Monthly Archives: August 2011

Identity and two amusements

I recently came across two very amusing things. They happened at different times, but essentially was on the same theme.

Amusement number 1: Is to read the resumes of people  you know well

I was going through a bunch of resumes in the process of designing our expert locator system. These were the resumes people submitted to the company when they joined. There were a few resumes of the people I knew and couldn’t resist the curiosity to have a detailed look. It was  really amusing. Not really because some of them have done things that you would never have imagined from him/her. But more because there was a clear disconnect between what they were and what was written in the resumes. It seemed people were trying to project an identity that they were actually not. That means if you know the person and you read his resume, there is every chance that you cannot connect them.

Strangely, this does not happen the other way round. That is if you read the resume and then meet the person, you don’t feel similar disconnect. Probably because what you read in the resume sort of biases your impression. Another strange observation (I am not really sure of this) is that wherever the resumes looked very neatly laid out, I found the disconnect was more.

 Amusement number 2:  Is to read your company’s job classified advertisement in the newspaper

If you ever read your own company’s job advertisement, you will almost feel that you have been going somewhere else all these days. If it was a company that you worked for some time back, there is at least the  benefit of doubt that things have improved after you left. But with the current company, there is no hardly any chance.

 Be it an individual or an organization, what is the need to project a different identity? I remember a question recently asked on linkedin – why social networking sites are so popular? . I guess this is the reason. We want to keep telling everyone what we are.

 Or is it that we want to hide from everyone what we really are!

Destiny

I grew up in a remote village. Our school was about 1KM away from home and all the boys and girls in the neighborhood used to walk in a group to the school. There was something interesting about these journeys. There was no fixed route to the school. The village didn’t have any roads at that time; there were just walkways. These walkways went through everyone’s property which at the time were not separated by fences. Whenever a new kid joined the school, our route would change to connect his/her house. In different seasons, we took different routes to the school. When the mangoes were ripe, the route changed to touch the mango trees.

The same was true with other walkways connecting houses. If you wanted to go somewhere, you could simply walk as you wished creating a narrow trail. When used often this becomes a walkway. But it is not a permanent one. This changes as the intentions change. If I was more friendly with someone, I would have a trail leading to his house. But if the relationship turnt sour, and I found a new friend, the old trail would be abandoned and a fresh one created.

The beauty was that there were no fixed paths. One simply created them based on the need and will.

 The thoughts came when I was reading something on ‘destiny’. Do human beings have a pre defined destiny or we create it out of our own will?

Much has changed over the years. I live in the city now. Every house and property is protected with walls. The whole city is connected with a network of roads. I can go anywhere if I know the route to take. But the whole fun of creating a path on my own is gone. I drive everyday to the office through the same roads, and back. But I hardly take notice of anything on the way. They have stopped amusing me long back.

 This might seem a very trivial thing, but I see that it has extended to every aspect of my life. The job is defined, processes defined, daily routines defined, eating habits defined. There seems to be almost no choice.

How I long to put my bare foot on the wet grass and start a small path on my own! I do not want a destiny.

Understanding

“Papa, Anna Hazare is arrested”. My daughter was getting ready to go to school and abruptly told me this as I walked in to the room.

 “Who is Anna Hazare”, I asked, curious to know what she knew

 “He is a disciple of Gandhiji”

 “Why is he arrested?” I am more curious now.

 “After Gandhiji died, he started collecting money and gold. And cheated people. So people wanted to beat him. But the police did not allow that, they arrested him”

 I burst in to laughing. But she didn’t seem to care, probably because it didn’t matter to her whether that statement was true or not.

 But the logic is interesting. I think the word ‘arrest’ had a negative connotation in her mind and logically if Anna Hazare was arrested, he must have done something wrong. That he was a disciple of Gandhiji was probably inferred from how he looks. And she cooked up a seemingly logical story why he would be arrested, that fitted the context.

 What is interesting really is the order in which we form associations tend to influence the way we form opinions. If the original news was something like ‘Anna Hazare was garlanded’, I am sure the story would have been something different and positive.

 Look at the amount of opinions and stories we form about people and situations around us. Probably at the deepest level, there is a ‘first’ association we formed that has influenced the whole story. The first association definitely is influenced by memory. But why do we need to form that first association? I think the mind has a compulsive need to understand things; need to label, judge, analyze, categorize and compare.

 If the need to ‘understand’ drops, will all the stories drop? If they all drop, what would life be left with?

 Ignorance is bliss.

Meaningful work

I don’t exactly remember the exact trigger, but the topic of ‘two snakes swallowing each other’ came up during yesterday’s lunch. I was having lunch with some friends from the Organization Study team. These are the folks who study manpower requirements, productivity, resource utilization etc in the Organization.

This is a hypothetical situation. Imagine two snakes exactly of the same size starts swallowing each other from the tail at the same pace(apparently this lead to the discovery of benzene ring). What would happen if they continue swallowing forever? Hypothetically, there should be nothing left.

Once I finished explaining, after a pause, one of them said “Why should you have two snakes? If one snake starts swallowing itself from the tail, the same thing would happen”

“So we have saved one snake, which means a 50% saving”, remarked another colleague.

The discussion then drifted off in to how we have created a value add that how we can project that saving in the appraisal etc.

But there is something interesting here. This is actually a representation of the work many of us do, especially in the corporate functions. The problem, the solution, the value add- everything is hypothetical. It’s all a kind of mental circus. It looks frightening at the same time very funny. Most of the work at corporate functions is to offset someone else’s dys-functionality. For e.g people are supposed to be productive, but then people aren’t. Then you need someone to study and tell them that they are not productive. The whole stuff is a mental game, but looks so convincing.

Just living around our thoughts is what makes our lives probably such a mess. I was inclined to think that the work needs to produce something that’s physical for it to be rewarding. But when I look at the Bangalore city and the traffic from my office on the 11th floor, I am forced to change that view. The vast expanse of the mess that’s stretched in front of you is simply a reflection of the chaotic human mind. It’s taken some physical form, that’s all.

I think, the way to end this potential insanity is to collaborate with nature. When you grow something, it’s a shared effort. You do your part and then nature does its part. I think that connects you with something deep and meaningful. Perhaps the biggest problem that this generation faces is that we are cut off from nature.

Appreciating Children

Last evening my daughter was proudly showing me he school workbooks. She was really proud because most of the worksheets/test papers had ‘good’, ‘*’, smileys or even some stickers below them. Some had even multiple ones. And she was now looking at me expecting appreciation (which of course I did)

 I was thinking about this later. These are just one part of the appreciation these kids get. In addition, they get to stand near the board, get smileys on their hands, get the class to clap for them. What for? For reciting some rhymes, reproducing some words with correct spellings, bringing some objects to the class as told by teachers, keeping silence in the class, doing additions and subtraction without mistakes. And the children expect similar appreciation from parents too.

 The thought I had was – aren’t we little overdoing this? When you are grown up, appreciation is a very rare thing and that too a genuine appreciation is seldom. At work, where you spend most of your time, appreciation comes in the form of more responsibility and more money. But that too is once a while.

 So what happens to these kids who are so used to being appreciated for every right thing, when they grow up? Are they likely to become depressed ? Are these kids likely to become more addicted to nicotine/drugs? I think it is very very likely. May be someone will study this someday in detail.

The appreciations at school primarily comes from complying to rules or being good. Very rarely children get appreciated for a creative response or solution. But when they grow up, no one appreciates them for being good, the likely hood of they getting appreciated is high if they are creative. This I think is creating a contradiction in their minds and naturally in their lives too.

 But I am not really sure if being very conservative in appreciating children will be a good idea? It is possible that they might get a more realistic perspective of life ahead. Or will be end up making their life also dull and uneventful like that of ours?

Positive Affirmations

I was reading an article on Positive Affirmations. Positive Affirmations is a popular (somewhat) technique used to create a strong subconscious (or unconscious) beliefs by repetition. This is touted as a method to create favorable unconscious patterns and also to remove unwanted patterns from the subconscious mind. The method is something like this. If you want to become wealthy, you spend some time everyday repeating something like “I am very wealthy” or something similar. The results are better if combined with visualization. For e.g in this case you also visualize yourself living in a palatial mansion or driving an expensive car or at your dream holiday spot. It’s said that when you create such a positive affirmation in your unconscious mind, it’s bound to happen almost automatically.

 The method had been long used in the ‘mantra’ tradition of the eastern cultures. A ‘mantra’ is a short phrase with or without a meaning and one is required to chant the mantra regularly for a long period. What happens is after a while the conscious mind loses all its interest in the mantra and then it sinks in to your unconscious mind. The unconscious mind understands ‘sound’ and the mantra is typically made of chosen words or syllables which can produce a certain effect. In Hindu tradition, there are mantras for all kind of things: like aquiring intelligence, acquiring money, removing obstacles etc.

 Coming back to the Positive Affirmations. The principle used is the same. When I read it for the first time, it looked pretty logical. But when I thought about it more, I see a catch. What one is trying to do here is to change/create one habit pattern keeping the rest intact. And if this happens, perhaps few other patterns will change unconsciously. It’s something like this. I put an affirmation in to my mind that I want to be wealthy and it becomes my nature. Then I figure out that if I need to be wealthy, it’s going to be at the expense of lot of other things, things that I enjoy doing, time with my family, interests of other people etc. But then I don’t have a choice because the drive to become wealthy is now an unconscious drive in me. Will I have done something good or bad?

 The fundamental question is- is it sufficient to change one thing at a time or is the change holistic? There is definitely a difference between the way eastern traditions and western philosophy approach change. In the western approach one tries to create positive habit patterns and remove the negative habit patterns. They lead to success and well-being in the future. But in the eastern tradition, the idea is not to classify patterns in to good and bad, but to step out of them completely. And the well-being that results in now and here.