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Viewing Blog: Refracted Reflections by Sarah H Alam, Most Recent at Top
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Writing that tries to offer a fresh perspective on topics discussed. Boquets and brickbats welcome!!
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26. Generous Charity

How would you define charity?
In an earlier article, I had pointed out that parting with any excess we may have been blessed with is not generosity, and it is certainly not charity. Purging your closet of extra, unused clothes may be a nice thing to do, it may even be an expression of the desire to help someone in need - but it cannot be classified as philanthropy.

So how do I define charity? Charity requires, by definition, a little bit of self-denial and sacrifice. I can be big-hearted and give a lot of stuff, but real charity does not constitute disposing of something I have enough of (and feeling good about it). Real charity is giving from what is not in reserve to aid someone else. When asked to share their snack with someone who had none for the day, two of my first graders offered half their bag of chips. One child had a lot of other snacks in his bag, one had just juice and the bag he proffered to share. There is a very concrete, definable difference in their otherwise identical kindness. It is defined by what they had to offer to begin with. One may be generous and not charitable, but one can never be charitable without being generous.

So if Melinda Gates decides to hop around the world making sure that poor kids get immunized, she is being generous. And she well can afford to be (and maybe she NEEDS to be)! But it is not real charity. Not according to me. Seriously - big deal! Nice of her, of course, but can we please stop acting as if the world needs to take its collective hat off to her and her trust? The Gates picked something close to their heart. I applaud the fact that they are taking out time and money to help better the world, to help make it safer for others, us, and themselves. Very generous. But charitable??? Hmmm.

I think the essence of charity is looking at what your recipient needs, not what you want to give; to consider what is imperative and pressing (like children chewing on bark in Africa to stave off hunger pangs), rather than what catches your fancy. The Gates think fighting disease is important. It is their priority, but it may not be all-important to kids who take the shots. How about ensuring clean water and environment first? Lawrence O'Donnell raised more than 2 million dollars to buy desks for children in Malawi. Desks! In a country struggling with food shortages, bad government, and rampant AIDS. PLEASE!! Am I the only one who is actually a little annoyed? Everyone else is patting themselves on the back that kids will not have to sit on the floor while learning at school. Do we know if there is enough clean water or food for them at home? Or proper sanitation? Or lunch at school ? Or even if they have enough books or pencils? Is where they sit to learn really that important?

I believe that charity is morally incumbent upon each one of us. Not just generosity, for that is largely dependent on one's nature. The frequency of giving is predicated on things like ability, opportunity and environment. But charity is, for me, something that is required for the purification of one's soul. Once you begin to give because someone else needs it, it ennobles your spirit. When you give of something you cannot spare, it demonstrates how immaterial material things are. It makes you more than the sum total of your 0 Comments on Generous Charity as of 1/1/1900
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27. Just enough

With the new year around the corner,there are lots of wishes and resolutions going around. Happens every year, with everyone , in some way or the other. We pray, we resolve, we decide, and usually we forget. Tennyson ended a poem of his on a line of hope - "and the new sun rose bringing in a new year." But the sun rises every day bringing in a new day - and we ignore that new beginning that is gifted to us.
However, there is something about changing the numbers on the 4-digit part of the date that makes it special. We feel the need to match such a change with a change for the better in our lives. So the 'resolutions'. Of course the new year gets old within a week and the importance of the keeping those resolutions fades away.
Well, it is that time of the year again. I am praying for lots of things that I hope will happen in 2011. Probably the same things I had hoped for in December 2009. I do believe, though, that they will have to do with money somehow. My prayers usually do. But since my prayers are going to be about the same, there definitely was no 'Aha' Prize Patrol moment this passing year. At the same time, I am happy enough, thank God.
And that brings me to what I want to write about today. I did mention the importance of finances for happiness in an earlier article . But I did not impress upon the reader how very important it is. Not having enough money can destroy whatever little joys you might want to gather for yourselves. A vacation with family, a gift for a friend, a drive to the park - everything
would require expenditure. So granted, financial security is an all-important aspect for happiness.
But how would you define financial security? How would you mark that elusive 'enough'? And therein, I think lies the control of our own lives. We know of enough famous-and-rich people who fight depression with drugs and worse. And of course, more than enough of those struggling to stretch their paychecks to meet the next. A whole lot of wealth is not ideal, and a paucity of funds is certainly not.
I think that what gives us contentment is not the physical accumulation of wealth, it is the knowledge that we have what we need. That we have enough. What is enough is for each of us to decide. We all have a bar of what is ideal for us. We just need to identify it.
Let us not make the mistake of taking a facile decision of saying 'the more the better' because it really is not. It only lends to a dissatisfaction with whatever we have been blessed with, and puts us in a mad race against everyone we think has more than we do.
Each of us can decide to live within our means. And that does not mean we must not try to enlarge our provisions, or try to earn that extra buck. But our requirements must dictate if we need that extra wealth. I know of people who have bought a huge house because they wanted to show that they can afford to! They call a whole bunch of people every weekend to show-off their home, and those are the most tortuosly boring get-togethers I have been at. The fanciest parties that I have been at, where I have learnt and tried new things and met new friends, has been at a beautiful yet unpretentious home. My friend gives million-dollar parties without, I am sure, spending that amount.
I believe that it is very important to have a need for more, to enable the capacity to hope. I do not mean that 'need' to own a 10-bedroom house; rather, the need to save for a fancy vacation, or an expensive car. To need to work towards an indulgence makes it all the more valuable, all the more memorable. It gives us a feeling of fulfillment and success that could not have been engendered with permanent financial comfort.
So, this year I am not praying for the multi-million dollar lottery. I am praying for enough money for all

1 Comments on Just enough, last added: 12/30/2010
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28. Human trafficking

Dear Friend,

Add your voice and keep this issue a priority.

Trafficking doesn't just happen "somewhere else." Victims of trafficking are right here in the United States, suffering horrific human rights violations. Each year, over 17,000 people are trafficked into this country, and between 100,000 to 3 million human beings are enslaved and trafficked domestically.

Around the globe, statistics show a staggering 12 million women, men, and children become "modern-day slaves" because of the practice of trafficking each year. Estimates are that there are more slaves today—27 million—than in any point in human history.

Join us in the fight against modern day slavery and human trafficking by adding your voice to a growing community that refuses to stay silent on this epidemic.

Safe Horizon is at the forefront of anti-trafficking efforts, helping victims find support and justice. With a two-tiered approach, we provide domestic and foreign-born victims representing 60 countries around the globe with legal and social services.

We are leaders in changing the legal landscape on this issue through advocacy efforts that fight for laws that give victims more protection and that ensure harsher punishments for traffickers. Our efforts have made us the largest direct-service provider for survivors on the East Coast, giving trafficking victims the help and hope they deserve.

To fight trafficking, it takes the bravery and compassion of many people speaking out against the abuse and exploitation of our fellow human beings. Will you speak out today?

Thank you for making a difference.


Ariel Zwang
CEO, Safe Horizon

PS - January 11th is National Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery Awareness Day. Join our efforts today and we'll keep you informed on how you can support our activities that will honor this important event.

This degradation of humanity cannot be allowed. Let each one of us do our little bit to help rid our world of such egregious exploitation. Please do your 'bit'-

1 Comments on Human trafficking, last added: 12/15/2010
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29. Ideal Identity

Wanting something is entirely different from knowing what you are good at. I know a girl who admitted to cooking up blood pressure readings rather than admit she did not know how to, while she was volunteering at a doctor's office. She is doctor today. Someone with such an abhorrent paucity of integrity is a doctor only because her other sisters are. Its a public joke in our circle that we should avoid hospitals when any of these sisters are on duty. The point I am trying to make is this- its the 'being doctor' she wanted, not actually practicing the craft.I give her five years before she goes into depression or, God forbid, hurt a patient. Meeting that girl again made me more than slightly annoyed. Why do people do things for appearances? is that why they think they were born- to be what someone thinks is the right person to be? I know it takes a lot of emotional maturity and moral integrity to look for you within yourself. I did talk about this in my earlier blogs. Aim for something you want to do, not something you want to be. You want to play with fabric and cuts, be a designer. Do not do it for the bow at the runway. Join a political party because you want to work for the upliftment of the country, not solely to be a senator.

But this is about more than just a case of choosing an occupation solely for image. It is about our ability to recognize ourselves, and respect our own selves enough to follow our heart's dictates. And this brings me to something I have been trying to understand, or maybe just trying to put into a coherent thought. Who are we? Not as a community but as individuals. Each one of us is ONE person. It is not as facile as it sounds. Not us qua what our occupation or relationships define, but us in the raw; us with all extraneous layers are peeled off. The real person we are when we are alone.

I believe that if we can be exactly that same person when we are with others, it leaves a lot of tranquility and space in your mind and heart to discover other things in life. It leaves enough energy within yourself to learn new thing and grow as a human being.

How many of us behave differently in different crowds? Our reactions change when the recipient of those reactions changes. Of course, we act differently with a old friend than we would with someone we have just met, or treat a child differently from the elderly. But when our very style of interacting is dependent on who we are interacting with; when the tone, style and content dictated by the other person-then something is really missing within our own compass. It is not a simple question of civility, for genuine civility is independent of place, time and person (idea paraphrased from Rasha's essay :))

Everyone needs approval. It is a natural human need for approbation from family , friends and society. Everyone would like to be famous, but some do drastically crazy things to get attention. It is the same craziness whether Paris Hilton lifts her dress up enough to leave nothing to imagination, and assures her photo in a magazine, or whether I agonize if I should wear the same outfit to a lunch only because someone else might recognize a repeat.

The point I am trying to make is this: What you do must be only what you want or need to do, not what will make you appear 'cool or 'fun' or 'smart' or 'rich' or whatever else an empty soul might conjure up. Lets face it- your bag and shoes will garner a comment of admiration, or maybe derision, but you are the one who wears them-so you should be the one who is comfortable with them.

Your identity is two-fold. It is a perfect state when both parts are in synchrony. One part is what you know of yourself, and the second is what is perceived of you. If you do not know the first enough to be true to yourself, or if you do not accept the persona you are, the second part- the identity you present to others- is going to be an ineffective artifice. The identity is ideal only if the person you project is

1 Comments on Ideal Identity, last added: 12/4/2010
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30. Legalize drugs

I really hope California will pass the Prop 19 vote to legalize marijuana.

For the life of me I have not been able to understand why drugs have been give such a bad name! It is as bad, or as good, as alcohol. Maybe better, because latest research has shown that for the body (and soul!) alcohol is worse. According to a study published in the Lancet " These socially accepted drugs ( Alcohol and tobacco) were judged more harmful than cannabis, and substantially more dangerous than the Class A drugs LSD, 4-methylthioamphetamine and ecstasy." To read more- http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/03/070323105029.htm
Just because we are used to seeing alcohol being served in lovely crystal , it does not make it better. It was not long ago when alcohol was illegal. But all that Prohibition did was create Al Capone, and enriched organized crime. People thought then that legalizing alcohol would create anomie and anarchy. It seemed very likely that society would degrade and decay if liquor could be bought easily from any store. We now know that has not happened. Of course, there are some who drink badly, but that is an issue of individual discretion. In fact because it is legal, and socially acceptable, it has become less pernicious. And it will be the same with drugs. Even I know that opium is a sedative, and that marijuana kills pain. If we get off our high horses and open our eyes, there may be more beneficial aspects that research may throw up.
The drug trade is driven by casual users- the party-goers who want the 'high', the Wall Street executives who unwind with the 'fix' , the teens who need to be 'cool'. The cool factor of drugs is largely because it is illegal. How many teenagers will want show off using drugs if anyone who needs them can go get them? And if its is not 'dangerous' anymore? Legalizing drugs will also bring about a consumer- driven safety catch. There will not be fatalities because some kids partied with a fatal mix of drugs that they bought from a reprobate off a street corner.

Why should we blame a product for a person's actions? People who use drugs irresponsibly are the same who smoke irresponsibly and will drink irresponsibly. They will drive irresponsibly, they will take loans irresponsibly. It is a character flaw, not a drug problem. Saying they will go and run over someone in a legal-drug infused state is ridiculous. That person has the same chance of running someone over while he/she is texting. And if drugs is what a person needs, he /she will get it- only it will be in some underhand way from some disgusting chap who is funding a prostitution ring on the side.

In monetary terms, legalizing drugs would save about $41.3 billion per year in government expenditure on enforcement of prohibition. And that does not count the resulting criminal offenses. Taxation on the trade would bring in revenue of 2 to 6 billion according to some economists. And that is the projection for the present use of 'drugs for leisure' trade. We are not even looking at any medical use research might throw up. Let the pharmaceutical companies take over and make their customary mind-boggling profit. They will also ensure a proper supply-demand, even if for their own account books. It is better than having drug lords murdering people who get in their way.

As of now, it is those of us who genuinely need drugs that suffer. I can empathize with those who need marijuana for pain management. I have suffered terrible back pain and I had the STUPID doctors here doling out 3 pills at a time because of the chance that I might sell them!! I finally got a whole lot that I needed from a doctor who knew me enough to know I was not faking pain. I am not addicted even after prolonged use,and I flushed the extra ones away. But I saw what actual patients go through.
2 Comments on Legalize drugs, last added: 11/5/2010
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31. The Happiness Within

I have been trying to understand what actually brings happiness. Not just personally or individually - but as a general rule. What is it that makes everyone happy, whatever their life may be like?
If all of us need the same oxygen to breathe, the same nutrition to flourish, we certainly must have the same basic things that can ensure happiness. It must be something that gives each of us joy - whatever our state in life, whatever our other aims.
The first thing that comes to mind is family. Nothing can match the joy our children bring us, the surety of love of siblings, parents, and spouses. There is hardly anything in the world that can match the bliss of good friendships. But these unparalleled joys, though essential to the quality of our lives, are not what bring us personal happiness. I know too many people who have had everything good in this area and are still looking for something in their lives. Family and a concrete social structure are important for happiness but life seems to need more.
And then I think of financial prosperity. Money is essential, most definitely. Without comfort, happiness is incomplete. But excessive wealth is only a trial of character. I can think of a hundred ways a lottery win will bring delight. But for each of those ways there are a hundred rich, young things whose only knowledge of happiness is probably spelling it. It is the right use of that wealth that brings joy. And the right use of wealth is not as easy as it sounds! However, we all need 'just enough' money at the very least. But both family and money spell security, not happiness.
Happiness is that elusive combination of joy and contentment, of elation and calm. Happiness entails being in that place with yourself when you can look at everything life gives you with equanimity. I think you need to believe that life is meaningful to be able to attain that state of mind in which you can accept the vicissitudes of life. And to make life meaningful, you need to be occupied with what adds value to yourself. I would never propound that we all run out and start earning a paycheck! That, unfortunately, is what most people do to 'seem' occupied. And that, sadly, must be the most meaningless way to live - to work solely for the paycheck (especially if that is ALL you do).
We have to find that fire within us that needs to be fanned and fed. The fire that gives us a warm glow of satisfaction. It could be working for a charity, it could be dancing, it could be keeping house, painting, knitting, reading, or even obsessing over world affairs! It has to be something only you will know. And you will know it, if it is the thing you keep trying to get back to. I cannot remember a time when I did not write: from the stupidest poem ever when I was 7 (I remember the poem and will NEVER put it in writing again!), to writing college election speeches for friends; Stories and essays written on napkins, on the backs of shopping receipts, on the covers of formal notebooks... most written and then thrown away - but written all the same.
What makes you happy will be something that is your solace and your energizer. Without it everything is incomplete. Irrespective of it being public or private it will give meaning to your life, for yourself.
Of course it is easier to find meaning when you can make a difference outside yourself, but there are times when your happiness source does not touch anyone else, but is relevant only to you (like my writing!). Bottom line, happiness is within you - it is simple, it is independent of what or where you are, and it is accessible .
So am I happy n

3 Comments on The Happiness Within, last added: 10/25/2010
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32. In close proximity

One of my very dear friends suggested I write on this topic.
It was very apt considering how close we are even though we live on opposite sides of the globe.

It got me thinking on what closeness actually means. We all have someone we like to be with, someone we want to share our thoughts and experiences with. If we are lucky we can do that on a daily basis, if not it is whenever we get to meet up with that person. Today's technology has made interaction so easy, and people so accessible, that physical proximity is not even necessary to trade stories and secrets.

All of us have at least one person we think about almost everyday, from our past or present, who in their very imago influence even our most banausic goings-on. We might buy something for a sister even when we are not sure when we will be meeting. We look at something a friend would have hated and smile. We think of something an old classmate said years ago and make a decision she will probably never know of.

Genuine intimacy is not just venting about what happened at work or at the gym. It means being able to understand what your friend is saying and going through. Sometimes you need the words, sometimes its just knowing the person and the predicament that he/she is in. Regular interaction is not even necessary. I have friends and cousins I meet very rarely but when we do its like there was no gap in our connection. We pick off not where we left off, but right where we are! The ease of talking is only matched with the contentment of knowing that you have someone who knows you, who actually cares.

Some of us have the unmatched blessing of living with our closest friends - be it a spouse, a parent, a sibling, or a child. But then we have close friends who live nowhere near us.

And that is where real friendship is tested. It's not only that they are in your thoughts. It is that you have them in mind even when you make decisions. You imagine their reactions or advice even when you might not have them at that time. I have many times discarded an outfit knowing my mom would not approve. It is the same as my daughter making me buy a shirt I probably would not have considered. My daughter is with me, my mom on the other end of Earth - but they have the same effect on me! (It's a different matter that if both were shopping with me, Iwoud simply be the unimportant, non-participating person who holds the credit card!)

And how can we talk about any kind of social interactions without mentioning Facebook? Yes, I am a Facebook addict, and happily so. I have met friends I had lost touch with for years. And with so many of them it is as if there was a blinking of time that we were not in touch - because they were always in my mind. All that was needed was filling in gaps of where one is in life now. There was no need to build a relationship. Actual closeness means just that. The relationship never fades.

Then there is another kind of camaraderie, probably a new kind , that is engendered by this wonderful networking website. I have friends now who mean a lot to me, people I have never really met but have a deep affection for nevertheless. I learn so much from them as I learn about them, that bonding falls in place naturally.

Togetherness does not require that people be together physically. Of course nothing will ever compare with actually giving someone a hug , or seeing them smile or sharing a coffee. But it is nice to know that someone we love and care for, if not close by, will always be close to us in every other way that matters.

5 Comments on In close proximity, last added: 10/6/2010
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33. Try once, you live once too!!

We are always told that we must 'try, try again, until you succeed'. I am yet to find a more inane and specious exhortation. What I have learnt is this- try once, or maybe twice, then forget it. Don't waste you time and energy on what is not meant to be.
Life is not easy, it is not predictable, it is not manageable. Sometimes, or maybe I should say- most times - success lies in adjusting our hopes to designs that are much greater than ours. Whether one considers such designs divinely ordained, or just the inexorable march of circumstances, one cannot deny that man is infinitesimally small compared to the goings-on the universe. A single person's ambition is not something that matters at all.
Let us face an unambiguous truth- It is not possible to be anything you want. I want to sprout wings and be a fairy. Certainly not possible! But even in the general banal sense, it is not natural to get WHATEVER you want. Second truth- It is also perfectly all right not to get what you want. In fact, it truly is a necessity that one does not get all what one wants. Or else where is the scope for character to develop? We need strife in our souls to sharpen it, we need disappointment soften us, we need despair to elevate us.
I am sure all of us would want to be the rich heir, or the Nobel laureate for Physics.( or in my case- J.K Rowling!!) But what a boring world it would be if there were only one kind of people: the uber successful . That is why the world is full of different people with different occupations, different needs an different competencies.
I find it a trifle annoying when people 'I want my child to know he or she can be whatever he wants'. Are you telling a child that he can be President just because he wants to? Uhhu. No way. There is a lot you need to be, to learn and earn , to stand in that elite group of those who even tried! And so much rests on chance. Obama might never have had a chance if we did not have the past spectre of Bush, and the future fright of Palin. Right person, right time.
There are professions that catch our fancy. Try once. Leave it if it does not work out. If you really love the work involved, you will find a way to get back to it later (even if it does not pay- like my writing!). But do not put life on hold for it. There is a cornucopia of experiences waiting to be explored. Don't bind your self to one path that you simply decide to pick for yourself- especially if it is struggle to stay on it.

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34. Ground Zero

I am really embarrassed today. Embarrassed by the reaction to the 'Mosque at Ground Zero'. Embarrassed because it is not on Ground Zero, not even visible from where the Trade Center stood. Embarrassed because it is not even a mosque (it is a community centre with a prayer room). Embarrassed because the Tea Party is spouting its stupid, yet dangerously vitriolic, separatist ideology again. But I am most embarrassed because I can see the lunatic, and equally dangerously vitriolic, extremist 'Islamists' saying 'I told you so'. I think that nothing pleases Al Qaeda more than the wild-eyed, "No Mosque, no Muslims" protesters. Over 1 billion real Muslims are disturbed and hurt. American Muslims are disturbed, hurt, and embarrassed.

Religion has been a source of peace for centuries. However, once it is politicized, it has only brought shame, terror, injustice and inhumanity. But we never seem to learn. The very Christianity which teaches people to 'turn the other cheek' morphed into the cruel Crusades. The ever-accepting Hinduism denigrated itself by being associated itself with political clubs like the RSS and Shiv Sena. Judaism's Zionists have less spirituality and more geopolitical goals. And, of course, there is Islam's egregiously monstrous Mr. Hyde - the Taliban.

By its very nature religion can be only personal. It is inherently what one believes, and what one takes away from its code. Of course the basic tenets of any religion will remain the same. Actually the basic tenets of ALL religions are the same. It is what we apply most to our lives that varies from person to person. Dictionary.com defines religion as "a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs '. This set of beliefs, though general and universal, means different things to different people - both in spirit and application. One person's interpretation is never going to work for more than a couple of other people at the most. Each person entering a place of worship, even for congregational rituals, has his own mindset, his own relationship with the creator. That special connection is sacrosanct. Once religion begins to have an applied public facade, and we begin fitting everyone into one box, it loses its meaning. It becomes solely an ideology - political, self-serving, and hateful. It is not religion anymore.

The protest boards say 'No mosque at Ground Zero'. They could say 'No library at airport' or 'No synagogue near this coffee shop'. It means exactly the same thing. Someone telling someone where to do what - for no other reason that they believe that they have the might to do so (they certainly do not have the right!).

Ground Zero is a symbol of the most dastardly act of terrorism. It is a gash that for unfathomable reasons has not been filled, and after 9 years remains only a hurtful reminder instead of the planned memorial. I cannot begin to imagine the pain of relatives of the victims when even I feel a stab of pain every time I see a picture of the erstwhile WTC. It is hallowed ground, not only because of the number of innocent lives cut down so cruelly, but because of those brave souls who rushed in to try and save them. We are only adding insult to injury by associating it with shallow, ignoble motives, such as ranting incoherently against the building of a house of faith.

4 Comments on Ground Zero, last added: 8/20/2010

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35. Using force is not strength

Tell me if I am wrong - I think that women who are pushy and brash are just intolerably disgusting. And yes, specifically women. It is bad enough to see one of those 'feminists' who do not have the graces that our gender-identity is virtually predicated upon. There is something exceptionally disgraceful about a woman behaving as badly as an uncouth man (For my ideas on feminism, please see old blogs of 2008 such as Woman Be Thyself).

I had a parent of a bullying six-year-old girl explain to me that her behaviour was 'quite ok' because it was a reflection of how 'strong' she is. Then she had the gall to add that other girls might 'need to learn from her, quite frankly'. Quite frankly, on my part, it took a lot of self-control not to simply smack the ridiculous notion out of her head. Maybe then she would have known what a victim of aggression feels. Sadly, I had to smile and tell her about the evidently meaningless zero-tolerance school policy for bullying.

Somehow people tend to confuse glamour with greatness, money with success, success with contentment, and imitation with improvement. We associate actresses with emotional intelligence they sometimes so sorely lack. We point to to the rich as models for our children to follow, and predict that wealth will bring them the satisfaction of achievement. Women copy the roles of men, as if just making inroads into an all-male field is in itself a laudable goal. (really? A puerile 'what he can do, I can do better'?) Hillary Clinton is Superwoman, yes. But not because she challenged the status quo but because of who she is. Her confidence is due to her intelligence and values. Her aggressiveness is because of her success, not vice versa.

People are misled because the picture of strength we see around us does not tell the whole story.

And that brings me to the issue that really baffles me. How did we get to be so shallow as to even confuse strength with bluster? Our regular diet of TV shows portray successful people as mean, over-confident, brash personalities. Rudeness is made cool. Winning is all-important. I love the brilliantly rude Dr. House, and I even enjoy his mean humor. However, a child watching it might take away a lesson that it is perfectly alright to hurt someone as long as you are a recognized genius. Now that I have met the parent I spoke of, I am not sure if all adults have the maturity to handle these shows! Shows like Sex and the City and Desperate Housewives tell us that 'strong' and 'independent' women do whatever it takes to get what they want. But because our lives are not exactly scripted to entertain we imbibe overbearing pushiness to no avail.

And its not only the media. Aggressive drivers, who basically are downright stupid, are admired. The corporate world actually justifies horrendous competitive cannibalism by a trite 'its a dog eat dog world.' (Not if we don't play the game). Women who have reached the top become role models, notwithstanding the fact that they are recognized more for their highhandedness. Is Meg Whitman strong because she threw millions into a gubernatorial race just to get what she wanted? Or is it the single mother working two jobs, and still smiling at the end of the day? Who should we admire? Gandhi threw out the British without a mean word, let alone any 'show of force' (except of character). Would not anyone in the world find him strong?

So, what is strength? It is the maturity to know when it's wrong to join the crowd, even if you need to stand alone. It is the ability to stand up to injustice of course, but I believe it is also the ability to resist committing that injustice. It is the ability to overcome disadvantages of course, but it is also the ability to become an advantage to someone else. It is the perseverance to work towards your dream

1 Comments on Using force is not strength, last added: 7/24/2010
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36. Oh America!

Ok. This is going to be a really angry blog. So if you cannot open your mind and accept different opinions, don't read further.

My ire is directed towards American ideology. Not the original set of ideals as embodied in the superb Declaration of Independence, but as it stands today- portrayed in the behaviour of citizens and the government. Let me try and limn the sciolism I feel so strongly about.

The prevailing American characteristic is only one - Pride. This deplorable feature sets the tone for all things - policy, thought, and action. In short there is one way you can describe it - "my way or the highway" (One of the most disgusting American sayings I have come across). This attitude is reflected in the evaluation process of foreign degrees. Just because the dumb kids here cannot learn required material in three years (and sometimes not even four) they do not recognize degrees from India as a full graduate course. Needless to say, what I learned in the three years is infinitely more extensive than some of the Master's programs here. That's the main reason I will not study further here to be 'certified'. I will not accept that my education is any way lacking - specially in comaprison to higher education here. It is, of course, another matter that I can afford to stay at the lower pay scale. But there are many others who simply have to spend that much money and time to get the 'one year more' to be considered a graduate.

The attitude continues into the workplace. American companies are notoriously callous about employees. They have a set of rules, usually terribly hierarchical, and 'that's the way the cookie crumbles' (another stupid American cliche). In every other organization - European, Japanese, and especially Indian, the employees bond with each other and the company. Simple things like office parties, lunching together, family outings arranged department-wise, managers personally asking subordinates about known health issues, are all common. Never happens in American organizations.

I definitely need not go into the arrogance of American foreign policy. Whether its 'shock and awe' (have you heard of a more vainglorious statement?) or trying to 'win the hearts and minds', they always get it wrong. Why? Because they assume they are right. Period. No other opinion is even considered.

Democracy is not sarcosant just because America has it. In fact, America still needs to learn its own self-proclaimed democracy. Maybe they should look to India where every vote counts. Where a woman has an absolutely equal chance of winning. Where a middle class scientist can be made President even though he is from the minority community,where we accept an Italian woman as one of our own, and give her the respect and position she enjoys solely on what she has done, and given up, for the country.

So when they have the gall to say they want to 'teach' democracy it bothers me. It bothers me immensely because the people they are trying to teach may not want it at all. A good gun does not give anyone the right to dictate a way of life. They know it, they espouse this very ideal of freedom of choice. But again it is pride that blinds them to the fact that the right belongs to the other person also. Just because the other person does not speak American English does not make him ignorant, stupid or inferior.

I remember the first time I had visited this country that I am still trying to accept as home. I had come after pleasant visit to England, and was expecting this leg of my vacation to be better. What I encountered here was a coldness and inhospitality that was at odds to what one expects after seeing Hollywood movies or the sitcoms:

You expect Americans to be friendly - they are cold

You expect to see equality and fairness - and there is none - not in race, not in gender.

You expect that they value freedom and 'pursuit of happiness' - but it does not apply to those who do not have a US passport. Or to those who do not ha

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37. Unstereotyping the stereoptype

I heard someone say that they are colorblind, meaning that they do not see a person's color or ethnicity. I am not. I see the color of skin, I hear the inflection of the accent, I see when a person still bears some culture of his or her roots. And I enjoy it. I love seeing how different we all are - how wonderful and varied our experiences and outlooks are. I believe if you need to be 'colorblind' to make a friend you are not being honest to them or to yourself.

Stereotypes are real. There is a reason why a particular trait or characteristic gets associated with a certain sect. Obviously, it is unacceptable when we differentiate based on those stereotypes. But it is also wrong if we do not acknowledge those traits. Simply because they are there!! It's a fact.

I spoke of skin color but it applies everywhere in our lives, in every aspect. Nationalities, communities, physical sizes, intellectual identities - all have their own distinct, undeniable quintessence. Each one of us has myriad personae we project. And if as humans we cannot relish this fact and enjoy this variety we lose out life's most beautiful aspect - our differences. I want my acquaintances to notice I am Indian, Muslim, almost-fat, and that I am weirdly outspoken. I want my friends to acknowledge all the positives and negatives of my background (what negatives?!). I think people would find it easier to know me if they work with the stereotypes I project. Yes, I eat well (in terms of size of helpings!), I eat lots of spices, (brown skin) I like to save money (desi/Indian!). Where I differ in the prevailing stereotype (I am not comfortable with technology, and I do not bite into my 't's) will just make me more distinctive, more memorable to those who accost me for a short time.

We consider sterotyping damaging because of amateurish articles like this one I read online:

"A "stereotype" is a generalization about a person or group of persons. We develop stereotypes when we are unable or unwilling to obtain all of the information we would need to make fair judgments about people or situations. In the absence of the "total picture," stereotypes in many cases allow us to "fill in the blanks." Our society often innocently creates and perpetuates stereotypes, but these stereotypes often lead to unfair discrimination and persecution when the stereotype is unfavorable."

No, unfair discrimination has nothing to do with the perception we have of people. Having viewpoints, and even prejudices, is absolutely natural. But to act on them in a vile way or to arbitrarily apply the generalizations we make in our heads, is wrong. People who cannot look beyond the notions they already have when they meet an individual have more serious problems than just 'stereotyping'.

The same article continues: "For example, if we are walking through a park late at night and encounter three senior citizens wearing fur coats and walking with canes, we may not feel as threatened as if we were met by three high school-aged boys wearing leather jackets. Why is this so? We have made a generalization in each case."

Of course we have made the generalization! And that generalization makes us more careful. It is part of human nature to use experiences to make judgements. The teenagers walking towards you are also making decisions based on what they see of you. Discrimination and racism have nothing to do with sterotypes. Its has to do with hate, and ignoran

2 Comments on Unstereotyping the stereoptype, last added: 6/15/2010
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38. Love thyself?

Another wondrous epiphany today - as usual - in the daily humdrum of life. Today a friend of mine did something that is very characteristic of her. My reaction to her act taught me a new thing about people. We can really like someone, and still hold very little regard for their intellect.

My friend 'rescued' 4 little rabbits from their nest. They died within 24 hours of the rescue. I asked if they seemed distressed or in danger. No. I asked if they seemed starved or dehydrated. No. She just found the nest; and in it found cute, furry, active kits and took them. I am certain it had very little to do with compassion, and more to do with possessing something cute and wild. She calls herself an 'animal lover'.

And I sat there thinking as she struggled to play mother to the last dying kit in her palm, (which was fine until a few hours before). I could see the discomfort of the little bunny being fed some weird chemical concoction in some fancy tiny bottle, sadly dying in surroundings it could never comprehend. And I cannot even imagine the agony of the mother when she returns to her empty nest.

It really bothered me that she was concerned on how distraught her daughter was that the bunnies were dying, and she never gave a thought on how the bunnies themselves were feeling. Everyone who came by claimed to love animals (with that special kind of condescension that creeps into most voices making such statements), yet no one asked if she waited to see if the mother would come back. No one asked if the bunnies would be more comfortable dying in their own nest instead of a shoebox. How can we claim to love, when we do not even try to understand?

I realise that most of us do not even know our own intentions. That is why just being nice is simply not enough. Man has been blessed with a brain for a reason. Our actions have effects, and those effects decide if we have done any good. A good intention alone is not rectitude - it must be followed up by thought-out and voluntary action. A soft heart is of no use if it comes in combination with a soft head. One has to think, and know, and reflect, before acting. We cannot just act on the spur of the moment, even if we think we are being altruistic and kind. Our impulses, unfortunately, are usually selfish. So selfish in fact, that we do not even acknowledge it!

Nowhere is man's selfishness more pronounced than in our interactions with those we deem less than us. I have seen dogs wearing ribbons in their hair, birds being preened by rough brushes, cats being given manicures. No one can convince me that they are indifferent to it, let alone that they enjoy it!

In an earlier article, I have spoken of how we have made a mockery of what we consider 'pets'. It is all a function of our superiority complex. Of how we think we can make decisions about every living thing that we can dominate. The dysfunctional part is that we pretend we are doing good, that we are compassionate even though we cage birds that should fly, and put whales in what would virtually be a tub for for them. We must be a special kind of dumb to call ourselves animal-lovers!

So when we are clapping at the show where the elephant has been tortured into standing on two hind feet, or scream in delight at the dolphins leaping at the trainer's command, let us at least concede that we have subjugated them to our will. And not because we love them, but because we love ourselves.

6 Comments on Love thyself?, last added: 6/5/2010
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39. Step Back

I do not mean to sound audacious, but I just thought I need to try and put in writing something special this mother's day. Far be it for me to assume that there was anything extraordinary in my mothering. But there may be something there that I have such a perfect child! I will not even attempt to define myself as a mother. Good or bad, it will be only my daughter's prerogative to write about.
I will not even presume to talk about sons - because I do not have one. I believe that with a son it is an entirely different dynamic.
I will just put across some insight that I have gleaned along the way. It was not premeditated, or even contrived. Its something that just worked for me. I hope someone can learn from it - and be able to have the same joy I have everyday of having a daughter for a best friend.
For one thing, never get involved in your child's life, especially after she hits teenage. Sounds terrible, but think about it. I have seen too many mothers trying to ensure that their daughters have the perfect life. They will fight the fights, direct every move. Well-meaning of course, but severely damaging to the relationship. The child is her own person. She has, and always will have, her own world. You do not belong there. Her friends, music, even studies, are in a realm that you have left; yours was in a different time - and in all probability a different place too! Oh yes, she belongs in your world. Do not force yourself into a door that never really was yours to open. The only door you can open is to YOUR own life. You may not belong in that new domain she has, but she of course belongs in yours. Do not close that to her. Let your child be a part of your space. Don't ask about her friends, tell her about yours. Do not try and inveigle an invitation to her parties, let her come with you to yours. Do not badger her about her dreams - they are yet nascent. Tell her about yours, both the shattered and the burgeoning. The capital of experiences she will build by learning through your trials and successes will help her through life.
Another thing I have learnt (the easy way - by just listening to my daughter!). Time is important. Not its passing, or its utilization. Your time with her. A lot of time simply wasted in 'quality time together', 'learning time,' 'bonding time'. She does not need that! She just needs you to watch that horrendous movie with her (even if all you do is mindlessly criticize whole time!) Or share a cupcake( or two) with her. Simply, just that.
Do not misinterpret the fallback that I am advocating as a lack of responsibility. You have to be there - always, with the smile and the hug of course, but also with the stern eye and the big lecture. I am not going to talk of morals, ethics or principles - because it is what you have that she will pick up - whether you like it or not. And as she grows she may just as well discard yours for her own!
Just be there, accepting, but non-intrusive, and then step back and let her take wing. You will delight in the individual she becomes. It is simple wisdom I wanted to share. But then, is wisdom ever simple?

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The other day, my daughter was talking to me about something she read in Spanish. She was explaining to me this concept of "indirect education" - educacio'n indirecta. It is about the learning accumulated outside of the classroom, through life, and through what she calls your 'sociosphere'.

It got me thinking about how important this subliminal learning is - and how we rarely even understand that we are learning- all the time, everywhere. I am sure that we are more impressionable when we are not being taught directly.

And of course that led me to draw my own new (and possibly, to you, weird conclusions). Have you noticed how people are always looking to others for their own self- image? It seems all-important to them that others like what they are wearing, - whether or not they themselves do. There is this overwhelming need to be 'the same' as everyone else. It used to unnerve me initially when I encountered it here. Yes, I have never seen this fear of being different in any other place. It is surprising that 'fitting in' is the mantra of kids in a country which is synonymous with the word ' freedom' . It is here, sadly, that I see people chained by the one thing they imagine to be acceptable.

What to wear, how to move, how much to weigh, what to eat, where to go, what (or who) to carry... the list goes on. Everything has to 'approved' by some magazine or some star, or the group you belong to. The disease is prevalent across generations and gender. Of course you can place blame on many things - a greedy media, unrealistically proportioned dolls, the breakdown of the family structure. And I do believe all of the mentioned contribute to the shaken confidence so prevalent in this economically developed society.

But the primary reason is the breakdown of a sense of psychological structure. And this breakdown is because of there are no lucid rules to base them on. I do not refer to the rules and laws of the land, for they are wonderfully sound in this country (at least comparatively). I am talking about the rules of social behaviour; of the subconscious messages that we all get and understand as we grow up. The change of tone of an adult when he or she is talking to someone of a different skin color, the look of longing in a friend's face when she looks at an expensive bag, the TV anchor who stands just right in that jacket (Is it the jacket that makes her look so stylish?). Teachers sidestep telling parents that the child needs a smack across his head. What kind of message is the child getting? The he/she does not deserve that smack on the head, whatever he/she does. Neighbours cannot yell at kids for misbehaving on the streets. Message to the child - 'Do whatever you want out of sight of the proper authority, and you can get away with it'. You cannot call an ineffectual idiot exactly that because you could get sued. Message - 'Mediocrity is protected'. We are so caught up with the projected lives of celebrities and the very rich, that the message we usually get is that we do not matter. Even to ourselves, our own ideas become unimportant. Eventually, our ideals lose value. Sometimes the social messages we imbibe are not even aligned with the direct instructions we are given - and that results in the the lack of proper framework in our thinking. We hear that money is not the means to happiness, that it cannot be a yardstick of success. But then the admiration for money we see all around tells us that it is all-important. The indirect message we may get is that getting it in whatever way we can, ethical or not, is acceptable.

And that is where we loosen the scaffolding of our personality, of our psyc

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41. Life vs art

They say art imitates life. I have also heard, often enough, that life imitates art. However, this is not possible, because art is a figment of man's imagination. It is a reflection of how a person would want the world to look (in most cases).Art portrays an idealistic image - of good or bad. And that is the problem - it is not real. It is not meant to be. Like beautiful paintings of scenes in which you can see the colors and the light, but not the insects; where you can see the vibrance of the market without the unpleasant smells.

So also with on-screen art - whether it is drama, comedy or movies on the big screen. Regular life problems like traffic jams are glossed over, the characters find solutions in the span of a series at the most. Clothes, hair and food - all come in perfect conditions at ideal times. It really makes real life stink! It feels terrible when Ziva of NCIS walks into the end-of-a rough-day scene looking fresh, absolutely ready for anything more, while my legs are aching from sitting hunched on little desks. I know I would give anything to be able to snatch the coffee that is always in Gibbs' hands. But I also know I would either have to make my own coffee - or treat myself to a ready one by going and getting one!

This of course is a small example. I believe the effect of these dramas and soaps is much more pernicious and insidious. It is not only the image we begin to expect from ourselves and others, it is the relationships we begin to imagine. We see the unbearably syrupy FBI agent husband perennially putting his career secondary to his wife's in The Closer. We gag at dialogues like "I will not let you hurt her anymore; I am with her now", but eventually almost begin to expect it. First onscreen, then in our lives. Do you know of anyone who would say that for anyone?? Oh, I know many who believe that, an actually do care that much- but would they SAY it? And slowly, we think less of men we know because they do not say what or how all the actors do. We see men bending over backwards to humor their partners, and racing to be the first to apologize after a row. How many times does it happen in real life? It is hardwired into the male psyche not to! So why do we show such unnatural behaviour ALL the time? It confuses women eventually when this ideal behaviour is not as commonplace as they had begun to expect. Women who watch these will slowly find all men lacking. Because these TV shows do not just raise the bar of expectation, they create one that is nonexistent in life.

And then there is the superwoman. The career-minded, great-looking, warm-hearted, uncannily intuitive-to-your-needs female partner of most Law&Order shows. Everywhere else too, sadly, the one qualification of being a woman is that you have to be really good looking and always in shape. In Indian soaps, the women also have to be a walking advertisement of some jewellery store while she's slogging over the stove even though she is fasting for her husband's long life! Oh, I love TV, especially the crime dramas! But I have to catch myself from wishing that real problems would get solved in an hour. I have to remind myself that life is not always as fair as they portray, that there may most likely never be anyone as principled as Jack McCoy or Leroy Jethro Gibbs. And I need to remember that the conundrums that I laugh at are not always funny in real life.

Our talents have been used well in amusing ourselves. Creativity is, after all, best utilized when it gives us the much-needed pabulum to our wearied souls. Art, at its best, is entertainment. We do need that respite of escape into another world . The difficulty arises only when we expect our world to mirror the one we create on screen.
42. Pets or Pests?

Is it only me who is horrified by the variety and standard of pet food that's been developed and sold to us? No, its not that it is bad. It is that it is absurdly grandiose. I mean, there really is such a thing as 'too good'.

Apparently animals, suddenly now, need a very high level of nutrition to survive being cared for by humans. Cats need salmon that tastes 'restaurant-style' that according to the advertisements should ideally be served up in a crystal goblet. Dogs need meats that have been processed till nothing in left in them except the artificial 'nutrients' that apparently is 'good' for them. Fool them with Beggin Strips, another add suggests. Just give them what we think is good for business!

Your dog needs vegetables?? Which self-respecting dog worth his salt is ever going to gnaw on a carrot? I find it shocking that dog food had carrots and peas for 'good health'. But its even more shocking, that this dog food has been developed as a result of years of research. How much money are we pouring into this ludicrous industry when soup kitchens are running on close to nothing, and people are without water and basic necessities in large parts of the world. How callous and STUPID can we get? Special diets for puppies, gourmet food for cats. Nutritional vitamin logs for rabbits that should anyway be hopping free in woods and living off the land. Food that does not taste like it's 'out of a can'. Really?

The worst part is that we are NOT doing it for the pets. We are doing it to stroke our egos, for own despicable arrogance. Again, man is at his selfish best. If we really cared for any other living being- isn't it much more worthwhile to care for the abused or abandoned animals? Would it not be better to ensure that they have regular food and shelter? But sadly, we have been conned into spending money on over-pampering the pets that entertain our children. It makes me wonder if love and caring have any part in the reasons for holding an animal under our roofs. Could it be the plain old need to control another life? Or is it to decorate our home, or is it simply the crutch to start off an interesting party conversation? How else would one explain the need to keep a tiger in such unnatural surroundings? Or a snake living its life in a glass box? Or lovely birds in a cage? So we assuage our guilt by getting them bizarre toys and ridiculously extravagant food. Where do we get the gall to declare love for any species, let alone our choice of pets, if we can justify such hedonistic, excessive largess for one (or two) of a kind, while so many others suffer? How can we presume to be caring when we let those of our own species live on so much worse than 'the taste of out-of-a-can'.

A lot of this idiocy boils down to unadulterated commercialization. And probably that is why the almost 20-billion-dollars pet food industry is based only in the developed countries. I assure you pets in India do very well too - without the expensive pet products. Those products are not for the pets- they are for us, because we are the ones with the wallet!

We get animals to share our homes. We care for them, love them, and expect a little bit of love in return. That is understandable. But why do we make such a fuss that they become annoying to everyone else. By spending insane amounts of money on them why do we make them a pest for everyone else it the world?

Oh - and please do not get me wrong. I am not ranting against pets. I really do love animals. I respect them enough to hate zoos. I have grown up with dogs, and have cherished having them around. I am certainly not saying that pets are pests. I am saying we are.

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43. Man is No Island

Have you ever thought of the many people who have touched our lives? Of course, there are the obvious parents, friends, and colleagues, who become an essential part of your life. Then there are the those in our peripheral sociosphere - people whose effect on us is also undeniable - negative or positive. Our experience with them cements the bricks that make up our personal grammar. These are people who touch our lives fleetingly - the politician you may never meet , the actress who brings about a smile to your face, the friend of a friend who you see occasionally but who defines for you one characteristic you identify with her or him.

Obviously, all experiences add up to the person we are. But I would like to stretch that thinking and say all people we see and meet add to the person we become. No man is an island, and the waves that beat against each of us keep refashioning us over time. It is not only our attitudes, but our actions that also change. I would whip out my checkbook for any fundraising that had the word 'police' in it. Even when I was not sure that the money actually went to benefit our law enforcers. But now, after one particularly unpleasant and unfair traffic stop, I throw all those envelopes I have come to know straight into the garbage! One cop with an attitude consequated in a change in my attitude; a minor change it may be, but it has made a difference nevertheless.

So who has the most effect on us? Certainly the people who stay the longest in our circle and certainly also those who are in our intimate sociosphere*. We learn most from constant interaction. We pick up philosophies, nuances, body language, even beliefs from those we see on a regular basis. But there are people who we meet for a few moments only, and they leave a lasting impression.

I remember one night in my hometown, when our car broke down in a lonely area. The three of us in the car - my sister, my mother and me - had no idea what to do (cell-phones were not very common). So we were just struggling to push the car and coax it into starting. A young man came on a two-wheeler and offered to call for help. We called a family friend and thanked him for being an angel. It is a wonderful thing that its not rare to see people stop to help, and I know of innumerable such people. But this man did one little extra thing. He pulled his little scooter to the side and waited with us. That is all. He said nothing. Just stood there till our friend got there and then rode away. We never got his name. Never got to tell him how much we appreciate that sensitive understanding. A simple gesture transformed his little deed from an act of kindness to a grand gesture of magnanimity. I will never know his name and I do not even remember his face. But that little extra he did so unceremoniously has forever defined for me real kindness. People like that became a part of our psyche. Not only because they teach us a moral we hold dear for the rest of our lives, but it makes us want to model that behaviour. For me, it has now made me always say, even in the simplest of situations - is that all I can do? I believe it has made me more forthcoming with help when it is needed.

It has been said that we are known by the company we keep. I believe we should be known by the company we are to others - whether for an instant, or for a lifetime. Because, just as others shape us, we mould others too. Not just the friends we meet everyday, but even those we encounter for a moment, like the person who holds the door for us, or the pedestrian who waves a thank you.

*Sociosphere = entire social circle of an individual; coined by 2 Comments on Man is No Island, last added: 2/26/2010
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44. Marriage: A Work in Progress

One of the bedrock institutions of society is marriage. It lays a foundation for that essential unit of society - family. Families grow, not only by procreation, but also by bonds between two groups of people that come together because of the union.
Marriage, however, is not an end in itself. Most young people believe the work is done once the knot is tied and the wedding guests have departed. The work, as most married couple know - begins after the ceremony - and continues all through life! A beautiful wedding is wonderful, but it pales in comparison to the wondrous beauty of a dynamic, strong marriage where people grow together as individuals, as a couple, and as a family. By its very nature marriage is labile. People change as they grow older physically, emotionally, and spiritually. What are the chances of you still loving or even tolerating each other as you grow and change? Every experience, and every person one meets, leaves an impression that becomes a part of one's personality. The very same experiences a couple goes through may have entirely different effect on each of them. The test of the marriage lies in adjusting with your partner 's changing attitudes and habits. Lets face it- love has nothing to do with it. It is a matter of maturity and commitment. It is also matter of how much respect is there in the marriage - respect for the partner, for self , and for the personal space each individual needs.
Sometimes, especially in eastern cultures, a marriage is maintained just because it has to be. The word in hindi for the relationship is 'bandhan', loosely meaning 'bondage' or a 'tie that binds'. And anything that binds, hurts. And a relationship, any relationship, that fosters pain does not last. But the bonds that a marriage cultivates usually grow softer, yet stronger with the years, evolving with the growing maturity of those involved. A successful couple weathers upheavals of life maybe not by surmounting them, but by simply surviving them.
So what should one look for in a life partner? Looks change immeasurably - for better or worse, likes and dislikes are modified by experiences. Wealth can be ephemeral and maybe the shallowest of the criteria. We see people with entirely different religions leading a happy life together. And we have seen so many good-looking people married very happily to their complete opposite in the looks department. On the other hand, there are instances of stable and well-adjusted couples falling apart after years of staying faithfully together.
It is widely accepted that the surest bet to predict a harmonious marriage is to look for its core values. And that is why people tend to marry within the same cultural setup. Its much easier to find a match for your core values within similar societal settings. But that is not always the case, and core values also tend evolve as life progresses.
I believe each successful marriage develops a core value of its own. Something you can identify the couple with, together or individually. And the stronger this core value is, the steadier the marriage. A core value is not necessarily a moral code, though it could well be. It could also be politics, it could be religion, it could be a predilection to social work or to partying, it even be a common ambition. It is never a conscious effort; it is something that develops along with the couple as they adjust and accept each other as individuals. A core value sets the tone not only for the couple as they face life, it sets the tone of the family they establish. And the cumulative core values of the many families in the community are what build the values of the society they constitute.
As long as there is this core value or a set of values that the couple adhere to, and see each other adhering to, the partnership works. Everything else they face is secondary to their functional unit, be it joys, sorrows, ups or downs. As long as the core value of the marriage is intact, there is trust, respect and companionship. And that is what marriage is all about. Love is just the icing on the cake!

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45. Overrated Education

I believe education is overrated.
There are very few of us who have studied what we should have, or pursued a line of learning that we really liked. Sometimes we do things because its 'in'. Sometimes we pursue a study program because the end result is a job with a fat paycheck. Sometimes we join simply because we just have to do something, so we pick at random some courses that will give us the ability to tick mark 'completed 4 -year college' in application and survey forms. We become doctors, and teachers, and real estate agents. And sadly, a lot of us just are not meant to be what we studied to be.
How many of us go to study for the joy of learning something? Or to advance in a field that actually has caught our imagination? It is strange that people tend to ask young adults, "What do you want to be?" Education should define not the 'thing' you become, but the person you will grow into. People should ask, 'So who do you want to be?" Learning should interpret the who of us, not the what. Education unfortunately seems to mess that up totally. Why else would a budding scientist have to learn a foreign language? Why would a budding writer have to pass calculus? To justify a professor's salary?
I will never understand why the degree is so important for recognizing that a person is capable of responsible work. I know people personally who have double degrees under their belt and do not know when to stop talking; who assume that India and Pakistan are indistinguishable (and that particular bit of ignorance really riles me!!). Their years of attending classes has not taught them to be responsible with things - their own or those entrusted to them, it has not taught them to practice discipline - in finances, or speech.
So what has education taught them? And why should the piece of paper they hold be of any value at all if they cannot hold up to its promise? Of what use is a degree certifying that you have attended Psychology 500 or Socials 400 if you have not developed the civic courtesy to be sensitive to the needs of those around you? Or the plain intellect to respond to it once it is pointed out to you? And of what use its the Masters in Literature if you cannot write a coherent paragraph five years after graduation?
My workplace is filled with people who have higher degrees than I hold. And it is one place which gives me a terrible superiority complex by the end of the day! Most of my colleagues know nothing, they have learnt nothing except to walk around with Dunkin Donuts coffee telling everyone how tired they are.
There are always a few people everywhere who seem to belong to the job they are doing. We all know wonderful teachers, great doctors, talented actors. Let us not credit that solely to their education! It is a lucky chance or the rare understanding of themselves that placed them in the line of education and work that they are suited for. Excellence, however, is not a product of education. It is the result of personal aptitude, or perserverance, or sheer talent. Greatness, like goodness, always begins from within. Circumstances have more to do with it flourishing than education. Gandhi never studied non-violence. Charles Dickens did not study literature. I would add that Darwin did not study biology but I personally think he is an idiot anyway. Mendel, the father of genetics, had not a clue about the term 'genes', let alone a degree certifying that he did. If Newton was in a classroom instead of under a tree, we would have never known about gravity. Einstein would not have thought of the Theory of Relativity if he was caught up with a homework essay on a subject like Women's Rights.
I guess what I am trying to say that degrees are not something one needs to base their self-respect on. One of the most able women I have known was born is the very early 1900s. She could not even hold a pencil, but she had a depth of wisdom that is hard to believe. She held her family together through many major family crises. She ran a farm, actually prospered, and left her children enough wealth to last a few generations. But the most invaluable asset she bequeathed to them is the respect that she garnered form society for her family. Not only by the power of wealth, but by the relationships she developed. And she certainly took no courses in emotional intelligence. Daniel Goleman may have written the badly written bestseller on the subject, but people have been practicing what he put on paper since time immemorial (Yes, he made money by delineating something that almost every sensible person already knows!).
What we learn should add to the person we already are and develop the potential that is in us. It should not be something that is an offshoot to our personality. Adding offshoots not only detracts from ourselves, it distorts us. Unfortunately, that is what education today seems all about.

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46. Action is not for Reaction

Its been a while since I let my brain ramble. I had to let it concentrate on getting my breath in and out. Its fascinating how the physiological self has such a tremendous drive for survival even if if the emotional self is apathetic about it. Or is it so because of the indifference of the conscious self? But that is a topic for another day.
I was wondering how pre-knowledge of the result would effect the causal action(s). Would people do differently if they actually KNEW the end result of their actions? I am not talking of "I would have sold the house in time and made money"; or "I would not have not spoken to that creep." Simplistically, it is easy to not start the car at all if you knew that you were going to back into a tree. It is also quite immaterial . You are, after all, expected to look in the rear-view before you put the car in reverse.
Let us think about things we do not usually cogitate about. Would you say the the things you spewed out in anger if you knew what effect it was having on the other person? You might not even have any anger left if you knew how guilty or hurt the person is. Or how scared. Would you speak up or shout back if you knew that bottling up is leading up to the coronary you will have in a few years? If you knew the result of internalizing, would you lash out? Verbally or otherwise?
Would Saddam Hussein have continued with his horrendous activities if he knew it would lead him to hiding in a hole, and finally an ignominious hanging? Somehow I doubt that he would have changed. He might have been more oppressive, more power-hungry, more bellicose to avoid that fate.
I do not believe kids who say 'It was an accident' when they swing their arms and hit someone smack in the face. That is just an excuse they have learnt from parents. An accident is something you have no control of, like falling on someone when you lose your balance. If you have the tendency to swing arms in a room you already know the consequences. It would be an accident if you lived alone in an oasis and never had people around you before.
The point is that the concept of 'if I knew I would have done differently' is not plausible. The child who never studied, would never have - even if you showed his alternate future to him on blu-ray DVD! You would have taken that job even if you knew beforehand that the boss is a rude megalomaniac because there are heaps of other considerations you made; and because you never know with other bosses. Like Hamlet says, "Tis better to bear the ills we have than to fly to others we know not of." Conscience does not only make cowards of us all, it makes us accepting of things we do not want to change. Even if Hamlet knew the ills that he would accost I doubt he would leave those he was already familiar with!
People do things because of what they are, and what they believe. Their actions are not predicated on outcomes. The driving force for the criminal to kill is his ingrained violence and belligerence, not the notion of having a world without the victim! The gentleman opens the door for a lady not because he wants to hear a 'thank-you' but because that is what he always does.
Human beings are wired to do things that make them comfortable. Their actions bespeak their attitudes and values. I believe that every act by a person is statement of his being and ego at the time. It has very little to do with what he wants to happen, even though that is the premise everyone acknowledges. We do nothing for what might be, we do only because we are.
47. Fulfillment

One of my very dear friends put up a quote on her Facebook about a woman's fulfillment being dependent between a man and a career.

It got me thinking about fulfillment. So what would constitute contentment? For any form of satisfaction of the human psyche, the body needs nourishment, but it is the pabulum for the soul that is crucial.

Mental stimulation is fundamental for meaningful existence whether you are fond of intellectual pursuits or not. It maybe gossip or fashion at its very banal, or philosophy when you prefer it to be more intense. It may even be the cartoon you like to watch and laugh at. Or it may be the stars and the universe you like to study. In any articulation, the mind needs to speak; even more so for a woman's mind.

You may be the CEO of a very successful company and have an adoring husband who looks like George Clooney, but if none of your psychological faculties are being engaged, your life is empty.

Also of equal importance is emotional satisfaction. And it does not stop with the man in your life. The plethora of emotions a person has need to be exhibited and expressed - laughter, empathy, grief, joy- and not in one simple, standard form, but in varying degrees, encompassing an arc across the human consciousness. One relationship cannot satisfy this range. So we need friends and family, co-workers and neighbours.

I would not want my life to be defined in any way by anything external to me- not a career, not a man. And certainly the fulfillment in my life has little to do with either. I am identified by how I act, what I hold dear, and what I believe. My family is a big part of me, my writing is a big part me, my mediocre career is a part too; but it is certainly not all that there is. I find it gratifying that my life is so much more than any one (or two) things. The resulting total of everything is a unique amalgam that is much more that the sum of the parts itself.

It may be the world around us that makes us. But it is after all, the world within us that defines us.

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48. Not good enough

Edmund Burke said- "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is that the good do nothing."

I think this pithy dictum should be emblazoned on every flag, on the currency of every free country. But I do not even see it on t-shirts! It is a sad statement on how we think.

Have you noticed how the most self-righteous people are those who do nothing good? I do not mean that they commit crimes, or even that they get in someone's way. They just do nothing! The justification for their inaction is that they are not being bad.

However, simply not being bad does not make a person good. It is one of those unchanging laws of nature. To be good, one has to do good. Period. Sitting smugly on the sidelines of life, and patting ourselves on the back because we are not adding to the evil in the unfolding drama is just not right. More pertinently, our very lack of involvement is engendering the very injustices we repudiate.

I was watching a programme on Science channel and I was fascinated by what they said about conditions on other solar planets. If we were on a planet with no atmosphere, it would be as if we were breathing in poison. There not being any breathable air has exactly the same effect as there being poisonous air. We do not have to defile the air; just removing the oxygen is enough to kill. When there is no pressure in the air, our blood would boil as if it was being heated. A very high temperature can do that certainly, but it is the same if we just remove the pressure that is required for survival! Just a simple dearth of the required beneficial things is more deleterious than we can comprehend.

One cannot set up a community of nice people with nice building and lovely parks and expect the status quo to be maintained forever. All entities, physical or biological, must obey the laws of physics. To keep things in place, constant input of work is required. So also in the more crucial world of emotions. You need to keep feeding positive energy for anything to remain wholesome. Brain, soul, imagination, intellect- every human component needs to be nourished to bloom in its most marvelous manifestation. And the essential pabulum is basic good, honest virtue.

If we are not moving ahead, we are definitely not progressing. But stagnation is not only 'staying put', it itself is a regression. Just as knowledge feeds on itself to grow, so does good. Stopping learning is like walking backward. And not actively making the effort to help, to assuage, to comfort, hinders a furthering of civilization. And if civilization is not being furthered, it deteriorates. Entire civilizations have disappeared because powerful rulers have rested on their laurels.The physical body dies without nutritious food. The spirit dies without hope and love. The mind rots without constant use and learning. Society will collapse if it is not continually furnished with selfless acts of kindness and charity. All of us- the good and kind, the open minded and responsible, all we need to do to let the vile and corrupt take control of our world is, well, just nothing.

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49. Learning

Education is defined as the act of imparting/acquiring general knowledge, developing powers of reasoning and judgement, and basically preparing oneself intellectually for mature life.
I do believe we seem to have lost this very basic concept. Today, attainment of knowledge is not the goal of the student. Academics is considered only an aspect of the qualifications required for a vocation. It is a trite search for a livelihood. Children study only that which seems to give them the best bet in getting them the best job. Success is defined by the money your first job offers. Education's new mantra is not learning, it is earning. And its ironic that a simple spelling mistake can sum up everything that is wrong with today's schooling.
Our biggest universities seem to have become glorified polytechnics. I find it almost unbearable when designers from reputed schools decide midway through to study medicine. And then have the gall to announce that it the earning potential of the field that has drawn them to it! The immense lack of integrity is staggering. What kind of doctors will these people make? Obviously there is as little love for the subject of medicine itself as they had for their previous chosen field. What of the empathy that this profession demands? As usual, I must put across my caveat: there is always that exception - situations when a field dies out, when there is no scope of development in a field and one must change tracks. Or when a person really does grow out of the role he/she has, and needs a new career. But when the consideration is only monetary it is a vile insult to human endeavour.
I know of a family where the brilliant son has so many options open to him because of his good grades and excellent SAT scores. The boy has NO IDEA what subjects he would like to explore. All he asks as advice is information on which field will be highest paying by the time he graduates! I would be surprised if he stays sane till then.
It is this frenzy for big, quick bucks that has relegated learning to the few inquiring minds who risk derision when they say they just want to 'study for now'. Where there should have been mass enlightenment of the human race on the knowledge we already have in store, we have mass hysteria of a race with an imaginary finish line. People often tell me 'competition is tough'. I am still to see the 'competition'. My mind has been independent of any others, my learning, or lack thereof has been my own, so who do I compete with?
The saddest part of this lunatic race in which we have thrown out kids is this- that the child who actually has got the inclination and the talent for the ' hot' career may actually be left behind. Getting into the school of choice becomes the prerogative of those with the 'right training' in India, or the 'right resume' in the US. And sometimes the 'right money' simply swings it to its advantage.
My daughter, thankfully, works in her own orbit. Sometimes she does not even like the assignments she is doing, but she knows she is working towards that erudition- not the job at the end of 4 years and a degree, but at what she wants to do with the 4 years of knowledge of biological cells she has by then. Yes, she wants to 'study for now'. And it is people like her who will find cures, and design drugs. Students like this who will write the next Paradise Lost, or propel the next tech revolution.
That brings me to the second point that has been bothering me. We have moved into didactic culture where we pamper students. We have fancy words, and even fancier instructional research. We have differentiated instructions , and even more differentiated approaches for lab

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Education is defined

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