Robben Island and a perspective shift


“I was made, by the law, a criminal, not because of what I had done, but because of what I stood for, because of what I thought, because of my conscience.”

Nelson Mandela, 1962

We embarked on our tour to Robben Island from the V & A waterfront in Capetown.

The ferry starts from the Nelson Mandela museum and one gets the opportunity to see a range of photographs about the early settlements and the apartheid era of South Africa before one embarks on the ten odd kilometer boat ride.

Nelson Mandela Gateway museum on the V & A Waterfront, Capetown
Nelson Mandela Gateway museum on the V & A Waterfront, Capetown

For me the trip attraction lay in getting a glimpse of the apartheid days and how Nelson Mandela lived eighteen of his twenty-seven years of imprisonment in that place. Interestingly, something I had not been aware of earlier but came to know during the visit was that apart from Mandela, two other post apartheid South African presidents, including the present one, were imprisoned there.

Robben Island
Robben Island

The island trip consists of a guided bus tour of the infamous lime quarry where Nelson Mandela did hard labour and progressively lost his vision, a leper colony which had existed on the island more than a century back and the military fortifications made during the Second World War. The highlight however was clearly the tour of the maximum security prison for which our guide was Henry, an ex-political prisoner who had spent six years in the island prison during the time Mandela was incarcerated there.

The lime quarry where Mandela did hard labour
The lime quarry where Mandela did hard labour

An interesting insight which Henry offered was about the elaborate cover up the apartheid government resorted to in front of international media and United Nations in those days. To the outside world, the prison administration declared that political prisoners like Nelson Mandela, keeping in mind their educated background, were only assigned ‘skilled’ activities inside the prison complex like construction work etc. While the hard labour of working in the limestone quarry, cutting stones etc. were reserved for prisoners who had been sentenced for criminal charges like murder, robbery etc. While in actual practice it was the other way round! The apartheid thinking was that while there was a chance to teach skills to criminals to enable them get absorbed back into the South African society, there was no such possibility for the political prisoners.

The Prison
The Prison
Maximum security zone of the apartheid era
Maximum security zone of the apartheid era

The cell which was home to Mandela
The cell which was home to Mandela

As the tour ended and as we walked back to the quayside to board our ferry, I overheard a conversation between Henry and a tourist.

‘So Henry, as you look back to your days in this prison, what kind of anger or regret do you feel?’

‘Well, when I was first brought here forty years back, I did feel anger and frustration at the sheer injustice of it all. But interestingly, after a while that went away and I became more calm and accepting. This is something which most political prisoners learnt to do when here. This was important for our own well being.’

‘That’s interesting. And what did you learn to be able to do that?’

‘Well what I learnt was to shift my perspective about the situation. My perspective about what made the Government and the administration do what they were doing.’

‘And what perspective was that?’

‘Well I realised that the reason for my being imprisoned on an island like this was not because I had done anything wrong as the authorities would have me believe. Rather they were afraid and insecure about me and the ideas I stood for. So why I was being tormented physically was because I and what I stood for were tormenting them much more mentally. So it was really a quid pro quo and I had nothing to feel angry or upset about.’

Boarding the ferry I looked around to see Henry walking back slowly towards the prison. I understood how that four decade old perspective has allowed him to make peace with his own self and the world. How it keeps pulling him back to Robben Island, the place of his earlier torment, year after year and speak about it to countless visitors like me.

With the ferry speeding back towards the mainland and the Table Mountain visible on the horizon, a thought kept coming back to me.
table-mountain-cape-town

What stops Henry’s perspective from being created in so many places in the world where anger, torment and fear continue to create violence and unhappiness?

What could each one of us do to spread that perspective?

In Learning…….. Shakti Ghosal

Mind Shift


“Whatever we are waiting for – peace of mind, contentment, grace, the inner awareness of simple abundance – it will surely come to us, but only when we are ready to receive it with an open and grateful heart.” ~Sarah Ban Breathnach, American author.

Everest

The morning of Saturday, 25th April dawned at the base camp of the Mount Everest expedition like any other. Just before noon, Sherpa Bahadur was attempting to establish contact with the expedition team up on the slope when he was non-plussed to see the snow covered ground shift and rise like a living apparition. The last thing he remembered was an ear-splitting sound and being swept away by the shifting ground under his feet.

nepal-earthquake-avalanche-ap855095418230
For days and weeks earlier, unknown to the Sherpa and his expedition mates, two pieces of the cracked Earth’s crust below, had been moving and pressing against each other, like they have been wont to do periodically for millions of years. The heat and the churning currents of the molten rocks underneath was leading to the crust crumbling and buckling with intense pressure points being created. Something had to give. And that is what happened on that fateful Saturday. As the pressure propelled the molten rocks below the crust to shift and move like a jumble of conveyor belts in disrepair, it manifested as a powerful earthquake of 7.9 magnitude on the Richter scale all over the Himalayan regions of Nepal and North India.

Witnesses later reported that the shifting avalanche began on Mount Kumori, a 7,000-meter high mountain just a few kilometers from Everest, gathered strength as it totally engulfed the base camp in the lower reaches of Everest.

For Sherpa Bahadur, a survivor of this immense natural tragedy, the shift of Earth’s tectonic plates led to a mind shift in terms of a change of focus and perception. What really mattered in terms of his relationships with his missing colleagues, the memories of all the great times they had had as they had planned for and painstakingly executed the expedition together came crowding into the mind. The pettiness of behaviours, the jealousies, the selfishness, all part of the way he had wound up being, seemed to recede. Standing amidst the destruction, carnage and sorrow, he found himself surprisingly engulfed by a peace of mind and an inner awareness of commitment.

Little did he realise it in that moment but Sherpa Bahadur had come through a Crucible event. A transformative experience that had given him an altered sense of identity and purpose. As he set about initiating efforts to rescue his missing team members, folks around him could not help but notice his strength of purpose and the nobility of his selflessness.

A crucible experience is a trial and test, a shifting of the ‘tectonic plates’ of our mind, opening us up to entirely new ways of being, of thinking and acting. As we do this, we can turn our life completely.

Steve Chandler, the author of “Shift your mind: shift the world”, says, ‘When the mind is open, it will shift. When that happens all of life becomes, momentarily, light as a feather. Light as a breeze. Beautiful! You go up to the next level of consciousness, and creativity, energy, vibration ó whatever you want, you’ve got it.’

So what is that mind shift Steve is talking about and what could one do to make it happen?

Well for a starter, we need to bring in a heightened awareness of our way of being. Only with such awareness can we hope to achieve some of the mind shifts given below.

MindShift

* A Gratitude Mind Shift: ‘Do you carry that nagging feeling that somehow you have less than the other guy? Could you shift your way of being to see all that you have as a blessing?’

* A Self-Creation Mind Shift: ‘Do you find yourself blaming others and the circumstances when faced with a problem? Could you shift your way of being to seek opportunities for self creation and development when confronted with pain or difficulties?’

* Being Cause in the matter Mind Shift: ‘Do you find yourself resisting or denying problems when they arise in your life? Could you shift your way of being to acknowledge that somehow, somewhere your choices and actions might have caused these?’

* A Self-Trust Mind Shift: ‘Do you find yourself doubting your own self and seeking answers from others? Could you shift your way of being to trust your own intuition and wisdom?’

* Being committed to something bigger than yourself mind shift: ‘Do you find yourself embroiled within your own self-serving pettiness and fears? Could you shift your way of being to embrace a cause bigger than yourself and choose to be fully alive and engaged to that?’

* An Initiative-Taking Mind Shift: ‘Do you find yourself waiting for someone else to take the lead? Could you shift your way of being to be the creator, the fire starter?’

* A Present Moment Mind Shift: ‘Do you see yourself being held back by your past? Could you shift your way of being to drop that story that is holding you back so that you could recreate yourself every day?’

That crucible experience that Sherpa Bahadur had on the lower slopes of Mount Everest on that fateful day was really about a very fundamental realization. Which is this. All that we perceive and take for granted, who we know our self to be, what we assume to be true about us, others and the world in general, is not the only reality. It is this realization that allows us to achieve heightened awareness and transform ‘the way we have wound up being’, allowing us to enter a new world. It is this realization that allows us to open our mind (and heart!) to the Shifts we have spoken of.

My invitation to you, dear reader, is this. Today, right now, pick one of the above Mind Shifts that most resonates with you. Gently place it inside your psyche and begin living it. Come on, give it a try! As you open your mind to embrace, you might be astonished with the results.

In Learning……… Shakti Ghosal

Post script: The post alludes to the recent devastating earthquake in Nepal. However Sherpa Bahadur is a fictional character and has no bearing to any living person. I however have no doubt that in reality there are innumerable individuals out there, who faced with a crucible experience arising out of the earthquake, have risen to the occasion with their untiring efforts. I offer this post as an acknowledgement and homage to all such brave and selfless individuals who have been working tirelessly on the ground to support the shattered communities.

Acknowledgements:

1) ‘Crucibles of Leadership’ by Warren G. Bennis & Robert J. Thomas, Harvard Business Review,
September 2002.
2) ‘Shift your Mind: Shift the World’ by Steve Chandler, Robert Reed publishers, February 2010.

Whose Business are we really in?


Whose business are you in

“No one can give you freedom but you……”
―Byron Katie

My daughter was coming home for her Diwali vacation and had to catch an evening flight from Mumbai. Her cab got caught in an awful traffic jam a couple of kilometers from the airport. Almost an hour passed and the cab had barely moved a few meters. Visions of her missing her flight, not knowing what to do and not having a place to stay wrestled with each other in my mind. In a panic state, I started calling my daughter as well as the driver of the cab repeatedly. Little realizing that I was offering no support or suggestions, only communicating my panic to both of them. Making their situation worse, reducing their ability to think clearly and consider other options.
***
During a review, I found that a team handling a critical project with a deadline, had totally overlooked the time schedule of a specific activity. In the ensuing brain storming session, a plan was formulated whose proper execution would get the project through. My apprehension about whether the plan would be handled properly led me to try and micro-manage the team members at every step. But what this led to was resentment , loss of the team’s initiative taking and working together ability and members blaming each other.
***
I am a stickler for orderliness. Specially at home, I know where things are kept and stored. So when I see my wife and daughters taking out and using something, I expect that afterwards they would put it back where I believe it should be kept. Alas! This seems to be hardly their priority and so things taken from somewhere are kept back somewhere else. I intensely dislike this and therefore become more strident and possessive about how things need to be used and kept. I need hardly add that neither my wife nor daughters have been able to come to terms with this trait of mine.
***
As I look back at the above situations, I realise that in every case, my thoughts and the consequent behaviour and action, have led to more stress, both for me and others. I sense that in some way, my thoughts and consequently myself, are not willing to accept the reality of ‘What Is’. So what is the genesis of such thoughts and behaviour?

Byron Katie, American speaker and author, in her self enquiry method ‘The Work’, provides an interesting perspective and insight. She identifies three kinds of business in the Universe: Our own, other peoples’ and God’s. God’s business is really about the reality that exists. So when we are unwilling to accept such reality, we are really into God’s business. When we hold fear or expectations about other people, we are living into these other peoples’ business. As per Katie, every time we start mentally living in God’s or other peoples’ business, we are no longer in our own business. We separate from our own selves and this is what leads to the stress we experience.

In the words of Byron Katie:

“If you understand the three kinds of business enough to stay in your own business, it could free your life in a way that you can’t even imagine. The next time you’re feeling stress or discomfort, ask yourself whose business you’re in mentally, and you may burst out laughing. That question can bring you back to yourself. And you may come to see that you’ve never really been present, that you’ve been mentally living in other people’s business all your life. Just to notice that you’re in someone else’s business can bring you back to your own wonderful self”.

In Learning………… Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgement: The Work of Byron Katie. http://www.byronkatie.com

My Life Sentence


“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself’.

Leo Tolstoy, Russian mystic & novelist. 1828-1910

jail_life sentence

At the age of ten, I had the first realization of what a gang was and what it could do to me. I do not recall how it started but one thing led to another and soon all my neighbourhood friends and playmates had ganged up against me. One evening, I had climbed up on the roof of our house with our servant as he was fixing the radio antenna. I saw my ex friends and playmates holding hands, dancing and skipping together and then with a shock, I heard their voices mocking, mimicking and making fun of me. In that moment I heard an inner voice saying, ‘There is something wrong here. There is something wrong with me.’

I remember telling myself, ‘I don’t belong’. I became a loner, did things on my own and showed up with a ‘I do not really care to belong’ persona to my erstwhile friends and the world. Even after a few weeks when all became well again and I was back with my friends, my self imposed life sentence ‘I don’t belong’ continued to reside inside me.

I time travel a few years ahead to when I am in my mid teens. I see myself having a great time with a bunch of friends at school. Sharing books and comics, watching movies and developing views of the world together. Being cool was all about hanging out together; classes and the need to master what was being taught took a back seat. I justified to myself, ‘I am smart and I can always make up my studies before the exams’. So it came as a shock when my final examination grades plummeted. That inner voice returned, ‘There is something wrong here. There is something wrong with me.’

I recall my father telling me, “You have become a mediocre. Mediocre people do not succeed in life”. In that moment of humiliation and self-doubt, I said to myself, ‘Life success depends on scholastic success.’ As this got ingrained in me as a life sentence, I got back to being a loner and focusing on scholastics. Over the years, as I went on to achieve one scholastic peak after another, to the outside world I was smart and successful. But somewhere inside, those vestiges of childhood humiliation and self doubt remained and my view of the world and behaviour towards other people continued to be guided by ‘Life success depends on scholastic success.’

Today as I think of myself, I sense how the life sentences I had imposed on myself during moments of shock and bewilderment those many years back, have so become part of who I am. It is as if there are several ‘me’s enacting different roles here. There is the judge ‘me’ along with the jury ‘me’ who have sentenced the accused ‘me’ to live out my life in a cell. A cell whose walls, ceilings and floor are composed of my own life sentences. Like inmates of an actual prison, I have devised my own winning and self-serving formulas to cope with the constraints of my prison life. Ironically though and unlike the actual prison inmates who try to get out into the free world, I don’t see the need to do so as my life sentence created prison bars have so become part of my persona and who I am.

And so I continue to go through Life carrying my life sentences. In many situations, I cope and come out the winner In others I feel like a ‘thrown dice’, caught up in unfolding events, clinging onto the ways from my past but yet failing to call the shots. I am left wondering who or what is leading my life.

Can I presume you, dear reader, also feel the same?

So how could we build our lives around our ‘real’ self, free of our life sentences and the persona we have created to cope? In their path breaking book, ‘The Three Laws of Performance’, authors Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan deep dive into this aspect. They point to a way of overturning our life sentences to free ourselves of these.

We need to start by showing compassion to that little guy within each of us who has been carrying the burden of the life sentences all these years. That guy who did his best to cope with life and produce results by trying to make up for what we have perceived as wrong with us. By hiding from others, even from our own selves. By conditioning ourselves to be different from who we think we are.

The authors then recommend that we create a crisis of authenticity within ourselves. A crisis of the real ‘we’ against the persona created by our life sentence. To create such a crisis ‘we need to locate where our foot has got nailed to the floor’. We do this by engaging ourselves with the following queries:

•Where in your life is something not working or not working as well as you want?
•In what areas of your life do you feel a loss of power, freedom, fulfillment or self expression?
•In those areas of life you just identified, how are you being inauthentic- what are you pretending, avoiding, not taking responsibility for?
•What can you see has been the impact, the limitations, of your having been inauthentic in those areas?

Dear Reader, are you ready to overturn your life sentence?

***

Two Wolves – A Cherokee Parable

2 wolves
An old Cherokee chief was teaching his grandson about life…

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves.

“One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, self-doubt, and ego.

“The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness,
benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.

“This same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather,
“Which wolf will win?”

The old chief simply replied, “The one you feed…”

***

In Learning…….. Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgement: The Three Laws of Performance: Rewriting the future of your organisation and your life by Steve Zaffron & Dave Logan, 2011. Chapter 6, Pages 143-168.

Leadership’s Essence Part 2


“The very essence of leadership is that you have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.”
– Theodore Hesburgh, Priest & President Emeritus, University of Notre Dame.

On the Geo-political stage I have been witness to two distinct trends.

In the last month , we have had two important elections in which close to quarter of the world’s population voted. The European Parliament elections and the Indian National elections. Differing Geographies, socio-economic stages of development and compulsions. So how did these differences manifest?
EuropeanParliament

Europe’s voting percentage dipped to 43; India’s went up to 67.

Europe seems awash with disillusionment and despair despite the support of some of the world’s most developed economies. In contrast, India sees green shoots of hope and possibilities in the face of more than 20% population struggling below the poverty line, high fiscal deficit and halting economic growth.

In Europe, support for the traditional and establishment parties have dwindled in favour of anti- EU radical groups. In India on the other hand, the votes have gravitated away from the extremists towards one of the main political parties.

A growing perception of a pan Europe crisis has led to the loss of faith in the competence and motives of the political leadership. Interestingly though, an equally high perception of an Indian development crisis seems to have led to renewed faith in the ability of the political leadership to sort out the mess.

What is it that makes the more socio-economically advantaged and aware folks in Europe react so much more negatively than their Indian counterparts?

I muse about the disparity of the reactions. I muse not to determine and assign cause for what might be going wrong or right. But to try and uncover what is it that really creates such disparity.

I come to the conclusion that it is all about how the situation occurs for folks. And the way the situation occurs actually goes a long way to determine the sense of well being folks carry irrespective of what their actual situation might be. This ‘occurring’ really is what leads people to act and articulate the way they end up doing. Simply put, if a situation occurs as threatening or detrimental to me, I act, behave and speak negatively, hunker down and avoid risks. On the other hand, when a situation occurs to me as holding opportunities and promise, I am positive, full of initiative and willing to take risks.

So what is it that can alter how a situation occurs for us? I believe this is where true leadership comes in. A leadership which creates an overarching vision of a Future. A created future that addresses the concerns of not only the Leader but all involved parties. A future into which everyone comes to live into. A future which allows everyone to act, speak and behave in the present in a way that is consistent with the future being envisioned and lived into. And this is when the magic happens. We begin to shift out of our directionless present day challenges and drudgery. Our mind and thoughts dwell less on these immediate perceived ‘negatives’ and more on the big picture vision we begin to hold of the future being created. Situations begin to occur more as opportunities that support our forward movement and less as energy sapping bottlenecks.
leadership_vision_smaller

As I think of the above, I am left wondering whether this could be the way forward in the increasingly complex and fast changing world we inhabit. A near universal access to information, knowledge and the resulting transparency has become a great leveler. The traditional Leadership’s power base of knowledge and information control is fast eroding. Could Leadership let go of its obsession with power and control and embrace the work of co-creating with others a future which is not going to happen anyway?

In Learning………………… Shakti Ghosal

The Audacity of Who I am


“High above the noise and fear mongering of critics and cynics softly speaks your true self.”
– Mollie Marti, Psychologist, Lawyer & Coach, USA

The other day, I watched the Bollywood movie Queen. In it Rani, a girl from Delhi, travels to Europe after being spurned by her fiancé. The movie then goes on to explore Rani’s ‘World view’ as dictated by her Indian middle class values and how that alters, as her biases and prejudices fall away, as she is confronted by radically different value systems and perspectives. A journey of self discovery in surroundings where she is no longer weighed down by others’ expectations and diktats. As she morphs, she confuses and pisses off many people including herself. Rani emerges from this crucible of experience as a more authentic human being. As she chooses to be ‘who she is for herself and for others’, she symbolises courage as well as resistance. Walking out of the theatre, I could not help but acknowledge how Rani’s awareness and acceptance of ‘who she is for herself and for others’ left her more empowered and in control of her destiny.

Kangana Ranaut in Queen
Kangana Ranaut in Queen

Who I am for myself and for others? How many of us are willing to make this query a daily practice as we loosen the constraints imposed by our world-view, let go of who we believe we should show up as and embrace who we really are?

What is it that makes me avoid being who I am for myself and for others? I can see this stemming from my desperation to be admired, liked and looking good. My life experiences have conditioned me to avoid being straightforward and veer towards being diplomatic if I perceive it is the latter which makes me look good. I have also been guilty of the corporate lie. On occasions I have stretched the truth about my company and its services, hidden what could have been embarrassing. On other occasions I have manipulated situations and people. All this to succeed, be admired, look good.

I muse. Have my efforts to gain admiration and look good empowered me to greater heights? Have I succeeded in engaging in my life from a place of worthiness? I remain increasingly unsure.

So if avoiding ‘who I am for myself and for others’ has not worked for me, how could I embrace it? As I think of this, I begin to see what being who I am for myself and for others could mean for me.
Who I am 1

It would mean the audacity to show up as the ‘imperfect me’ that I am and the willingness to be vulnerable.

It would mean the audacity to let my hair down and allow myself to truly belong with the folks I choose.

It would mean the audacity to be compassionate and loving even when I hold the fear of not being good enough.

It would mean the audacity to be authentic about my own inauthenticities.

Am I committed to being this audacious?

***

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse.’ It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Excerpt from ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ by Margery Williams

In Learning….. Shakti Ghosal

Is this all there is?


What all is out there

I cannot claim to recall what I first saw as I came into this world. But I do hold memories of the wonder I felt as a child as I looked up at the evening sky and the stars. Or as I lay on the grass for hours, watching an array of ants or beetles carrying morsels of food. As I think back to those times of wonderment, I can still sense the question at the core, “What all is out there?”

Growing up, seeing and trying things for the first time, leaving home and going to hostel, getting into a new job, place, assignment. Into the unknown every time. At all such junctures, I sensed support from that accompanying question, “What all is out there?”

Life seemed to accompany with surprises galore. As I walked the pathway of new decisions, new insights, new direction, new philosophies. And as I continued to negotiate life’s surprises, what remained with me was, “What all is out there?”

“What all is out there?” It was about embracing and trusting that first step. It was about seeing things for the first time. It was about that unquestioning and unconditional mindset to take it all in. It was about listening to the life and energy that surrounds. It was about feeling connected to all things. It was about that undeniable faith that the world gives.

Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way

– Mary Hopkins, 1968

But somewhere along the way, that childlike wonder, vision and instinct seemed to dim. What seeped in was disenchantment and boredom. A preoccupation with things that are artificial. The burden of living up to other’s expectations. The loss of the allure of things acquired and goals achieved. The ‘Wow!’ and the newness of the first time giving way to ‘Being there, Done that’ refrain. The question taking center stage in my mind was, “Is this all there is?”

Is this all there is

“Is this all there is?” I wonder how this has taken root within me. Is this a mindset shift that gives undue importance to my knowing rather than feeling? Is this the conditioning from my education and peers which extol knowledge and wisdom as must-have virtues and gives short shrift to emotion and intuition? Is this my refuge from the sheer inadequacy I feel in dealing with a complex world?

Even though I discipline myself to ‘count my blessings’ and think of all that I have achieved in terms of position, wealth and family, I sense an emptiness and a lack of fulfillment. A feeling of disorientation and loss. Why is this I wonder?

I also sense another change in me. I now think much more of how much time and opportunity I have left rather than how far I have come and what I have achieved. If only I could recapture that ‘sense of wonder’ from my childhood for this remaining time and opportunity I have. I know in my heart of hearts that this could be that unfailing antidote against all that boredom and disenchantment I feel. But how could I do this?

Authors Werner Erhard and Michael Jensen in ‘Four Ways of Being that Create the Foundations of A Great Life, Great Leadership and A Great Organization’ point to a way when they identify one of the foundations as, ‘Being committed to something bigger than oneself’. In the words of the authors, “This is being committed in a way that shapes one’s being and actions so that your ways of being and acting are in the service of realizing something beyond your personal concerns for yourself – beyond a direct personal payoff. As they are acted on, such commitments create something to which others can also be committed and have the sense that their lives are about something bigger than themselves. This is an important aspect of a great personal life, great leadership and a great organization”.

As I muse I realize that the way to handle “Is this all there is” is in finding and pursuing a Cause that ignites a passion in me. A cause bigger than myself, that which energises and lights me up from within. What may this Cause be for me I am left wondering.

***
A quote from George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Man and Superman’.

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.

I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no “brief candle” to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”25
***

In learning……….. Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgements:
1) Four Ways of Being that Create the Foundations of A Great Life, Great Leadership and A Great Organization– by Werner Erhard and Michael Jensen, a Harvard Business School research paper, Nov. 2013.

2) Man and Superman– by George Bernard Shaw, 1903

The ‘Being Human’ Organisation of the twenty-first century


‘It is amazing how much you can accomplish when it doesn’t matter who gets the credit.’ Unknown

The other day, a news item on Johnson & Johnson caught my attention. About the company accepting charges of bribery to promote its antipsychotic drug Risperdal to children and people with developmental disabilities and agreeing to pay USD 2.2 billion in criminal and civil fines. My thoughts go out to another disparate case closer home where a reputed business group stands charged of selling fake machinery parts as genuine, endangering people’s lives while making huge profits.

What is it that makes an organisation declare values to which it does not adhere to? What is it that makes multinational corporations like Johnson & Johnson spend millions to create a brand equity of “love and care” while bribing to ‘push’ a controversial drug onto people who need love and care the most?

I muse about my own self. As I think of who I am and what I do at work, I notice significant dichotomies. As an individual working in the corporate world for three decades, I see that I have conditioned myself to believe that the value systems which apply to me at the individual level no longer remain valid as soon as I wear my organisational hat. Be it in aspects of transparency, business ethics, environmental concerns and several other areas. Somehow, I have developed the underlying belief that these fall lower in priority than the core business objectives of top line and bottom line growth. I must confess that I have rarely questioned why it should be so.

What is it that has conditioned me so? I think of how organizations evolved in the last century. Of how they have remained focused on achieving growth and profit objectives alone. Of how Organisations have ‘learned’ ways to pass on the costs of their activities for others to pay. Of how this behaviour resulted in the 2008 global financial crisis when companies created bad debt and exported that all over the world.

As I wear the organisational hat, I can see the intrinsic conflicts that I face.

• Do I achieve success by maximising Shareholder wealth or do I take the path of social responsibility?
• Do I increase profits or do I take responsibility for an environment crying out for help?
• Do I indulge in rampant business expansion or do I ensure avoidance of exploitation?

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In the 2003 award wining documentary film, ‘ The Corporation’, University of British Columbia professor and author Joel Bakan asks, ‘If a corporation is a person, what type of a person is it?’ The documentary goes on to show that most organisations comprise of network of conversations that are inconsistent, dissonant and cluttered. The conversations exhibit the qualities and attributes that, if the organisation were to be a person, it would be termed a psychopath. The induced organisational behaviour from such a conversational clutter ranges from “callous disregard for people’s feelings, incapability to maintain human relationships, deceiving for profit, inability to feel guilt and complete disregard for the safety of others.”

Clearly the world seems to be reaching an inflexion point. Jay Deragon, in a recent blog post titled ‘Being Human’ says, “It seems odd to think that business leaders are just now recognizing that their business results have a direct correlation to the organizations ability to think, act, speak and feel in human terms. Yet instead of measuring the organization’s human abilities, leaders still focus on measuring, thinking and chasing outcomes in financial terms.”

Consciousness has arisen that for sustainability there needs to be an alignment and acceptance of the core human values at the organisational level too. To me that is a wonderful shift and a significant evolutionary development.

So with such consciousness what could be the way forward?

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Authors Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan in their path breaking book, ‘The Three Laws of Performance’ point to a direction as they suggest the need for organisations to transform themselves into being “Self-led”. This ‘Self’ arises from all people and stakeholders participating in the organisation’s network of conversations. So how do we do that? By first shifting away from the belief that “we need to involve only those who need to be involved”. As I look inwards, I realize that this belief arises from my apprehension of a ‘loss of control’. But as I choose to allow external stakeholders into my network of conversations, I am able to shift them into a space where they feel they can contribute. A shift away from ‘we don’t trust you’ and towards ‘let’s all of us get involved in the success vision of our business’.

Can we see the need for us to contextualize our ‘organisation hat’ wearing persona in the society within which we are embedded and exist? Methinks every one of us needs to become an active player in this great initiative. For in this resides the opportunity to find the balance we seek in the world today.

In Learning………… Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgements:

1)The Corporation– a documentary film written by Joel Bakan, and directed by Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott, 2003 : http://www.thecorporation.com

2)Being Human creates higher returns– a blog by Jay Deragon:
http://www.relationship-economy.com/2013/10/being-human-creates-higher- returns/

3)The Three Laws of Performance- Rewriting the Future of your Organisation and your life by Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan, Aug.2011: http://www.threelawsofperformance.com/

An Equal Music….


“…….no noise nor silence, but one equal music; 
no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession; 
no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity….”

                                           
   – John Donne, English Poet and Preacher, 17th Century

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My earliest memories of Shanti kaku is of him slowly limping back home with a bag carrying some basic groceries.

 Since the time I could remember Shanti kaku had always been around, doing odd errands for all and sundry. He was the youngest of seven surviving children of my paternal grand parents. It was rumoured that his birth had been complicated because of a forceps delivery process gone horribly wrong. It led to him coming into the world challenged, both mentally and physically.

 Shanti kaku survived. Only to suffer the ignominy and arrows of being unequal, different, even retarded. I have sometimes wondered how this unfortunate uncle of mine made peace with these demons. Or did he really need to? Could it just be that what he saw of the world and people around him was normal to him, what he had experienced from the time he could remember? Without the consciousness of ‘what could have been’, he had nothing to compare his experience with, nothing to feel bad about.

  All the other aunts and uncles went to school, some then to college. My grand parents tried to send Shanti kaku to school but faced rejection. Not having the benefit of psychiatric support nor any special needs school in those days, there remained no other option but for Shanti kaku to  continue  his frugal education at home. Sitting, lying beside his mother, listening to her relating the grand tales of Ramayana and Mahabharata.

 Slowly but surely, Shanti kaku started to fathom what my grandmother really wanted. In his own special way, in a way quite different from his siblings who were growing up with their own dreams and destinies. He instinctively knew that what his mother desired, beyond most things, was to see him happy. Was this a primal connection driven back to the womb?

Time passed and brought change, as it inevitably does. Change in the situation of my father and the “normal” aunts and uncles who settled down into their own lives and families. Change in the feelings and attitude towards their youngest sibling which shifted from being “different” to being a “burden.” Come to think of it, burden is such an interesting word. A word loaded with different meanings allowing the user to at once demean the other person and highlight one’s own inability towards taking responsibility. What remained changeless was Shanti kaku’s situation and his connection to my grandmother. Shanti kaku remained what he was, where he was. As he continued to do the menial chores which he was asked to.

 It was my final school leaving year. In fact, it was during my Board examinations when my Grandmother, then in her eighties and staying with us, became seriously ill, destined not to recover. For sometime her health had been failing, that time honoured twinkle in her eyes fading. But as she lay dying, one could but hardly avoid noticing how she held on and lingered as her last remaining purpose in life, that “different” child, sat beside her.

 After all these decades, I can still recall that early morning when my grandmother passed away. Amongst all the sound of preparations to take the body for cremation and folks coming to pay their last respects, there remained that low pitched moan from the room of the deceased. It emanated from Shanti kaku as he alone held onto his mother’s hand.

It seemed disturbingly like music of a past trying to equal and come to terms with that of an uncertain future. Full of sadness, tiredness and the irrelevance of it all To my teenage mind however, obsessed as it was with success in examinations and the promise of a hopeful tomorrow, it evoked intolerance and impatience.

 Today, decades later, as I stand in that tomorrow I have created, and look back, what do I see? What I see are moments of happiness I have enjoyed, moments of energy as I followed my passion, moments of the relevance I have had in the world. Why then does the music of my actions and words search for its equal in a future that continues to be elusive? I wonder.

 

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

Connectedness – My takeaway from Avatar


“….and unless we touch others, we’re out of touch with life.”
– Oliver Wendall Holmes, American physician & poet. 19th Century

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Most of us remember the James Cameron directed 2009 epic Avatar as a technically brilliant Sci Fi extravaganza. But what fascinated me about the story was the vast neural connectivity between every living organism on that beautiful world of Pandora. A network which allowed the humanoid species called Na’vi to not only connect to every other flora and fauna on the planet but to an evolved and higher planetary consciousness called Eywa. Eywa apparently is all about deep connection , bonding and balance, termed in Na’vi language as tsaheylu, and this alone becomes responsible for the defeat of the otherwise technologically superior and better armed human army.

Sometime back I had mused on the influence of internet and social media connectivity and the shift it is bringing to our society in ‘A World of Tweeple’. A shift that is moving large swathes of humanity from traditional groupings of ethnicity, community and religion to individual ‘Me- Self’ connectivities that satisfy emotional and social needs. My crystal ball gazing showed up two paths. One leading to a frightening Matrix like future where wired to central intelligences, we access information at will in return for our innermost thoughts and beliefs on display for others to examine. The other path holding the promise of our individualism being empowered by the power of networks to achieve a utopian future.
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What is it about these visions of connectivity that fascinate so? Does such connectedness somehow, somewhere, signify an aspect of yearning, an area where we see a lack? I dwell upon this. I see myself connected to every life form through that double helix structure called DNA. I see my connections in the symbiotic relationship of the air, food and water that I take in. And I also see my connections in my social needs to bond and belong.

So what exactly is lacking?

I decide to do a reality check. What is it that makes us prefer Facebook friends to real ones? Could this be because deep down we remain diffident and uncertain about our ability to ‘connect with our hearts’, so essential to blossom a real friendship? Could this be because Facebook and such social media technologies allow us to calibrate and control how much, when and where we choose to share? Something which real friendships and connections could never tolerate. Could this be the reason that as technology gives us the means ‘to connect’ more and more, we see increasing evidence of disempowering disconnect all around? As we try and escape by shifting our connectivity to gadgets and technologies than to each other……….

I once again come round to the thinking that we have indeed become obsessed with a “Me- Self” mindset. And have chosen to forget all that had our forefathers had learnt to reach this stage of societal development. Aspect of being there for each other. Aspects of trust and empathy. The need to reboot our ‘operating system’ back to “Us –Selves” from the recently acquired “Me- Self”

So I come back to the question about what could we do to steer onto the alternative path promising that utopian future?

In a recent graduation address, Nipun Mehta, the 32 year old founder of CharityFocus.org and a recipient of the Jefferson Award for Public Service, speaks of three keys that helped him to return to a place of connection.

• Key number one ‘To Give’: Contrary to what the corporate world teaches, Nipun started with the hypothesis, “Maybe Greed is good but Generosity is better”. His experience with several projects has shown that (in his own words) ‘People consistently underestimate generosity, but human beings are internally wired to give.”

• Key number two ‘To Receive’: In Nipun’s words, “With any act of unconditional service, no matter how small, our biochemistry changes, our mind quietens, and we feel a sense of gratefulness. This inner transformation fundamentally shifts the direction of our lives.” It is in giving that we receive.

• Key number three ‘To Dance’: Contrary to what most people do, Nipun says that we should never try and track what is being given or received. Instead we need to let go and tune into the rhythm. The real reward of the give and take lies not in the value of what is being exchanged but the connection which flows underneath.

To Nipun Mehta’s three keys, I wish to add a fourth one.

• Key number four ‘To be Conscious’: As conscious beings, we are uniquely endowed with awareness and imagination. Aspects which allow us to connect to the Universe. As we do this, using vehicles like Science, Art and Religion, we are able to gain the unique understanding of the “spirit” that permeates and connects all things. Much like the connectivity in Avatar, it is this spiritual consciousness that becomes our ultimate connection to everything in the universe.

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So, are we ready to give, to receive, to dance and to be conscious……… and to connect as we move through our lives?

“The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.”
― Carl Sagan, 1990.

In Learning…………………… Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgement: Miserable & Magical: A Graduation Speech for Paradoxical Times– by Nipun Mehta, May 27, 2013.