The People Paradox

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I love my action figures and collectibles. I’m completely involved in following various sports. I enjoy working on my fitness. Movies and books offer a lot of joy. And if you throw in a pet dog, a bottomless bank balance, a few mansions, a private jet or two, pizza home delivery on a daily basis, weekly massages, and perpetual luxury trips, one would think that I have all the ingredients to lead a joyous and entertaining life. However, I must admit that despite the enthralling picture this scenario paints, what we really crave is good solid people and relationships in our lives. As much as we hate to admit our dependency on the people around us (because apparently, that goes against the definition of being independent), we are all connected emotionally, physically, and mentally with each other. And after the initial burst of exhilaration we may experience while spending time away from these delightfully annoying homosapiens, their absence sucks the life out of us over time.

‘Man is a social animal’ is a concept that we learn at a very young age. I am an economics student, which is a social science. And if you look beyond the theories and numbers, economics really is interactions between people at an individual level, a global level, and everything in between.

Of course, the idea of being social these days is vastly prominent on social media sites where love, affection, friendship, and care might be superfluous at best. I get the sense that our expression of feeling towards others has become more of a social media contest to let the world know how much we care more than the person that the message is actually intended for. If we want to post a picture with our mother, we will click at least a dozen photos and then choose the one in which we look the best even if our mom looks like she is about to fall asleep in the picture (If we had just smiled genuinely in the first picture as opposed to pouting and trying different angles, the picture would have been amazing at the onset). We send birthday and anniversary greetings on Facebook and WhatsApp even to the people that really matter. We keenly take pictures of all the dishes that arrive at our table, promptly post them on Instagram and monitor the feedback from our followers continuously. All this while we have had said less than a handful of words to the person across the table. It’s not like the eggs benedict we had was unique and superior to the ones others have eaten over the course of their lives. I also see a barrage of ‘best dad’, ‘best husband’, ‘best wife’, ‘best Martian’ and a host of other posts on social media. Really? How many dads, husbands, and wives have you had? If the answer is one then I’m sorry, you do not have a case. What are you comparing to? Now that this rant is out of the way, let’s move on.

Let’s face it people, we are lost in the social media gobbledygook and our relationships are slowly but surely losing sheen. We are unable to fathom why people feel the way they do anymore because interacting with, studying, and understanding people is becoming a dying art. Apparently, it’s what the experts like coaches, psychologists, trainers, and the human resources departments at companies do. Sure these people serve an important role in society but it doesn’t take an IQ of 140 to realize that your friend is angry or your mother is upset. Heck, we can’t tell if someone has a cold unless they post ‘sniff’ on their Facebook status (These have got to be the most ridiculous status updates. How much attention do we want?).

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While communication is meant to be one of man’s most formidable strengths since our inception, it is exactly what we fear and avoid today. With added pressures, loss of simplicity, a fast-paced atmosphere, and the zeal to get ahead (even if we must trample on others), we have given up on personal communication. We can write terrific professional emails but can’t convey to the management how we feel about the toxic work environment. We know how good our subordinate is at number crunching but don’t know whether that task makes him happy or not (Because we’re being paid to keep our mouth shut and do the work. And then we wonder why the attrition rate is so high despite a fancy work environment and great pay scales). We know our mom is a great homemaker but fail to see (or avoid) that she is losing her joy in this thankless rigmarole. We hear the words coming out of a friend’s mouth but fail to notice the love in his eyes. We notice the melody in our cousin’s singing but not the pain in her voice.

If our friend doesn’t call us for a few days (because he always calls), we descend upon him with fury when we do speak. But how often do we try to see the reason for their silence? They may have been low and may have needed to hear from us instead. Our brother may do everything to protect and care for us, but it’s something we take for granted and will get upset the one time he thinks about himself first. We fight on WhatsApp because we lack the spine or just want to avoid the trouble of doing it face-to-face.

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We are smart enough to realize what others feel because we feel these things too. However, we avoid acknowledging feelings that challenge our egos, make us uncomfortable, or put us in a dilemma. We incoherently assign roles to ourselves and those in our lives. While we take on the more comfortable ones, our loved ones have to bear the brunt of the more tasking ones. We expect them to understand how we feel even if we don’t communicate, but are quick to point out that we didn’t understand them as they didn’t bother communicating. Parents are meant to tolerate, friends are meant to understand, spouses are meant to support, bosses are meant to chill (even if we’ve bungled six assignments in a row), and dogs are meant to wag their tails. Even if the joker in our life has an off day or two it’s considered to be a cardinal sin. If you know how one feels about you, expresses it with love and kindness, and if you decide to let him wait in endless anticipation to know how you feel, think again. We are meant to continue doing what we do because that’s who we are, and if people can’t understand, well too bad. Everyone else is meant to be flexible and mollycoddle us.

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We refuse to express or care enough to compel our loved ones to express what they feel so that we can all support and help each other. So that we can introduce genuine happiness, security, and comfort in each other’s lives. So that we can use the one skill as the only species blessed to have on this planet.

We rather assume, which invariably leads to misunderstanding.

Assumption is the mother of…yes you got it. Go wish people in person, smile at them more often, express what you feel, tell your cat a joke, hug a sad friend, be nice to your parents, appreciate your children, and communicate in the most expressive and creative ways you can. And express now, because regret is a very heavy burden to live with.

People in our lives don’t drag us out of our comfort zone. They are our comfort zone.

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Playfully Serious

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Being serious for prolonged periods has always been a difficult task for me. And I don’t mean that I take my work, relationships, passions, and other responsibilities lightly. I take them very seriously indeed. But by serious I mean I cannot hold a grim, businesslike, tense, depressed or unhappy demeanor for too long (If you smile too much or crack too many jokes in the corporate world you’re considered to be someone that is not serious about the job). My innate nature is to play the clown in most situations without undermining or disrespecting the situation or the people in it. However, I am not impervious to the discomfort caused by drastic situations and unsavory events. On the contrary, my emotional nature does allow events and people around to have their impact on me, both positive and negative (If I was playing Bruce Banner in the Avengers and Tony Stark poked me with a needle, I would have turned green, red, yellow, purple…). However, I consider myself to be a defective piece whereby I can’t mope around beyond a point in any situation.

All my life I have tried to come up with some response (which tends to be comical and carefree in nature) to adversity in its early stages itself. When someone tried to bully me as a child (which didn’t happen all that often), after I overcame the first few moments of fear, I would participate in the mayhem in self-defense and laugh at my own predicament much to the dismay of the perpetrators. During my school days, if I struggled in an examination, I would start humming and whistling to myself (occasionally even tell myself a joke) to help dissipate some of the stress. Of course, if the invigilator happened to cast her eyes on me at the time, I would look dead straight with a serious expression letting her know that the exam is a breeze and I’m just formulating the best response mentally. If I got bad grades, I would walk it off and begin to focus on the next opportunity (If I studied hard and didn’t do well then there wasn’t much else I could have done. If I didn’t prepare enough, then I couldn’t expect to do well. Either way, there was no point sulking). If I didn’t win gold in my athletic events, I told myself that someone was better than me on the day (Which was invariably true). If I get rejections from my job applications, I tell myself that the number of applications I make will always be one step ahead of the number of rejections I can get. If I miss a target at work, sure I feel bad (but maybe for a day) and then I convert the entire episode into a joke (or a limerick) and move on. Now that I think of it, I was probably a little nervous even during my wedding ceremony and innately playing the fool, asking for updated cricket scores while the sacred mantras were being chanted.

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And why just situations? People can get us down very quickly too (Only if we allow them to, but most of us cave in). Family members, friends, bosses, colleagues, the next door girl (who still doesn’t know you like her), the ticket collector on the train (during your ticketless travels), the guy who tripped you as you tried to take a selfie during your evening run, and strangely even the banking telemarketer rejecting a loan you didn’t apply for in the first place. For a long time, I let every unpleasant behavior towards me get on to my nerves and push me in a corner. It didn’t help resolve anything and only made me feel worse than I already did. So what do I do now? That’s right, take it with a pinch of salt and a sense of humor.

We will find every excuse to be angry, upset, dejected, irritated or just be grimly serious about every situation and person we deal with. Sure, things get exasperating, but the sooner we realize that unpleasant moments make up our lives just as much as joyous ones, the better equipped we will be to deal with them. Whether we are happy or unhappy about a situation, the fact that it has occurred will remain unchanged and our grim attitude is only going to make us feel worse, not improve the situation. On the contrary, assuming responsibility and lightening the mood in the darkest of moments has helped me rebound faster, stronger, and cleared all the clutter in my mind.

The Joker of Gotham was right.

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So if you were to listen to me, I’d say don’t take yourselves, others, and situations too seriously. If we humor ourselves and laugh (not hysterically, which might be a sign of having gone cuckoo) at our predicaments, we will innately create a belief in our minds and hearts that our problems have not gotten the better of us. We will face them with conviction and fortitude. We all have it in us to realize that the ability to humor ourselves lies within us. We need that humor to face life’s challenges. We cannot tackle the visible until we tackle the invisible. To bear fruit (visible), we must nurture the roots (invisible).

Yes, things will be painful, yes people will be hurtful, yes we will find ourselves undermined and hopelessly outrivaled by various situations, but it’s really up to us to put ourselves in the best mental and emotional condition to tackle life’s gristle.

If life seems jolly rotten,
There’s something you’ve forgotten!
And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing,
When you’re feeling in the dumps,
Don’t be silly chumps,
Just purse your lips and whistle — that’s the thing!

Always looks on the bright side of life…. phee phoo phee phoo phoo phoo phee phoo (whistling)

  • Bruce Cockburn

Baptism By Migration

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Many of us have stayed in our home towns, and even with our parents our entire lives (except when we went on short trips or to the local mart to pick up some milk while holding daddy’s hand of course). This is particularly true in India and some of the other Eastern cultures. While I value the closeness and support of family as much as anything in the world, I have come across people that completely lack a sense of ability in their own independence to perform basic tasks and take everyday decisions (which include picking their own wardrobe, deciding on the brand of cereal they like, figuring what their favorite color is and determining if they need to participate in the local sack race). These examples may sound like exaggerations but I know of people that depend on parents, family members, and close friends to make some ridiculous decisions for them, as well as help them execute these terribly ‘burdensome’ acts. And many that can make decisions independently still turn out to be a bit soft and cower under the smallest of adversities. Until my late teens, I was certainly one of them.

I was always a ‘mama’s boy’ and to a great extent, I still am. ‘Mama’s boy’ is a term used to ridicule men that are still attached to their mothers after a certain age. Well, what’s wrong with that? Shouldn’t one be? Attachment does not indicate a lack of independence. However, while I was very comfortable in my skin (Mumbai is a hot place so we don’t get a chance to don clothing made of other species’ skins) and took decisions independently, I never felt ready to face the real world. And the thought of being away from home was scary as hell.

When I was 10, I was being sent away on a week-long Karate camp, less than 100 kilometers from home. I behaved like I was being sent to the Pakistan border to fight their cavalry with only a toothpick in hand. I whined about not wanting to go weeks before the camp and even tried coming up with a strategy of getting the camp canceled. All this for a week-long camp. Am I kidding you? I’m afraid not. I was an easy pushover in school too, especially during extracurricular activities. While I was confident about standing my ground at home even if I was on the wrong side of the fence, I couldn’t for the life of me even utter a word when my abilities were overlooked at times for other agendas. If I had to do anything outside my comfort zone or stand up for myself, I froze. In the school bus, at social events, at the local playground, during private tutoring, when confronted by rowdy strangers, and even during unsavory moments with friends and cousins.

You leave home to seek your fortune and, when you get it, you go home and share it with your family – Anita Baker

At age 18, I faced genuine terror. While it was my decision as much as my parent’s that I would go abroad to study, the reality of it hit me only a few weeks before I was to leave. I spent my last days in Mumbai like it was my last days on planet Earth (After which, I’m sure my parents would have wanted to ship me off to some godforsaken celestial blob outside the Milky Way to ensure they can’t hear me cry and complain). I felt heartbroken, burdened with anxiety, had sleepless nights, and turned from a talkative fellow to a mute in no time at all. How was I going to live in the absence of my parents, family, and my girlfriend at the time? In fact, it took me over a year to get over my homesickness and truly settle in the gorgeous Granville, OH (This is definitely some kind of record at Denison University). I felt like I had been transported from a metropolitan city to one of the towns from the Ladybird books I read as a child (I expected to see the three little pigs or Snow White at every turn).

I call this the ‘boo hoo’ syndrome. And many of us are infected by it. We can’t do without our loved ones even for a few days, we don’t know how to manage our homes, we wouldn’t know how to come up with a basic meal ourselves, if our televisions stop functioning our life comes to a standstill, if our maid takes off we get suicidal, and if we fall ill while we’re alone, we consider ourselves to be the unluckiest people on the planet.

I spent eight years away from home in the USA and they were indeed my formative and defining years. I learned to fight for myself and others, while in India I would think twice before taking on a mouse (Actually I still do. Mice are freaky). I learned to handle multiple responsibilities single-handedly. Where a 6-hour day of productivity in India would knock the wind out of me, I still felt fresh on most days after a 14-hour day in the USA. When I was home, a single rejection would destroy my spirit, but in the USA, I had no job for a few months and a dwindling bank balance, and I only felt positive with every passing day despite regular rejections. I learned to lead wherein earlier I only followed blindly. I even learned how to tie my shoelaces in one motion.

These years were challenging, they were unrelenting, they were rewarding, they were fun, they made me cry, they made me laugh, they toughened me, I became self-reliant, I made lifelong friends, I learned life lessons, I learned how to survive, and I matured rapidly over these years. And these are easily amongst the best few years of my life until this point. While I spent months regretting it, this turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. It made me capable in many ways.

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It’s important for us to get away from our flocks and get a taste of the world on our own. The experience challenges us, even beats us to the ground, but then that is the essence of life: to come back from hardship and reap its rewards. As hard as it seems at the beginning, you will always relish your time away from home, a lesson in mental and emotional maturity. And when we come back, we understand so much more about our homes through the perspective we have gained. Going away helps us appreciate our homes so much more than we ever could if we never left.

So get out of your comfort zone people. Take a shot at going solo. Get away from home for a bit and trust yourself to hold your own. After all, not everyone is lucky enough to get a two-day crash course at home in growing up and taking responsibility like Macaulay Culkin did in Home Alone.

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Who Wants To Be A Remix?

remix4With the internet booming and blooming right in our faces, we are in a constant state of awe, primarily due to the fascinating world of ‘larger than life’ lifestyles on display round-the-clock. Whenever we jump onto Facebook or Instagram (that is if we ever get off in the first place), we unwaveringly believe that everyone else on the planet has everything going for them (Going on vacation on the pretext of a work trip; going to much-ballyhooed live events; going to the spa, which in many cases is inside their own homes; going on dates with supermodels; spending the year floating around the ocean on a yacht, with only seagulls for company; going everywhere within walking distance in a Lamborghini; sending a proxy to work; and even going to the gym overweight and leaving an hour later with the perfect body). Envy starts to kick in (only if we can learn how to kick envy instead, as well as his big sister, jealousy) and we begin belittling ourselves for our less than impressive existence.

And it’s not just the celebrities in their respective wakes of life that seem to be living a charmed life. It’s also our friends, colleagues, neighbors, fellow passengers on our daily commute, wives, children, chauffeurs, security guards of our housing society, and even our pet canary. Now we think to ourselves ‘Evidently these characters are doing stuff that is affording them all this goodness’ (being present at every party in the city, constantly adding new material items to their collection, eating oily snacks on their daily work commute without putting on an ounce under those flowing garbs, gossiping away on security duty while trespassers enter the premises, going at least 30 kilometres per hour over the speed limit, and even whistling for the dog to get the morning newspaper), and immediately become fans, follow them closely, and imitate as much of their persona as possible. In this quest to improve our lives and feel cool, we become a cheap imitation of theirs’.

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For some of us swaggering individuals, we aren’t easily bitten by this ‘let me be like him or her’ bug, but a majority of us lack confidence and always look for a guiding compass, which invariably happens to be someone that has, fancy possessions, a ‘happening’ lifestyle’, always seems happy in every photo (with an exotic background) on social media, and is brimming with confidence at all times. And celebrity or not, this person is who we want to be, not in our next lifetime, but in this one.

Yet, we will adjust every trivial thing in our lives to suit us; the volume of the television (because we are hard of hearing), the inclination of our armchair (usually at an angle that allows us to sleep through the parleys of our visitors), the choice of music in the car (against the protest of others), logic in our favour in an argument (anything that puts us on the winning side), selective vegetarianism (we will fight vehemently on airplanes for a non veg meal despite selecting the vegetarian option while purchasing the ticket), work deliverables (even if the rest of our team is inconvenienced), nap times (over the ones our 2-year-olds need), the movie our family watches at the cinema, what time we’ll show up at our friend’s wedding (closer to the end in order to avoid the 3-hour saga), if we will show up at our cousin’s wedding (she never was our favorite anyway), dinner dates, business meetings, grocery shopping, and the list is endless.

We don’t think much about how we feel, or how our actions will be perceived even when we know we are acting like completely selfish jerks. In these cases, we are very sure of ourselves and believe we call the shots in our lives and are on top of things. We want to be leaders here, even if the only thing we do is bully others and massage our disillusioned egos. And yet when it comes down to real substance, defining how we will live our lives by being true to who we are, we flatter others. We tend to see someone else’s potential just by the way they conduct themselves or their social media shenanigans but are unable to recognize our own worth considering we’ve known ourselves longest. Sure, we may not be a ready product just yet but we all have the ingredients to be that guy or girl people envy. We need to seriously dwell on our self-worth and uniqueness that can be life-defining for us, as well as people around us. But if we’re too busy admiring others, we don’t give ourselves the chance to appreciate our own potential. If we want to fulfill our dreams, we need to get off social media, do away with publicly gaping at others, and actually spend some time increasing our knowledge and honing our skills.

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The people we are in awe of, have worked hard (and smart) to get where they are (or their ancestors did). We can’t get there by just being pretentious. We all certainly have role models that inspire us. And inspiration is the key. We should take inspiration from every quarter, but only to groom us into better versions of ourselves.

Most original music albums and movies are deemed to be better than their remixes and remakes. There is no point in being a half baked repetition. Be a full-fledged original.

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