noise about those things that we ourselves need to believe but aren’t quite convinced of at some or the other level. It reminds one of male birds preening and displaying their plume to attract attention.

There is a depth and stillness that comes with genuine confidence, the knowledge that we are truly good at something. When a predatory animal sets its eyes on a prey, there comes a point when it feels sure that it will be able to make a killing. At that point, it feels aligned to its target and becomes perfectly still. This, according to me, is the stillness genuine confidence brings with it. Self-confident people don’t need to make any additional moves or noise, they have their eyes on their goal and go about the business of achieving it.

If we are really good at something, the end result speaks for itself and we do not need to brandish that skill or talent. The result of effort made to do the things that we are good at, is so fulfilling and satisfying that it becomes a huge reward in itself and the need for endorsement or appreciation is secondary.

You may have noted that I mention ‘things we are good at’. We need to concentrate on those things that we are good at, be it in a complex specialised area, a seemingly simple thing like flower arrangements or a character trait. The next thing is to accept that while there are some people who are multi-talented it is perfectly okay to be skilled at only one thing; just so long as we pursue it. The results will then be just as I spoke of a little earlier, incredibly satisfying! Needless to add, that’s the basis of self-confidence.

We are each one of us, born with some talent or ability that is exceptional. The crux of the problem lies in not realizing that exceptional quality. Some may be aware of the exceptional quality they have but feel that there are others who are better or that the quality is not significant enough. What I say is: so what if our area of skill or expertise is not unique? If we do our very best, something great will come out of it. Additionally, pouring our heart and soul into something that is innate results in passion and passion is the fuel that fires success. With success comes a depth and gravity that does not need noise or flash.

As for the way to identifying what it is that is our exceptional quality or skill, it is as much a matter of believing oneself as it is in a certain degree of reflection. It helps if parenting and nurturing leads us to know our true worth. However, it is not unusual for people to discover what they are good at much later in life.

In the area where I live, there is this guy who started selling tea from a tiny little shack, a very common small business in India. He is clearly very good at making tea and in a matter of a couple of years, he had branches all over town and now earns a phenomenal amount. He has a simple skill and made something remarkable out of it. I do not doubt that self confidence had a lot to do with his rise from the mundane to the extraordinary.

When we are confident about whatever it is that we are truly good with, we don’t care much about the things we are not so good with. Real confidence brings with it the understanding that we do not need to be perfect – we just need to be sincere and do our best.

Most of us will never be the top-most in whatever we do, just so long as we are doing our best, that is okay. Another thing that genuine confidence brings with it is little if any fear of failure; if things go wrong, we just need to try again. The predatory animal I mentioned earlier, does not always make a killing; that failure never deters it from trying again and succeeding. Besides, there is a lot to be learnt when things go wrong.

If we all remain determined to find, be proud of and make the best of our innate skill, the need to hide, make a show of it or fake it will vanish. Each one of us will be contended and satisfied with who we are. How wonderful it would be to be surrounded by people with genuine self-confidence!

Friday, 14 February 2020

From Utter Gloom to Sunshine with Fortitude

Stay on Track to reach the light from utter gloom

About a month ago I had written about how hitting Rock Bottom is an opportunity for a way that we may have otherwise not considered. I truly believe in this, but it involves far more than merely hitting upon an idea to start afresh and then moving ahead. 
When we have experienced hitting the lowest conceivable point, there is this battered feeling from which we never really recover. Even the strongest and most positive people do relive the feeling of utter despair at having lost so much. This feeling or at least the memory of it probably haunts most of us. When we roll up our sleeves and decide to try something entirely new, we need to approach it with burning passion. The battering that I just spoke of, can successfully douse the fire of this passion or bring us to the brink of giving up and sinking right back to the gloomy pit.

How then, do we remain focused and persevere? Speaking from personal experience, the trick is to identify a strong motivation. If, like I had suggested in my post of 17th January about hitting Rock Bottom being an opportunity, we find something that is truly our calling, all we have to do is keep in mind how this new venture excites us. 
If per chance, it is something that interests us or that which we are compelled to do, but not passionate about, it can be a challenge to rise from the ashes of disaster. There is a probability that the conflict between knowing we need to come out of the private hell we are in and not having enough inspiration to do so can weigh us down. The only thing to do then, is to remind ourselves that life at rock bottom is no life at all. Making a change from the lowest of lows can only be a good thing.

It takes a huge amount of perseverance and something that borders on obsession. Even more important is the belief that we are capable and deserve better than whatever misfortune we have recently faced. 

There are several factors that deter us from staying on the path of rising above rock bottom that we have ended up in. I would imagine that one of them is the fear of failure and what it will do to us. To my mind, the solution to this challenge is simple: There is no place lower than rock bottom. It may take a couple of attempts but we have been there and survived it. 

I know for a fact that a large number of people who have faced some sort of disaster start experiencing an almost irrevocable sense of defeat and helplessness. This is one of the biggest deterrents to any sort of advance. The mind set of ‘I can’t’ overshadows everything and is destructive. I would suggest that those who find themselves short on self-confidence seriously consider having a conversation with themselves. One may imagine that I am suggesting that we resort to borderline lunacy, I am not. Standing in front of a mirror and repeating something along the lines of ‘I am better than this’ or ‘I can rise above this’ will actually work. 

I know someone who has survived cancer and one of the procedures he underwent was to be injected with some sort of medicine that contained snake venom. It worked and several decades later, he is still around. That’s what it takes to bounce back, we need to find or create something that is as powerful as the thing that got us down. When I say create, I mean we find a reason and then build on it until it becomes a predominant part of us. 
Another thing to bear in mind is that we need to be selfish. Even if we have scores of people who truly care, no one really does as much as we care for ourselves. In order that we rise and walk into the sunshine once again, it is essential to remember that only we can make the switch that is vital to change for the better. We must do it for ourselves; in any case, when we pull ourselves out of the darkness, those whose lives we touch, will benefit too.

The process of reinventing ourselves from the inside out is a long process that requires a great deal of introspection followed by a greater deal of hard work and a relentless will to succeed. It is highly possible that some of those who are witness to this process may express their reservations or even think we are doing something harebrained. There are a multitude of reasons for it, the two that seem the most common to me are their own fear as well as suppressed envy. Regardless of the reason, we ought not to ever feel discouraged by how others view what we are doing, change is hard for many to accept. In fact, I would go so far as to say, we shouldn’t even care what anybody else thinks. We have a mission and we must see it through.

This post is for all those who struggle to come out of the dark and into the sunlight. You know that you have it in you to make the change – so begin today!

Friday, 31 January 2020

We Disagree, So What?

Agree to Disagree

Not far from where I live, is a set of apartments meant strictly for those whose religion allows them only a certain type of food. No one can bring in even a tiny morsel of food that has as much as a suggestion of the forbidden ingredients. I get why this residential pocket has this strange rule: it’s to guarantee that no one of this sect ever feels offended or uncomfortable, so that at least the place they call home is surrounded only by that which they are accepting of. This is exactly what I have a problem with. Why is it that their beliefs and way of life is okay and to be respected but not anyone else’s? Do the rest of us not measure up to their imagined standards? Are we lesser people?

This is just a small example of an inclination all of us tend to have within us, it is nothing new. We have always been unaccepting of that which we are neither familiar with nor believe in. Settlers and invaders arrived in new territories and if they were strong and powerful, the original residents were marginalised mainly because they lived in a way unfamiliar to the settlers and invaders. The instances of when the lot that arrived and then lived in harmony with the indigenous group, married their two cultures are far less than the overpowering of the milder group. 

This post is not about history or my views on the events in eras gone by. Based on the environment we grow up in or despite of it, we end up imbibing a set of values, beliefs and opinions. With time, it becomes a creed we live by. This could be about our faith, our political views and allegiances or our thoughts and convictions on how the various facets of everyday life must be lived.

Most of us opine on and judge everything and hold in disdain that which doesn’t reflect our way. Something that is as simple as colour schemes and choices made thereof can and does lead to our dismissing people for having poor taste and therefore being lesser than us. 

Today, the world is not just divided but fragmented because of religious or political beliefs and convictions. This is not just globally or on a nationwide scale, it’s happening around us and within our circles. I do not know if it is my limited vision or the fact that I think many of the things that are going on everywhere are fundamentally awful but, I think hate based on diametrically opposite views seems to be on the rise.

I always thought that it is important to respect people’s thoughts and opinions even if they were completely outside of my views and opinions. I have to confess that there are times now, when I find myself failing to do this. Why is it that I think that anyone who doesn’t agree with my opinion on all matters big or small is unacceptable or needs to be shown the light of day? Do I have a set of values and principles or am I showing signs of becoming dogmatic? How about you? Are you able to keep all your opinions aside and respect everyone’s views and choices?

It so happens that there is one or the other song constantly playing in my mind’s ear and right now, there are two that are playing simultaneously. One is about us imagining a world where all the people live in peace and the other, about how the keys of a piano are ebony and ivory and yet together they make such beautiful music. The lyrics are ever so meaningful and relevant to what I am writing but I know that expecting such ideal situations is simply foolish. Can we then conclude that there is nothing to be done and that we will all eventually destroy each other because of opposing and radical views, convictions and beliefs? That, according to me, is not how it has to be.

While most of us do not possess the wherewithal to make any note-worthy difference to the world as a whole; in fact, not even our country, city, town or village. What we can try to do is, make a start by respecting the opinions and beliefs of those whom we live amongst. If we did that, if we make it a point to be accepting of what people around us eat, what they wear, how they live, what they do to keep themselves amused or entertained, whom they worship or vote for – wouldn’t our immediate world be a better place?

If this caught on as a movement, can you imagine the impact? Maybe, just maybe, mankind will end up making perfect harmony like the keys of a piano.

Friday, 17 January 2020

Hit Rock-Bottom? Congratulations!

There comes a point in our lives, when we sink to the lowest of lows, we hit rock-bottom and that, according to me is among the best places to be! Be it a career, relationship, financial, behaviour or conduct related low and its consequent hardship; it’s a blessing, my heartiest congratulations to you!

Far too often, we put up with unfavourable situations in the hope that things will change or that we will become stronger. It could be fear, doubt, delusion or denial that keeps us from acting when things are not quite right. We lie to ourselves as a coping mechanism so often that the lie turns into truth for us. Then it happens, all of a sudden, we are not just sinking but crashing till we reach that torturous pit of agony. We can, should we choose to, remain there and lead a life of misery (secret or otherwise) but that is an unhealthy place to be.

Hitting rock bottom can and frequently does compel us to take a hard look at ourselves and our reality, reassess what we have going for us and then make the best of it. In order that we survive, we find another way – something that we never had the courage to try before or something we never ever imagined we would do. 

When we hit a dead end in our career because we are jobless, or our business has failed; it’s the worst sort of hardship. Apart from feeling utterly incompetent and being in a constant mode of depression and anxiety, the subsequent dip in hard cash and the resultant desperation is well known to all. That’s when we can think of what to do, explore possibilities and discover that other occupation that ends up being the best thing ever. There are scores of stories of people who hit rock bottom, changed tracks in their career and achieved unimagined success.

I know someone who lost his job and try as he might, he just could not get another one. He sunk into the worst sort of depression, the sort that needed medication. Then, one day, he decided that he may as well spend his time gardening, something he loved but had never had time to do while he was chasing that next promotion or increment. His garden grew as he channelled more and more energy and attention towards it. Suddenly, an idea struck him, and he thought of finding a market for his flowers and it worked. Today he has a farm where he grows the most gorgeous flowers and has become a well-known florist. His despair and depression led him to live a fulfilling and successful life doing exactly what he loves to do.

Then there are things we put up with at home with our family. The child who has chosen to go down a self-destructive path, the parent who is too involved in the life of adult children, the spouse who we no longer love or respect, the morally, psychologically, socially unacceptable occurrences within the family that we pretend is okay. We tell ourselves that things will change for the better, pray for strength and a miracle or feel that love and time will turn things around someday or just accept it as a part of life. The facet of our familial life that is wrong keeps hitting lower lows, probably because it is unharnessed, and then, the crash happens, and we are at rock bottom. That is when we muster up the strength and courage to rectify what’s wrong, in a decisive and fruitful way. Rising from rock bottom in the familial scenario involves being cruel to be kind, something that requires strength. The benefit of rectifying what’s wrong: drawing lines for the undisciplined child or the overbearing parent, giving ultimatums to the spouse who is less than fair and kind to us or even walking out, will not only make our lives happier but send a message to the person who is doing something wrong. That may be the rock bottom they hit and eventually rise out of.

I have the privilege of knowing this person, she is to this day illiterate but has, in my eyes, accomplished a lot. She used to live in a city but was married off to a farmer in a rural part of India. The story of her marriage is an ‘unhappily’ ever after one, soon she had two kids and continued her unhappy life because of imagined pressures from society and her family. Then, she hit that breaking point when her husband came home with a second wife. She packed her bags, took her two kids and went right back to the city she grew up in. There, she found herself a job, got her son and daughter into the best school she could afford and proceeded to divorce her husband with the help of an organisation that helps women’s causes. Today, her children are grown up and in good jobs, she lives a happy life in a house she owns. I am sure you will agree that her ex-husband’s second marriage was the best thing that happened to her.

I state with deep conviction that it is better to speak up, wake up or even break away before a situation gets too alarming for words. Rare is the person who is completely oblivious to whatever is wrong in their lives and can tell when there are early signs of impending disaster. Why not take remedial steps then? This is specially recommended if we have faced hardship repeatedly, we can smell trouble from a mile away and should, for our own good, do something about it immediately. It requires strength and conviction, I know; however, bouncing back from devastating hardship requires a whole lot more.

A famous author once said something about everyone being face down in the gutter but some looking up at the stars from the gutter. I would add: Let’s not just look at the stars from the gutter but reach for them.

Friday, 3 January 2020

Rumination #8 Courtesy is Everything

It’s always wonderful when someone knows and practices all the rules of etiquette. In some ways, it is important to know things like which piece of cutlery, crockery and glassware is used for which particular thing. It is certainly important to say things like ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘may I’ and what have you. Following all the rules of etiquette stand for nothing if they are not coupled with courtesy. In my first post, I had said that the spelling of ‘luck’ is h-a-r-d w-o-r-k; similarly, the spelling of courtesy is c-o-n-s-i-d-e-r-a-t-i-o-n and r-e-s-p-e-c-t. In other words, it’s lending thought to the feelings and convenience of people we deal with. It does not take much to do this and counts for more than many would imagine.

At work it entails doing basic things like not breaking into loud conversations in open workspaces, avoiding eating food in the actual place of work, not keeping others waiting for us or our deliverables. There is a common practice among many, people simply do not acknowledge e-mail messages, respond promptly or keep all concerned informed of the status of an ongoing work-related matter. Some people think that it is better to respond when there is something to say, they do not think of how the sender may wonder whether the message has reached at all or whether whatever they wrote about is relevant. Worse still is stalling or maintaining silence at all possible costs, when something is not going to work out or if the answer is a No. Everyone is fully aware of changing circumstances and priorities and being honest with them is a hundred times better than avoiding them or acting in an unexpected manner.

Courtesy is about taking into account all that is convenient for our friends and not just being there for them when it suits us. I have observed that often there is an imbalance in many social relationships, with one friend giving and being there far more than the other friend or friends. The obverse, when one member of the group gets his or her way all the time, is equally prevalent. Maybe, the others in the group or duo are of a milder nature or are scared of losing a friend; it is the job of those getting the advantage to pause and think of the others in the relationship. Reciprocity is essential to being courteous to our friends. When visiting others, whether for a few hours or days, it makes a lot of difference if the guests follow the ways of the household rather than insisting that the hosts bend backwards which is as important as hosts ensuring that the guests’ every comfort is looked into.

We may be observing all of the things I have enlisted above and a great deal more but unless we extend that same courtesy to those at home, we cannot really think of ourselves as courteous. Taking individual likes, inclinations and nature into account is a fundamental part of being considerate with our relatives and I am not sure that this is all that common. Acknowledging the thoughtfulness, generosity, sacrifices of any member of our family and not taking anyone for granted is to me, essential to courtesy. One particular aspect of courtesy that I feel all offspring ought to practice but frequently forget about is, ceasing to act like a child around their parents once they have grown up. There comes a time when children need to become the ones taking care, and I am not referring so much to financial matters as I am to something that falls under the broad category of molly coddling. Parents, or the head of the family often thrust their opinions, dreams, ambitions and aspirations upon the others in the family, especially the younger generation. If an offspring wants to pursue a career that the elders have not planned for them or spend their life with a partner that did not fit into the elders’ dreams for them, it does not follow that it is wrong. Many young lives are secretly wrought with pain, regret and even agony because they relented to their elder’s wishes or strong rules of the house. The courtesy of letting the younger generation be whatever they want to be is one of the greatest gifts we can give to them.

If one is genuinely courteous, then being civil when dealing with strangers follows naturally. Giving way to others while driving, waiting ones turn in queues, being kind to those who serve and a host of other such things, are second nature.

Even though I have mentioned instances of courtesy in the workplace, with our friends, at home and with the world in general, there really is no set of separate rules of courtesy one must follow for any particular environment or situation. If per chance, someone is the epitome of courtesy in the workplace and the workplace alone, the genuineness of it is highly questionable. Being courteous is fundamental to our being thought of as reliable and thereby, popular. I agree that some do mistake courteous people for fools or suckers, but that is their problem.

A final thought: the biggest courtesy we can extend to anyone is being honest with them. At certain times and for certain people, this takes a lot of courage but the arguments that support it are too many to ignore.

Friday, 13 December 2019

Rumination #7 Be Helpfull - Addendum

In the last blog post, I had related instances of help offered by friends of mine and the outcome of each act of giving. As I had mentioned, I spoke at length with each and decided that some of their thoughts must be shared in their own words. The common thread in all is that they continue to help despite undesirable outcomes. I know these individuals well and so am more than sure that they will never cease to be kind and giving people.

These are the words of the friend who helped the young boy who eventually ran away to follow his dreams of becoming a Bollywood dancer:

I have always believed that if I can uplift one individual from an economically lower background, that one individual can uplift his family into better circumstances. Not all my experiences have been successful, but even then, I am happy for I did the best that I could. I would like to share my most recent experience.
There is a 20-year-old girl from a nomadic tribe who came to Pune when she was in the 8th standard to complete her education. She stayed with her uncle who made her pay her way through school doing odd jobs, which was very creditable.

After her 10th board exams she came to us as she had nowhere to stay. I promised to educate her and got her into Garware junior college; she was back to studies and helping with some light housework as any family member would. As the days passed, I noticed a change in her behaviour. She wouldn’t come home on time, was in a hurry to leave home at 6:30 am for a 7:15 lecture (we are a 10 min walk from the college).  I questioned her and never got a reply, only silence. My instinct told me what was happening, but I too remained silent.
Finally, this year she completed her 12th. That is when I told her that she would no longer be going to regular college and that I would enroll her into an external programme. She didn’t say much but asked for a cellphone. Made sense as the study material is sent via email. Little did I know this would be the start of trouble. That was the beginning of her moping, sulking and losing weight. Her family thought of black magic but I waited for her to confess that she had a boyfriend.

As it turned out, she had been seeing this boy from the time she joined Junior College. She used to go to his house and to so called picnic spots with him! I was shell shocked at the change in focus in this girl and how devious she had become. Today she doesn’t want to study, (fees have been paid), wants to marry this 20-year-old boy instead (illegal) and is willing to break ties with her family. She thinks her life will follow the serials on TV.
Her family will be brutal with her if they find out; for them brotherhood is sacred. Marriage outside the community is taboo. Most importantly they will not trust people like me who only thought about uplifting their family.
This actually makes me wonder if it’s worth the effort I put in to try and help. It confuses their thinking, self-image and displaces them; so am I really helping!

The following are the words of the friend who is forever offering financial help to anyone she thinks, needs it:

Giving, a word that is both magnanimous, yet ever so smug! I began to reflect on what drives people to give. What makes Warren Buffett give away his fortune or an Azim Premji hand over an entire building to his tenants? 
One obviously, is the capacity to give i.e. do I have a surplus I can spare? While there is no doubt about the above mentioned, what about the beggar who chooses to share his dry chapati with a stray puppy? Therefore, is it an actual surplus or a perception of surplus or as we’re taught in kindergarten, a willingness to share? 
Secondly, what is the internal motivation to give? I choose to give, because I am exceedingly selfish! Sounds quite contrarian, doesn't it? I ask myself, for whom do I give? Is it to help others or is it to feel good about myself? For me the answer is resoundingly, "for myself"! Everything we do, both positive or negative fulfils some need and propels our action in that direction. However, this realization came to me much later in life. Initially I too thought i was being ever so altruistic. Only later did I realize that it was as much for me, as it was for the other person. 
Lastly, how much is enough? I have come to believe that this is a journey, just like in kindergarten - first we were reluctant to share the toy, then we learnt the fun of playing together, then we worried if we'd be reprimanded if we took away the toy and eventually we learnt that it was okay to walk away with it for a while. Similarly, today I choose to give, when I want, to whom I want as much as I choose to and in only those situations wherein, I can give, with no expectations whatsoever.
The gentleman who helps his elderly neighbour has shared his opinion on the matter thus:
Giving, for me, is not so much of giving away things as it is about helping people in some form of need. Like helping an old person cross the road or carrying bags up the stairs for someone who may struggle with them or allowing someone who has a genuine reason and  need to get ahead in a queue or helping someone in distress when they’re out on the road. It probably harks back to my pre-teen days of being a "Boy Scout" and their motto of doing one good deed a day. I don't expect it to pay me back in some form or let me wear a halo for doing inconsequential deeds. It may be a deep-rooted need for being considered a dependable, decent person or it could be just a trait developed over the years out of people expecting it of me.
Whatever the reasons, I personally do not think too much about it and ideally there should not be a pre-meditated reason for being helpful. I believe, most people are giving only on account of their wanting to do so. There are countless examples of people donating large sums of money or property or their time and effort because they genuinely want to make a difference in someone’s life. They do not seek recognition (which they get in any case) or out a sense of obligation but merely to be able to help a person in need. Giving should be at all times and under every circumstance and not merely when it’s convenient for the giver. 
I have had a lot of thoughts on the matter too and now believe that some of the help that giving people offer, doesn’t always help as much as they imagine. If the help that is offered leads to a crippling dependency or encourages the receiver to act in a manner that may be viewed as unfair, the end-result is far from ideal or even positive. Yes, the odd gestures to the passing stranger is not only admirable but, essential to being humane; in my opinion, the givers need to pause and lend a great deal of thought to what the consequences of their act of giving may be. In all probability, all givers and most certainly the three people I have quoted, will continue to help till forever. I hope they can consider including a plan for the receivers to really benefit and grow.
Finally, a word of great appreciation for the people who share their lives with the helpers. Not much thought is given to how most of them happily go along with whatever the serial and chronic helper chooses to do.

Friday, 29 November 2019

Rumination #6 Be Helpful Whenever You Can

Helpfulness comes in various forms and degrees. Some people are given to random acts of kindness, others can always be relied upon to stand by and support their friends and family. There are some who go out of the way to help others in a manner that can only be termed as angelic. I have the great honour of knowing quite a few such angels. To share a few instances of the extraordinary acts of such friends of mine:

Many years ago, a friend took in a young boy from an underprivileged background; she fed him, clothed him, educated him in the same manner that she did her own kids. She hoped to provide him with all the opportunities a bright boy like him deserved. Just to be clear, she did not do this because of any empty spaces in her life.

Another friend voluntarily offers financial help to any of her friends and family whenever she senses the need to do so. One such thing that she did was to decide to give financial help to a friend because she thought it might be a stretch for the lady to worry about the recurring school fees of her child.

There is this gentleman who did everything he possibly could to assist an aged, lonely and almost abandoned neighbour. He never failed to respond to her need, regardless of how busy he was. It is important to mention that with time, all her friends and most of her relatives have stopped keeping in touch with her.  

What do you think happened in each instance? The boy who my friend took in, turned around one day, accused her of thwarting his dreams of becoming a Bollywood dancer and ran away. The one who is still paying the school fees, has been questioning her decision as she has seen the parent in professed need blithely go out and buy the best of clothes, shoes and accessories. The gentleman who helps the neighbour, is constantly plagued by the lady for the most absurd things at any odd hour while she manages to successfully handle all situations with other firmer or less considerate people. As you can well imagine, doubt and bitterness coloured the hearts of these three angels because of these experiences.

I am sure each of you have similar anecdotes about people you personally know, some of you may even be the kind of angels I am referring to. It’s not that those who help are unaware of the dynamics being so skewed, they are. Such people are serial helpers and have faced the most undesirable outcome time and time again. A few get their fingers burnt so many times that they resort to going against their nature and not helping people ever again.

Not every person who receives help is ungrateful. In some relationships, the give and take, is so frequent that it turns into a soul to soul connection. Random acts of kindness and the occasional helping hand are what go around and come back in the form of some blessing from above, they are in any case carried out with no expectations. It is the extraordinary ones that often backfire and hurt or irritate the ones who offer help.

In my opinion, the fault is as much of those who help as it is of those who take ingratitude to its extreme. Maybe they ought to have handled the whole thing differently. Two possible solutions to bring some sort of balance to the dynamics, come to mind. In order to be decent about it, they do not begin by being entirely candid with those whom they help or are too hasty in offering their support. The helpful neighbour could have begun by occasionally letting the lady know when he was busy and told her that he would need some time.

Next, those who help should consider finding ways to help people become self-reliant. The old adage about teaching people to fish is something one must always remember. In all probability those who help, do so because of the environment at home, out of a compelling sense of duty, because of a deep seated and very human need to be thought of as nice or some other wholly justifiable reason. In doing this, they make it a habit to keep doing instead of showing how. A dependency ensues and can at times, feel like a thorn.

Honestly speaking, it can be bothersome to show or teach people how to do something. It is much easier to quickly do something for someone and then get back to one’s own preoccupations, duties and tasks. The skewed dynamics between the helper and recipient begin early on, grow and fester with time. The effort of showing someone is actually far less when measured against the strain and negative feelings that arise out of perpetually helping someone to the point of feeling exasperated or changing from the very core.

My plea to all helpful souls: Don’t ever stop being the angels you are, do consider changing the way you help people.

Postscript: I have had long discussions with the three people mentioned in this post, what they had to say is so thought provoking and motivating that it has inspired me to write another post on helpfulness, a sort of an addendum.

Friday, 15 November 2019

Rumination #5 Handle Backlash

We spend every second of our life making choices or living out the consequences of a choice made in the recent or distant past. Choices are made when we decide to turn in late or wake up early, have something from the regular range of meals in the household or try something different for a change, we choose to keep to ourselves on some days and reach out to people on others, we opt to buckle under pressure and graduate in a certain stream or qualify in an area that only our heart, instinct or an impulse guides us toward. We select the sort of partner or career path we do, because of pressure; or, we make a choice without any outside influence. We make a choice even when we are entirely passive.

Every choice we make, even the smallest of ones, has a consequence that we may or may not have bargained for. Being dressed up will most likely get us a lot of attention, that indulgent snack may give us a feeling of discomfort, taking our own sweet time will cause delay and, following online maps blindly will often make us go around in dizzying circles!

Then, there are the ones that bear a long-term impact on our life. That engineering course we went for because of familial pressure or just to please daddy may leave us with a lifetime of feeling that we would have had a better life had we become a journalist, like we really wanted to. The high-profile job we took is demanding and steals all our time and energy, leaving us resentful. That simple and docile partner we chose as a life mate, may arouse a craving for a great deal more. The list goes on.

Every now and then, we choose without really thinking everything through only to find that some of our choices result in an overwhelming backlash. We then spend time feeling sorry for ourselves. As is human nature, we ponder upon this and other miserable aspects of our life and try to figure out why? Inevitably, we find that it’s because of what someone else did or did not do, because God has forsaken us, because we did something terrible in our previous life, because we were born under an unlucky star, or because we neglected to follow a certain ritual that would have definitely pleased God and changed our fortune. We will tell ourselves anything but have the fortitude to take responsibility for the equal and opposite reactions to the choices we make. 

It’s clear that it is ideal to think things through and then think again before making any choices about the important things in life. Perhaps some of us need to create a check list of sorts to help us deliberate, as opposed to over-thinking when faced with choices about important matters. This might even save us from the possibility of growing old and grey by the time we are done with thinking things through. Some of the questions we can have in the checklist could be:

  • ·        Do I really need to do this?
  • ·        Does it really matter?
  • ·        Will it change my life for the better?
  • ·        Is it aligned to my goals?
  • ·        Is there an unmanageable downside?
  • ·        Do I have the time and space to see it through?
  • ·        Will it impact my finances in any way?
  • ·        Will my loved ones be affected by it?
Even though I am writing about this, I know that I will continue to give in to impulses and make bad choices based on haste or lack of sound reason. We have been told since our childhood to look before we leap, yet we go right ahead and ignore this golden rule all too often. The consequential distress, depression or agony plagues us for some period or the rest of our lives.

 Is that how it’s supposed to be? We chose unwisely or without much thought, we made a mistake and so we suffer? Is that a part of life?  I disagree most emphatically!  There is a way to handle this ‘backlash of our bad choices’ thing: we man up and take responsibility for the unforeseen or unimagined outcome of all our choices. If we take responsibility for the effects of our bad choices, our minds and hearts will be lighter. Dealing with it, in a manner of speaking, is choosing happiness, something that’s mentioned in the previous post.

Being responsible for our own actions is perhaps the toughest of all responsibilities. It requires a great deal of strength to admit our own shortcomings, that’s why we try lying to ourselves. We may be the savviest of fibbers and even convince our superficial selves to believe that the fault isn’t ours. Deep down inside, somewhere in the depth of our heart and the back alleys of the mind, we always know the fault is ours. If we face it and deal with it, we will be so much more at peace with ourselves, a soothing stillness will replace the inner turmoil.

I must mention that it is counterproductive to weigh the pros and cons of every single choice we have to make. The thinking deeply through should be exclusively for important things. Also, worth mentioning is the fact that not every unplanned or impulsive action results in a minor or major backlash, a few even give us much reason to rejoice.

Friday, 1 November 2019

Rumination #4 - Happiness is a Choice

We are given to dwelling upon the things that are wrong in our lives and either feeling quite like a hero for having endured such pain or like a victim. The sad story of our life defines everything we do and say and colours our very being in dark shades. It is true that some lives are filled with tremendously tragic incidents or circumstances; however, the quality of our life is determined by how we deal with adversity.

We may feel sad and depressed because we realise that we do not have too many real friends. All the people we invest so much time on, are just fair-weather friends who are so wrapped up in themselves that they never ever extend themselves for us. Almost all of us come to a point where this reality hits us – a juncture in our lives when we realise that we have some fair-weather friends. From then on, we have choices and the most obvious ones are: We walk away and make our circle smaller, feel embittered about friendships in general; continue with the relationships but nurture ill feelings and distrust, feel embittered; reduce our circle and spend our time and effort with only those who are true friends; make new friends and take care this time to choose sincere people who offer us what we truly seek. The last two are options that will make us happy but might need us to make some effort, not to mention acknowledging the fact that we may be as much to blame as the other party or parties.

The instances of people being unhappy in a marriage or relationship are incalculable. It’s almost as if people get into relationships and marital alliances and then work towards being unhappy and keep complaining or feel heroic for suffering in silence. I think the first mistake is not choosing prudently and rushing into things because we are desperate or under pressure from people in our lives. The next mistake is something I mentioned in my first and second post; we do not start in a sustainable manner. Then, there are those who feel compromising is a part of a successful relationship and those who keep waiting for that day when the partner will suddenly wake up and see the light of day. Obviously, avoiding all the things I have just mentioned are keys to happy relationships; however, so are levelling at the first signs of unhappiness and having the guts to end things if required. Failing all this, one needs to accept the responsibility of having allowed oneself to be in the bad situation and then make the best of it, this may not lead to a state of bliss but, will certainly lead to a less stressful life.

People tend to do a similar thing with the jobs they have; they choose to be unhappy. A clear understanding of reality and the limitations each of us have, would lead to less stress. I am not, for a minute, suggesting that one should always be happy, no matter what. I am suggesting that we should have clarity on what is actually wrong, see what we can do about it, make changes where possible and live with what we have until change is possible. Another thing, change takes place when we initiate it – others are not all that concerned with what plagues us and no amount of prayer will bring about magical change. The only thing we can change is ourselves. Find that job, take on that challenge, find an alternative career, work on your areas of improvement, stand up to that bully. If everything fails, deal with it!

I don’t know about anyone else, but I sometimes go to great lengths to avoid people who are persistently unhappy. They send out the most distressing vibes which I do not take much pleasure in being around.  An observation I have made is that unhappy people are usually more annoyed than those who choose happiness. According to them they are always the victim and never deserved such a raw deal. So you add snap and blame to the whine and the mix is too repulsive for words. Unfortunately, we do not tell chronic whiners why we keep them at arm’s length. Nor do we make people aware of the pitfalls of revelling in self pity and unhappiness when they begin to head that way. Perhaps, if we did, it would save the situation.
I have personally experienced anger or anguish triggering aches and pains and joy the reverse.  When in an extreme situation of stress, I listen to music – that is my elixir. Everyone has something, if not a few things, that can alleviate their spirit, identifying it and using it to one’s advantage is often the first step in facing adversity with ones chin up. Choosing to be unhappy is unhealthy for our body and mind. Genuine happiness is a choice that sometimes needs great effort but is definitely worth it. How wonderful it would be if all of us worked towards being the sort of people who radiate such happiness that it infects others with peace and joy.

A word of caution, being the eternal clown or jokester is no indication of happiness, it is viewed as insufferable by many.

Friday, 18 October 2019

Rumination #3 Embrace Divergence

We are all undeniably, creatures of habit, some of us more than others. From using a particular piece of crockery or cutlery for our everyday meals, opting to sit on the same chair, wearing certain kinds of clothes, visiting certain types of places, to feeling connected to a particular sort of people. We may eventually get over it, but most of us are uncomfortable with or around that which is different. Some of us even go so far as to almost condemn those whose choices in simple things like food and style are not within our self-defined norms. We are prisoners, in a manner of speaking, of our own choices and ways.

While things like having your tea or coffee in the same mug or cup till breakage does you part, is harmless, we do miss out on a great deal when our circle has only certain kind of people and when we find only certain perspectives and behaviours to be acceptable. The most obvious benefit of getting to know different types of people is having a wider circle of friends and acquaintances. Spending time with people who are different widens our horizon and gives us insight into a range of perspectives. Besides, who doesn’t enjoy having the luxury of a choice when we want to have a good time or a range of people to turn to in times of trouble?

Most organisations and businesses work in teams and place much importance on teamwork. Teams are not just about getting along and being in a harmonious environment, they are one facet of the work environment where differences can be enormously advantageous. People with a technical bent of mind are often a little wanting in being expressive or being too social; someone who is analytical may not be too creative and so on and so forth. All such skills come into play in the workplace and most functions need each kind at some time or the other. What if we embrace and cherish different skills and mindsets at work and use the resources on hand? How smart is it when a creative person seeks the input of an analyst when she/he/them needs to present data and facts? If people from marketing and sales turn to manufacturing and production staff to work together towards a common goal, there is the obvious advantage of near absence of interdepartmental friction and possibly, shorter and fewer meetings too. It’s all about not focussing on the difference but embracing it instead to work as a whole.

There are some who are so different that many of us can hardly comprehend what they have to say. They speak in words and phrases that are so esoteric that we doubt whether they themselves fully understand what they just said. What might escape us is the fact that it is because of this different perspective that they come up with unique and sometimes astonishing work. To my experience, people in the creative field are often like this. That amazing photograph of a single fallen leaf or just a drop of water, was the perspective of a creative and different mind. Outstanding works of the arts and literature are the product of viewing things differently. This is not limited to just the arts and literature; we would probably still believe that the earth is flat had someone not been different. All those who have received awards and been celebrated in various fields, have a different approach to their work. Being different and putting that difference to good use leads to success. Often this requires a great deal of courage and inner strength; could that be because the rest of us are repelled by ‘different’?

I feel that the area where differences make the largest impact is in our faith, political views, life choices and value systems. It’s not unusual for us to feel completely put off or even annoyed with someone because they have beliefs and convictions that are not like ours; I am not speaking of extreme views, just different. In my opinion, these things are personal and need to be respected. I don’t know anyone who is ashamed of their faith or life choices or political views or value system. Thus, one can easily assume that each of us want and need to be respected for them; however, when someone has a varying view, opinion or belief – our reaction can be anything between passive rejection and aggressive assertions.

I am pretty sure that I am not saying anything new, in fact, it can be viewed as trite. Scores of thinkers and artists have expressed the very same point of view so many times, that it is impossible to put a number to it. The problem is, we have not changed and have still to display any true intentions of doing so. As I write this piece, the song that’s playing in my head is one by a very famous singer from one of the most popular British bands: we haven’t imagined his message in its entirety yet.

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