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Category: values

Jumping high

In the Tokyo Olympics high-jump event, the competition was down to two finalists. Both of them jumped exactly the same height of 2.37 metres. And so it was a tie.

The officials had each of them jump again – three more times in fact. But neither Olympian was able to better the 2.37 number.

In the last and final attempt, one of the two contestants had to withdraw because of a leg injury. The other bloke now had a clear path to gold.

But in what would go down in history books as an outstanding example of parasparam bhavayantah (Gita chapter 3, verse 11, nourish one another), the healthy contestant before his final attempt, first checked if he could … wait for it … share the gold with his opponent!

The officials quickly checked and confirmed that it would be indeed be possible. He decided to forgo his final attempt, and in the video, both players are ecstatically seen hugging each other. How amazing is that? We are brought up with the notion that if we win, someone else needs to lose. But life is not a zero-sum-game. If everyone wins, that is the highest jump of them all.

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Growing up

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

An innocuous question. with a range of possible answers.

For very young kids, immediate answers are postman, truck driver, ice-cream van driver or garbage truck driver.

The older ones will link this to some level of so-called professionalism – lawyer, doctor, engineer, scientist etc.

There are other specializations too – which do matter of course.

But the best answers to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” are these:

Generous, patient, loving, kind, polite, dependable, responsible.

Agree?

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Tough times

There are times when it might seem like everything is going against us. It is good to take on any adversity head-on though with this one thought that occurs to only the most spiritual of beings – “Thank you God/Universe for putting me in this position rather than anyone else. Because at least I will be able to bear this situation and it’s consequences, while those around me if subjected to the very same thing, may not survive.”

At other times, those close to you might be going through a tough time. This could be deep rooted karmic retribution at play. Who can really tell, except perhaps those who have truly Realized? In any case, it might seem like there is nothing we can do to help alleviate the pain. At least physically, yes.

But mentally, and emotionally? We can do many things. One, paramount, is prayer. A wonderful opportunity to not just pray, but pray for someone other than always selfishly for ourselves!

There’s a brilliant video I came across recently. A barber got to know that his client was diagnosed with cancer. The client’s hair had begun falling, thanks to chemotherapy. As the client begins to get his head shaved, the barber intermittently shaves his own head too. What a lovely way to show that he cares! The client is moved to tears.

The tag at the end of the video sums it up beautifully. “That’s not your barber anymore, that’s your brother.”

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P & C

In a recent Netflix comedy show called Derry Girls, there’s an interesting scene. A bunch of high school students from two different schools gets together. Not just two schools, but they are also divided by religion – one being Protestants (P) and the other Catholic (C).

The priest ‘Peter’ wants to bring them to all realize that P & C are just terms or outward labels, and that deep down we are all one and the same. He has two girls on either side of two blackboards, one blackboard titled ‘Differences’ and other ‘Similarities’.

Peter then goes on to ask the combined class what any one similarity could be between them P & C. The first answer is that P are richer while C are poorer. The next one says P are taller. The third one says P sing better, and so on. Soon enough, and much to the despair of the poor priest, the Differences board has completely filled up, with not a single word written on the Similarities one. He tries his best to hint (and then discuss openly) that everyone laughs, loves, lives, cries the same, no matter P or C or otherwise.

But his audience couldn’t care less – because they are completely usurped by their past experiences, having interacted with the other type. Of course the scene is mainly for comedic effect, but it is not too divorced from reality. It is hard to view people as human beings, and far easier to label them. The real magic happens when we tear off those labels though.

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Masculinity

There’s an excellent interview on Youtube of ex-US President Mr. Barack Obama. It’s a very short clip – hardly two minutes long. He is quizzed on what masculinity is, what it means to be macho. Mr. Obama’s response, as expected of him, is simple yet profound.

He says that “a man doesn’t need eight women around you twerking to show their masculinity”. When we see most music videos / ads / movies / magazines / item numbers in songs etc. – they all seem to capture this exact theme – machoism and womanizing.

Instead, Mr. Obama clarifies that what makes a good man, is “first and foremost being a good human being and that means being responsible, being reliable, working hard, being kind, being respectful, being compassionate. The notion that being a man is to put somebody down rather than lift them up is an old view.”

Such a lovely thought, isn’t it? In the spirit of equality, no doubt this applies to women as well – because at the core of this life of ours, we are all human beings first.

We become great when we make others around us great, and this starts by treating them as though they are already great.

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The right thing

We discussed wax-on wax-off before from the blockbuster 1980s movie The Karate Kid. It was a good lesson on how focusing on a mundane training process would help Daniel LaRusso the protagonist pick up some cool Karate skills and ultimately beat the backside out of his arch nemesis Johnny Lawrence.

But this was in the past. Hollywood would never let a good story get away, would they? They’ve now (last 3-4 years) come up with a TV series Cobra Kai. This has the same Daniel and same Lawrence, only now 40 years later – with each having their own competing karate dojos – and boy does it make for some fun watching!

A very nice scene takes place after one of the kids get beaten up and the sensei wonders what he did wrong. He laments in fact that he taught them everything right, did everything right, no cheap tricks, no cheating even, and despite that they lost.

To which the sensei’s trusted friend replies, “It’s okay buddy, you’re doing great. Just because you did the right thing but didn’t get the result you desired, doesn’t mean you should now start doing wrong things. A good person does the right thing all the time, no matter the outcome!”

What a powerful lesson.

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Ritualistic pride

When doing a puja, homa (havan) or other ritual, the doers often become conceited. “Oh look I just performed a huge yagna and see how many people attended, and see what amazing catering I arranged” etc. Even if the havan was done on a small scale, ego can creep in. But it’s helpful to really think what aspects of the homa or puja were done by “the doer”.

How about these?

  1. The deity we are praying to has to make him/herself available
  2. Agni, the fire God, has to function as the medium and carry one’s prayers to the deity
  3. The various ingredients – coconuts, walnuts, other inflammable items, flowers, ghee, water and everything else – does the yagna doer create these items?
  4. The priest who conducts the ceremony – is the organizer the priest? Soes s/he know every single mantra, shloka, chant – not just to recite, but to understand and to feel? Did s/he create those incantations?
  5. Or maybe if it’s a self-chanted self-conducted ritual, then gratitude to our own memory, vocal chords, the guru who taught us the mantras…
  6. How about the free time we were allowed by our family members to devote to the puja
  7. Also the attendees who showed up, and the cooks who prepared all the dishes
  8. A few other things I would have missed here for sure

Without any of these, how would the havan have been a success? Really is there much for us to be proud of then?

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Small to great

We discussed recently how Yudhishthira and Duryodhana went around the kingdom to find good people, and how the latter couldn’t find even one good person, while the former found goodness in everyone.

Do we too become like Duryodhana sometimes?

If we do a self-audit, would we find ourselves cribbing a lot about others, gossiping, talking behind people’s backs, complaining about the company we work for and the bosses, putting down others who got promotions (especially if they didn’t seem to deserve it!) and so on? Oh and not to forget much of the bashing has actually moved online these days – with social media becoming nothing short of the Kurukshetra battlefield (no matter the topic, there will be enough armchair experts to give you a rough time). It’s fine – these are normal, and we are human, so it is bound to happen.

The real problem with such discussions and thoughts though, is that constantly talking about other people’s negative qualities will subconsciously cause us to also become more negative. We not only talk bad about others, but this mindset also pulls us into a deeply self-critical mode. We eventually begin to question our own looks (lack of hair, long nose etc.), our talents, our abilities and capabilities as well simply because that negativity has seeped right in. Having a positive view of things, and celebrating even small joys and victories each and every day is much better than being morose and picking out the losses, even if they outnumber the daily wins 10 to 1. So it all boils down to keeping the mind focused on the good.

As a former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Small minds discuss people, average minds discuss events, great minds discuss ideas.”

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Super talented

We often think that talent is key. So many amazing talents in American Idol or Britain’s Got Talent and the like. Sure, maybe talent might open a door or two. But at least in the professional world, here’s what I’ve noticed are some “talents” which any one can develop. Also, these are super critical, but also super rare.

  1. Being nice to others
  2. Getting along with people
  3. Intellectual curiosity
  4. Being unaffected by failure
  5. Simplifying the complicated
  6. Patience – with results, with people
  7. Impatience with self-effort
  8. Punctuality
  9. GUDUSUNGU

    These might seem simplistic but they are not easy, and certainly not glamorous. But ask any successful person, and they will tell you these are highly under-rated and way more important than education and degrees and the usual skills we associate with the word ‘talent’. These are not taught in schools or colleges or universities, but the best part is that they can be developed by anyone, for free, at any time, with some mindfulness and self-effort.

So, how talented are you?

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Swayed by action

Are we swayed often by the sweet words of others? Or perhaps by their inspirational and motivational call-to-action words? It is natural to get swayed by those who speak well. But it would do good to separate the walkers of the their path from simply the talkers. And the world is full of the latter.

One such example is in the world of investing. Twitter is full of them, as is perhaps Reddit too in recent days. Recommendations fly fast and wide on which stocks to buy and which to sell. Newbie investors get easily carried away – often investing the entirety of their hard earned savings, only to realize it was either a ponzi scheme or worse.

As Nassim Nicholas Taleb of Black Swan fame says, “Never ask anyone for their opinion, forecast, or recommendation. Just ask them what they have – or don’t have – in their portfolios.”

This is easily extended to non-investment real life as well. As Rene Descartes put it, “To know what people really think, pay regard to what they do, rather than what they say.”

This simple principle can be used to find the right mentors, guides, friends, colleagues, business partners and any others with whom you need to build a long term relationship. If they do not walk the talk, then it is only talk.

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Robbing invaluables

Here’s an interesting story I came across on the importance of living life by certain rules. This is apparently true even for those vocations where the work foundationally is built upon breaking rules!

A disciple of the great Chinese philosopher Lao Tsu recited thus “A youth joined a group of dacoits and asked their leader, “By robbing do we get Tao (will you get the way and its virtue)?”
The leader replied “Tell me is there any place where there is no Tao. Even while robbing one should have:
1. the knowledge to know where the treasure is hidden;
2. the courage to lead;
3. enough courage to come out last;
4. insight as to how to be successful even in robbery;
5. justice to equally distribute that which is stolen.
Such a successful robber who possessed these five qualities never existed. For every action in life including robbery we should know the rules and regulations.”

This post is obviously not about glorifying robbery – but that there are two sides to every coin. Even in our own work, whatever it may be, we can either look for the Tao and work in happiness and virtue. Or we can even the do the most pious of jobs, like being a temple priest – with greed and anger. What rules and values do we want to live by, and be known by? We decide…

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Kindness cycle

Here’s a real life story that was featured in one of the local newspapers . An old but very kind and selfless doctor, kept his medical consulting practise going despite the threat of Covid. His aim? To ensure that no one who deserved medical help is denied it.

While he did this for many months, unfortunately he also contracted Covid towards the end. This led him to be hospitalized, and even moved to the ICU, where he spent over a month. Needless to say, the hospitalization costs shot through the roof.

As the doctor slowly recovered, the full realization of the exorbitant amount that would hit him on billing day became more and more apparent. How would he arrange to pay for such a large amount? What would his family say? Would he have to borrow, and at this age? The thoughts came fast and plenty.

A couple of days later, as he was getting ready to get discharged, the nurse walked up to him with the bill. Instead of a big 7-digit number, it was only a 3-digit number, just a token of having been there, as though he went to get a simple tummy ache checked. On seeing his confused look, the nurse told him that the head doctor at the hospital had recognized that this now-recovered doctor was his own professor from medical school from whom he had learned many things and also knew well about his selfless service. He and his staff immediately arranged to take care of all expenses and ensured only the best doctors attended to him.

Kindness begets kindness. We only need to learn to see it. Cheers and prayers to all the frontline healthcare workers!

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Reply

Is there a way to make someone happy and praise them while also keeping the bar high? Here’s how my Guru did it once.

Many years ago, one of the satsangis went to him for advice. The satsangi was a bit nervous, as he told Guruji that this was his first time speaking in public on the Gita, and that he was a little scared. Guruji asked him which chapter was assigned to him. He said, “Chapter 7, Guruji.”

Guruji replied thus:
1. Wow, chapter 7, such a beautiful chapter, I’m so happy you got it! [infusing happiness]
2. You know what? My first talk too was on chapter 7. It is easy, and I know your capability, you can do it. [genuine praise]
3. I also prepared hard for it – I had read the chapter over 500 times, so that my session is worth my audience’s time. [setting the bar high]

Isn’t this such an inspiring reply, and something for us to learn?

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Life changing thoughts

In the book ‘How to Change Your Life by Changing Your Thoughts’ written by James Allen, there are some outstanding lines of thought provoking advice. A few highlights:

Men do not attract that which they want, but that which they are.
Not what he wishes and prays for does a man get, but what he justly earns. His wishes and prayers are only gratified and answered when they harmonize with his thoughts and actions.
Men are anxious to improve their circumstances, but they are unwilling to improve themselves; they therefore remain bound.
Good thoughts and actions can never produce bad results; bad thoughts and actions can never produce good results. This is but saying that nothing can come from corn but corn. Men understand this law in the natural world, but not in the mental and moral world.
Blessedness, not material possessions, is the measure of right thought. Wretchedness, not lack of material possessions, is the measure of wrong thought.
The world is your kaleidoscope, and the varying combinations of colours, which at every succeeding moment it presents to you, are the exquisitely adjusted pictures of your ever moving thoughts.
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Ear here

What do we listen with? Our ears right? Of course, so obvious.

But that’s what we think. In one of his workshops to students many years ago, my Guru had posed this very question to his audience. They all replied “Yes, with our ears.”

To which he turned around, showed his back to the audience and continued his talk.

Needless to say, the crowd was completely disoriented. When my Guru turned around again, he smiled and said, “We listen with our ears, yes, but mostly with our eyes.”

This is a problem I’ve often encountered. Most people are always distracted, and when I speak, I’m not sure if what I’m saying is registering in their minds. Not because they don’t care. But because they are distracted. How do I know? Because I’m as guilty of this as the next person. When my spouse / child / family member / friend / colleague is speaking to me, the least I can do is to look them directly in the eye, and give them the attention they deserve. We can no doubt draw some boundaries – like letting the kids know that daddy’s going to be busy between 7 and 10 doing office work or such.

But if we aren’t 100% present in the moment, we must ask ourselves – what are we thinking about? The past that we cannot change? The future we have little control over? A social media post that is far less important than family?

Time to listen with the eyes.

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Praise the struggle(r)

A new Tamil movie released directly-to-home, i.e. bypassing cinema theatres, as many of the latter are still pandemic-shut. The movie titled Soorarai Pottru translates to ‘Praise the Brave’. It loosely chronicles the life and successes of Capt. Gopinath who launched Air Deccan – India’s first affordable airlines for the common man, from back in the early 2000s.

There were a lot of learnings for me from watching the man’s incessant struggles. (Spoiler Alert!) He is driven by just one goal – to enable the common man to fly. While this might seem normal today, flying was only for the elites back then. The protagonist (an Indian Air Force pilot) himself is unable to reach home in time to see his father on his death bed as he is short of funds to buy his plane ticket. He ends up hitching rides of various kinds, reaching his village by road just as the funeral rites commence.

There is the obvious clique of villains, none of whom want competition for their own elite airlines. Despite all kinds of attempts to derail (or should it be deplane!) progress, the Captain never ever gives up. In the worst of times, he goes so far as to part-create a chance meeting with the President of the country resulting in a lifeline for his carrier. The film also showcases the importance of values, family bonding, goal setting and never giving up no matter the adversity.

While some parts of the movie seemed hyperbolic (probably for cinematic effect), there is no doubt Capt. Gopinath struggled his way to success. And as every struggler would attest to, it is the struggle alone that makes the victory sweet. Just ask the butterfly that came out the cocoon, as the struggle alone makes its wings strong enough for flight.

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Lending a ear

Back in the 80s when the Internet was first created, people scarcely understood its potential. What is ubiquitous today, wasn’t obvious back then. Why did they think it was doomed to fail? Was it because technology was not ready yet? Not at all. It was because they assumed that creating content would be the work of the large corporations. So a Netscape or a Microsoft would have to create content and put it on the web.

Fast forward to today, and we know who the true content creators are, don’t we? Still unsure? Head over to YouTube, or the billions of blogs on Medium or WordPress, or the millions of webstores on Instagram or Facebook. Not just social media, but ‘social’ itself has become a thing. Stand up comedy has proliferated, as has 360 degree feedback processes. What is it that unites these? All of these are platforms that enable people to have a voice. They are so endearing because there is someone on the other side who is listening.

In the Kural, Thiruvalluvar says that the crown of all wealth a man can have is the art of listening. Despite knowing about the benefits of listening, people rarely listen. Group Discussions in MBA selection rounds are all ‘fishmarkets’ with the loudest prevailing over the rest. Is this the best way to select and groom future leaders? No surprise then that even in office calls today, most people end up cutting others mid-sentence. They also add, as if to sound cool, “Sorry to interrupt you, but here’s what I believe…”, or “Sorry to interject, but my view is…”. Would you like to be interrupted while speaking? Would anyone?

Listening needn’t just be about others. In today’s action-packed stress-laced world, we hardly listen to ourselves, our body and mind’s needs. This is not to say we must indulge ourselves, but we are mostly running after what will make us look good in the eyes of others. Instead, we could stop to listen to our hearts and evaluate what is right for us, rather than for thy neighbour.

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Good to Great, or the reverse

When Hanuman went to Lanka to rescue Sita, he laid eyes on Ravana for the first time. He described Ravana as “shining like a thousand suns”. He also remarked, “When it comes to greatness, Ravana might well be ahead. But when it comes to goodness, there is no match for Rama!”

Are good and great mutually exclusive? Not, but it is very difficult to combine both. These might explain the difficulty expressed by Scott Fitzgerald’s framework when he talks of having “Two opposing ideas but still retaining the ability to function”. Why? Because greatness gets to the head. The ego swells so much, that there is little room to think of others. Empathy and goodness are replaced by selfishness and greed.

Watching the superb Netflix series Scam 1992 depicts the protagonist Harshad Mehta going through the same conflict. Starting off humbly, and wanting to provide the best for his family, he gets sucked into the world of stock trading. Success after success fuels his ego to such an extent that no amount of wealth and fame is enough. Goodness gets thrown out the window, as fraud after fraud is committed in the quest for greatness.

We must strive for good. Whether great comes or not is irrelevant.

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Birthday of the truly timeless

Today marks Guru Nanak Jayanti. It is perhaps the most sacred festival in Sikhism. It commemorates the birth of the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak. During most of my childhood and youth, I would consider this birthday just another blessing – thanks to the additional holiday each year. But having read about Guru Nanak’s life and teachings in the book Ten Companions of God by J.P Vaswani, there are a lot of lessons for me to learn from.

Initially started as an offshoot of Hinduism, many core principles in Sikhism remain intact. The focus is on service, to humanity as a whole, and specifically to those in need. The underlying belief that the Supreme is One, is also similar. Many Sikhs greet each other by saying “Sat Sri Akal”. Sat is the Truth. Not like a spoken truth/lie, but referring to the only changeless Truth. Sri confers respect on Kal. And Kal refers to time, and a-Kal is the timeless. Thus there is only one True Timeless permanent fixture (aka God), and that is what Sikhs remember, when they greet each other.

There are 3 outstanding tenets Guru Nanak preached.

  1. Vand chako – Share whatever we have, and always be in the service of others
  2. Kirat karo – Be duty bound, work hard and and earn an honest living
  3. Naam japo – Meditate on God

So simple, yet so profound.

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Why I’m (not) incompetent

As toddlers, when we wanted to speak better, we were surrounded by those who spoke well, and just kept repeating the same gibberish over and over. Today as an adult language learner, if we are in the company of a native speaker, we feel incompetent.

Where we previously studied and memorised many lists for many exams, today we feel incompetent. If someone at the workplace has better ideas than us, or gets promoted, we feel incompetent. Even at home, if a sibling or a cousin achieves more than us, we feel incompetent.

Incompetence is not jealousy, although it could stem from it. Incompetence is only an excuse to doing better, not a solution. It is this very same feeling of incompetence that leads to depression. Despite having everything, an unsolicited and unnecessary comparison to peers throws life off track.

What if we were to just accept the situation and let go? We are not very good at something? Okay so be it. If we can try to improve, then great, otherwise also great. In the long run, values matter more than skills, because skills can be outsourced and values cannot. Incompetence in values can and must be fixed. Peer comparison in skills is a waste of time, but trying to be the best most-humane person? Always a good thing!

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