Sunday 16 July 2017

Seeking Self Is A Dynamic Challenge

It is a constant struggle, and a challenge as well to first understand our true self and then to follow it up by being our true self. Often, people live out their lives without much clarity about who they are – thus it is unfair to expect that these people will successfully manage to live & act in a manner that is true to them. Consistency of thought and action defines strong character, and lack of consistency is just the opposite.

This post is for those who believe they have achieved consistency in life – through thought and action both. The questions for them are: is this consistency enough to continue to live with? What’s their next challenge? How are they developing themselves further? Unless the world, in general, or the society, at large, depends on the consistency of these individuals – my view is, everyone needs to continue to develop and move ahead – in simplistic terms, not become stale and outdated.

It is not difficult to understand the challenge with respect to change – further development is change – most have worked hard to reach where they are at present (and feel consistency will be enough to carry them on), it isn’t easy to start working again towards the unknown. It is especially difficult to convince self, about the reasons for not letting up, for not resting, for not being at ease, for wanting to be fluid-like. From personal experiences, I can say all of this doesn’t even sound easy – living it is far from easy!

There is a flawed concept of “knowing” – we as people change, with time, with circumstances, with pressures, with will (and at times without). There are few aspects of our nature / character that remains consistent – however, our ability to use these aspects consistently is doubtful. Thus – consistency is not a concept that should give any pride or joy. Further – we should accept that we are not getting to know much about ourselves, because we are neither constant nor static. In order to want to know ourselves – we have to become seekers, someone who is in constant pursuit of knowing oneself.

If the concept of knowing is flawed, at the very least it is not dependable, there can’t be much value to be put on “being true to self”. Essentially, one person can be true to the person he / she is at that point in time – with changes due to factors mentioned above (and any other), people have to realise that being true means they change – leaving not much room for consistency.

In general, it is easier to (wrongly) convince ourselves that we are being consistent because that is our true self – when in reality all this can be simply due to fear of stepping out of our comfort zone. Doing the same things, the same way, helps us live out a routine, which gives us an illusion of control.

Is life simpler if we continue living the illusion? Yes, I would think so. I am constantly reminded of George Orwell’s words: “ignorance is strength”. The less we know, the less we question, the more the illusion continues to grow and the more we feel comfortable living the illusion.

Is life better if we continue living the illusion? I can’t say…for some, probably yes if they feel that is the best for them. However, for those who believe and claim to know themselves, and those who believe their consistency is based on this self-knowledge – this illusion of control, or even self-knowledge cannot be good. Unfortunately, these people are living in fool’s paradise.

Not long ago I heard Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudeva talk about India – as land of seekers, not necessarily of believers. Although in his thought, these “seekers” seek “mukti” – the ultimate freedom from existence – being an Indian, I too am a seeker, with a rather (much) simpler view. I seek to know myself, which is my ability to control myself, reduce my conscious and unconscious wrongs, and thus become a better human. After all, I control only my actions – beyond that, control is nothing but an illusion.


Will Terrorism Become Part of Life?

In last few years, it seems that there has been an increase in terrorist attacks across the world.  Even after decades of hearing about terrorism, feeling some of the pain and fear, and managing life around it - it still seems that such acts shock people. Part of 'win' for terrorism / terrorist attacks is to spread fear, not to let common people do what they do normally. Given this - doesn't an increase in frequency of attacks cause terrorism-led-caualty to become simply unfortunate, than fearful. Will terrorism continue to be shocking, or will it become part of life?

Some three decades ago (in 1980s) - cars were not commonly owned family transportation mode in India. However, a decade later (in 1990s) this scenario changed - and personal car usage has been increasing in India since. With this increase in usage, came the obvious element of accidents and deaths due to these accidents.

Most accidents were caused by human error - drunk driving, not focussed enough, not fresh enough, over-confidence, under-confidence, over-speeding etc. - fact being, accidents that could & should have been avoided had everyone involved was careful. Yet, these accidents happened!

While most accidents can be attributed to some form of human error, there are still some accidents that are simply unavoidable - an animal trying to cross the road in front of a fast moving car, mechanical / electrical failure etc. - fact is, these kind of unavoidable accidents do occur, and do cause death.

In my mind, the concept is rather simple. We have to look at how people in India have adapted to personal cars, have dealt with increasing frequency of accidents and death caused by it (whether that of the driver, or the person hit by the driver). We have to look at the millennials, especially, to learn something important from them. For them, these accidents may have become a part of life. The fact is this generation has grown up seeing cars, and they have accepted the good & the bad of it. Car accidents are no longer shocking - unfortunate, yes!

How does this relate to terrorism? One of the worst terrorist attacks, in recent past, has been the one in Manchester, targeting young children who had gone to attend a concert. The more these attacks happen, and impact children - whether directly, or through media - the more these children will grow up accepting terrorism as part of life...just as children of '80s in India grew up accepting car accidents. The more such acts / attacks become accepted, the more such acts / attacks lose significance. The more insignificant these acts / attacks become, the more people start living fearlessly. Ultimately, ghastly-ness and higher frequency is really going to work against the very purpose of terrorism!


Sunday 2 July 2017

My Confusion With What Is Indian...

"How do you solve a problem like Maria?
 How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?
 How do you find a word that means Maria?"

If there was one thing that I hadn't thought would trouble me, put me outside my comfort zone and leave me perplexed - during my MBA programme, was a set of questions about India (and Indian culture). I was born in India, have always studied and worked in India, and married an Indian (in India) - with these qualifications, it never occurred to me to question my knowledge or understanding of India (and Indian culture).

At the age of 37, I decided to challenge myself by not only going back to an academic programme (MBA) after 14 years gap, but also moving to the U.K. for this one-year MBA programme.  It was here that I was first asked - "do all Indians think / act like that...?" or "how does it happen in India...?" or " this acceptable in Indian culture...?" - these questions (and many more similar ones) made me realise two things:

a) so far, I had not thought of India as India (the country on the whole). My concept of India was built on a much smaller concept - "home & family". For the first time I realised that - I was born in Delhi, have almost always studied and worked in Delhi, and married an Indian (in Delhi). Just that I am not married to another Delhiite (she is a true-blue Indian, but a Bengali by birth).

b) There is nothing more than geography (being born on Indian soil) that is a common thread running across all Indians, which makes them Indian. It is not language (there are several hundred languages & dialects), it is not religion (there are sections of most world-religions followed across India), it is not food (every sub-region has a specific taste to food), it is not music or sports (yes, not even Cricket!)...ultimately, an Indian is an Indian only because he / she was born in India.
(Thoughts inspired by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudeva's "who are hindus")

Initially, I answered all questions about India (and Indian culture) with my perceived understanding about India - that was primarily how I had experienced India - living in Delhi, and seeing other Indian places as holiday-destinations.

Moreover, I answered these questions with my value-system as the base - assuming most of India shared similar value-system. It was so easy to believe that since I have been in India all my life, and my family (both - immediate and extended) has been in India, that I have the same value-system as most Indians would have...but I was a million-miles away from reality.

To share a little about my MBA cohort - there are nearly 20 something Indians and less than 5 are from North India (let alone Delhi). These 20 something represent almost the entire length & breadth of India (none from the North East though). In this representation - I have observed inaccuracies of my understanding about Indian culture and value-systems, and the lack of a common thread across all individuals. The most interesting observation, for me, has been - each of these 20+ Indians of my cohort have similarly confused understanding about India (and Indian culture) on the whole. Then the question is: is there, or can there be, anything that is truly a common-thread running through all Indians?

If 20 something individuals are different and unique in their respective ideology, thought-process, belief & value-system - I cannot believe that 1.3 billion Indians can be (or should be) put in any one bucket - other than they all were either born on Indian soil, or to Indian parent(s).

It seems that such generalisations are part of human limitations, biases, psychology and need for 'a-system' (common form, understanding and society). In order to feel part of something bigger, something stronger than the self, immediate family and the extended family - we create the notion of society & culture, something that we can relate to. In the process, we super-impose our own thoughts & beliefs on the larger society. Whether this is true or not - it puts us at ease, gives us a sense of belonging and helps us believe there is some land that we can call as home.

Finally, to bring in the first management lesson I learned in during my MBA programme - the answer to all generic questions is the same... "it depends!".

It depends on the individual, who is looking at the problem (the object being questioned) depends on the depends on the audience of the depends on alcohol depends on theory of relativity!