A different kind of kindness

How would you define kindness? Someone who helps the sick or the one who feeds the stray dog? Someone who helps you in difficult times and holds your hand when you are down?

All of us perceive kindness differently. Recently I was talking to my kid about kindness and she asked me something that made me reconsider what I understood of kindness. We were speaking about how we should do some kind act daily and she asked me what if there is no opportunity for a kind act? What if no one was in trouble and did not need help? How can I be kind then?

Seriously, what then? In our pursuit of doing a kind act we forget the importance of a kind word, a gentle touch and a loving smile. It is possible to be kind to someone without them being in a problem situation.

We often underestimate the value of our words especially compliments. We as a society tend to disregard the value of compliments. We tend to believe that compliments may spoil a person or make success go to “their head”. We hold back on these kind words not realizing that they could be our kind act for the day.

I remember having this debate with someone who absolutely did not believe in giving compliments. He argued that the rose flowers without anyone complimenting it and the trees grow without kind words, so why do humans need compliments? Well science has proved him wrong hasn’t it? Haven’t biologists and researchers proved that the plants and flowers too respond more to kind words and complimenting them improves their blooming?

Psychology has forever emphasised the importance of positive strokes or positive reinforcement. It has been proved time and again that positive feedback is more likely to increase the desired behaviour. Yet we ignore these simple gestures of kindness.

How often do we compliment someone and not just the girl/boy we wanted to impress? Often we tend to believe that not criticizing something is equivalent to complimenting it. Most people believe that eating the food served to us without complaining is complimenting the cook.

The need for appreciation is an inherent need in all living beings. Plants, animals and humans all respond to appreciation. A sudden decline in positive reinforcement is often known to cause low mood and disinterest. A simple compliment can lift our mood is a known and experienced fact. Why then do we deny this basic need of others around us?

Imagine yourself coming back home tired after a long day and you are greeted by your child’s bright smile or your dog’s wagging tail. I can almost see you smiling as you read this. As children we give the most genuine compliments and animals show unrestrained appreciation and we as adults loose the simple act of kindness.

I have often heard people talk about how it is not in their nature to appreciate and how their approval and appreciation is silent and in their actions. Yes most of us understand silent acceptance as a form of appreciation. All of us have come to accept lack of criticism as appreciation. Many would argue about how self appreciation is enough and you don’t need others to compliment you.

But let me ask you something, we can survive on fruits and water. We will live a long and healthy life just on that diet but would you want to live that way? Just because something is sufficient for survival does not mean it is enough for happiness.

Yes I agree that the need for appreciation should not become our sole source of motivation. It is unhealthy when it becomes all powering and all consuming. But having no need for appreciation is also unhealthy. Don’t our sages too seek appreciation from the Supreme Being?

Remember how a simple star or a smiling face from your teacher made your day as a kid. Remember how a simple cheer from the crowd pushes an athlete to perform better? Remember how a good feedback boosts the employee.

You could be a painter or a teacher or a priest, a compliment will definitely make you happy. Then why not extend the same to others. We don’t hold back an opportunity to criticize then why do we hold back the appreciation.

Giving a compliment works both ways. It makes both the sender and the receiver happy. Try a simple experiment today….compliment your maid, appreciate the autowala who got you home, thank the person on the road who allowed you to overtake and appreciate the one who cooked your food and tell me you don’t feel on top of the world.

We can’t all be Mother Teresa and become saints but our little acts of kindness can definitely make the world a better place.

And don’t forget me in your list of people to compliment today 😉

A matter of choice

“Crime on rise!!” screams every newspaper today. Every person worth their words talks about changing the society to reduce crime. We need to change the way we look at things. What things? No one has a definite answer.

Why do you think crime occurs? Or even before that what is crime? Is it only murder, rape, violence? Or is crime a denial of rights? Is it ok to commit smaller crimes if I don’t commit bigger ones?

Crime is everywhere. Unfortunately most of them get blanketed by the bigger “news worthy” crimes. It has been ingrained in us that unless someone dies or is maimed or loses their “virtue” there is no crime.

According to me crime is denial of choice. This is one of the main reasons crime occurs. We may rant about broken families, poverty, abuse etc but the truth of the matter is that we are not taught to respect choices.

It starts very young. I remember attending the naming ceremony of a child. The poor kid was handed over to each and every relative despite its screaming protests. It was more important not to hurt the sentiments of the relatives than to see the comfort of the child. The kid’s choice didn’t matter. How can a kid that young have a choice? He/she may not have a choice about people but it has a choice about comfort or discomfort, right? Should we not respect that?

This continues through childhood. What we eat, when we eat, how we eat or sleep is pre-decided by the clock and not by choice. There was a joke that I read which said “The number of sweaters worn by the child is directly proportional to how cold the mother is feeling”.

We never learn to respect choices. Neither our own nor of others.  That someone could have a different way of thinking is not acceptable to us. It is not about not being able to respect someone else’s religion or faith, we do not respect any choice.

Think of the last time you went out with a group of friends. A couple of them chose not to come and were judged as spoil sports. Someone wore mis-matched clothes, he/she has no “choice” in clothes. And then there is the eternal debate between the vegetarians and non vegetarians.  If we can’t respect choices among friends where do we stand with the rest of the world?

Forget the serious matters, we are not even accepting that people can have different choices of how they want to have fun. An adventurer will ridicule the choice of a party goer who will ridicule the book worm. Isn’t fun a personal choice?

Let us have a look at our media especially our movies and television. How do they portray choices? The first thing that comes to my mind is the dialogue “uski naa mein bhi haan hai”. The hero of the movie happily ignores the wishes and the personal space of the girl he desires. He is shown to go to any extent to win her over despite she stating her choice clearly. From hiring fake goons to forcing her to dance with him everything is justified till the time she changes her choice. And this is the good guy in the whole movie???

What does this teach the impressionable generation watching this ridiculous disrespect of choice? Does it not encourage a person to believe that it is okay to ignore a girl’s protest? Does it not show that it is okay to force your choice on to a girl? Or that the girl has no right to say no? Does this not indirectly justify the crime against women?

How many times have we heard of lovers killing their object of affection because they could not accept their “no”. How many times have rapes happened because the choice of the girl was not respected? And how many times have suicides happened because one could not accept a difference in choice.

Why is it so difficult for us to respect the choices of someone else? Have we groomed ourselves that way?

There was this kid who came crying to his mother because no one wanted to play the game he wanted to play. The mother’s quick solution was “then don’t play with them”. Why? So if you don’t agree with my choice I will not be friends with you?

I remember a little girl who was angry with her dad. The poor father in all his wisdom had ordered the daughter’s favourite food in the restaurant. “So why are you angry? Did you not want to eat it?”, I asked. “No I wanted to eat exactly that but still he could have asked me what I wanted!!!”. So much wisdom in that little tantrum. We often presume we know what the other wants and we take away the right to choose.

One thing that is worse than not respecting the choice of someone else is ignoring your right to choose.

More often than not we see crime as an act of circumstances. Something that the protagonist does when he/she has “no choice”. Does that mean that all people in the same circumstances will behave the same way? No it does not.

While it is true that circumstances have a great bearing on the decision we make but ultimately it is a matter of choice. We often perceive ourselves as a helpless victim of our circumstances. What we forget is that the perception is also a matter of our choice. The circumstances may not be under my control but what I choose to do about those circumstances will always be a matter of my choice.

The choices that we make may not always be the best. Sometimes my choice and the choice of others will clash. But a respect for choices will take me long way.

Life is like a shopping mall. A wide variety of choices on display. Whether I choose the one that best suits me or whine about them not having the right size is a matter of choice.

 

The future of my past

Que Sera Sera. What will be will be. What about what has been? Do we let it remain has been or do we insist on making it could have been and should have been?

In school the importance of history was always highlighted as learning from the past. To learn from the mistakes and triumphs of the great men and women and shape our present.

Sounds good? Absolutely!!! I loved history. I can spend hours imagining myself as a Krantikari from the Quit India movement or a brave warrior in the army of some great King or a maybe a queen living in luxury.

The past has always played an important role in our life. A lot of our actions and reactions are said to have a basis in our past. The religious said my past life determined the course of my actions today. That I carry the burden of my past sins and reap the benefits of my good deeds that I did in my past life. Many psychologists believe that my past experiences and learnings shape my behaviour and actions today. Carl Jung believed that it was not just my past but the collective past of the human race that shapes our perceptions and ideas.

Most wise men have talked about the evil of reliving the past. The past is best gone by. It is best not to dwell on it. Is that even possible? Unfortunately life does not come with a delete button. What is stored in my brain is stored for ever. So what do I do with my past if I can’t forget it?

I often come across people who want to erase their past. They often pray for a magic wand which would just erase the memories of past.

Ever since I read Harry Potter I was intrigued with the idea of having a “time-turner”. A device that can take you to the past. If I could go back in the past what would I do? Change it perhaps? But what would I change? Some experiences, a relationship that went wrong, a disastrous decision, a wrong career choice, the death of a loved one? Too many things and too little time!!!

However, to quote J.K Rowling, bad things happen to those who meddle with the past. The past however unpleasant is a valuable part of my life. I am what I am because I have dealt with my past.

Why is it that the past scares me? Is it because it shows me that I have failed? It shows me that I have made an error in judgment? It reminds me that I made a wrong choices or took unwise decisions? Does it scare me because it shows me what I lost? After all who wants to be reminded of their inadequacies?

Is the past just that? Does it  not show that I survived? Does it not reveal that I made wrong decisions but my life did not end? Does it not reflect that my error in judgment also lead to some brilliant contingency plans? Is it not an echo of how I fought and won over my failure? Yes there are things about my life that I rather forget. There are memories that I rather not have. However I believe that these are the memories that have taught me the most pleasant things about life.

A young man who lost his job wanted to forget those months of his life. He did not want to relive the feeling of helplessness and inadequacy. We sat down to talk about other things about those months. And he remembered the time of family bonding, of the strength he got from his spouse, the complete love and acceptance of his family, of rekindling lost friendships, of discovering old hobbies. So did he still want to forget those months? I think the answer is obvious.

A broken relationship in the past teaches you how capable you are of loving someone. How hard you tried to make things right? Sure you failed to hold on to the person but did you not discover a side of you that was hidden so long?

Losing a loved one is always painful. It is a bitter sweet memory. It taught me how to fight no matter what. It taught me that I can carry on and the loved one will live on in my heart. It taught me that I have the courage to live and the will to survive in any circumstances.

An unhappy childhood is under all circumstances an unwanted memory. Who wants to remember their parents fighting? Although it is also tinged with memories of sibling bonding and that protective feeling. It taught me how I overcame crushing circumstances to stand by those I love.

The past is not the same as hindsight. It is not how differently I could have done things it is how I lived. It is not what I lost but it is how I searched and found something unexpected.

The past is also old songs and childhood friends. It is also warm maternal hugs and grandma’s cooking.

The past may be a heavy burden but don’t we all lift weights to build endurance?

Some would say “I could not hold on to my future because my hands were too busy holding my past”

I would say “The past held my hand to walk me to the future…..”

The enemy within

When you think of the word enemy what image do you get in front of you? An evil, cunning monster out to get you? An enemy is a person who causes harm or has a potential to cause harm to us.  The harm could be physical or psychological, perceived or real or merely an attempt to stop us from progressing in life.

So who is the real enemy? The one across the border? The one with the job we wanted or the girl we wanted? The society and its views? The government and our system? I know most of us would respond to it as all of the above.

We often need a reason to explain our failure. A target preferably external which can explain why we did not achieve what we wanted to. We start very young. The out of portion questions in an exam, the teachers who were partial, the boys who cheated in the match or the group of friends who are spoiling my oh so innocent son/daughter.

Of course the society, our culture and the education system is responsible for us not doing well as an adult. And there are always the in laws to blame for our marriages to not do well.

Let me ask you honestly, are these the real enemies? Are these the real reasons we struggle in our everyday lives. Truthfully, no!

The real enemy lies within all of us. The enemy that we are unwilling to acknowledge and therefore grows stronger and stronger till it destroys all sense of rationality.

So who is this enemy? This enemy is the “what if” fear. What will happen if I do this or don’t do this? What if I don’t succeed? What if he/she says no? This enemy has defeated many of us and tortured even more of us.

To defeat the enemy you need to know it. Let us see the battle strategy of our enemy.

We have become so used to a mechanical world that we want guarantees for everything. But life is not a washing machine. It does not come with the desires guarantees. Neither does the washing machine for that matter!! We have to take risks in life. Every coin has fifty-fifty probability of landing either heads or tails. Similarly in our life we have a fifty-fifty chance of success and failure be it in career or in relationships. What we can do is tilt the balance towards success. In other words try our best to reduce the possibility of failure.

Most people avoid doing things because they fear they will not succeed in it. Wonder if they stop breathing because there is no possibility of immortality. Or do they stop driving because there is always a possibility of getting stuck in a traffic jam.

We worry about taking up task because I fear I might not do well or rather I might not do as well as I want to. I worry about getting into a relationship because it may not be as I expected.

I met a young girl’s parents who wanted her to take up engineering for further studies despite the girl’s vehement protests. She wanted to be a chef. Their argument was that the guarantee of success was higher for an engineering graduate than a chef. She could always be a chef after she did her engineering!!! Wonder if they had ever heard of master chefs???

Another young man was afraid of taking part in a competition because his chances of winning were slim. But did not participating take the chances down to zero?

And couple were afraid of committing to each other because of the high chances of break ups and divorces. How do you know we won’t end up as a bitter couple?

My answer to all these questions is what if you don’t? We want everything around us to be under our control. The whole world has to adjust itself according to our plans. If we are late the traffic signals have to be green as we pass. Otherwise I feel that the whole world is conspiring against me.

So what do I do? Leave everything to fate or Karma. No most definitely not. But I do need to remember that if there is no guarantee for success neither is there a guarantee for failure. We can work towards reducing the probability for failure and not work towards eliminating it all together.

Tipping the balance towards success is manageable. To start with let us accept that the possibility of failure always exists. The best laid plans can go haywire. Nothing can ensure success but not doing anything can definitely ensure failure.

The most successful people are not the people who planned for success but who planned how to deal with failure. The smart way to plan is to plan with a margin for error. Would it not be easier to leave ten minutes early than to expect people on the road to suddenly behave sanely.

It is important to keep in mind that all things are not under my control. We waste most of our time in trying to control things which are beyond our control. The condition of the roads, the reaction of people, the competition, the way the stars align…..

Instead it would be simpler to try and control my fear of “what if”. A wise man once said “ I had many worries most of which did not exist”. We tend to live in anticipation of failure. We focus so much on the possibility of failure that we disregard the possibility of success.

We can always try. The worst that can happen is that I won’t achieve what I wanted. However if I don’t try the best that can happen is I will live with regret.

 

There is a distinct possibility that I may have failed to put my point across but I can always hope for the best 😉

 

The big of small things

These days all of us have been wondering why we don’t do well on international forums? Why we don’t win matches on foreign soil or we don’t get more Olympic medals. Is it just the lack of opportunities? Just the politics of our system?

It is something more than that. It is our inability to value and respect our own self. Why is it that we recognise the win and not the effort? Why is it that we can appreciate the medal and not the attempt?

Forget anyone else. How often do we appreciate our own self? When we do something big or out of ordinary? I have often heard people say that I want to do “big” things in life. What are these big things? Winning an Olympic medal? A lot of people have done that. Bolt has done it thrice in one year! Saving someone’s life? A lot of people have done that too! Making millions of dollars? Someone has done that too. So how is it big?

Why do I want to do big things? Why does my self respect depend on doing big thing?

We go on about how no one appreciates us and no one values our work. First let me ask do you? When do you feel proud of yourself? When was the last time you praised yourself? When did you last appreciate the effort you put in something?

The last time I felt proud of myself was when someone else acknowledged my achievement. The last time I praised myself was when I got a star in my homework in kindergarten. The last time I appreciated my effort was when someone else appreciated my work.

Sounds familiar?  All of us are guilty of this. And it doesn’t end there. I thanked my friend for all the help he gave for a work I did. His typical response was “I hardly did anything. It was a small thing”. Usme kya badi baat hai. Yeh to mera farz tha sounds good in movies. Why can’t we accept that even our small gestures may mean something to someone? That had I not done that small gesture the other person would have still been struggling. Because we do not respect ourselves.

How often do we appreciate ourselves for the small things we do. I asked a woman to write down ten good things she did in a day for a period of one week. She came back to me with a blank diary. “ I didn’t do anything”. Then we discussed what she did as a part of her routine. So she woke up at 5 a.m, cooked for the whole family, got everyone ready, went to work etc. etc. And all this is not good? No everyone does this so why should I list it as something good. So would you blame yourself if you did not do all this? Would you call yourself a bad wife/mother/employee if you did not manage all this? Yes all of us would.  Because we don’t respect ourselves.

So why is that the absence of something is bad but the presence of the same thing not good?

I went to this friend’s place for lunch and she had this scrumptious meal waiting for me which would put five star restaurants to shame. And the first thing she said to me was “have not made much”. Why do we need to this? Why this constant need to put oneself down? Because we don’t respect ourselves.

It is just not our work. We don’t respect anything about us. How many of us look into the mirror and appreciate what we have? I would look good “if only” ………We abuse our body, our features, our complexion but we want others to appreciate it.

We don’t respect our belongings. You go to someone’s house and the first thing you hear is “please ignore the mess’. I have often wanted to say I am not from the garbage disposal company. I am here to meet you not take stock of your house. Someone compliments on our dress and the prompt reply is “It’s an old one”.

I am by far no management expert (see how in built putting myself down is). But if I keep criticizing my own product, if I keep going on and on about how below the mark it is, how will anyone believe it to be good.

Respecting yourself, appreciating the things you do is not blowing your own trumpet. It is not being egoist. It is about giving credit where it is due. I am not asking you to go tell everyone how good you are I am just asking you to stop telling yourself how insignificant you are.

When we put ourselves down constantly we in turn give others the right to put us down. We teach our children that self respect doesn’t matter.

According to me big things are made up of small things. Stopping at a red light, looking after my family, giving someone a home cooked meal, being someone’s friend. If you do that then you have my respect and you should have your own too.

Everybody can respect the big

It takes a special person to respect the small

Everybody can respect the winner

It takes a special person to respect the one who tried winning

Everybody can respect the other

It takes a special person to respect me

Be that special someone…..

 

 

Love is…..Freedom

Love probably is the most abused word in the world. What is love? When do you say that you love someone? Or that someone loves you?

Someone told me love is not being able to live without each other. Me thinks love is being able to live with each other!

Films, books, poems, ballads have all spoken about love as all consuming, omnipotent and omnipresent feeling. It is said to pervade all your senses and give you a natural high. Psychologically it is said to be a protective factor against depression.

But then what happens when love meets reality? The same love becomes the causative factor of all neurosis?

We all have an idealized concept of love. We have been brought up to believe that love is an over whelming feeling which will pervade all our senses and make us hallucinate (hearing bells and seeing hearts and smelling the person). What happens when none of this happens?

We grew up with the concept of happily ever after from our fairy tales to our folk lore to our movies. It often makes me wonder what happens after the last scene. Was Cinderella able to adjust to life as a queen? Did the prince and the princess have a good marriage? Did Raj and Simran get along after their marriage?

We all have a template of an ideal partner. We want that person to be our best friend, our parent, our kid, our therapist, our financial advisor etc. Unfortunately the constitution of our country does not allow polygamy. We get into a relationship with stars in our eyes and then someone switches on the lights.

Let us explore some of the myths of love.

The biggest one is Love is doing everything together. Never understood this one. I met a couple with this firm belief in their head. So they fought and bickered while doing things together. She liked sappy romantic movies while he liked action packed drama. She liked eating spicy food while he preferred something else. In their bargain to do everything together they just managed to have fights. Love is not about changing your choices. It is about respecting each others choices. Would things have been simpler if they watched the movies they liked separately with their own set of friends and then spent some time together doing what they really liked?

Another one is Love is understanding the unsaid. He/she should know what I am thinking because he/she loves me. None of us are mind readers (yeah not even your therapist, Thank God!). The whole point of language was to communicate your thought. If someone could understand what you wanted by just looking at you why would we need like a million languages (though school would have been so much easier without the language subjects). He/she should have understood does more damage than global warming.

Love is counting your blessings. This one is probably the most misunderstood one. Usually couples tend to count how their spouse has been blessed by marrying them. “I have done so much for you!” is like a mantra which has to be said 108 times in a day. And the other person has to counter it by saying “everyone does that”. If you are going to do something as a favour or as a duty might as well not do it. You do it because you want to do it. It is a choice that you make. If you choose to cook for your family it is a conscious decision that you make, why count it as a blessing. If you choose take care of your sick spouse it is a choice that you took in a rational mind state, does it become a favour?

On similar lines is Love is sacrifice. What does sacrifice mean? It means when you willingly give up something to get something more important. The highlight here is “willingly”. Why then does it have to be a bone of contention?  Why does it have to be used as a weapon in a fight?

The favourite one of relationship advisors and Karan Johar movie fans is Love is eating together. Yes it makes sense because you get to spend time together. Now let us take a reality check. The wife comes back home after a tiring day at work or has just finished her household chores of the whole day. She has not eaten since lunch and is famished. The husband gets delayed in traffic and is starving too. How likely is it that two ‘food deprived exhausted’ individuals can have a loving conversation. Would it be more rational for the one at home to eat and then sit with the other while he/she eats and have a rational conversation after dinner? But then love is being irrational no?

The most irritating one is Love is a tool for change. I have heard a million couples say “I thought he/she will change” or even worse “I can change him/her with my love”. If love was enough to change people I would be out of a job. Yes love acts as a catalyst for change. It is a great motivator. But wanting to completely change a person to suit your own preferences is unfair. Will resentment not build in? Is your love an experiment in social psychology? Is the point of your relationship to see what stimulus will modify this behaviour? Why then be with a person you want to change?

Another misunderstood one is Love is having no ego. Ego yes, dignity no. I come across many individuals (yes men too) who completely forgo their dignity in the name of love. Putting up with abuse both physical and verbal, giving up on your choices and desires, giving up your self respect is not love. If your love is making you give up your own self and be completely different then it is not love at all.

Love is… Loving yourself too

Love is …. Respecting your difference

Love is…. Freedom

Love is… Independence

Happy Independence Day. Love yourself, love your country and love with dignity

The worst of being the best

“Oh he/she is the best”! A statement that all of us keep wanting to hear about us or those around us (especially mothers!).

What is the best? Does it have any criteria? A cut off score? Or even a definition? I have never really understood the way people use “the best” as an absolute, be it in terms of food, health or people.

The best food from a restaurant is “ma ke haath ki yaad dilane wala” and the best food cooked by mom is “hotel jaisa”. So what is the best food exactly?

According to me “the best” changes from day to day, situation to situation and person to person. The best morning could be a Sunday morning when I don’t have to get up and do anything or the best morning could be a day of fulfilling work.

Ask a romantic and he will tell you that the best weather is dark clouds, pouring rain and freezing breeze. Ask a person waiting to play cricket and he will tell you the best weather is bright sunshine and clear sky.

If then we are not clear about how “the best” is defined for such concrete concepts, how do we define “the best” for abstract things like human qualities?

We try so hard to be the best at whatever we do. Yet we never spare a thought to what is this best? Let’s take an example of “the best”” doctor. What according to you is  “the best” doctor? This one lady complained to me how her doctor gave her just one medicine for her symptoms. Obviously he did not know much!!! While another complained about how the doctor gives too many pills. Is “the best” doctor someone who charges less or do we believe that ‘he is expensive so must be “the best”’. Can’t seem to reach to a conclusion, can we?

Let’s try a teacher then. The best teacher is someone who makes sure that the student understood the concept or someone who dictated notes? Someone who cracks jokes in class or someone who is a strict disciplinarian?

Most of our life is spent in this pursuit of “the best”. We are obsessed with being the best professional, the best parent, the best friend, the best son, the best wife and so on. We want our children to be the best boy/girl, the best student, the best sportsperson and what not.

Best is a superlative degree. In other words it involves comparison. But comparison can be between similar things. I remember watching an interview about two legendary cricketers Sir Don Bradman and Sachin Tendulkar. The person made a very valid point. He said that the two can’t be compared because they were playing in different conditions, different rules and different formats of the game. They both are best in their own way.

Such simple logic. To be the best in our own way and not in comparison with someone. Wanting to best my own self. To be better than I was yesterday. Why is it so complicated then?

We have been brought up to believe that we can only be the best when we are better than others? It is subconsciously imbibed in us that it is more important to defeat than to win.

It is not just marks or a salary package. It has permeated deep within every part of our existence. We even compare our relationship. The success of marriage is not about how much we love each other but whether we love each other the most. I have seen many couples fight because they aren’t the superlative in each other’s life. She should enjoy being in my company the most, he should like my cooking the best, he should find me the best looking, she should care for me the most.

Even our holidays are a competition. Its not about spending time together or having fun. It is about having the best location, the best accommodation and the best photos. A healthy life is not about a good diet and exercise. It is more about whether I ate less and exercised more than others.

There is no denying the role of competition in our world. I agree it is not always possible to compete only with oneself.  There are limited seats in a college, limited jobs and limited Olympic medals. It is important to excel.

The desire to be the best is important. It motivates us to go forward. It makes us push our limits and move out of our comfort zone. The problem begins when the desire becomes a compulsion. When I consider myself a failure if I am not the best. Why? Because the best is not static. It changes with time.

How can I be the best when the best keeps changing? What was best today may become mundane tomorrow. Anyone who buys a car or an electronic item can vouch for that statement. If the goal makes me give up before I even tried it is not a goal at all.

The best becomes the worst when it is defined by someone else. If I define my success with someone else as the reference point. If that was so Sachin Tendulkar would cease to be the best batsman the moment Virat Kohli broke his record.

The toughest competition is the one I have with my past self.

The best is a mirage. Reality then is to move ahead. Ahead of where I was today because in my pursuit of being the best I might become better.

 

The policewala at the signal

A smart driver in the Indian context is a person who can spot a traffic cop faster than the cop can spot him. An efficient cop is one who can hide and pop up like a ghost in front of the unsuspecting truant driver (and that is why we learnt how to play hide and seek in childhood).

My kid once asked me why everyone had stopped at a signal when there was no policewala around. That question made me analyse the way we inculcate values and morals in our society. Ever wonder why we choose to follow certain rules and why we have no qualms about breaking others?

Social upbringing can be divided into two main types a “shame” culture and a “guilt” culture. A shame culture society uses social embarrassment or ridicule to teach values. The “what will people say” fear is used to make people behave in socially approved manner. The guilt culture focuses more on the internal yardstick of right and wrong. Each culture has its own advantages and disadvantages.

No points for guessing which culture we belong to. Fear of being shamed was inculcated in us right from childhood. A two year old is told to wear underwear because people will say “shame shame” and he/she needs to be toilet trained or else the aunties will laugh.

I remember teachers in my school shaming boys into cutting their hair by tying it into a ponytail. These boys stopped cutting their hair altogether once they were out of school. A mother once told her kid that she needs to score well otherwise no one would be friends with her.

Avoidance of shame is slowly replaced by avoidance of punishment. We do homework to avoid being scolded by the teacher, we do our work to avoid getting fired and we stop at a signal to avoid getting fined.

What then is the problem if the system is getting things done from us? Doesn’t the end justify the mean? The problem lies when there is no cop at the signal. How do we behave then?

Does that mean its ok to cheat when no one is watching? Is it okay to steal or do fraud if no one is going to come to know? Can I violate someone’s rights because that person will not tell anyone? Are we in a way not propagating this attitude?

When I teach my child that he/she needs to behave in a particular way because other people are watching, how is he/she to behave when no one is watching? So it becomes a case of the mice will play when the cat is not around.

In a way are we not teaching the child that right or wrong depends on the societal approval? Is it then not simple matter of changing who watches me? If I hang around with people who drink or do drugs I need not be ashamed of doing the same.

Neither shame nor avoidance of punishment can be a permanent motivator. After a while things that shamed me or scared me earlier will cease to have an impact on me. The policeman at the signal soon holds no fear.

Why then should I follow rules? Because I want to or because it’s the right thing to do irrespective of who is around me.

We never teach our children to distinguish between the right or wrong themselves. It is always imposed. How many of us tell the child that he/she should do homework because it helps in learning and not because the teacher will scold. How many of us teach our children to obey rules because they are important and not because they will be suspended from school.

Does punishment and shame guarantee “good” behaviour? Does it make sure that there is no crime in the society? No it does not. Why? The answer to that is very simple. The punishment and the shame do not make me regret the action it only makes me regret being caught. The only purpose it serves is an increased effort to cover my tracks.

The shame only makes me want to hide stuff. From hiding my poor report card, to my inadequate salary to the fraud in my income tax. I met a man who was having an extra marital affair. Did he not feel guilty about cheating on his wife of many years? No as long as she did not find out it was okay and “I do my best that she will never come to know of it. I do love my wife too”. So the affair is justified because what the wife doesn’t know won’t hurt her and he can sleep peacefully at night.

A young man who suffers from alcohol dependence takes immense efforts to hide his drinking habit from his parents. “I don’t want to hurt them or cause worry”. I wonder if he could hide the alcohol from his liver too!!

Sometimes more effort is required on hiding the evidence of my wrong doings than to actually do the right thing. Have you ever seen people who make chits during the exam? How much effort they put into hiding them? Will studying for the test not be easier? Or an alcoholic eating God knows how many mints to hide his bad breath?

We all are guilty of this behaviour. Sliding in a torn rupee note to a crowded petrol pump attendant, breaking a queue when the person in front is distracted, not buying a ticket in a crowded train are just a few examples. Your child is watching you and learning that it is important to do right only when someone is watching. So next time you complain that he/she stops studying the moment you turn your back you know who to blame.

Think of a society where each one of us does the correct thing for the simple reason of choosing the right option. A society where I take the responsibility of being my own conscience. A society where I am answerable to my own self.

The sun rises irrespective of anyone watching the sunrise and I stop at the red light irrespective of the policewala watching at the signal.

Ma and the gajar ka halwa syndrome

A substantial population of the heroes of Hindi cinema grew up eating “ma ke haath ka gajar halwa”. Be it success at a running race or a heartbreak; getting a job or losing one, ma was ever ready with a steaming hot plate of gajar ka halwa (irrespective of the season). Few spoonfuls of this halwa and all the sufferings were gone (maybe I should start serving it too in the clinic). Ever notice that the mothers of the villains never made gajar halwa or gajar salad for that matter!! Maybe that’s why they didn’t become heroes 😉

Films they say are a reflection of our society (please let’s just say some films). So what do we understand about “mother” from our films. From the self sacrificing mother of Deewar to the evil scheming mother of “Beta”, the role of mother has been significant in our films. She is the one who makes or breaks the protagonist of the film.

What about our society then? How do we portray a mother? Scrolls and scrolls have been written about the unconditional love of the mother. From carrying you for nine months, to the labour pain to the shaping of your personality; poets, writes, artists all have glorified motherhood.

No one denies the love of a mother towards her child, no matter how old he/she is. I have experienced that love from my mother and I experience it for my child. What I don’t understand is the need to glorify it.

From the Vedas and Purans, from Freudians to modern psychiatrists/psychologists, from teachers to laymen we have focused on the role of mother in the life of the child. A badly behaved child is often considered a reflection of a bad mother. From an incompetent daughter in law to an irritating husband, the blame solely lies on the mother.

We all have been brought up with the concept of an “ideal mother”. A self sacrificing, all loving, never tiring, all forgiving being. Did I just describe God? Oh yes, mother is God, right?

So what does this image of an ideal mother do to us? Let’s think of a young woman planning to have a child. Everyone around her tells her how blessed she is. She can’t complain of the morning sickness, cramps, fatigue , mood swings because she is going to be a “mother”.

Then she has a child for whom she has to feel an instant attachment and immense love for from the word “go” never mind her fatigue and raging hormones. Yes, she will look after her child, feed it, clean it, bathe it but is the added pressure necessary. Does she become an evil mother if she expresses the need for a break or sleep or solitude?

As the child grows up a mother’s world is supposed to revolve around her child. Life becomes a no win situation for her. Her child cries when she is away she is a useless mother, if the child doesn’t cry it’s because she doesn’t love the child enough. If she works after pregnancy she is blamed of neglect, if she doesn’t she is blamed of not planning for the child’s future. If she cuddles the child often she is spoiling it, if she doesn’t she is cold.

And then there are these innumerable “parenting classes” which expect you to have the patience of a saint and firmness of a king. A mother is expected to do everything right. Can you imagine the amount of anxiety this can induce in a person.

Don’t forget the blindfolded judges waiting at every nook and corner. You go out with a date alone with your husband and you are not fit to be mother. You don’t love your child enough if you don’t spend every waking minute with it. You fall asleep when the child is awake and you are accused of neglect. You have a maidfor cooking and you are depriving the child of ghar ka khana.

No wonder we grow up with a total disregard for our mothers. We demand and we expect from them. Yes of course we love them but how often do we ask her what she wants. I met this young man who loved taking his mother to fancy restaurants to thank her for all the lovely food she cooked. Never once did he think that maybe just maybe she doesn’t like that rich spicy food. “ I don’t allow my mother to do any work at home”, said another. His mother reported of feeling bored the whole day doing nothing.

Now let’s talk about men. It is so unfair to them when we glorify motherhood. The poor father has a role to play too which is totally neglected or looked at only through financial terms. And then we fight with our husbands for not taking responsibility of our kids. They were brought up to believe that their mother was the whole and sole in their upbringing and that their wives are sacrificing so much to bring up the kid. Why exactly should he take more interest in the kids?

As a society we call our nation “motherland”..Bharat Ma. So we go ahead and use her, soil her clothes, make fun of her, leave her without a second thought yet expect her to love us and provide the best to us. That’s how we have been brought up to treat our mother so why is it strange?

A mother is first and foremost a human being. She has needs, feelings, emotions and choices. She has rational and irrational demands. A sudden change in the role does not invalidate these. There is no such thing as a perfect mother.

A sensible mother is a person who acknowledges that she is not God. She accepts that becoming a mother does not mean not being a human being. She will have her ups and downs. She will have moments when she will regret having a kid, she will want minutes of solitude outside of the loo and she will want to whack the child once in a while.

The kid did not come with an instructional manual. Motherhood is about learning on the job through trials and errors and enjoying them too.

I love being a mother but I love being me too…and that’s what I will teach my kid.

A life worth living

I could kill myself! How easily and casually we use these words. Sometimes in humour and sometimes over embarrassing situations. But ever wonder what goes on in the minds of those who actually mean it.

Everyday we hear about suicides. Everyday there is someone who thought about suicide. Usually the reaction is what a waste of life. Why did he/she take the easy way out? I wish he/she could have been stronger or that they were cowards.

Ever wondered how can killing oneself be an easy way out? Survival is our basic instinct. From the time we were micro organisms to the time we evolved as high functioning primates it is all about survival. Even the foetus in the womb tries its best to survive. An infant immersed in water instinctually kicks its limbs for survival. If then our need for survival is so strong, how is it possible to overrule it?

People who end their life do not do so because they want to die but because they are unable to find the reasons to live. The will to live is lost; the instinct to come to surface has weakened.

What exactly is this will to live? Is it a purely biological instinct to survive that we carry from our evolutionary days? Or does it have a root in our perception of self worth. Life is one of the greatest assets we have. Why then does it loose its worth?

Probably because we have never been taught to value life. The newspapers these days are full of stories about how we disregard the life of others. The accident victim, the soldier on the border, the protesting student, the child in a war torn country; they are all evidences of our general disregard for life. Logically we could say that we value our own life more than others. As long as I am ok, the world can go to hell attitude.

But life is not about a beating heart, a functioning brain and breathing lungs. It is about me as a person with my expectations, my feelings and my hopes. This is the life we tend to disregard.

I have seen the families of suicide victims lament about how the person did not think about those that he/she left behind. His/ her act is seen as an act of selfishness. Or the person who expresses the wish to kill himself/ herself is often asked to think of others. How will it affect the parents/spouse/children, the shame it will bring to them or the guilt they will have to face.

Yes the family of the victim suffers, there is no denying that. But am I to continue to live only because my family should not suffer? It could be one of the reasons, but is it the only reason that I continue to live?

Living for others has been always seen as a noble thought. A life dedicated to others is a life worth living. Does that mean I can not live for myself? Why does it have to be an either or situation? Can I live for others while I am living for myself?

Since childhood we hear about how others live for us. How my father works so hard so that I can go to a good school, how my mother sacrificed her career because I could be looked after. How the husband and wife stay together because of the children. So it is my duty when I grow up to live for them and to fulfill their dreams. Yes a very noble aim of life. I want to be successful to make my parents happy. I want to stay in my marriage to make my children happy. So I suffer in a meaningless job and a loveless marriage disregarding my growing feeling of hopelessness.

How often do we hear about the suicide of a person and exclaim “He/she was the last person I thought would do this. He/ she was successful at work, was financially stable and had a family. Why then did he take such an extreme step?” Why indeed? Because we never looked beyond the window view to see whether this he/she was happy? We never bothered to find out what made that person’s life worthwhile.

Why do people think of killing themselves after a broken love affair or a lost job opportunity or after a loss in business? Why do people kill themselves when they get an illness? Because we measure our life’s worth based on our value in the lives of others. If my lover leaves me that means I am not valuable enough so what is the point of living? If I can’t fulfill the needs of my family what right do I have to live? If I can’t live upto the expectations of my significant others my life has zero value. My family is suffering because of me so it is better that I die.

Is that what makes my life worth living? Is it really so selfish to live because I want to live and not because I have duties and roles to play?

We have been taught to minimize our problems and our concerns till they become big enough to overwhelm us. Don’t complain about not having shoes because there are people with no legs. Or finish your food there are children who don’t get food to eat. So will my not wearing shoes and forcing myself to eat help those others? Should I value what I have because others don’t have it or because I have what I need?

The families of people suffering from depression often say “what is there to be depressed about? There are so many others who are suffering more than us.” Does that mean my sufferings are baseless? Would I not treat a burn which I got while cooking because there are people with 75% burns? Would I not treat fever because others have cancer?

I wish we could learn to respect our life. I wish we could learn to value our problems and sufferings. I wish we could learn to live for ourselves too.

When I value myself I know to seek for help. When I live for myself I know that I can carry on when others leave me. When I respect my problems I can look for more solutions.

When I see a person living his life I get inspired to live too. Not because he has more problems than I do but because he appreciates things more than I do. I want to inspire others to live simply by living for whatever it is worth. I always remember a beautiful melody when I talk about the worth of life “jeevan se bhari teri aankhen majboor karen jeene ke liye”. Someone who lives his life fully that he inspires others to live too.

My life is worth living because I also live for myself….