Thursday, September 8, 2016

Of silent treatment and walking away ...

A common life principle followed by many people now a days goes like this:

No matter how badly people treat you, never drop down to their level, just know you are better and walk away.

Being constantly surrounded by folks who are always ready to pull you down, most of the times to their level of discourse, this principle sounds obvious and practical for any self-respecting individual trying to stay afloat. The fun starts when one decides who is pulling whom. And it gets funnier when the one who is pulling considers himself as the one who is getting pulled. A perfect case of mistaken identity.

My ruminating self believes that often it is the ego that plays a critical role. It may not be the case of dropping down to a certain level. More often than not, it is about failing to see that you are the person who is treating someone badly, not the other way round. It is about mistaking the ego for self-respect, about mistaking megalomania for magnanimity, and about mistaking self-aggrandizement for self-sacrifice. This happens often in case of the modern empowerment brigade, whose ego considers accepting mistakes a sacrilege, who tend to believe that their character is spotless, who have been brought up on a constant diet of chasing one's convenience, even if it comes at the cost of somebody's survival.

When it comes to remaining silent, or for that matter walking away, be it in the context of the life principle or otherwise, you may not always be doing a great service to the humankind. While having the maturity to know that sometimes silence is more powerful than having the last word, it is the ability to decide the "sometimes" which matters. In common family situations, or even in our corporate lives, it is a known fact that silence leads to more misunderstandings, and it is only through communication that issues can be resolved. It is not always the case of dropping down to someone's level ... it can also be the case of getting back to the fundamentals of where you have come from ... or a case of thinking, or not thinking, about the basics, sitting at your high pedestal. How can walking away in such cases be justified?

All of us have examples of people around us who claim that their silence is golden, and once they open their mouth, there are high chances of an apocalypse. Incidentally, this silence is not golden, but made of brass, with not even an iota of semblance with the yellow metal of higher pedigree. These people also are mistaken by the fact that their silence is helping keep matters under control. Matter of the fact, like in many other cases, is that actions speak louder than words. Even if you remain silent, your abominable actions are enough to bring you down from the pedestal of high morality.

By walking away, as espoused in the life principle, you are not showcasing your nobility. You are in fact running away from the reality, and from the fact that you don't have it in you to climb up (or down, depending upon the way you look at it) and solve the matter. The other person may not treat you badly out of choice, but out of compulsion, because every ounce of extra freedom you claim, is a transgression in that person's basic existence. By snatching their right to exist ounce by ounce, inch by inch, you are disrespecting the faith someone has shown in you. Isn't that a typical trait of a narcissist?

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Of empowerment and its interpretations ...

I was going through my archive of quotes, and came across this gem by Michael P. Watson.

“Strong people don’t put others down, they lift them up.”

One thought led to the other, and then the next one. And the ruminations chugged along …

You name any field, any area of interest, any sphere of life, any white space – one word that makes a repeated occurrence in today’s world is “empowerment”. People are so mesmerized with the concept, that fighting for those who are historically not empowered has become bread and better for multitudes. Justifiably so … that is the need of the hour. Be that as it may, the constant adulation it receives gives me some hope that soon we will be left with no “not-so-empowered” folks in the society. However, disenchantment comes from the way the noble concept is wrongly perceived, and perhaps misused. It makes me wonder whether too much of it with a wrong approach will lead to the previously empowered moving to the other side of the divide, with the new cycle of empowerment movements.

To begin with, empowerment, to me, doesn’t mean snatching the power from one and giving it to the other. Historic mistakes are commonly attempted to be corrected by following this “snatch-and-give” principle. At the end of the day, you are laying ground for another set of “empowerment movements” sought by the newly wronged ones. There are enough examples across the spectrum today which give credence to this argument. This sometimes goes to the extent of espousing empowerment at the cost of compromising on somebody’s basic needs, all in the name of modernity and liberal thoughts.

Then there is a set of people for whom empowerment means scoffing at everything that is traditional, by calling it orthodox. However, doesn’t it really mean looking at things with an open mind, realistically – being practically practical? People selectively oppose certain traditions based on how convenient it is, whether it makes their lives easier or not; and not based on any scientific reasoning or logic. When it comes to age old duties and responsibilities, even if they are logical, opposing them is empowerment. And when it comes to rights, fighting to secure them is empowerment. While the latter makes perfect sense, doesn’t it reflect selfishness when combined with the former? Isn’t this combination very conveniently followed by many members of the empowerment brigade today? How can rights come without any duties and responsibilities? Or does the definition of empowerment mean duties and responsibilities are meant for lesser mortals? Borrowing a quote from Mahatma Gandhi, which subtly touches upon these thoughts -

“Rights that do not flow from duty well performed are not worth having.”

Empowerment for some means using the power to resist any kind of influence, and not agreeing to any kind of adjustments. This is primarily because any infringement on these lines is considered an attack on the freedom that empowerment brings in. Simply put, if there are conflicting responsibilities you need to take care of, with one of them closer to your heart than the other, you are not expected to divide your attention equally. The empowered you is expected to bring in a logical balance between the two responsibilities, so that you do justice to either of them. Both the responsibilities need to move side-by-side. One cannot go without the other. Ensuring this balance doesn’t mean your freedom is compromised or curtailed. The least one can do is not to make it too obvious that you are favoring one above the other, and at least have some semblance of honest effort displayed in your actions.

A conflict that is the closest to my heart is against the school of thought which takes pride in calling itself empowered, by giving more power to the already empowered. They will always be surrounded by similarly empowered folks. Won’t this exalted status be more fruitful to the society or to the cause itself, when you use this to empower the not-so-empowered? Ok, that may sound too socialistic for some capitalists, or for that matter too emotion-heavy for the pragmatists, I still find it difficult to understand the logic of ridiculing the struggle of those on the other side of the divide. Why do we forget that there was a day and time when you also belonged to the other side? Deriding those who make an attempt to get empowered brings out the narcissist streak in today’s empowered lot. If you cannot support their struggle, how can you call yourself a champion of this movement? Is it just because you do it successfully for yourself? You will always want more for yourself, will not be satisfied with what you have, even if that comes at the cost of somebody’s survival. Isn’t this yet another case of self-centered behavior? By going down this path, aren’t you demeaning the very concept you are so proud of? Doesn’t it belie the basic definition of the movement? In fact, is this really empowerment?

This thought process led me to something that I came to know a few days back about a close family friend. Coming from a not-so-large city but having a rich family history (hence within the definition of "financially empowered"), the lady has managed to earn enough respect in her father in law’s eyes that she stands up to him and fights for her mother in law. More importantly, she found the need to do that for her mother in law, putting aside all the “traditional friction” that is a hallmark of this relationship. Now, it is anybody’s guess what approach she took to achieve this, but that to me is true empowerment, rather than shying away from the responsibility siting no reason. While our empowerment brigade often still goes by the age-old definition of this relationship, this small but significant effort in redefining the relationship in the true spirit of empowerment is certainly adorable.

Last but not the least comes another favorite of mine … the use of the word “sorry”, which is not a word in their dictionary. Their empowered self finds it demeaning to apologize for a mistake, even big ones, even if the mistakes would have altered the lives of people around. No iota of remorse is found in the behavior, and of course correcting mistakes is out of question, often getting behind the realms of sacrilege. All their transgressions, that is if they accept them, must be overlooked, and others must be crucified for trivial misses in their behavior. Not to say, anything and everything is justified in the name of, what else, empowerment.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Why hurt someone whose only intention was to make you happy?

Thanks to Facebook, where this phrase made a sudden appearance a few days back, I was able to put words around a conundrum which I was struggling with for some time. In hindsight, it looks so simple that I can't stop questioning my verbal ability (which I should still do because it was [Ctrl + C, Ctrl +V] that did the trick, not my verbal ability). What increased the impact manifold was the adjoining picture ... somewhere deep inside, it touched a raw nerve. Isn't it the same set of people, at this particular age, whom we hurt the most, when there only intention is to make you happy? To make it simpler for us, we may want to avoid questioning their intentions - after all, do we like being in those shoes (being questioned on our intentions, that is)?

Now that I have articulated the puzzle, well, so I believe, the mind has started wandering in search of the elusive solution. It just needs a reason to ruminate, isn't it? As if it gets free air miles for wandering here, there, everywhere, huh? Coming back, there indeed can be multiple reactions or reasons ... trying to quote a few that spring to my mind this lazy Saturday afternoon:

œ You have your own definition of happiness, and you don't want to accept any other. At times, you may even find the other person's definition ridiculous and laughable. But, does it give you the liberty to have fun at someone's expense? And I don't even want to bring in the "freedom of expression" gobbledygook. That one so needs to be compromised at times, for some relationships, for certain people you need to care for. More importantly, does it take too much to change track once in a while, and try to appear genuine about it? At least in front of that person, if not behind the back? Look around and you will see people doing that for you.

œ No matter what that person does, even to an extent of trying to change his / her old behavior to follow your way of doing things, just to have that genuine smile on our face, you won't relent? Why? Is it because of your ego? Or an act of self aggrandizement?

œ You just love seeing the other person suffer. A tit for tat for some past behavior, which you are not able to forget, worse still, you don't want to forget. I fail to understand how can one go down that path of thinking even for someone who is in the twilight of life. My attention goes to that childhood learning from mommy dear where she always advised against this kind of behavior. And lead by example she did - no matter what people around did to her, I don't remember even a single instance when she would have agreed to a tit for tat, however practical it may sound to certain folks. My dear questioning pragmatists, please calm down!

œ Your priorities have changed. Isn't this the favorite of our generation? Well, lack of time is an oft repeated reason now-a-days. For some it is an easy excuse, for some it is genuine. This one is best portrayed by this old Idea Cellular advertisement. Simple articulation (unlike mine), great message, amazing impact, basic emotions! 

œ If someone is truly trying to make you happy, and you can't accept it, just because you are in denial that you need help to be happy. Narcissism is the only word that comes to my mind. Your focus is on self, and you can not think beyond. In summary, you don't care!!

There is of course no easy answer here. And there can be numerous interpretations. But bottom line, if I am allowed to draw one, is that there are more people trying to take your happiness away from you. If there are a few whose intention is to just make you happy, don't question that. For all you know, that is the only thing left for them in their lives.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Gems from Junior - Ready for a promotion!

With the family all set to welcome the "New Junior" in a few month's time, "Old Junior" has already upstaged C and me in the waiting game. Who doesn't love a promotion, eh!

Looking forward to the future partner in crime and impatiently biding his time for the arrival of the would-be pupil is not a child's play (pun intended) for Senior. More eager than ever to move the pram around the play area, boasting about his sibling, or for that matter helping Mommy dear taking care of the baby, our "experienced statesman" has already started making mental notes of dos and don'ts that he will provide as valuable guidance for Junior's survival in the mad house. Answers to most of the typical questions are obviously elder-brotherly. He would have already identified "stuff" that Junior is going to inherit from Senior. While one of the most exhilarating experiences is the anticipating smile on his face while seeing the ultrasound screen, his excitement on seeing the baby's movements on C's tummy is just infectious.

The waiting game some times becomes too much to bear for our just-cross-the-baby-threshold "Old Junior". A recent conversation with C ...

Junior: (Jumping up and down, unsuccessfully attempting to hide his emotions) Mommy, when will the baby come out?

C: Still some time to go Junior. Let your summer vacation begin.

Junior: But I want to play with the baby. I want to see how does the baby look like.

C: (Acknowledging that this is just a sample of the many difficult conversations we are going to have with "Old Junior") Hmm!

Junior: (Not giving up his hope) Mommy, where is your phone?

C: (Here comes the hormone ringing at the wrong time) Here you go. And you are not going to play that stupid car racing game again.

Junior: No. I am not playing any game. (Taking the phone in his hand, and touching the Google icon) Here, type "C's baby" (handing it to C).

C: (Confused) But ...

Junior: (Showing a little irritation) Uff. Just type. We will search how does the baby look like.

C: (With a mix of suppressed confusion and sense of revelation, accompanied by an amused expression) But, Google only knows one baby of C, and that is you.

Junior: (Still not giving up) Psst. Then type "C's small baby" (almost uttering - and these guyz are going to have a baby?).

C: (Blank)

Me: (A silent observer all this while ... could just afford a smile!!)

Mr. Pichai ... are you listening?

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Raise the standard of giving

Tangy Tuesdays
(This post has been selected by blogadda for its Tangy Tuesday Picks on August 11, 2015)

Read a wonderful quote yesterday, popping up on my Facebook page -
"When God blesses you financially, do not raise your standard of living, raise your standard of giving." - Mark Batterson
Having gone through the first part of the quote just a few days back, I thought some recently acquired cognitive capabilities by Facebook were on display here. Because last few days have seen me switching from thoughts around "the blessing", to "standard of living", to "standard of giving".

After sharing the good news with my wife, one of our first few statements was - "Let's start a new SIP." Bang came the reply - "Yes, let's increase the amount we put in our Gold Fund. After all, the yellow metal is at its lowest in five years now." As soon as the higher figure hit my salary account, the first big debit was towards the first EMI of the new car loan I have taken in anticipation of the "blessing". There are already plans lined up for next few months, all the way till December. Some pending for long time, some just about waiting for the right time, or shall I say, the right trigger. Then the BIG credit card bill as a result of the visit to the BIG SALE. These indeed are obvious next steps coming out of such blessings. After all, why else would you spend 80% of your days away from home? Why else would you agree to revise and send the umpteenth version of that presentation, slogging yourself during the weekend? How else in the world would you justify being a part of the "rat race"? However, such a blessing should have a broader meaning than just acquiring these material possessions, or so I think.

Going back to the first conversation back home, I believe there is much more to it than those cognitive capabilities. I am still perplexed what made me go for a billing amount that was almost equal to, if not more than, my take home salary a few years back. I remember I could just manage a sheepish smile when I saw the bill. No, retail therapy was not working. Deep down, there was something that was pinching me. I can still feel the pain rise up my left hand. Either the impact of the quote, or the actual guilt getting accumulated, has made me ponder, yet again, - "Is their an end to this madness? Aren't there other responsibilities I have? Do my responsibilities end by satisfying the needs, wants and desires of my immediate family? Or shall I be satisfied by taking care of the education of that maid's child back home? More importantly, how did my practice of donating a certain sum to the identified NGO on every birthday and anniversary die a slow death, and got converted into a higher sum going into purchasing that extra ounce of Gold on the same days?"

As a matter of fact, my thoughts are meandering in an altogether different direction. We feel we have fulfilled our duties by ensuring we have provided for certain things to someone close. One day, we are on cloud nine when we "sponsor" someone's yet another luxury sojourn, as a mark of love or respect, or for some other unknown reason. Some other day, we give an expensive gift to someone, may be because we want to be different! Yet another day, we feel elated that we will be able to pass on one of the material possessions to someone else. Floating in this sea of megalomania, we nincompoops forget that by making people feel in ways more than one that we have provided for "the thing", we end up increasing the principal amount of our debt. If we ensure the trigger of one particular action for a particular set of people remains under wraps, shouldn't we be thoughtful about "the provided" folks as well? If we stretch ourselves to prove that the expensive gift was indeed a tribute to a certain relationship, shouldn't there be a similar attempt to understand the reason for "being provided"? If we are today in a position to think freely, live independently, behave as we wish, shouldn't we strive hard to make someone else follow the same path? Do we need to be practical even while giving? Shouldn't emotions be the one overwhelming factor?

Giving need not necessarily be through monetary means. Bringing a smile on an old man's face by "bending back a little bit"; having a conversation with a lady just because she may not have anybody else to talk to; sharing your happy moments with someone because you may be the only reason for someone's happiness (or lack of it, whichever way you look at it); being unquestioningly happy about someone finally trying to enjoy life - can't these be the ways and means to raise the standard of giving? Why do we keep on waiting for a "blessing" to come our way before we decide to emulate the lady next door who finds reasons to be charitable to everyone around? Doesn't the occasionally self-proclaimed, higher level of spiritual consciousness make us follow this path?

Similarly, isn't it far more important for us to target our largesse in a way that it doesn't hurt the self-respect of that person? At the same time, being generous to someone who doesn't require it, or for that matter, being less than generous to someone who requires it, defeats the essence of the deed. Doesn't it make more sense to share your blessings with someone who is not so blessed, vis-à-vis someone who is may be even better off than you when it comes to blessings? Much the same way as the bill amount today is manageable, but was not so inconsequential a few years back, the small amount you end up bargaining for may be a big amount for someone else. Someone rightly pointed out - "If we do not hesitate even once before purchasing that pair of jeans worth Rs. 3,000, why do we bargain for Rs. 30 with the vegetable vendor? If we do not fight for a free pair of socks with the same pair of jeans, why do we force the vegetable vendor to put coriander leaves for free?".

Is it possible to raise your standard of living by raising your standard of giving? And if the "rat race" is the impediment here, why don't we step out of it for a while to make mends?