Monday, October 26, 2020

Today

 

Life is too short to waste today.
Life is too short to not give it my best shot today.
Life is too short to not relish today.
... all day, each day, every day.


Saturday, July 18, 2020

A Regret & A Resolve


A Regret & A Resolve

I have but one regret in life
That I wasted a lot of time
On people, pursuits, and things
That amounted to nothing.

I know what you gonna say
My victories, I shouldn't downplay
Somethings weren't just meant to be.
Life is a mixed bag, I agree.

But I do not lament over failures
I only regret the squandered hours
That I could've used wisely
For adventure, play, and enquiry.

As Sri Krishna said, "Life is a leela."
So, do not be attached to the mela
Experience and savor what it offers
And then proceed on your endeavors.

But only pursue the vital few
That's all that should matter to you
Discard all that's inconsequential
And your life will be worthwhile.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Diwali: Reflections from the 4th of July Celebrations in USA

Yesterday was the 4th of July, the Independence Day of America. Those who have lived in the USA know that the day is celebrated with a lot of fireworks (among other things). People burst crackers at home, but even the local cities throughout the country organize huge fireworks shows on this day. People gather around large open spaces, such as parks or playgrounds to enjoy these public fireworks events. This year, my city of Fort Wayne postponed its official fireworks show for a later date because of safety reasons related to the COVID-19 outbreak, but individuals happily burst away crackers from their homes. All the (double glass) windows of my apartment were closed, and the air-conditioner on, but still, I could hear the non-stop barrage of firecrackers from outside late into the night.

It may seem like I am complaining, but I am not. People got to celebrate their culture and traditions, as long as those traditions don’t hurt other people or animals. Now, I stopped lighting firecrackers a long time ago because of its environmental impact, but the damage from firecrackers can be considered relatively minimal and temporary. Thus, such traditions could be allowed to continue, when they occur only once a year and if people are taught to celebrate the occasions responsibly.

In India, this once-a-year time of bursting crackers comes during Diwali. Although the original tradition was to light only diyas (lamps made from clay that have a cotton wick that is dipped in ghee or some vegetable oil), once Indians had access to gunpowder (estimated to be somewhere around 1400 AD), people also started using fireworks to celebrate Diwali. Over the last few decades, with increased incomes, the use of fireworks during Diwali has skyrocketed. This obviously has also had a negative impact on the air quality, albeit only in the short term. This has given many self-proclaimed “environmentally-conscious” celebrities a reason to ask for bans on fireworks during Diwali.

For a long time, I sided with these celebrities, but in recent years their hypocrisies have been too stark to ignore. For example, they celebrate weddings in their families with a huge amount of fireworks but preach others about how the same fireworks during Diwali scare dogs (and other animals) and damage the environment.

I see no American celebrities trending on social media speaking against the use of fireworks during the 4th of July celebrations. Then, why do so many Indian celebrities deride Diwali? Why doesn't Priyanka Chopra, who now lives in America, not say anything about the 4th of July firecrackers but speaks so derisively about Diwali’s fireworks?

As I have already mentioned, I personally don't burst crackers (because of the noise and air pollution) they cause, but personal choices apart, the systematic campaign against firecrackers every year during Diwali seems to be nothing else but campaigns against all Hindu traditions and festivals. This year some Indian celebrities even ran campaigns against the celebration of Holi because it caused “wastage of water”.  All this while they themselves waste thousands of gallons of in their bathtubs and personal swimming pools. And I don’t even need to mention that these animal- and environment-loving celebrities never speak up against the horrible traditions of certain other religions that kill millions of animals every year and waste millions of gallons of water to clean up the mess created by it.

So, what is the way forward? It is certainly important to point out the hypocrisy and Hinduphobic biases of our celebrities and Indian governments and courts that initiate and implement bans against Hindu traditions. But we need to do more. First, we need to take pride in our animal- and environment-friendly traditions. It is beyond the scope of this post to list all these traditions, but I can say with confidence that there is no other tradition in this world that is more compassionate and environmentally conscious as the traditions that emerged from the Indian sub-continent. And we need to take this forward. In context of firecrackers, we should campaign for the manufacture and sale of only those varieties that are made from environment-friendly materials. All the Chinese junk that gets sold and purchased during these festivals must stop.

Firecrackers made from environment-friendly materials in India
While growing up as a kid in Odisha, we only used Tala Phootka (firecracker made of dried palm leaf) during Diwali. And there are many other such options, made from clay pots, jute strings, and bamboo twigs [see collage above for examples]. We should call for a ban on all other forms of firecrackers that use non-biodegradable materials. Coming to Holi, all chemical-based colors should be banned, and its use be made punishable. The traditional colors used in Holi were all made from plant-based materials that were actually good for our skin.

The Islamic and European rulers who ruled over India for centuries instituted systems in place that progressively undermined the pride we had in our traditions. And the assault continues today in name of "secularism". The flaws that have seeped into our practices (e.g., the use of firecrackers made out of plastic or the use of chemical colors during Holi) are not the fault of Hinduism but our shameless embrace of cheap materialism. We need to educate ourselves about the philosophy and history of our festivals. We need to celebrate our traditions unapologetically and do it by actively adopting and campaigning for the environment-friendly ways of celebrating our festivals. This way, we can also be an example for the rest of the world, as we were for millennia. If you have doubts, watch the video below.


Drop here!

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

The Paradox of Quality

I was talking to a colleague (and friend) today who would be retiring soon. I asked, "What plans do you have for your life post-retirement?" She replied, "There are so many things that I want to do... However, I haven't finalized what exactly I will do." The things that she listed were all, in one form or other, related to trying to make a meaningful difference to the world. My friend is already an accomplished academic, leader, sportsman, and contributor to the local community. So, I have no doubts that she will carry forward her excellence into whatever she takes up in her post-retirement life.

The conversation led me to reflect for some time today on how we all wish to make a difference in this world. This is a fundamental need that we all have. The nature and scope of the impact that we wish to make may vary from person to person. Some people may be highly ambitious while others may have modest goals, but the wish to make a difference in our unique way is pretty universal.

Now, how do you know that your work is making a significant difference? There are many ways to figure this out, but the most straightforward way is to evaluate the objective and subjective feedback that we receive for our work. Thus, a writer may wish that his book sells millions of copies (objective) and that his readers also rate his book highly (subjective). Similarly, a musician may wish that her music video gets millions of views and that her music is appreciated by the majority of the viewers (Because it is certainly possible to be a viral sensation for all the wrong reasons). The point is that irrespective of what we do, we all want to be successful on both objective and subjective terms. But then the big question is, "How can we make the kind of impact that we wish to make?"

Again, there can be many answers to that question. People follow different strategies based on what they believe. For example, some people may place heavy emphasis on producing high-quality output while others may focus more on marketing, and so on. Let me focus on quality in this post, because marketing (although important) will be mostly useless if the quality of output is shoddy. Thus, according to me, high-quality output matters much more than marketing, albeit quality doesn't automatically guarantee success. Stated otherwise, quality-output is a necessary if not sufficient condition for success. In simple words, if you can produce high-quality output, then it is more likely that your work will be valued by others. The obvious question then is, how to produce high-quality output?

The quality of our output is dependent on many factors. Certainly, our talent has a role to play. However, the world is filled with people who had talent but didn't amount to anything. That's because talent is just potential. Howsoever talented we may be, we will not produce high-quality work if we do not put the necessary effort to hone and sharpen our skills.

People who are committed to bettering their skills usually employ one of the two strategies: quality or quantity. By 'quality strategy', I mean that people tend to focus on creating high-quality output from the very beginning. They spend a lot of time in the preparation of activities so that the output that will produce will be of superior quality. For example, a writer may invest a tremendous amount of time researching his topic, edit his sentences thoroughly so that no mistakes are present. In the 'quantity strategy,' people are eager to produce instead of being preoccupied with the quality of output. Going back to the writer-example, a quantity-focused writer would just write a lot without worrying too much about the quality of what he writes.

So which strategy wins? Well, the answer is not straightforward. Both strategies surely have their merits, and one should not be pursued to the exclusion of the other. However, what needs to be remembered is that ultimately skills are perfected by doing, and not just by preparing. In other words, a quantity-focused approach may often be a wiser strategy than a quality-focused strategy. Let me explain what I'm saying through an example.

Jerry Uelsmann's Surreal Photography

Jerry Uelsmann is an award-winning photographer who graduated from my alma mater, Indiana University. He pioneered the art of creating surreal images in the darkroom, way before the advent of Adobe Photoshop. While teaching photography to his students at the University of Florida, he once conducted an experiment. He divided his class into two groups. One group (the Quality Group) was asked to submit their single best piece of work for their course grade. The second group (the Quantity Group) was asked to submit the maximum number of photographs they could for their grade. This group was told clearly that the quality of their photographs would not be evaluated. It didn't matter if their photographs were great, good, bad, or even horrible; they would be graded solely on the basis of the number of photographs they submitted.

Which group do you think created the high-quality output that is so essential to success? Professor Uelsmann was guessing it would be the Quality Group. On evaluating all the submitted photographs himself and also by independent raters, however, he concluded that the Quantity Group created the best images. There can be many explanations for the superior quality produced by the Quantity Group. Maybe they were less stressed about their output, or maybe this low stress allowed them to experiment more with their images, or maybe the quantity focus simply gave them more practice which ultimately enhanced their photography skill. Most probably, it was a combination of all these factors and more. Whatever the reasons,  it turns out that often the best path to achieve quality is through quantity. Let's call this the paradox of quality. This should be a lesson for all those perfectionists who get so hung up on creating their perfect product that they never create anything. Unfortunately, the world is full of such perfectionists. Even I am one of them.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Rules for Myself


The above poem is a summation of the main rules that I strive to live my life by. I formulated an initial draft of these rules earlier this year and started living by them. And they truly helped me live a more meaningful and fulfilling life. Over the months, with greater insights into myself (in particular) and human psychology (in general), I refined my draft, added a couple more rules, and composed a pithy poem for my rules so that I could easily recall and repeat them to myself.

You might ask, "Why do you want to live your life by a bunch of rules? Isn't that restrictive?" Those are absolutely valid questions. I have certainly been asked those questions before, and occasionally more as a critical commentary to my way of life than a genuine inquiry. Nevertheless, the answer to those questions is pretty straightforward:

First, rules are not automatically restrictive. Rules can surely feel restrictive when they are imposed by an outsider. However, when we choose our own rules, they can actually be liberating, because they help us get focused in life. Rules help us identify what are truly important to us. They help us not get distracted by the trivial.

Second, it's incorrect to think that you don't live by rules. We all have rules. It's just that people are rarely aware of those rules. Most of our rules lie under our conscious awareness in form of implicit beliefs. However, they still continue to influence our actions. The problem with living our life by a set of rules that we aren't even aware of is that we then do not get the opportunity to scrutinize them. While some of our subconscious rules may be working in our favor, many do not. In fact, most of our life's troubles could be traced back to those outdated rules that we ignorantly held on to. It is therefore critical that we periodically introspect and identify the rules that we have been living by. Once identified, we need to scrutinize them with the thoroughness of a skilled scientist, retain what work, and modify or discard what do not. Over a period of time, through this continual process of refinement, we should be able to formulate a set of thumb rules that help us better our lives."

It is beyond the scope of this post to elaborate on the rationale behind each of my rules. However, if any of them appeal to you, do consider incorporating them into your life. You might be surprised at how much they can help you transform your life.