Monthly Archives: August 2018

Concrete Jungle

A visit to Hong Kong reminded me how much I miss living in a city – a real city with lots of people and buildings so tall that you cannot see the sky.

There are two kinds of people in the world: City dwellers and non-city dwellers. They are very distinct breeds. As a city dweller you would resonate with the following:

Skyline: I prefer watching the skyline at night than sunset or sunrise. There is something very mesmerizing in the lights that shimmer in all the buildings. They tell a story of their own. Transformers was shot in Hong Kong, and now I know why. Hong Kong has one of the coolest skylines – The whole city is a skyline, and it has two of them one on the HK island and one on Kowloon side.

Muggers: City dwellers automatically move their purses/bags to the front in crowded areas to prevent mugging. This is a very natural instinct that they have. You will notice that most of them always have a hand on their valuables.

Getting in trains: This is an art especially in crowded cities like Mumbai. Not only in trains but any overcrowded situations like buses, functions. There is a way to use your elbows and wriggle through crowds, and if you want to take it a step further, you also know how to hold seats for others.

Crowd Management: I noticed that after 2-3 days I was getting into the rhythm of HK. Walk on one side where a line of people is moving in the same direction as yours, look at the ground. There are etiquettes here too – when to bypass somebody etc.

Click this link to see the fast pace in cities

People in cities are not polite – not because they are not friendly people but because there are other high priority tasks – mere politeness is useless. Like we got a ticket from customer service in the subway in Hong Kong and before I could even say Thank You he had moved over to the other window to help another customer. He glanced at our window, and when he found us standing there, he asked if everything was ok. Because people don’t wait around at his windows unless something goes wrong.

People do not smile at each other like how they do in other less crowded places. Here if you smile at each other, it is considered suspicious behavior. Again, not because they are not friendly people because when there are other things at stake like getting home – such niceties take a back seat.

All this does not mean those city dwellers are not connected. On the contrary, there is an intense bond which comes by sharing the city together, elbowing to get into the train, bypassing the tourist who is wasting everybody’s time, shared looks when subway breaks down, shared the joy when lights come up on a tall skyscraper. This connection goes beyond words and mannerisms that the rest of the world seems to follow.

Living in a city makes me feel connected even if I do not smile at strangers or say Thank You to everybody. Somethings run more in-depth, and you have to experience them to know it.

Building a Bridge

Have you ever been a situation where
1. Let’s say you have had a bad experience with somebody – for example, you had to ask for directions and that somebody shouted at you for asking the directions. So, now you are afraid of asking directions. You use your previous interaction to frame your current interactions.
2. You have felt scared inside, but you put a brave face and went on about it. Can you think of one situation in your life when you were not sure of how things are done, but you went about it like you have done it a dozen times? For me, it was ordering my first subway sandwich – coming straight from India; it was an ordeal.
3. You have looked at somebody and assessed where they fit in the interaction models that pre-exist in your mind. For example, this person is reading a book – People who read books are friendly people so I can trust them.

I am sure most of you can say yes to all the three situations before. Now, what if I told you that the youth experiencing homelessness could also say yes to the above situations. Yes, our circumstances might be vastly different but we are experiencing the same feelings, emotions and we come from the same space.

For those of you who don’t know – Adam and I (along with a few other great people) have embarked on a journey to establish a social enterprise (Wild Tiger Tees) which employs youth experiencing homelessness to screen print t-shirt. Our ultimate goal is to get them out of homelessness entirely. We are taking one step at a time – build a relationship and a sustainable business model first – coach and mentor the youth for long-term success. We do not know if we will be successful or not but its a start of something for sure. Like anything new – this has been the foremost thought in my mind chatter in the recent days.

The first thing that struck me was that I was as afraid of approaching these youth as they were of me. And that led me to see other things that we have in common. Surprise! Surprise! We have a lot more in common than I ever imagined – at the end of the day we are all going through the same human predicament, and suffering is the one common thread we have.

What Wild Tiger Tees is trying to do is to fill in a gap that exists in our society – for reasons beyond our control we have youth experiencing homelessness in our society. And there is no structure in place currently that encourages, enables and empowers these youth to integrate back into the society – in some ways, it is like two different worlds, and there is no bridge across them. Before I got involved in this enterprise, I was not even aware of this other world except in passing.

In our society we have a set structure of how life works – you graduate, you have campus placements – interviews, and then you get a job. But there is nothing of this sort that exists for the youth we are working with – they are an untapped workforce that we have not figured out how to integrate into our current workforce.

What we are trying to do is to build the bridge across our two worlds which have more similarities than differences.

Growth Mindset

Let’s say you are a kid in a small town. As a kid, you are fascinated by every nook and corner of the town – the towering candy stores, the super busy traffic, and the tall adults that you look up to. Whether you want it or not you are exposed to new experiences and people.

As a teenager, you discover another new side of the town which helps you express your individuality and be a rebel without a cause. Even the places you visited before seem different because of who you are or who you hang out with. It is still new, and you are still exploring.

As an adult the newness starts to fade – the things that fascinated you before seem to be no longer visible. And then you get a job and/or get married and start a family. The daily chores of the job and family slowly begin to replace the need for newness or growth.

The newness is not essential – what is important is the growth that comes with it. If the growth is not happening naturally then what do you do? Look for opportunities that do – so that you continue to grow.

For example, let’s say you have a piano and you play the keys on it, and it produces music – That may work initially, but if you want to produce an excellent song out of it then you have to learn the notes, be more disciplined about it. Similarly, the town provided you the music when you were a kid, but if you want to move to the next level, then you have to do something different.

Why is growth important? I firmly believe that if we are not learning something new or growing, then we are rotting or rusting away.

The growth mindset is present when we are younger because we do not know so many things but as we grow older we seem to get enough knowledge to survive our daily life and for some reason – become satisfied with where we are. Or, in some cases, we are not even aware that our growth has stopped. As a kid, I was curious to know why we see rainbows, as an adult I want the rain to stop so that the traffic can move quicker. Sad!

Then, the question arises – what can we do keep the growth mindset?
1. Learn something new – you don’t have to become an expert in it, but the mere act of learning will spark different neurons in your brains. Seek out new opportunities – go out of your way to invite them into your life.
2. Do something scary – we might learn something but let’s say you know windows 1.1, and now you are learning windows 1.2 – it will benefit but not as much if you start learning Linux.
3. Do something you are not good at – this is good because it keeps you humble and reminds you that you don’t know everything.

Last but not the least – Honor The Struggle as my favorite coach Brendan Burchard says.

Beyond Borders

As some of you know, I teach Bollywood Dance once a week. My students are from varied backgrounds, some Indian – some American, Spanish, Korean…The songs are in Hindi – the national language of India. So, the students regardless of whether they know the language or not dance to the music.

I was telling my parents about this really cool Tamil (Another Indian Language) song – Koova Koova which one of my students requested that we dance to. My dad’s comment was, “Well, you don’t know Tamil that well.” And that got me thinking about how students in my class do not understand the language but still love and enjoy the dance. The tagline for my dance company email is “Dance is the language of the soul.”

Some things in life cross boundaries set by humans and dancing, music, art – anything of a creative nature falls in that category.

Even if you don’t know how to say Hello – a small smile with a nod does it usually.

Human Emotions are universal. Anger is anger – there is no millionaire anger and poor man’s anger. Human emotions are the same – whether you are a Hindu, or a Catholic or Jewish – we all feel the same emotions. The anguish of heartbreak, sadness at leaving a loved one, loss of a close one – we all go through the same feelings. Laughter is universal – even if you don’t understand the language, there is something about humor that catches on. Love of a mom in India and love of a mom in Europe are not different – they are the same. These emotions bring us together, and they bring us down to earth where we are all born equal regardless of human-made boundaries like race, caste, religion, sex, wealth, etc.

Suffering is also universal. Let’s say you are a millionaire who is upset that one of his jets has a dent and let’say you are a struggling low-income father trying to feed his family. Both of them are suffering – the pain and anguish that each one of them feels are real. We have decided that food is a basic need, and hence the suffering is more significant for the father – but the tug in your heart when your desire is not met is the same for all humans.

All of the humanity shares these common threads. Instead of focusing on what is common we tend to focus on our differences. I wonder why that is? Is it because of human conditioning? Is it because of Media? Is it because – ‘this is the way things are?’ I don’t know but it makes me wonder does the answer to the question matter as much as awareness of the fact that we have a lot more common going on for us than differences.

Once we become aware – our actions will follow. We will look at the person cutting ahead of us in the queue and think back to the time we did that too. We will look at the person talking loudly on the phone and realize that I felt anger and irritated also.

And if you are one of the very few perfect role models in our world, then something that Buddha said might come in handy. “We have no right to judge somebody else because we have spent so many countless births in the human condition that we have played all roles from beggar to King, thief to a constable, male to female.”