30 Sept 2015

Why Hypocrisy is Hurting Us Indians

By the time you read this, the dust must have settled on yet another outrage (I’m bored of them now). Mark Zuckerberg changed his profile photo on Facebook to include the Indian flag, a gesture to support the Digital India Campaign. It made us feel good - after all, Facebook doesn’t do something for a country every day. So many of us joined in. And then some jealous Congees or AAPTards probably saw the mention of internet.org in the code, and declared that Facebook was using it to show our support towards their cause. Immediately, our sense of righteousness kicked in, and as Rachna Parmar said, everyone became a coder. We saw as many people posting status updates about the ‘perils’ of the display photos as the people who updated their photos. Facebook had to come out with a clarification stating that there was absolutely no correlation between internet.org and the Digital India Campaign. Of course, none of the ‘righteous’ people will listen - after all, they know better than everyone else, isn’t it? The fact that they haven’t achieved anything in life except a new level of complaining and cribbing is a different story.

So where does hypocrisy feature here? After all, these adarshis are standing for something they believe in, however stupid, right? Not quite. I’m willing to wager a bet that if Facebook does launch internet.org, or Airtel launches Airtel Zero, these righteous folks will flock to use it just like everyone else. Their justification? “See, I said it was wrong. But if everyone is using it, why shouldn’t I?” Flimsy, isn’t it? You see, people who portray themselves as righteous and moralistic on public platforms like social media and mainstream media, don’t really have a spine. The honest ones don’t need to make a show of it. They quietly go around doing their work, making small invisible changes which contribute to something big. And then every critic joins in to take the credit.

Imagine the laugh that Facebook’s employees (and the world) had at our IQs. Then again, this is not the first time that hypocrisy has hurt us Indians, has it?

Hypocrites be like....

Let’s start with our desire to eradicate poverty from our country. We have been solid supporters of socialism and despised capitalism since the days of Nehru. Socialism implies that production, distribution and exchange should be regulated by the community (or country) as a whole. You know people who proudly strut around calling themselves Marxists? They’re socialists. On the other hand, capitalism is a system where trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit. Nehru taught his whole generation that ‘profit’ was a dirty word, that people who make money are greedy and should be looked down on. Think about the disdain you feel when you say the word ‘marwari’. After becoming Prime Minister, Nehru declared that everything would be under the government’s control, and placed uneducated people in bureaucratic bodies to ‘grow' of our economy. While Nehru was busy having a gala time, his bureaucrats who knew nothing about business were taking decisions to approve (or reject - mostly reject) proposals from businessmen. Those years bled our coffers dry repeatedly. And Nehru staunchly defended the losses stating that a government should not be accountable to anyone, and that it is not in power to make profit. We were so enamored by his ideologies that we fell for the hook, line and sinker. Not only that, we passed those thoughts down to all generations believing that socialism was the way forward, and that businessmen were greedy. What we failed to comprehend was that greed is an innate tendency of man. So when we should have encouraged businesses to flourish, which would create countless jobs and independent cities like Jamshedpur, we let greedy illiterate bureaucrats ruin our country and fill their own pockets under the pretext of socialism.

Staying on Nehru, let’s talk about another case. While Nehru was PM, we frequently encountered famines. To the extent that we would import about 12 million metric tons of food grains from other countries, primarily from the US, to feed our people. However, when the US urged us to try becoming self sufficient in regards to food, we looked at them suspiciously and said that they wanted to stop us from advancing technologically. Yeah, right! Any Indian citizen who called the government’s attention to the need for improving conditions for agriculture was called an ‘American agent’ (ring any bells?). Nehru kept saying that it was shame how we, a country whose primary occupation was agriculture, could not feed our own people. He was all talk, no action. Just like the majority of us today. Nehru and his ‘trusted’ bureaucrats also chastised the US for the latter’s concepts of capitalism. Despite importing food grain from the US, we cozied with Russia. Guess whose wide-open arms that pushed the US into? Pakistan’s. Till date we’re ruing that mess.

I want to delve more into our hypocrisy. We say that we are supporters of art, and that we want up-and-coming artists to flourish. But in reality, we only like what is ‘big’ and ‘glamorous’. That’s why the senseless Khan movies rake up hundreds of crores in the first weekend, while true art movies get accolades from a few but lie unnoticed by the rest. The same holds true with sports (yes, here I am guilty too. I only watch cricket in Indian sports). This hypocrisy took its toll during the very formative years of our economy. Nehru’s bureaucrats (you can roll your eyes now) believed that steel and heavy machinery “had the highest correlation with national income in different countries.” So, with the help of loans from foreign governments (we were socialists remember? So no FDI), they set up three massive plants. But we still imported steel at a yearly cost of $200 million in the early ‘60s. It didn’t matter. The project was big, and glamorous. There was an alternate unglamorous view too. That we employ surplus labor to produce ‘wage goods’ like toys, clothes, shoes, snacks, etc. These low-capital, low-risk businesses would attract entrepreneurs for their quick return on investment, and laborers would consume the wages in buying these goods that they produced. Something on the lines of Henry Ford’s model. But this suggestion was scoffed at, and it stymied small innovation in our country which could lead to big changes, something that USA has done very well. Now you know why millions of Indians abandoned us for other countries. Now you know why the ‘brain drain’ occurs. “A little more realism and a lot more humility among our leaders might have helped in those days”, wrote Gurcharan Das in India Unbound.

One last point. I wrote about the famines we experienced regularly. When Lal Bahadur Shastri became Prime Minister, he decided to address this problem. His trusted bureaucrats negotiated for months with other states and launched an ambitious (and risky) agricultural policy. They imported fertilizers and 16,000 metric tons of Lerma Rojo, a miracle wheat which kept soil fertile for longer, needed less attention and grew faster. The result? From being seen as a basket case of food, India became, as quoted by the official US hunger document in 1980, “the only developing country in the world which has built a solid system of food security.” We no longer encounter famines and sit on a surplus pile of food each year. The world applauded us while our own countrymen cried foul.

But do you know where the biggest opposition to these policies, which only did good for India, came from? The media, and the Congress itself. The media wrote vehemently against these initiatives, calling them the ‘biggest sellout to America’. Academicians wrote extensively decrying these moves, and the Congressmen secretly kept hoping for a peasants' revolt, which never came. What came instead, much to the chagrin of critics, was the green revolution. So you see, everything that has ever done good for our country has been chastised by the media and us common folk since we are so heavily dependent on it. We are comfortable with complaining about things that don’t work, but are pushed out of our comfort zone when something unconventional is tried, and oppose it with everything we have.

I’m not saying Indians are bad people - okay, some of us are. This hypocrisy, which is deeply embedded in us, is not out of intent; it’s out of ignorance. We’re too ignorant (and lazy) to peel the layers and look for the real truth. For instance, the 'meat ban'. If someone does something which doesn’t auger well with our immature minds, we run to oppose it. When someone else does something else, we run like donkeys in that direction. And another. And another. We cannot wait before we judge, let alone considering alternate avenues for more information. We know the media is shitting us, but we will play along nonetheless. Look what we did to Maggi. And when it comes back, we will still eat it, won’t we? And don't even get me started on the 'secularism' rhetoric.

Are you looking for something to take away from this post? Well, there is none. Or wait, maybe there is. I’m asking (no, imploring) you to be driven by common sense and rationale for the sake of this country and yourself. Understand that there are more than 2 sides to every story. When we start looking at things objectively, maybe… just maybe… we will stop making fools of ourselves and this country will get onto the path of genuine inclusive progress.

20 Sept 2015

6 Ways to Bring More Power to Yourself

I remember the incident vividly - as if it occurred yesterday, though it occurred more than 7 years ago.

I was put in charge of a team as an ‘acting team leader’. Then came the announcement that I was made ‘acting floor supervisor’, and my team was handed over to someone else. It was not a promotion really; just a move to accommodate a team leader from another process.

My (ex) team was shuffled. Some good people had been moved to other teams and some not-so-good ones had been added. I was enraged! This wasn’t fair! I walked up to Chandan, the person responsible, intent on giving him a piece of my mind. Thankfully, I started off by questioning his intentions rather than plunging into allegations right away.

“Why do you worry, my friend?”, he asked. “It isn’t your team anymore.”

“Yes, but I have managed it for over three months now. So it is effectively my team, right?”

“No. It WAS your team. And you did a commendable job. For that, we will move you to a better process. What happens with this team now will reflect on the new team leader. He is known to be the reason many good employees have quit. Can we afford that?”

I hated Chandan, not for what he had done, but because he was right. Again. He had the ability to look at the bigger picture better than me. Often, his insights proved not just that he was right but how stubborn and pig-headed I was. What made me feel even worse was that he never rubbed it in. Chandan had the ability to look at events from a distance while I involved myself in them. He could analyze something dispassionately while I almost always let emotions get in the way.

Chandan gave me my first ever lesson in detachment.

Because of the hype surrounding spirituality today, detachment is often misunderstood as giving up what we possess and living like paupers. In reality, it is the state of distancing ourselves from an event or action and looking at it from a dispassionate perspective.

Becoming detached is tough. It takes practice, conditioning and will power. But the results are remarkable. Some of them are:

  1. It empowers you to pursue what you want
  2. It strengthens you to persevere for longer and pay less attention to haters
  3. It stops negative emotions from clouding your understanding of things
  4. It reduces your dependence on others and makes you respect yourself
  5. It calms you down. As a result, others feel calm in your presence.

Image source

Being detached is an art. And like all arts, it takes time to master. Below are some ways that you can start developing this ability in you:

  1. “Does it tie in with my goal?”
    Before asking yourself whether an action syncs with you goal, ask yourself - “Do I have a goal?” If the answer is “No”, you almost certainly will fail to develop the ability to detach. Why? Because you will chase everything, not knowing what is important and what isn’t. If you are working towards a goal however, then analyze every situation and action from it’s perspective. Does it fit in with what you eventually want to achieve? If yes, dive deeper. If no, cut away. This, my friend, frees up time to do what you should, rather than multitasking and being unproductive.

    Not everything we want comes packaged the way we want it. Sometimes the best results come from some pretty sour experiences. Looking at these experiences objectively will help you peel the layers and find the good in them.

  2. Accept change
    “Constantly observe all that comes through change, and habituate yourself to the thought that the nature of the Whole loves nothing so much as to change one form of existence into another, similar but new. All that exists is in a sense the seed of its successor.” - Marcus Aurelius.

    Marcus Aurelius wrote this rule in around AD 175, but two centuries, later it still holds true. It also is most difficult for us to digest. We try to hold on to what we have through the skin of our teeth. We kick and scream helplessly like toddlers when it is taken away. No matter what you do, you cannot control the forces of Nature.

    Rather than desperately holding on to what you have, develop the mental strength to accept change, and control how you respond to it. This will enhance your ability to detach from emotions which cause unhappiness.

  3. You cannot control anything
    Persistence and the ability to handle uncertainty are two traits which dictate how successful a person is. As mentioned in point #2, change is inherent in the functioning of Nature. And change brings uncertainty in droves.

    Life is ten percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we respond to it. So if you think about it, nothing that you are trying to control is actually in your control. And what you feel is not in your control - your behavior, your reactions - actually is. We justify our negative reactions by saying “He started it”, or “How could they do this to me!” We want to control how life treats us, and not how we respond. But it actually works in the exact opposite way.

  4. Remove judgement
    Marcus Aurelius also wrote, “Remove the judgement and you have removed the thought ‘I am hurt”: remove the thought ‘I am hurt’ and the hurt itself is removed.”

    Is this difficult to practice? You bet. Judgement comes easily to us, whether something impacts us or not. This is why we live from outrage to outrage today. Combat this judgement by looking at everything as it is - the plain truth, and subtract your interpretation of it.

    MS Dhoni rarely, if ever, lets judgement or emotion cloud his understanding of the situation. “He goes into a match very blank, and then operates on instinct”, says R. Ashwin. Dhoni has mastered detachment primarily because of his subtraction of judgement from a situation. He doesn’t rue over a bad umpiring decision or a spilled catch. Instead, he focuses on what to do at that moment to turn the tide in his favor. His ‘gambles’ pay off because he can see the plain truth in situations. And the results are there for us to see.

  5. Fight to reduce
    “What gets freedom? Decluttering. Not just your house. But your body: make sure you’re healthy every day. Your emotions: spend time with people you love and who inspire you. Your mind: attempt to be creative every day. Creativity takes the mind away from anxieties. And spirituality: leave room each day for thoughts about the people you are grateful for, and thank whoever or whatever you hold dear, for the luck and fortune that you have”, writes renowned author and investor James Altucher.

    FOMO (fear of missing out) makes us do things that add to the clutter in life. Being online 24/7, trying to please everyone, buying things that you will not use… if you want mental peace, you need to throw these out of the window of your life.

    Until a few years ago, I was the same. I did more than I could to please people, worked tirelessly to gain approval from those who were never happy, and just wanted more of everything. And you know what? I failed. Every single time. Then I got rid of the inessential - negative people, extra gadgets, an elaborate wardrobe, checking email every hour, and doing things to please others. Life is better now. I experience the FOMO lesser. It’s easier to go into switch-off mode and ignore things that would have impacted me deeply a few years ago.

    “It’s not the daily increase but the daily decrease. Hack away at the inessential.” - Bruce Lee

  6. Live in the present
    Many people want to forget the past. And many worry about the future. Will I forever be alone? Will I get the promotion or pay increment? Will I bag that lucrative client? Will I be welcome where I am going? Will others find out about an embarrassing incident that occurred in my life twenty years ago?

    The fleeting second that just passed you by? It’s gone. And the future does not exist yet. You can do nothing about either. All you can do to stop worrying about them is to live in the present. This not only helps you give your current task your best, but also frees your mind from doubt and worry, leaving you happier.

    “Perform each action as if it were the last of your life, with unaffected dignity and precise analysis” - Marcus Aurelius.

    Meditation is an effective way to train your mind to live in the present. Meditation is not about chanting or taking God’s name a thousand times. It’s about getting in touch with yourself and learning to focus on the moment. Try apps like Calm and Omvana and witness the difference in yourself after 21 days. Whatever ability I have developed to live in the moment, I’ve attained through mediation, and incessantly observing MS Dhoni.
Detachment is an ongoing process. No matter how strong we are emotionally, our minds get sucked into the trap of negativity. We must keep training to look at the bright side and focus on what is important. I would like to believe that I have learned this art, but negativity drowns the voices of reason and common sense in my head many times even now. The secret is to not get discouraged, not give up, but pull yourself back to the present. Train yourself to master your mind rather than be mastered by it, and detachment becomes easier.

Why is detachment important according to you? And how do you try to imbibe this quality in yourself? I would love to hear from you.
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