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Category: empathy

International Meatless Day – again?

Yesterday was International Meatless Day. But ideally every day should be this day. Not just one random day in the year. Kill and make merry 364 days, but celebrate one day for animals. Not a good way.

I wasn’t planning on continuing a post on this topic today. But I opened the Amazing Simple Gita written by my Guru just now and randomly chanced upon shloka 17 in chapter 18. Here’s what he has written, and so beautifully yet pointedly:

When we know that soul does not perish, when body perishes, what happens to the victims of violence, say animals? Who does justice to the 10 billion land animals that are slaughtered each year for satisfying our taste buds? Retribution by karmic laws takes place. The eater now becomes the eaten, and the eaten becomes the slaughterer. You may prevent for a while world wars. But hatred, violence, terrorism, all borne of selfishness, cannot be eliminated, and they replace wars. 

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International Meatless Day

Today is International Meatless Day. The 25th of November each year. I didn’t know about it till I read it in the paper. There was a thought provoking article by Dada JP Vaswani about this. Here are some excerpts, verbatim:

1. Reverence for nature is essential, including for the birds and bees, whom I love to call our younger brothers and sisters.

2. My vision of unity and fellowship and brotherhood is of a world in which the right to life is accorded to every creature that breathes the breath of life.

3. We cannot take away that which we cannot give and since we cannot give life to a dead creature we have no right to take away the life of a living one.

4. We cannot speak of dharma, we cannot speak of creation as one family until we stop the exploitation of animals – until we stop all killing! All killing must be stopped for the simple reason that if man kills an animal for food he will not hesitate to kill a fellow human being whom he regards as an enemy.

5. No nation can be free until it’s animals are free. We cannot call this world our own family until all forms of exploitation cease.

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El Genioso

Everybody wants to be a genius. But not everyone is. Most aren’t. Wikipedia actually doesn’t even have a proper definition. It says there’s no way to quantify any thresholds on who makes it to genius and who doesn’t. IQ 200, and hence confirmed genius? Nope, no such thing.

In a podcast hosted by author and optimist Simon Sinek, he talks about how the word genius was originally not even a trait. The word came from ancient Rome, where genius was actually a good spirit that every human being was thought to be protected and guided by. So it was never “you are a genius” but that “you have a genius”. Along the way of course all this got corrupted.

Simon also posted this once:

The genius at the top doesn't make the team look good. A good team makes the person at the top look like a genius.

There’s no need to be a genius and lose sleep over it. Instead, it’s more important to be ge-nice, i.e. a nice human being.

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Selflessly sweet

There’s an Indian sweet dish named Rasgulla or roshogulla as the locals call it. It was invented in the city of Kolkata in India, back in the 1860s.

The sweet has two components, a white ball made of cottage cheese and an accompanying sweet brine. For anyone who has eaten this divinely indulgent dish, the sweet syrup and the ball are inseparable.

But did you know, that the very first version of rasgulla only had the white ball. No syrup. No liquid. No brine.

How did that come about then? Because of empathy!

The inventor, one Nobin Chandra Das, wanted to help quench the parched throats of his customers. They would often come to him on a hot day, and eating a dry ball of cottage cheese, no matter how sweet, would hardly be of help. So he added the brine. What a sweet gesture!

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Taxiing

Heard a real-life experience from a friend who visited Singapore as a tourist with his family. The cabbie who picked them up was super friendly and a genuinely nice person. His only aim? To ensure his just-landed clients have a wonderful and memorable stay. Some of the things he did for this?

  1. Going out of the way to suggest places to shop, visit, eat and sightsee.
  2. Putting Hindi music in his car even though he himself couldn’t understand the language.
  3. Gifting my friend’s daughters barbie dolls on the last day as they headed back to the airport. Why? Because the two girls had been chatting about Barbies a lot the prior few days!

To me, this is karma yoga, doing one’s duty to the best of their ability. It is very easy to be dull and morose and conclude that “I’m only a taxi driver, what can I do?”

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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 πŸ€πŸ˜‚

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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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