Childhood’s End?


It is not easy to see how the more extreme forms of nationalism can long survive when men have seen the Earth in its true perspective as a single small globe against the stars.

                                                                                                               Arthur C. Clarke, 1951

It has been a year since what has come to be known as the ‘Arab Spring’ came into being. In this period it has rolled through much of the Arab world, scalped four long standing state heads and led to protests and uprisings all over. A plethora of analysis to explain “Why there? Who is behind? What now?” has kept pace.

Explanations have ranged from Facebook, Twitter instigated unrest to rupturing of socio-economic systems dominated by authoritarian regimes. From crony capitalism to delayed maturing of civil society. From exposure to western thoughts to the rising aspiration of an increasingly literate and assertive youth.

The other day I was chatting with Abdul Rashid, an Arab holding a secure and well paying job. And he offered an interesting perspective. He spoke of a father dominated family structure. Of how the father loves his child and takes care of all his basic needs. But in return, he expects unquestioning obedience. Of how, as the child grows up and tries to follow his passion, he gets restrained in case he does not follow traditions. Abdul posed a question, “What solution would you suggest in case the child has to contend with such restraint for the rest of his life?”

The above set me thinking. If the child is being loved and taken care of, why does he feel restrained? And what factors are feeding his perception of restraint? My thoughts veered to the opening sequence of the Arthur Clarke penned Childhood’s End inspired movie, “2001: A Space odyssey”. Of how a futuristic monolith and its flickering images guide a tribe of prehistoric ape men to become discontented with their existing situation and aspire for a better tomorrow. A fascinating story of the origins of Man…. and his discontentment.

And as I ponder about the Arab spring, what do I see? An equation of the Ruler and the Ruled spanning decades which worked till now. A relationship which dictated that the Ruler “father figure” would love and take care of his “Ruled children” through huge welfare systems and sops. In return the latter would keep their side of the bargain by not demanding for uncomfortable freedoms like self expression and self governance. Unfortunately the equation and the relationship it harboured seem to be breaking down.

So what really happened? I believe Globalisation has turned into today’s monolith to show and reinforce images of “What could be” to one and all on this planet. Folks whose lower levers of motivation viz, food, shelter and money needs have already been taken care of, can now see tantalising visions of self actualisation and self esteem. And so we have Abdul above, with a secure job and lifestyle, hankering to follow his “passion” of self determination and self expression.

Could this be the moment when the Arab spring child grows out of childhood to reclaim his destiny? As he seeks more ownership in Governance and policy making? As he joins the global mainstream and political consciousness?

In Learning…….                                                                             Shakti Ghosal

We vs. Them


“One day our descendants will think it incredible that we paid so much attention to things like the amount of melanin in our skin or the shape of our eyes or our gender instead of the unique identities of each of us as complex human beings.” 

                                                                                               ~Franklin Thomas, 1964 AD

On the screen, I hear the father of slain Indian student Anuj Bidve speak, “The world is finished for us – that is all I can say,” Anuj, a post graduate student , had been shot in the head  by a man describing himself as “Psycho Stapleton” in Manchester in a mindless act of violence. Seeing the old parents forlornly trying to cope with the loss of their only child, an indescribable feeling of sadness engulfs me.

The incident is being described as a Race attack. One of the many similar attacks that have plagued newly arrived immigrants and students in the UK, US, Australia over the years. Many reasons are up for debate. Is this an anger against new residents getting access to “scarce” resources which otherwise was the prerogative of the old community? Are these attacks a sign of increasingly disaffected youth with limited work and employment opportunities? Are these problems temporary and would “go away” once the incoming folks integrate with the community at large? Was the victim at the wrong place at the wrong time? There is much talk regarding strategies needed to reduce such race attacks through community development and deterrent police measures.

As I reflect, I wonder if these underlying beliefs about race attacks are not merely chasing the symptoms rather than trying to unearth the core cause. And if this be so, would the strategies being talked of be really effective?

What makes a person, without provocation, brutally attack and kill another fellow human? Is this from a distorted self image, itself a product of a distorted belief and need system? Or is it due to an egoistic self- centricity, a product of a selfish and materialistic world? To my mind, these aspects are responsible for much of the created sufferings in the world. These become the arrogant starting points that separate us from others. These make us feel that others are a threat and that the world is a hostile place. We get forced into undesirable behaviour – reacting to others’ words or actions. We end up needlessly competing, being envious or judgmental and feeling threatened by others’ successes.

So what can we do? I believe the strategy needs to start from within. We need to look inside, increase our self awareness. It is this awareness that aligns us with our inner values and brings lightness and a sense of purpose. It is in this space that our ego starts subsiding. Freeing us from that endless loop of Desire and Dissatisfaction, Freeing us from that eternal hunt and chase mindset.

“What is tolerance?  It is the consequence of humanity.  We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other’s folly – that is the first law of nature.”            

                                                                                                               –  Voltaire, 1764 AD

In Learning…………..                            Shakti Ghosal

Oh! To be still……..


The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

                                                                   Robert Frost, 1923.

                                                                             

We hurtle faster and faster. To keep pace with a changing world, a morphing society. To keep up with the Joneses. All around us are triggers to keep us in action. Project deadlines at the workplace. To do lists stuck on the refrigerator door. Management seminars extolling the virtues of proactive action and business initiatives. Weekly coaching sessions empowering us to move towards the rainbow of purpose and goals.

As I watch the TV screen, I find more prejudices against inaction. As protests and deaths in the country continue unabated,Syria is warned of inaction by the Arab league, Americans say that they just cannot have any further inaction by Washington as health insurance costs skyrocket. In India, Anna Hazare and his team accuse the Government of inaction to introduce a strong anti-corruption legislation.

Awhile back, I had read about a little known but interesting incident of the Second World War in which afterFrance’s surrender to the German forces in June 1940, a large part of the French navy positioned elsewhere at Gibraltar remained frozen in inaction and refused to follow the Allies instructions. Till they were bombed and fired upon by the British navy!

So is inaction always bad? And why do we sometimes freeze up and halt all action as the French naval commander had done?  I ponder as I try to find some answers. If action signifies moving forward towards light and a better future, does it imply that inaction means something backward and worse? Unfortunately, in today’s materialistic and achievement oriented world and society, this is the belief that stands constantly reinforced. So as we love to show our own “bias for action”, we lump all inaction with lethargy and vacuousness.

But does action always imply moving forward? Does it always demand achievement of discernible goals?  Our perception, fed on a diet of instant gratification, equates action to goal achievement. But does this not detract from the importance of the action steps, the empowerment of the action journey? And does this not lead us to judge the other person by results rather than the path he follows?

And what about inaction? Does it always signify the stillness of the unborn, the slowing down of atoms, the dissipation of energy?  What if there indeed be intrinsic positivity in the stillness of no action? In the Chinese Tao philosophy, wei wu wei means “action without action”. As we observe, we reflect. As we comprehend, we try to make sense of it all. As we strategise, we commit our intentions. Do we realise that goal achievement and critical perspective shifts usually flow from such moments of contemplative inaction?

I believe much of the world’s misconceptions arise due to a lack of understanding of what action truly signifies. And the news stories above underscore this point. So how do we differentiate between the inaction of no action and the stillness of “making sense of it all”?

Simply put, inaction occurs from a fear of the unknown, of leaving our comfort zone. From remaining stuck due to our underlying beliefs (UBs). So the sooner we get down to confronting our fears, unpacking the baggage of our UBs and letting them go, that much faster we regain our airy fairy childhood state of unhampered curiosity and motion.

But when we stand still to ‘make sense of it all”, we do not really choose to move. We seek instead the solace of something still, something changeless, something which will anchor us from the slippery slopes of uncertainty. Like a sheet of still water reflecting back and providing reassurance of our own inherent changelessness. As we visualise the road forward with intention to act and bring in the change.

So, as the world around us moves in an ever maddening whirl, do we retain the conviction to find the balance between the still and restful “woods” of our inner reflections and the “promises to keep’ of our societal actions? And the wonderment and pleasure of the “miles to go” journey itself?

In Learning……………

                                                                                                                                                                  Shakti Ghosal

21st December 2012


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:

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If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son.

 

                                                                                                        Rudyard Kipling, 1895

   

Awhile back, a friend while commenting on an earlier blog, remarked, “I simply cannot stop wondering if this indeed is the beginning of the end of ‘Kali yug’ that the Hindu sages predicted many millennia back! Or for that matter, the 2012 ‘end of the world’ that the Mayans predicted around the same time? Can we really dismiss the two geographically so very distant people foreseeing the same future as ‘mere’ coincidence?” This bringing together of Hindu and Mayan prophesies I had found intriguing and had also recalled Nostradamus’ prediction about the end of the world.

The thought came back the other day as I sat reading about the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), that 27 Km long particle accelerator clicking away deep below the Franco Swiss border. And the underlying concerns that “earth would be destroyed and the galaxy gobbled up by an ever increasing black hole” as the LHC ramps up its operations and reaches its maximum power levels. Yet one more doomsday prediction.

What is it that has tempted Mankind through the ages to speculate on this end of the world theme? Has it been Man’s imagination going ballistic based on various apocalyptic events the world has faced? Or is it some other flaw in mental makeup?

Which brings me to that age-old tug of war within ourselves. We seek knowledge and at the same time avoid it. Our primal instincts conditioned us to make sense of the world around us as else there was always that fear of “what we do not know”. So we fit all we know into that “comfort space” which we have created and close our minds to uncomfortable facts that do not fit.

The doomsayers’ inherent belief is that in case everything does not fit into their prescribed paradigm, the world becomes unfixable and therefore doomed.  Theirs is a mindset of seeing all things in black and white. A perspective that stems from the same closing of minds to facts that do not fit, an underlying belief that what we know is really all that is there to know.

The doomsayers refuse to “see” the positivity, hope and initiative that abound all around us. They ignore any mid path there might be that the world can indeed be “saved” from the holocaust which they has consigned it to in their minds.

We may ridicule the above mindset but do we realise that we carry a bit of the doomsayers belief in each one us? A belief that surfaces when we try and stick to our old ways and resist change. When we wallow in a sea of negativity as we move with the crowd. When we block ourselves from empowerment and positive intentions. When we decide to wear someone else’s coloured glasses rather than be guided by our own core values. When we decide to live by others’ dreams and aspirations, not our own.

So, can we regain the conviction of our own selves to seek positivity and embrace change to inherit the Earth as Kipling’s Man? Or do we want to regress back to when the doomsayers believed the Earth was flat , and we could fall over the edge if we set forth to seek the unknown?

In Learning……………………………………..                                                                                                                                                                  Shakti Ghosal

The Ballad of Steve Jobs- What take-aways?



Steve Jobs is no more. An icon of our times passes on. Gigabytes of eulogies, outpourings and videos are all that remain to remind us of him.

As I sit on the keyboard, I wonder what is it that compels me to add my own tuppence about the Man. I did not know him personally. I have never met him. My only connections are two devices that I own- an IPod and an ITouch. But wait! There surely must be some other connection. I revisit the video of his Commencement Address at the Stanford University Graduation Ceremony delivered six years back. And I see myself clapping in front of the monitor as the last video frame fades out.

I set out to determine what really made the man. Not what I could draw inspiration from. But more a curiosity about what made Steve tick, what were those inner moorings that made him go on the path that he did.

To conform to the expectations of his foster parents (who had adopted him at birth), Steve went to college but dropped out soon after since as he himself put it, “I saw no value in it”. Clearly Steve’s values and associated beliefs lay elsewhere. Which brings us to our Lesson number One. That no matter how hard you try to achieve goals set by other people, you are bound to  under-perform or fail if they are not aligned with your passion, your own underlying beliefs.

Even after dropping out of college, Steve continued to attend classes where his interest and curiosity lay. It was then that he did a course in Calligraphy, something which his heart proposed rather than his mind. Steve goes on to tell us how years later, he could use this competence to build beautiful typography into the MAC computer.So Lesson number Two. Listening to your heart is listening to your inner values and beliefs. And this unleashes high energy, great feelings and ultimately terrific results. To use Steve’s expression, “…. when I look back in life, I can see unrelated dots connecting…” This is the power of positive beliefs.

Steve believed that getting fired from Apple, the company that he created, was the best thing that happened to him. The event allowed him to gain awareness of his own self on a much higher plane. It also allowed him a deeper understanding of two other aspects about himself.

One, having become a hugely successful entrepreneur at a young age, Steve developed damaging inner beliefs like, “My creative passion is essential for the organisation, I know best etc”. These led to the display of negative behaviours of arrogance, overbearing know-all attitudes etc. Clearly this was not conducive to organisational harmony and development. As Steve himself puts it, “sometimes life hits you on the head with a brick” to bring you back to your roots- your values and passion.

Second, his getting fired allowed him  to positively confront and overcome his self doubts of  “not being good enough”, to face  his fear of “ being perceived as a public failure” which almost made him “ run away from the valley”.

As he fought pancreatic cancer, Steve acknowledged that a constant awareness of death allowed him to powerfully clarify his priorities and make the big choices in life. As he remarked, “almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. ”

What a fantastic shift in perspective! Such self awareness surely has the power to change our beliefs and thoughts and become a powerful driver of behaviour change harnessed for great forward motion and success. Are we willing to take the baton and move forward? Are we ready to re-unleash the requisite creative energy and passion for the NEXT- PIXAR? And this remains our final lesson number three.

As Steve remarked, “Stay hungry, stay foolish”.

On Underlying Beliefs


 

 My instructor remarked in class that this was one aspect of learning that can be barely scratched on the surface through class work. It’s something one needs to continue to experience and explore.

Beliefs are like gnomes. They guard and control our thoughts and behaviour (like the ones in mythology which guarded  underground treasures). So we end up having the good gnomes which support our conscious behaviours to achieve set goals as opposed to the bad ones which skulk under the surface, unknown to us but ever ready to frustrate our well meaning thoughts and plans. These in fact constitute the major part of our underlying beliefs (UBs) – collected from our past, ingrained into our sub-conscious world, colouring our perceptions and driving many of our behaviours up the wrong street.

So how do we recognise these underlying beliefs and what do we do after that?

It stands to reason that if we are unable to control our behaviour, we would not achieve what we would like to do. This mostly happens when our behaviour, unknown to us, are moored to deep seated UBs. So however hard we try, we fail.  And we end up getting frustrated and giving up, without even realising what really happened.

The way forward is to become more aware of oneself. As we start doing this and consciously observe the way we think and act, we start understanding what drives our behaviours. What do we notice? Do we see gaps between what we “say” we believe in and what we really end up doing? If our answer is yes, than it’s time to identify and take stock of our underlying beliefs, determine which of them are preventing us from moving forward and then act to uproot them from our system.

And how does one do that? Which brings us to possibly the most critical step. Once we have identified our UBs, we need to bring them out into our conscious thoughts. As we examine our UBs consciously, we are more likely to find answers to, “Why we act the way we do?” With this we would be able to start to unlock the truths of what we truly believe in.

So every time we are faced with a challenging situation, we need to take a helicopter view from above to find out whether there are some underlying beliefs lurking beneath our behaviour and actions. Once we see the connections, we would be in a position to choose- what to retain and what to let go.