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Category: empathy

How much to donate?

Took a rickshaw ride to the metro station today. Turned out to be a very expensive one. Instead of paying x, I paid 10x.

Why? Because the rickshaw driver got a 10-second call in between, told me he just got news that his wife delivered twins, and congratulated himself. He then said all was good till 5 days ago when his father passed away. And that his wife was in ICU and that he had no money to buy her medicines. He wiped a (possibly) non-existent tear from his left eye too, whilst slapping his forehead a few times.

I gave him a little cash, and he asked for more because “medicines are expensive”. I told him that’s all I had, and he motioned to the QR code stuck on his vehicle and said I could transfer the money to him. To which I reminded him that the meter showed x, and that I’d just paid him 10x.

Even 10x really wasn’t a very big number – hardly anything. Maybe I should have been more generous – because what if he was being genuine? But some of this also seemed like it was pre-rehearsed. Was he lying? Was this a scam? I have no clue. No way of finding out.

My Guru says a) donate 10% of your post-tax income, and b) to make said donation only to the cause he has selected (education for the underprivileged). Why ‘only‘? Because he has already done the research, and knows the practical difficulties of trying to help everyone and supporting every cause. While ad-hoc folks asking for money like the example today is not uncommon in India, following principles ‘a’ and ‘b’ is what gives me peace of mind.

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Vocal for social

Imagine a chaotic check-in scene at an airport. At least 300 passengers are waiting for their turn to dump their luggages and collect their boarding passes. All in serpentine queues that would put a new iPhone launch line to shame.

There are many that have their flights departing in under an hour, and so the line-cutting begins. It’s chaos. It’s madness. It’s chaotic madness.

And then as one elderly chap begins to raise his voice against the (terribly) understaffed counters, a smart employee in counter 1 asks him to come over so that he could quickly be serviced, and more importantly, silenced.

What would most people do in such a situation? Take the shortcut right? The guy should have quickly taken his family to that counter, cutting ahead of at least a 100 passengers, simply because he raised his voice.

But that’s not what he did. He made his family stay back in line, went to that counter and reprimanded the employee for encouraging such shortcut behavior. He then proceeded to manage the line (and force other cutters to go back in-line) until his family got to the counter, after waiting in line. A role model citizen if there was one!

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Concluder

It was my good fortune to visit a devout family recently.

Everyone gathered around their altar for a beautiful aarti.

Wonderful bhajans were sung, bells were rung, and the essence of agarbatti filled the air.

Everyone was engrossed in the Lord, while the old grandfather in the house was lying on the couch in the next room, engrossed in a cricket match.

“Why would he not come here?”, I thought to myself. I quickly concluded in my mind: “He must be one of those staunch atheists. Completely against what the rest of the family believes in, preferring his favorite sports to anything remotely spiritual.”

Until, a few days later, I saw the old man again, this time in a wheelchair. He couldn’t even stand up on his own, let alone walk. No wonder he didn’t join the ritual. A fitting lesson for the concluder in me.

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Dozer reality

One ex-colleague in a previous workplace used to sometimes nod off during meetings.

This obviously became a well known joke.

People being people, no matter their age, would even create a meme video or two.

Not that he dozed off every day during every meeting, but there were a few occassions.

While its easy to conclude many things including his lack of interest and what not, the reality was different (which we can rarely see on the surface).

His kid needed a special school, which was 2 hours away from his work. He sacrificed proximity to his workplace for the sake of his child. Which meant he had to use public transport to commute 4 hours a day, also necessitating waking up 2 hours earlier than most. Given he was very good at his work, a 5 minute snooze means nothing no?

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CEO gets Tesla!

No big deal this blog post title you’d think. A CEO, rich fellow, can easily afford one. Okay now forget and move on.

But wait, this Tesla was not bought by the CEO, but gifted to him. And not just by anyone, but by his own employees. Wow, your own employees coming together and gifting a car worth USD 70,000! No mean feat.

How did this come about?

The CEO is Dan Price, the founder of Gravity Payments, a payments processing company. In 2016, he was drawing a million dollar salary, while some of his employees were struggling to make ends meet, getting paid only USD 35,000 a year.

What did Mr. Price do? Something unheard of. He cut his own salary by a ridiculous 94%, and distributed the cut across all the other employees, such that the minimum wage at his company rose to USD 70,000!

By keeping his employees happy, the revenues of the company grew sharply. Isn’t this a great lesson in empathy?

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Regarding

Came across an interesting theory that differentiates humans and animals.

Animals are said to be ‘self-regarding’ in nature. This means that when they communicate, they are always talking about themselves. Like “I’m hungry”, “I’m angry”, “I’m excited”, “I’m looking for a mate”, “I’m a part of this group” and so on.

Humans are ‘other-regarding’ because we are able to reference external objects.

This is very rare in the animal world, except for alarm calls, as you would know if you’ve been on any jungle safari. The safari guide would quickly be able to identify warning calls from Samba deer or specific monkeys, as these animals try to warn others around them.

But this is not rare at all for humans, because we can think in other people’s terms, and communicate through empathy and compassion as well. Despite this amazing superpower, most people choose to only talk and think about themselves. What irony 🤦

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Secret goals

The title of this blog post might have you think that maybe some goals should be kept secret. Or that there might already be some secret goals. Or that all goals are secret. Those who don’t have any goals at all may wonder what all the hoopla is about!

There is evidence that it is best to keep one’s goals (especially the big ones) secret.

An NYU study in 2009 found this. Pretty startling.

A lot of people love to toot their own horns, whether on social media or in real life, and whether for minor achievements, or major goals.

Why does keeping your goals a secret matter? This is what the study found. That telling others about your goals apparently creates an unconscious win – tricking our minds into thinking that we have already accomplished the goal.

An important goal would hence be to keep all future goals a secret. My lips are sealed 🤐😂

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6 months to… part 1 of 3

There’s an outstanding short-book that I just finished reading.

It’s called 6 Months To Live, and written by Dr. Sangeeta Raman Girdhar.

The book is only about 70-odd pages long, and can easily be finished in one sitting, and within the hour.

But the convenient length of the book not the reason everyone should read it.

What the book captures so beautifully, is a combination of 4 things:

  1. What all a loved one goes through when faced with a terminal disease
  2. What the immediate family of this person goes through
  3. What life lessons and spiritual lessons we can each take away, especially if (God-forbid) put in such circumstances
  4. How to deal with cancer, and even make micro lifestyle changes to prevent it

I’m going to share a few powerful takeaways from the book over the next couple of days, but the book has much more than just these, so do consider reading it. The author is my cousin sister, who is an amazing human being. The least I can do is feature her work on FHN! The book is available here.

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Empathasking

Recently a friend and I were exchanging interview notes. She’s got a lot of experience taking interviews, and I have very little.

Most interviews, as we all know, start with the (in)famous “So, tell me about yourself.”

This is a great question isn’t it? Because everyone likes to talk, and self-help books tell us that we must listen more. So what better way than to begin an interview by asking the candidate to talk about themselves?

Except, that an interview is not a “normal” conversation, where above self-help suggestions would apply directly.

The other person, the candidate, is obviously anxious, stressed, nervous – and what else, who knows. So this experienced friend told me that it’s a very good idea to break ice by starting to talk about myself, as the interviewer, who I am as a person, what got me here, what I love about my job, maybe a little about my family, all wrapped up in 2-3 minutes. This allows the other person to relax, and be their usual self, rather than drone on from a prepared mental note titled “about myself”.

Always good to find empathy even in the smallest of things, don’t you agree?

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Across the road

Why did the chicken cross the road? Because it wanted to get to the other side!

And why did the kitten cross the road? Because someone taped the kitty to the chicken of course!

Okay okay, my apologies, worst joke in the world. But I actually did see the video of a kitty trying to cross the road. Not because it wanted to, but because it just unknowingly scampered into the centre of a 6 lane highway.

So many vehicles, all zooming past at breakneck speed. The kitten obviously had little clue of its bearings. It was afraid, and probably did the worst thing. Instead of trying to run to either side of the road, it just lay down still.

Car after truck after bus after car is seen swerving in last ditch attempts to save the helpless creature. Some drivers expertly manoeuvre their cars to ensure they pass cleanly over the baby.

Until one fellow puts on his hazard lights, stops his car a few feet away from the kitty, steps out, picks the baby up, cuddles it in his arms, takes it with him into his car, and drives away.

Such empathy. And one lucky kitty.

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Measuring excellence

Jim Collins is an author who needs no introduction. In one of his defining studies, he has distilled down the excellence factors for any company, to 3 core elements. These are:

  1. Superior results (the company can be amazing on paper, but it needs to win in the real world)
  2. Distinctive impact (if the company disappeared, would it matter?)
  3. Lasting endurance (not just a one-hit wonder)

While these are amazing insights for companies, I also couldn’t help but realize these are amazing ideals for anyone striving for excellence to try living up to.

  1. Superior results – irrespective of the profession, can our clients feel they always get the best only with us?
  2. Distinctive impact – of course no one is indispensable and all that; but even so, if we disappeared from the earth tomorrow, how many people would miss us? Would we have left behind a legacy? Not for the money we provide others, but the compassion, listening ear, love and warmth?
  3. Lasting endurance – it’s easy to be good to people once or twice, but to do that lifelong? That would be most beneficial, not just to those being helped, but to the doer. A non-stop selfless attitude is no different from the pinnacle of spirituality.
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Creator Groomer

Most of us are working our day jobs, doing mundane stuff, often not liking it much.

And many companies too do not expect their employees to grow beyond a point either.

Seniors want to ensure their own seats are secure, and often happy slave-driving their juniors – and to make sure they do not leave the firm for whatever reason. Everyone is just thinking about themselves all the time.

But I came across a startup recently. The founder wrote an open letter, which to me was quite a lovely way to think about work.

His point, was that there are so many problems to be solved in the world. And folks working with him were encouraged to take risks, to disrupt, to be fearless, and to build and scale products with impatient optimism.

He also said, that if any of his employees would leave to found another startup, then he would go out of his way to invest in that new business.

Not just that, he would also enable the new startup to access his own set of VC/PE investors. How awesome is that?!

Not just giving jobs, but funding a potential job creator. Not just being a leader, but being a leader groomer! The magic truly happens when one thinks selflessly about others.

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What do we know?

Here are some common and seemingly innocuous questions one may be asking. All good until we think of possible but unexpected answers.

  1. On someone’s physical features. [Maybe they have thyroid / other issues and have been on medication, what do we know?]
  2. On someone’s employment status. [Maybe they have enough money saved / aren’t getting a job despite trying, what do we know?]
  3. On someone’s house and car. [Maybe they do not wish to show off / maybe they wish to show off / in any case a US$ 1 million house or car only indicate that the person had 1 million, which they don’t now; what do we know?]
  4. On someone’s kids. [Maybe the kids are autistic, maybe they have special needs, what do we know?]
  5. On someone’s social media posts. [Those posts couldn’t be further from the truth, so best to ignore, and what do we know?]
  6. On someone’s marital status. [Maybe they are unable to find the right person, or are headed for a divorce, what do we know?]
  7. On someone’s education and career choices. [Maybe they came from a poor background, needed to start earning quickly, what do we know?]
  8. On someone’s behaviour and biases. [Maybe they had a troubled upbringing, what do we know?]

Everyone is constantly fighting their own battles. Compassion and empathy rules the world – both material and spiritual.

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Empavert

The world loves extroverts. These people are chatty, gregarious, always have stories to tell, and seem to get along so easily.

Introverts on the other hand, seem to struggle to get along with most, and prefer to be curled up with a book rather than the centre of attention in a pub.

A book called Quiet by Susain Cain explores how introverts are actually very powerful, can think deeply and make massive contributions to the world in their own ways.

But maybe extroverts and introverts as defined by outward behaviour is irrelevant, even though that is what catches the eye. Dig a little deeper, and what may really matter is empathy.

One can make quick and superficial judgements about people looking at how they behave in public (intro or extro). But when someone goes the extra mile, out of the way to do something for someone else, that is the true basis for a sustainable relationship. In this respect, even an introvert could be an extrovert, by thinking about the other person selflessly.

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C for critical

Many years ago, a boss I had, got angry at me. It wasn’t just a passing one, but the type where the other person goes red in the face.

I was new to the team, yet to figure out its workings, and also tired from working literally 24×7.

But it wasn’t enough, and I was reprimanded constantly. Needless to say, I resigned from that job in about 6 months time.

Cut to today, and I don’t remember anything about why exactly I was scolded and picked on so much by that boss.

What were those 2-3 typos in the 100-deck presentation, or the slide sequence that he didn’t like, or the one tab in the excel sheet which was formatted slightly differently from the other 30? I have no recollection whatsoever.

Despite spending 6 months there (i.e. 6 months x 24 x 7), I cannot even remember what projects I worked on during that time – and there were many!

But one thing that keeps coming back? Those scenes of anger and finger-pointing. The humiliation I felt. The incompetence I felt. The inability of the other person to communicate well. It was all devastating.

The emotion remained, but the message disappeared. So is criticism really the answer? Continued tomorrow…

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Placebo

We know the placebo effect. For those who are sick, sometimes even just pills that have nothing in them seems to do the trick.

The recent vaccination drives for Covid also has led people to talk about this. “I had no side effects whatsoever. Maybe I was just given saline, who knows, haha.”

There are many other placebos in life too.

Like the presence of a mother for her baby. The baby crawls a few steps ahead, and then turns back to check if the mom is looking. And then crawls forward again. The crawling is done by the baby only, not the mommy.

Keeping the light on, for someone afraid of the dark, is a similar example. What lurks in the dark would lurk in the light too. But the light gives comfort.

On calls, sometimes we can’t hear the other side clearly. And we let them know. And the other party after 5 seconds says, “Is it better now?”, without having done a thing.

Placebos abound, and they are good. Especially from a mental health point of view. Sometimes, many times, we cannot be of any real help. But just being there, even as a statue, if someone really needs us, that passive presence can make all the difference in the world to them.

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Critiques

Author Dale Carnegie of the bestseller How to Win Friends and Influence People says “Criticize in private, but praise in public.” We saw this nearly a year ago here.

It might seem like obvious advice, but do not be fooled by its simplicity. Just recently, I was part of a call, which had one senior person pulling up several others for something not done by them. The big boss of many of those being picked on was also present on the call.

To be sure, the person pointing the finger was by no means wrong – he had his facts straight – the accused had been tardy, they had not done their work well, they had not informed their superiors about gaps in the information and so on.

But did any of that matter? Not one bit. The call quickly morphed into a verbal brawl, with people supporting themselves, and proving why they were right and then heaping accusations back and forth. Could have just had some nice popcorn on the side and …

But really, it is so hard to put this advice into practise I suppose. It might seem like it takes longer to have 1-on-1 calls with five people rather than just lambaste 5 people on one call. But the negative effects of that one badly organized call can be far worse, as was the case. Preferably, never criticize at all, but if it must be done, then it can be done with empathy, in private, with examples from one’s own life as well, and also leading by example. That would be true leadership.

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Quattro-manageria

According to Harvard Business Review, there are 4 types of Managers. These are Teacher, Cheerleader, Always-on and Connector.

Without knowing anything about these except their names, I’d have thought either the cheerleader or the teacher would be the best. Why? Because the cheerleader manager probably cheers you on, encourages you and appreciates your work. Great way to be motivated and move ahead don’t you think? While the teacher manager might be there to teach you whatever you need to know, and help in your learning process.

The definition of an always-on manager is one who available at any time for questions, feedback or even to just listen. But apparently it’s the connector manager who is the best of all the four.

The connector manager helps by making the most of his/her network – whether with another team member, partner, customer, friend etc. in order to expand the spectrum of teachers you have at your disposal. This is because such a manager realizes it’s impossible for one person to know everything.

The outcome? Apparently connector managers build the strongest, most effective teams, tripling the likelihood that direct reports will be high performers and boost employee engagement by 40%. Pretty impressive!

My takeaway is to try and live the life of a connector-manager for the benefit of everyone around me – irrespective of whether I manage a team at work or not. What do you think? How will you implement this? All suggestions welcome.

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Deconstruction

We hear the labourers chattering all day. The flyover near our house. It is getting constructed. It has been like this for two years now.

The daily noise – massive thuds, drilling machines ramming deep into the earth, the sounds of cranes and bulldozers, not to mention – the bright lights and sirens that flash even at 2 am. No matter the day – whether we have an important client call, or a Sunday morning off, or wish to sneak in a meditation session – the din sometimes is unbearable, chaotic and equally unloved by one and all.

But flip this over. These are men and women on a mission. Not to just construct a bridge, but to also construct their lives. Or rather to prevent it from deconstruction. How much can these daily wagers really earn? Hardly enough to make ends meet. And they need to send money back to their families in their villages too?

While we sleep in double glassed sound-proofed air-conditioned high-rises, these folks melt in the sun, puff in the dust, and sleep huddled in reprehensible accommodations. We can only think “When will this bridge get completed, so that my travel time in my luxury car can get cut in half.” They on the other hand, may never get a chance to use this bridge, or maybe only in an overcrowded bus in the sweltering heat. Soon after they are done here, they will be transported to yet another construction site, nearby, far away, who knows. It is always one day at a time.

Why could we not have been born into their place? We very well could have. We just got really lucky. Let us begin our day with gratitude for this fact.

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Giving like this

It is one thing to talk about selflessness and empathy and caring for others etc. While it is something else altogether to put this into practice, especially with irredeemable consequences.

85 year old Narayanrao Dabhadkar was immortalized in the last week of April 2021. Having experienced complications from COVID, his family took him to a nearby hospital. As is perhaps well known, oxygen, beds, remdesevir and other important treatment necessities have been in very short supply in India.

The family of this 85-year old man somehow got an ICU bed after running from pillar to post. But while waiting there, Mr. Narayanrao saw out the window and noted a young lady and her kids wailing and begging the hospital authorities to admit her 40-year old husband who was also infected by COVID and in a very bad state. Narayanrao immediately decided to relinquish his bed, and offered it to the lady. His thought process was, “I have lived a wonderful life to 85, now let the younger ones live.” He went home, no bed, minimal treatment, and passed away a few days later.

Many times we think twice about giving up an object that belongs to us. We don’t want to part with or share our living space, money, food, vehicles, books, cutlery, time and so many other things. This man parted with his life. If there is something to learn about selflessness, compassion and empathy, this is the real-life story that teaches it to me. May he rest in peace.

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