Friday, 24 April 2015

Vintage Whine

Swami Gulagulaananda said:
"With great ownership comes great sense of responsibility"

Expectations vs Reality
We like things to be perfect. We have a certain set of ideas of what perfection is. These are expectations. Then there is reality. The greater the gap between reality and expectation, the greater the disappointment. When there is disappointment, there are four things that can be done.
  1. We can sit quietly and remain disappointed. 
  2. We can try and do things to bridge the gap. 
  3. Change expectations
  4. Whine about it.

Sitting quietly and remaining disappointed is not a great option. It quietly sucks out your morale and eat you away from within. There are many who do this; they end up feeling worthless. They resign to their fate. A good example of this would be women in Saudi Arabia. The society in which they live is in a certain way and they are, or feel, so powerless to change it that they have accepted their fate.

Changing expectations is what Buddha suggested - specifically, he asked us to not have any desires or expectations. When you expect something and you don't get it, it leads to disappointment. Having no expectations automatically removes the possibility of disappointment. However, the state of mind required for having no expectations and no desires is much harder to reach than one can imagine.

The option "Whine about it" is the one that most people prefer to pick. It is a very easy option. And with the increased use of social media, the whines can spread quite a lot. The biggest problem with whining combined with social media is the enormous negativity that it can spread. When you hear a complaint, you feel that there is something wrong. If you hear complaints day in and day out, that feeling gets reinforced. It may initially seem like a good idea. You may feel that you are spreading awareness. But you should also remember that men of action would not resort to talking a lot about it and most of us are not men of action. Most of us are armchair activists. Therefore, the effect of spreading the word is just "raising awareness" of how bad the situation is and nothing more than that. It does not accomplish anything beyond increasing a feeling of negativity.

This causes a feeling of resentment. Let me give you a simple example. Imagine you work in an office where one of your colleague has a squeaky chair. Every time he bends back or shifts his position, the chair makes a squeaky noise. It's a very irritating noise, one that makes you lose your train of thought. The first few times you turn your head around and glare at him while he nervously apologises. But after some time, one of two things happen - either you resign to your fate (Yeah, the chair makes noise, nothing that can be done about it) or you start complaining. You some times wonder why that guy needs to adjust his position so often. It is very rare that you would take steps to fix the problem, perhaps apply a drop of oil or ask the maintenance staff to have a look at it.

Ownership
While the above example might seem like a trivial issue, the same attitude can be seen across issues of all proportions. I believe that the root of this is "Ownership". Or rather, the lack of ownership. When something belongs to you, you are always very careful and protective of them. Think about it. If your mother met with an accident or your car got a dent in traffic, you would move quickly. It's yours and you will do whatever you can to resolve the problem. If your maid has gone to her hometown, you will not let your house become a pigsty. You will sweep and clean up your house. You won't resign to your fate and say "Well, it cannot be helped, the maid isn't here"

The same isn't true when things are not happening in your immediate circles. Your interest in others' problems decreases as the radius of the circle increases. If someone drove rashly and dented a stranger's car, we are going to be mere spectators. We tell ourselves, "Too bad, but let's watch and see how the situation develops" perhaps with a sense of schadenfreude. The reason is that we do not identify with them.

"It's not my problem. Why should I care?" - This train of thought is the number one reason for failure of development - Whether you are writing software or trying to live in a society. If your neighbours are throwing garbage in a vacant plot of land near your house, the garbage will only accumulate over a period of time. If your neighbour was throwing garbage into your yard, would you keep quiet? But when it's someone else's yard, you complain to your friends saying that the neighbour in question has no civic sense. You whine and you rant. And then you forget about it. You don't feel it is your problem. Perhaps it is the job of the land owner or the civic body or govt. Why should I get involved?

We always talk about collaboration, but how much do we really collaborate? In the critically acclaimed book, "Vedanta Treatise", there is a paragraph that talks about identifying the quality of people.

  1. Those who think only about themselves  (Worst)
  2. Those who think only about them and their family
  3. Those who include their clan
  4. Those who include their country
  5. Those who think of the entire world (Best)

You might notice that the majority of us fall in the block "About themselves and their family" - How do we increase our salary, our savings, our trips, our cars, etc. remains our primary concern

Here's another example. In the midst of bad traffic, people are in a hurry and end up forming deadlocks. Then they end up making deadlocks worse by trying to get out of deadlocks. The thought process here is - "Let ME get out of this mess first. Let the others figure this out themselves, what do I care?" Wouldn't it be nicer if people waited and let others go first?

Take action
The irony of this post vis-à-vis the whining and ranting is not lost to me.

That being said, I would like to quote Lord Krishna - "Action is always better than inaction".

The first step towards improving society is to take ownership - of whatever it is that you are trying to improve. We are very busy building our career and improving our standard of living - and I am, at no point of time, saying that we should all become social workers or renounce everything and become monks. But, if we are not taking steps towards improvement, how can we expect our society and country to reach its maximum potential?

Let me give you some simple things that you can do immediately after reading this post.

Milaap
Many of us always talk about women empowerment, but few actually take action. Why not head over to Milaap? Milaap is a site where you may lend out small amounts of money to people who are trying to build small businesses. And you will be amazed how many women are trying to stand up on their own. You can donate very small amounts too, but the difference it makes in their lives is huge. Something as low as Rs. 2500 (or maybe lesser)

Akshayapatra
While I frown upon NGOs, Akshayapatra is perhaps the only one I swear by. You can donate amounts as low as Rs. 750 and that's enough to feed a child for a year! That's ONE meal for us at times...

It's not about donations... It's about Nationalism
While I did appeal to your philanthropic side, my interest lies in increasing nationalism. Nationalistic pride is very important and this has to be inculcated in people right from their childhood. If you do not identify yourself with your society and your country, you will not have ownership. And when you don't have ownership, you do not care enough to make a difference. You will not put in that requisite effort to make things better. You will not have pride.

You don't have to donate money to improve society. You can come up with clever solutions too. Think about various problems that we have around us. Maybe living in cities doesn't give you the full impact of real problems, such as insufficient electricity or lack of clean drinking water. If we can come up with ways to ease garbage disposal, you will create a cleaner society. If you watch TED videos of various simple inventions that kids in Africa are coming up with, you will know what I mean - using simple LEDs to drive away lions, for instance. They have real problems, and they are solving them with simple yet ingenious solutions. What if we spend an hour or two to think of solutions for these problems?

Instead of making 'settling in the US' our life's ambition, we should think about ways of giving back to the society in which we grew up and improve it.

Remember, this is not some idealistic nonsense. This is like crowdfunding - small steps by everyone can make a huge difference.

The mantra is simple - Ownership and Identifying Oneself With The Society. If you do not identify yourself with your society and think only about yourself and your family, we will never ever grow together as a society. We should identify ourselves with others, and grow together. Only then can we truly grow as a society, as a country and eventually lead to the growth of humanity.

Ownership... Think about it...

Related Links:

Vedanta Treatise
This is not some random book that gives you a lecture, but is one that makes you think and explore on your own. So don't think of this as some sort of right-wing propaganda. It's a fantastic book. Do read the reviews
Amazon Link

The Ugly Indian
A fantastic talk by an anonymous Bangalorean who talks about DOING rather than complaining - How they clean up garbage in Bangalore

Richard Turere
In the Maasai community where Richard Turere lives with his family, cattle are all-important. But lion attacks were growing more frequent. In this short, inspiring talk, the young inventor shares the solar-powered solution he designed to safely scare the lions away
Watch Video


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