Tag Archives: society

Musings Personal Growth

To flourish, how much do we depend on the state of society?

Recently, I was reading a book – The Immortals of Meluha. Here is an interesting short excerpt from it  :

Any successful society needs stability. Stability allows a person the freedom of choice. People can pursue their dreams only when they are living in a society where survival is not a daily threat.

In a society without security and stability, there are no intellectuals or businessmen or artists or geniuses. Man is constantly in a fight or flight mode. Nothing better than an animal.

There appears to be some truth to these lines and they got me thinking.

We are the creamy layer. The simple fact that we have an internet connection on which we are reading and sharing this article makes us a part of a fortunate few on this planet. There are so many who are born into a life of extreme poverty, strife and a lack of opportunity. There life and dreams can be cut short by a single stray bullet or disease or any of a number of umpteen reasons that don’t bother us, the creamy layer, as much.

Srinivasa Ramanujan, the great Indian mathematician died at an early age of 32 due to tuberculosis, that did not have a cure then. He solved many mathematical problems at that young age. These problems had baffled many eminent mathematicians of his time and before. Some of his writings are still studied to help find meaning in other complex problems. Who knows what else he could have accomplished, had he lived longer. But he succumbed to something out of his control.

People as a collective

On a collective scale, people seem to flourish more in stable societies. We all know of a lot of famous entrepreneurs, geniuses from the developed Western world today. But how many such people do we know of from, say Afghanistan? Or The Congo? Or Somalia?…

It seems that as a collective, it is important we try to create such a society. A society that provides minimum survival for all, a society that allows people to follow their own calling, to express themselves in ways they want to.

The dilemma

In spite of all that I said above, I have also believed in a person’s control over his destiny.

This belief and attitude is best summed up in the last lines of a very popular and inspiring poem, Invictus :

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

The Law of Attraction, which I consider a very helpful perspective and which explains a lot of my experiences, states that a person fully creates his/her experience in this world. It says that, from the smallest events that happen in our lives, to the big and seemingly uncontrollable ones, everything is the mere manifestations of our repeated thoughts. Hence, it implies one’s life is absolutely and totally in one’s own control.

This dichotomy raises some questions in my mind –

Exactly how much of stability does one need, if any?

From what little I know of famous and successful people, it seems quite a few of them were not born in the most secure of conditions. Examples that come to my mind are Ramanujan himself, Dhirubhai Ambani, Dale Carnegie and Wilma Rudolph. They seemed to work against odds to get what they wanted. Even a lot of successful people, who were born in to a relatively stable life(Eg. Bertrand Russel, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Steve Jobs), embraced instability and insecurity often in pursuit of their calling.

It seems that insecurity could not keep them from achievement and progress. On the contrary, it some time seems to be the very thing that drives these people to achieve extra ordinary feats.

Looking from the other end, it also seems that too much of comfort spoils people. Obesity, which seems to be a big problem in the ‘secure’ Western world is only now coming up in India, that too only in the progressive and more ‘secure’ cities.

So what is the right mix of stability and uncertainty? Too little seems to make man an animal in a fight for survival. Too much seems to spoil him and leaves no reason to strive.

When I asked my wife whether she likes to have security in her life, she said Yes. When I asked her whether she would prefer the utmost form of security, where survival and all the things required for a comfortable life were guaranteed, she was not so sure.

She likes adventure, trying new things. And adventure always means a bit of uncertainty and insecurity. If things were to be made very easy, she might loose the drive to do anything.

It seems to me that struggle cannot be escaped, it should not be escaped. It is essential for growth, it is essential to find meaning and satisfaction. Only the type of struggle differs according to circumstance.

To what extent does a man’s fate depend on circumstance?

Ramanujan died of tuberculosis at the early age of 32. Society at that time did not have a cure for it. While Ramanujan’s end was probably out of his hands, the effort he made to come out of the anonymity of the remote reaches of India were his own. They probably came out of a will to reshape his destiny, a determination to do something, rather than out of a sense of helplessness at the lack of opportunities and bad luck.

So, does man depend on the state of society?

I suppose it boils down to which perspective an individual decides to believe in. To illustrate this point, I will recount a story here that a friend of mine told me, when I put the same question to him :

A man went to a learned sage and asked him – “O learned one, to what extent is my destiny determined by fate and how much depends on my own efforts?”

The learned one smiled and asked the man to stand on one leg. The man complied.

Next, the learned one asked him to lift up his other leg too. The man tried all he could but failed.

“How can I lift both my feet in the air Guru ji?” he asked.

“You are right my son, you cannot. You have both the legs at your disposal. The choice to lean on one rather than the other is all yours!”

The man understood the meaning of the wise man’s words and left satisfied.

 

Until next time…

Image: Vlado

Consciousness Courage Personal Growth Relationships

The allegory of the cave

Below is a video representation of a very popular and interesting allegory(A story that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning) by Plato called, The Allegory of the Cave. Different people might arrive at different meanings from it and that makes it even more interesting. Go through it once if you will.

When I first came across this allegory, it re-raised some of the questions I have faced before. I will discuss them in short but, for those who decided to skip the video, …

A short description

In short, there are people inside a cave who are tied in a way that they cannot see the entrance to the cave. They have been in this state for ever. They only see some shadows forming on the opposite wall and think these shadows are real(as opposed to being caused by something else). One of these people becomes free and goes outside the cave for a while. He gets to see that shadows are not real and are caused by other ‘real’ objects. He sees the world, the sun, the Earth, different forms of life… everything.

After getting this better understanding of reality, he decides to go back to the cave where his former friends are. Because it is dark inside, he has difficulty seeing things. His friends are busy discussing the shadows they see. They notice that the enlightened one cannot see as well as before.

When he tells his freinds that what they are seeing is unreal and that these shadows are infact caused by some other things, they laugh at him. They say he made a fruitless effort to go outside and check things. The only thing he managed was a poor eye sight. When he persists, they fear he will corrupt others and decide to kill him.

This allegory, among other important insights, shows what effect an individual’s improvement in wisdom has on his relationship with others around him.

Here are some questions that this allegory raised in my mind –

Should the enlightened one return to the cave?

Should the enlightened one go back to the cave, knowing that trying to talk sense into the people there can be dangerous?

Maybe you can relate to his plight. Maybe you have progressed in life and have now come to a place where, when you look back to the people you were once among, you feel they are burdened by a lot of illusions, fears, myths etc. Would you go back to them and try to help them see reality in a better light? Would you try to improve their lives at the risk of being misunderstood, mocked or worse, punished? Or would you leave those ignorant and ungrateful people behind, knowing that trying to help them can backfire on you, and just move on ahead in your life?

If you decide to go back, do you think you will be able to cope with the loneliness of being the odd one out? Would you be able to cope with the initial suspicion and hostility? Would you be able to cope with the uncertainty?

In other words, would you be, what Plato calls, the sun who provides life to all creation by burning itself in the process?

Or maybe you have decided not to go back. Do you think you are generally happy with your life? Do you feel satisfied and feel no pull towards your past?

Probably a middle path can be carved out. But what could be such a path, that ensures your safety(to whatever extent it can be ensured) while you still try to help people? And you will still be leaving a lot of comfort and security, and accepting discomfort and doubts.

The wise man’s burden? Is it?

Do you really know better or is it just your ego?

And how does one know (s)he is enlightened?

Does making more money make you enlightened? Do you become enlightened just by spending more time on this Earth? Does seeing different people and experiencing different cultures make you enlightened? And correspondingly, those who don’t go out too much(but probably look a lot inside), are they necessarily unenlightened?

If you think about this allegory, the people sitting inside the cave also believe they know reality. In real life, all of us think we understand things well enough. Things are probably more clear to us about the allegory because we are observing the events in third person, because the illusion here is about something we all agree upon(whether shadows are real objects or formed by something else) and find very simple to understand. But when we are among people and are discussing not so obvious things about life, how do we know that we know better than the rest?

Remember that Plato’s Guru, Socrates, said that “All I know is that I know nothing”.

Is the pursuit of enlightenment a path of sorrow?

Does the search of enlightenment and wisdom invariably lead to loneliness and sorrow? Does it necessarily have to invite hostility and mockery from others?

Most spiritual texts might say that ultimate enlightenment takes you to a state of bliss, it takes you away from the sufferings of this mortal world. But then who knows?… As far as can be seen from this allegory, the search of wisdom is not comfortable. It can lead you to your death too. Is it really worth knowing these truths if they result in alienation and mortal danger?

Can ignorance be really bliss? If you believe ignorance is bliss, then, once you are out of the cave, would you wish you had not gone out. Would you wish you were just sitting there with your old friends, discussing the nature of the shadows and anticipating what would come next, feeling very smart in the process? If you coveat ignorance, would you really want to be an ignorant child again, believing in fairy tales, ghosts and what not, dependant totally on your parents and guardians for sustenance in the real world?

*****

For this post, I felt like not providing my own ideas on the questions raised. I just wanted to raise some doubts and questions in your mind and then leave you to grapple with these questions, ponder over them and see what answers appeal to you. I would love to read your thoughts in comments below.

Until next time…

Career

Managing individual and collective goals

I often say that we are social animals and need to connect and work with others to feel fulfilled. We have an inherent drive to communicate, to connect, to work and to share with others, to offer something of value, to make a positive contribution to society. This probably explains why solitary confinement has been used as one of the worst forms of punishment.

Societies and organizations are necessary to help us live together and work together towards common goals

But, we also have our own, individual goals that we privately aspire for. When individual goals diverge and come into conflict with those of the organization, a lot of friction is created.

The big challenge that we as individuals, and every society or organization as a whole faces, is how to conciliate these disparate goals. How to respect both. How to let both flourish and be attended to properly.

What causes these differences?

I think, this difference in goals happens largely because most goals, both individual and collective, are formed out of fear and greed.

So many people do certain jobs because they are considered ‘safe’ or because ‘they earn well’. These people are looking for their own safety and comfort, and have only selfish and self centered goals. They have little time or inclination to think of the collective. They will come into conflict with other people of their type(who are pursuing their own selfish goals) and also with those who are genuinely enthusiastic about their work(since enthusiastic people will also be working towards collective benefit, apart from their own goals).

Over time, such people will increasingly develop a feeling of meaninglessness and bitterness for their work, since they never really enjoyed it or had an aptitude for it. Such unenthusiastic and bitter employees are as much a problem for organizations as they are for themselves.

Similarly, when organizations create their work culture based on fear and greed, a lot of friction is generated. When organizations believe that employees can not be self motivated and need to be constantly pushed, friction is created. When they believe the only way for the organization to work well is by recruiting and retaining as many ‘obedient'(read scared) employees as possible and getting them to act like robots, just following organization made rules and structures, friction is created. When the leaders themselves are driven by fear and greed, rather than an enthusiasm for what they are doing, friction in goals is created.

I am sure there are individuals and organizations that strive seriously towards creating a positive work relationship. For those who haven’t done so, these differences can be overcome by cultivating the right attitude individually and cultivating the right culture at an organization level.

Here is what I think can be help.

At the individual level

An individual’s task is to connect with his/her Inner Voice. See where it wants to lead them. For this, one needs to let go of fear and greed, and allow their hearts to help them find their purpose. Then they need to see which groups and organizations will help them towards it.

When a person does what he/she feels enthusiastic about, the urge to connect and work with others comes to the fore. There is more of a craving to share and enjoy, than to hoard and safe guard.

At the organization level

An organization starts with certain goals. Some people come together with a shared vision and start it. To stay on track, it is imperative that they choose the right people to join them and work with them.

Having said that, human beings are too complex to be just expected to act according to what one anticipates of them. People have their own goals and aspirations. they also have their own growth curves. So, the organization can do its best with recruitment, but, once the member are recruited, it has to be ready to try new directions based on how the collective culture develops. Of course you started it. But once others join in, you cannot expect them to forever work and think the same way you want them, you cannot expect them to have the same goals and aspirations as you have.

An example that comes to mind is that of Steve Jobs, who had to leave the very company that he started because the vision of the majority of board members diverged from his own vision. But he did well once he left. If you listen to what he says of the incident during his famous Stanford address, he has only positive things to say. It brought him back closer to his heart. Once he let go, all the energies that were being spent in holding on, became available for doing things he loved doing. He did well again and found more fulfillment. The fact that he later joined back Apple is of little importance to me. The big thing was letting go, following his heart and finding his happiness back.

What matters most, I think, is connection. Deep understanding and connection with the members. Treating them as thinking, aspiring, respectable human beings. What works is not only trying to make them learn and understand, but also being ready to learn from them. Not only changing but allowing yourself to be changed too.

It will a unique mix of holding on and letting go that only your heart can best lead you on.

Motivation

A lot of organizations start with the premise that they have to hold back their employees at any cost. For motivation, they make use of scaring them(market is bad, jobs outside are not secure), addressing their greed(foreign assignment, raised salary, better titles). But I say, it is better to let go of this idea and just focus on understanding what individual employees will be most happy with, what will best align with their purpose, and edging them on towards that. If this means letting go of certain employees, so be it. Instead of seeing this as some loss, I see this as a win-win situation.

When you try to hold on to your employees and dictate how they act according to your own vision and goals, you create a negative environment for your self to manage. People are not happy, unenthusiastic and not focused on growth and learning. You create a situation where you have to keep making lots of efforts to make even the smallest things happen. You have to continuously prod, scare, satisfy greed etc to make things work.

On the other hand, if you let go of the urge to control and collaborate with your people a win win situation is created. Though some people might leave, the ones remaining will be the ones who are enthusiastic about their work. And when groups consist of enthusiastic, self motivated employees, magic is created, miracles are performed. They don’t need to be prodded, they work on their own. They themselves will take on responsibility and perform beyond expectations. They will pull in others like themselves too.

The ones who leave will be thankful to your for edging them in the right direction. They will see the honesty in your efforts and will push others, who might fit in your organization, to you.

Motivating by example

Motivation seems to happen best by example. When the manager is happy and enthusistic about his work, he, without saying a word, motivates all around him to be the same. People take on the good vibes by themselves.

Believe in their own power to change their life, to do miracles. You act just like a friend, raising good questions, maybe making them face the uncomfortable questions they are avoiding and that are holding them back, maybe giving them a friendly shove in a good direction that they have been ignoring.

When you treat employees as people who can think well, who are honest, sincere, capable, it is reflected in their work. When you make space for them to work on what excites them, and then let them do it without much fuss, you will find them doing it sincerely and better than anything they had done before. They won’t require constant monitoring.

Image: jscreationzs

Relationships

Changing others for the better

In our living room and coffee table discussions, so many of us wonder why people(especially the ones we consider less in stature than us) can’t see what is so obviously good for them. Some of us also strive to change these people for their own good.

Their attitudes and habits often lead to uncomfortable situations that irritate us. We feel an even stronger revulsion to their attitudes and an even stronger urge to change their ways.

And this is not limited to those lesser in stature, so many of us try to control our peers in office, our family members and our friends. We try to change them because we know what we are doing will be for every one’s good. It will make everyone happy in the long run.

What makes people happy?

I think before trying to change others, one needs to decide what really makes people happy. Is it different things for different people? Is it, at it’s core, the same set of things?

It has been my experience that, on the surface at least, different people like and enjoy different things. Different people even have different ideas of right and wrong. In fact, most fights among individuals, or groups, seem to be the result of such differences.

Now, for us as individuals, it is a huge task to understand what makes us happy ourselves. Most of us, if we look back at our lives, will find that we have pursued happiness in different things, only to find later that we were looking in the wrong place. So many of us, at some point in the past, craved for the very job that we so hate now. So many of us wanted to be in a loving relationship. Only now, it is not so loving anymore. So many of us wanted to make money. And today, inspite of making more of it than we ever dreamed of, we don’t seem to be any happier than when we started out.

No, it is not easy for us to find what really makes us happy.

So what is the point in deciding for others what we can’t seem to decide for ourselves? While it is difficult to find our own happiness, it is almost impossible to find what makes someone else happy.

Why don’t people do what is right for them?

How many of us find ourselves guilty of not doing what we know to be right? We know what we have to do to feel better(exercise more, watch less TV, spend less time on the internet and more with friends and family, take less stress at work etc etc), yet we just can’t seem to get ourselves to do all this.

It is so difficult to get our own selves to do what we have decided in our minds to be right. It is difficult to break out of our comfort zones. So what is the point in expecting others to follow what we think is right?

So what is the best we can do?

The best we can strive for, is to look for what makes our own selves happy, and to try regulate and control our own efforts.

Let go of the urge to control others. Just decide your response to what others do. Does someone try to make fun of you? Would you ignore this person? Would you leave their company? Would you fight back? Whatever you decide, understand that it is your own response that you can modulate.

Now here is something interesting – when you focus on finding what makes you happy and change yourself to get there, you motivate others, through your example, to do the same. In other words, when you change yourself, the world around you starts changing.

It doesn’t happen in a controlled way, it doesn’t happen according to what someone may have anticipated. But it happens in a very pleasant way. You start feeling good when you focus on changing yourself. And it gets better when others take a cue from you, on their own, and start making some changes in them selves.

Things start falling in place, you start enjoying the world around you. Note that this change happens in 2 simultaneous ways – first, you stop expecting the world to change, you adapt to it. This kills expectations and the troubles caused due to them, And second, when you stop trying to change the world and focus on yourself, the world takes notice and starts adapting to you!

This is how positive change happens. The world surrounding you starts changing when you focus on improving yourself.

Societies change when individuals in it start looking inwards for change and happiness.

*****

Letting go off the urge to control others and only focusing on your own response makes things so much easier and simple. When the focus moves away from controlling others, you get to see them for what they are, you can now start connecting with their core self. It is now that you will start sharing happiness with them.

 Image: Salvatore Vuono

Personal Growth

How to handle problems you have with society

Those of you who have been in India, would know how unruly the traffic can be here. Long ago, when I was a kid, a Reader’s Digest issue ranked India’s traffic the second worst in the world(the worst was China’s). Personally, I like following traffic rules. When I spent 3 years in the US, my faith in traffic rules strengthened and I sort of got used to seeing people following them.

After I came back about a year ago, I had to face the same unruly traffic again. And the experience, as you can expect, has not exactly been exhilarating.

I usually approach the road with some trepidation. While on the road, I often find myself muttering under my breath… That slow moving truck’s driver should have the sense to drive to the left, that auto driver, spewing loads of smoke from his auto, should get his exhaust fixed. Why doesn’t that motorcycle rider stay on his side of the road? Why does anybody not follow rules?

I know this anger does little good. Right and justified though I feel, all this judging and labeling people does little to solve the issue. The whole activity just causes me a lot of negativity. Over a period, it can become an unconscious habit that just keeps sapping my precious life force.

No, just being angry about the world around us doesn’t solve our issues. We have to do something else. There are 3 courses of action I see possible here :

1. Moving to a better place

When I left Bangalore, and India, and went to the US, I found things far better. I enjoyed the change. I was happy to be far away from the maddening cacophony of India.

But, over time, I got a feeling that the ghosts I ran away from, had not left me. I feel, no matter how many problems we have with the place we grow up in, we have a strong connection with it. We may move to pastures that look greener, but we know deep inside our hearts that we left a problem unsolved.

We will have new learning and realizations in a new place, but we will not feel we have expanded into our true selves until we bring these realizations back to solve problems at our own place.

Someday, we have to just turn around and come back home.

2. Adjusting with what is

There is the option of making peace with what is. You understand that things are the way they are and stop fretting about them. You instead focus on adjusting to them.

But this doesn’t seem to fully solve the issue either. Supressing and ignoring our feelings makes them only grow in intensity. They will eventually come out, as a sudden unwelcome outburst or as some disease.

Ignoring the discomfort is as harmful in the long run as just staying angry with the situation.

3. Working towards a change

This option involves making efforts to change the way things are. Instead of running away from the issue, or just fretting over it, you actually start working towards a solution. In my own way, through this blog, I am trying to make people more conscious and responsible. But is it even possible to change all these people? How long does it take to accomplish such a mammoth task?

The goal may seem too high and impossible, but I have seen that the effort itself makes us happy. You don’t have to wait till the goal is reached. As soon you start working towards the change you want, you start feeling a sense of positivity.

It helps to use acceptance along with this step. You don’t fight what is, you just understand it, accept it and keep working at it. When you accept, the anger and the resistance subsides. And as you keep working at it, peace and happiness settle in.

A bigger question

When you decide to bring about change, you have to ask yourself a bigger question. This is a change you want. Maybe a few of your friends, those in your age group, those in your financial bracket etc, want this change too. But are you sure the rest of the society wants this change?

A lot of us like to believe whatever we think is right. A lot of us believe that our idea of growth and betterment is shared by the masses. But we have to realize people have different ideas and preferences. Have you ever thought that maybe, just maybe, the majority of people just don’t want the change you do?

Bringing about change involves talking to people, understanding them, eastablishing a connection. Then you understand what the whole wants, and work towards it. Sometimes, what the whole wants goes totally against your deepest desires. In such a case, you have a choice to make, leave, or adjust, or continue trying to discuss with people.

Strengthening connections

I believe the more we realize ourselves, the less of a feeling of separate interests we have. If we make efforts continuously, our interests will merge more and more with that of the whole.

All of us are working towards the same goal of happiness. Others may have had different experiences and, with their limited human understanding, they have formed some ideas about what makes them happy. This is what we all do. If you go to someone telling them that their ideas are all wrong, they are foolish, you can hardly ever find a solution.

You yourself are a human and may have holes in your understanding. We are usually not as right as we like to think we are.

You have to practice humility if you want to bring about change. When you meet others with humility, accepting that you can be wrong too, acepting that there may be a chance for you to learn from this person and grow, you do more good to everyone involved. You create better, friendlier connections, you keep growing yourself and you keep finding solutions that help all and are accepted by all.

*****

So what are the issues that bother you greatly? And what course have you chosen to deal with the discomfort?

Image credit: Teerapun