Tag Archives: #betterworld

Are You Listening?

When I was in London, there was one topic that would come in almost every conversation – Greta Thunberg. Who is she you ask? She is a 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden. She is fighting for a normal life for her generation and the generations after hers. She wants the planet to be alive when she is in her prime. Is that too much to ask? Check out her Wikipedia page – at the very least to get to know her. It is her solo strike that resulted in millions of young students striking this year. 

I feel ashamed that I have contributed to climate change – I am guilty of trying to look away from the climate change because selfishly I knew I wouldn’t be alive. Greta’s talks make it hard to look away. And I understand that my level of connectedness and consciousness is not yet high enough to go to even carbon-neutral existence, but I have accepted my part in it. And awareness is the first step. The first step is to intellectualize it, and then it becomes a part of who you are. What am I going to do about it? This blog is one of the first steps. I know other ways to contribute will arise, I will be ready for them and hopefully have enough courage to act on them too. 

We are exploring solar panels, going fully electric, be more conscious about recycling, reducing plastic/paper bags usage, volunteer to plant trees/clean parks. These are some of the ideas – I will keep you all posted in blogs like this.

In one of her talks, she says, she does not understand why people ask her, ‘Why are you so passionate about climate change?’. For some reason, that statement hit hard. Imagine, you are on a boat, and it is sinking as there is a hole in the hull – and you are the only one on the ship who is baling water out. Imagine someone comes to you asking why are you so feverishly baling water out?

When I say the word – Long term planning, what comes to your mind? Five years, ten years, twenty-five years. In Japan, long term planning is a hundred years. Most of us live in a world where we are unable to look beyond the petty incident where your co-worker tried to undermine you, or a car driver cuts you off in the morning commute. Unless we rise beyond our petty personal problems, how can we even think (forget act) on what kind of planet are we (yes, each one of us) leaving behind for the next generations? 

What is sad about this is that we are the most evolved species on the planet. We are the first in line who are destroying it. Even a lowly cockroach lives within its carbon emission limits. We humans are not even aware of it. And even sadder is we refuse to take responsibility for it and instead desire after the next promotion, phone (me included)

The problem may seem significant, but each one of us has to start somewhere. Stop taking plastic bags, talk to a tree today, express gratitude to nature.

Will you play your part to do what is right?

Be Surprised

I was a little down when we were leaving London – it is almost a physical tug on my heart. It gets harder and harder to leave London, much like India. Such is life – and we ordered a Uber to get to the airport.

I got into the cab all prepared to dwell on the sombre feeling of despair as we edged towards the airport in grey London weather. And before I could fasten the seatbelt – Adam said, ‘Hey, look he has the new Prius.’ Adam and I drive Prius, which started as being a cost-saving option but now has become a way to reduce our carbon footprint. I was super excited to see the Prius dashboard and how it could connect to the phone so seamlessly. I expressed my joy in so many words and that got our driver Piotr (from Poland) to start the conversation. He even paused and reversed the car to show us all the features.

And then we got talking – first about how easy it is to be a Uber driver in the US when compared to the UK. Being MBA students, we ended up doing a back of the envelope math on how much a Uber driver will have to earn in the UK to break even. And then the conversation drifted to how he goes home to Poland, and with all the relative hopping, he feels like he needs a vacation when he comes back to London. How expensive it is to live in London but he cannot go back to Poland because his kids are English. We spoke about driverless cars, insurance, Brexit, climate change and before we knew it, we were at the airport.

And I enjoyed the conversation – the conversation was no different from what I would have with any other dear friend of mine from London over tea. The topics – home, longing for home but not being able to go, climate change, Brexit, voyages were all something that I relate it. Mind you; this was the conversation I had with my Uber driver. How often does this happen?

London as a city invites people or rather sculpts people into this mould because the city encourages discussion, openness. Once you cross the local – petty personal problems – then we can see that there are bigger things in play. The diversity in London makes us look beyond borders. What is the point in fighting over a silly line which we call a country border when the planet might not even survive in fifty years? What is the point in investing millions of dollars in the new technology when we will be having a bottle bath in a few decades? And we don’t even use 10% of the technology we have today – do we use our iPhones and Androids to their full capacity. We all have more computing power in our wristwatches these days but do we understand our carbon footprint on this planet?

This blog took its meandering path from a lovely conversation to awareness of our planet – making the title of this blog apt.

How are you going to surprise yourself?

Home Away From Home

I have talked about this topic in a few of my previous blogs. But every time I am in London, I am reminded of my global nomadic tribe despite living in Columbus. I cannot deny the almost visceral feeling that I am home while in London. Every fibre of my being relaxes knowing it has arrived – what is it about London that makes me feel at home.

Well, partly, it has nothing to do with London. It is the fact that I have moved around so much that I feel at home only when I don’t belong anywhere. And where else in the world would that be possible except in London.

When you land in London – you are welcomed in a dozen languages at the airport itself. You only have to step outside to hear all the multitude of languages that are being spoken around you. If you were blindfolded and dropped in London, you wouldn’t be able to identify you were in London just by listing to the languages around you. Different accents, Different looks, Different nationalities – THAT IS HOME for me.

I have walked on the streets of London for long enough to make them my home. The pure nostalgia of walking down the old paths and hanging out at the old haunts – makes me feel like I could go back to my old flat in Cleveland street and be back in my good old London days.

Another aspect of London is the proximity to Europe. This time in less than seven days I had visited Paris (for a day) and Spain (for the weekend). The pure joy of listening to french in the day and come back home to the Italian-English accent of the Uber driver in London feels home to me. Because honestly, that’s how I grew up in London, trips every weekend. Within 3 hours you can immerse yourself in the Spanish culture, eating dinner for three hours and have a nice long siesta and then be back in London for work.

And it is always nice to know that I haven’t lost touch with the ‘Things Londoners Do’ – get irritated at people who stand at the left side of the escalators. I had just gotten off the airport, and I was back in the element – mentally willing the tourists in front of me to shift to the right side so that I could zip down the escalators. The way a true Londoner sidesteps around the tourists, politely smiling at their awes. I used to work at British Telecom, conveniently located in st. Pauls – joke around the office was that we were probably in a large number of photos around the world than in our family albums.

London welcomes diversity with open arms and love. That is what this world needs right now – not divisiveness of Brexit or not – but pure love which you cannot take out of London. I am grateful for the fact that you can take a Londoner out of London but not London out of them.

How Do I Look?

I have an 11-month-old niece. She is a fascinating creature. She makes me a question and re-think about how I view the world and my mental models around it.

In India, we have a few rituals/customs that have a forgotten significance to them. And a couple of them are piercing kids’ ears regardless of whether they are a boy or a girl. And other is to shave their head and offer the hair to your favourite god or goddess.

My niece is an Australian citizen, so she was about six months old when she got ears pierced and head shaved in India. She expressed her displeasure through crying and screaming but soon after the ordeal was over she was back to her usual self with no recollection of it ever happened.

My niece did not give it a second thought. No questions about how she looked? Will the earring go with her attire? What will people think of her shaven head? Will the hair grow back normally after that? How long will it take for the hair to grow? When can she change her earrings?

Can you imagine doing this as an adult? To begin with, we would have pondered over the decision umpteen times. We would do tons of research beforehand, even read reviews to ensure that we find the right Barber or the Jeweller. It would take us months or years or a lifetime to forget what we did and move one. Even if moved on this would have left a lasting impression on us.

Shaving one’s head, especially if you are a female can leave an impression not only on you but on others around you as well. Ear piercing is more common nowadays, and it is gaining popularity amongst men as well.

At what point in our lives does the identity arise? When do we start concerning ourselves with the way we look, and we start defining who we are with how we look? And more importantly, does it add any value? As we enter the teenager and the young adult phase of our lives, our obsession with our looks reaches a zenith, and then it tends to decline for some. And for some, it is inevitable that reduces the obsession about looks.

Media, Society and Marketing have a big hand to play in this obsession with looks. But we would be foolish to think that it is the sole reason. Our Ego tends to attach itself to the image of how we look, how we fit in, and that is pretty much what drives us to do what we do when it comes to looks.

Researchers once showed the photographs of our supermodels to a remote native tribe and asked the men if they would marry these gorgeous women. Their response was a unanimous NO. ‘She looks as if she is on her deathbed and will not be able to bear any children or do any housework’, was their candid response.

Is your self-identity attached to the way you look?

Forgotten Story

We were lucky enough to meet a lovely couple friend of ours while at the wedding of a common friend in the charming city of Pas Robles. We literally ran into them and decided to have a very relaxing brunch. While the food did a great job of satisfying our appetite, it was the conversation which satisfied our souls.

What caught my attention was the quote that one of our friends mentioned – ‘Life is a story forgotten by its author’. The context was he was talking about his dad, who has senile dementia – so short term memory loss. And his dad was a greatly accomplished man – went to Harvard. And now in some ways, it is unfortunate (or fortunate) that he cannot remember his past. When he mentioned the line – it just caught my attention.

All of us do amazing things in our life for the sole reason that we all live the human predicament. And I am not talking about going to an Ivy school or winning Nobel prize – every one of us has a beautiful life whether we believe it or not is a different story. Each one of us has gone through a unique circumstance that has made us who we are, and the universe loves uniqueness – no two of us are alike. And we end up being attached to what we did or how the society expected us to define ourselves.

I went to London Business School – a prestigious MBA school if you move around in those circles. I was one of the youngest to get admitted to the school, which has a 25% acceptance rate. That means for every 100 students who apply only 25 get selected. And while we lived in London, it was a significant portion of my identity. London Business School defined who I was. And then we moved to Columbus, Ohio, and almost 99% of the people I met were not even aware of the existence of London Business School. I also had one gentleman ask me what an MBA was. I went through an identity crisis during the first few months. And it made me realize that I did not know who I was, honestly. Who I was – was a collection of the places I had been to and my accomplishments. Not having to define myself was freeing, made possible by not having to move in circles where I have to define who I am to gain a place in the societal hierarchy. I still use it when needed but knowing very well that it is not who I am.

We do all these great things and at the end of the day (I mean death) it does not matter. If we were to lose our memory today would what we have done till date matter? Then, the critical question is, what matters? Well, if we lost our memory, then the only thing that matters is the present moment – NOW. Who we are cannot be destroyed by erasing our memories – and most of us have barely started on the journey to understand who we are. Why wait for death or amnesia to begin finding out who we indeed are?

Who Am I?

Empty Your Cup

Let’s start with a story this time

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

This zen parable does not need any explanation. We are all guilty of it; well, most of us are. It is good to have opinions or ideas as they help us move. The views and the speculations give us the confidence to move forward. It is when they become ‘THE’ opinion that it prevents us from learning.

For example, let’s say I am trying on a new recipe which requires me to steam the potatoes. I do exactly as the recipe says and the dish turns out to be perfect. I make it when my friends come over; they compliment the meal. I have a strong opinion about how to best use potatoes in a dish. Now, my friend comes across, and she says it would be quicker to boil the potatoes than steam them. If I were open to learning, I would at least give it a try. There could be two outcomes – a) The potatoes are done faster, and the dish tastes the same or even better b) The potatoes are done quicker, but the recipe turns out to not so good.

If you are afraid of failure, the chances are you will not try a new technique. Being open to learning means that you have to embrace failure. And to do that, we have to make space for either teaching or failure. And as per the parable if we are full of ourselves, then we have no space. We will be stuck with something that worked for us without moving onto a better version.

There is no denying the fact that it is hard to accept that what worked so well for you in the past is no longer working for you; in fact, it might even be deemed harmful. Our attachment to our way of working is so powerful, and it is this attachment that causes us grief when we try to break it off.

The best way to handle this is to first, respect and honour what worked for you so long – the opinions you held were working. Second, be open to failure and learning – this is hard, the more you do it, the easier it gets. Third, do not beat yourself about it – there is nothing in this life that is worth beating yourself up about; you are just making it difficult for you to learn in the future. Easier said than done, I know.

Practice is the best teacher. Like everything else, it is all about building the muscle. To build the muscle, you have to exercise it as much as possible. You can start by failing in small matter like rolling your tongue, riding a bike without holding the handles, learn a new hobby etc.

What will you learn/fail to make space for new opinions?

Limited By Our Thoughts

Adam and I were discussing cartoon movies we have watched in the past like Cars, Toy Story, How to train your dragon, Kung Fu Panda and Up. The storyline for these movies except Up is primarily based on personification. Up is truly an outlier – ‘a little out of this world’, especially the relationship between the old guy and the young boy scout. Think back to the last book you read or the movie you watched. The plot usually revolves around our daily lives.

There is a book by Christopher Booker titled, ‘The Seven Basic Plots’ which says that there is only seven basic plot. Even the fantasy, Sci-fi movies revolve around these seven plots.

  • Overcoming the Monster.
  • Rags to Riches.
  • The Quest.
  • Voyage and Return.
  • Rebirth.
  • Comedy.
  • Tragedy.

Our imagination, thoughts, ideas, reality and ultimately, the world we live in is limited by what we know. Hopefully, it is dawning on most of us that the world we live in and the consciousness that exists needs an upgrade soon; otherwise, we will be obsolete. With global warming, climate change, increasing focus on genders – we have to do something fast before the universe decides to ignore this speck and continue on its journey.

A shift is happening in some pockets. It may seem very different from our recurring themes to date that our first reaction may be to reject it. For example, in Japan – Akihiko Kondo married his favourite cartoon character. Check out this story at this link in bbc.com . I am sure the people who read this article had a variety of responses ranging from appalled to excited to indifference. But what if this is what will take us to the next level – our next operating system upgrade. It is possible that in the future, a child being born from a mother’s womb becomes a rarity. Let’s face it – human beings are the only race on earth that is not in danger of getting extinct anytime soon. Maybe nature in collaboration with us is trying to help us save us from ourselves?

My favourite quote attributed to Einstein’s is: “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” The only time we ever genuinely transcend a problem is when we get new, fresh thinking about it. In other words, we experience a jump in consciousness. This is what is needed now. For this, it requires us to look past what is known and comfortable to us and embrace the new. Even if we are not able to embrace them right away, can we at least keep an open mind and see where it takes us. This leap of faith requires us to make a transition from our known ways of thinking of unique styles of existence which may be beyond imagination.

This requires us to look past our current biases around issues like LGBTQ, Eating meat, immigration, mine vs yours and so on. Unless we can move past these judgements based on the label and randomly drawn lines on the map, we will not be creating space for the change.

How will you create space in your life?

Distorted View

Montessori Mafia – is a nickname coined for the people like Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, videogame pioneer Will Wright, and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, not to mention Julia Child and rapper Sean “P.Diddy” Combs. These are well-known people who have been to Montessori. Now, my eleven-year-old nephew also goes to Montessori. His response was, ‘You know, there are lots of other people who graduate from Montessori.’ That one statement puts it in perspective.

Similarly, let’s say you are an inspirational speaker; all your events are jam-packed. At one event, you spot some empty seats – and suddenly you are not a successful speaker. All those previous full house events that you spoke at are out of the window. It does not take a lot for us to switch our views even in the face of glaring evidence.

We all do this – in our personal lives, in professional lives, in small ways, in significant fundamental ways.

Recently, I read the book, ‘Brave New Work’ where he talks about how there was a rigorous process for a factory worker to get gloves because at some point somebody stole a box of gloves. We obsess so much over losing that one box of gloves that we forgot about all the 99% of the time when it worked well. We plan for exceptions, we plan for things not going well – but do not take into account what happens most of the times. For example, in the glove example – we want to penalize all the other workers because one worker decides to swizzle the system.

How much of our own lives do we plan around the one thing that has a tiny probability of happening? We had one bad experience talking to a stakeholder at work, and we prepare ourselves to deal with such situations for eternity. We conveniently forget about a dozen times in the past when we have had no issues. We are trying to protect ourselves – I understand but admit it, it is a distorted view.

It’s like it rained hard when you had a garden party once – so now you wear a raincoat to all the garden parties. Silly, right? But, sometimes that’s how we live our lives too. That one time we had a heartbreak – we let it dictate all our future relationships – in some cases, we take it with us to the grave.

We have to prepare ourselves when things do not go as planned but live our entire lives assuming things are not going to be that way is a little extreme. What can we do about it? If a situation is causing us to worry, then it might worth checking to see if I am planning for the 1% that will rarely happen or the 99% that usually happens. If we focus on 1% that does not go well – since we are focused on it – it becomes our life.

What are you focusing on these days?

It’s Not Worth It

At work, one of the peers has this annoying habit of forwarding emails that I have already received – and these emails are more of the provocative nature (focusing solely on issues or highlighting where things are not working). I used to respond to these emails. But, as things got hectic, I did not have the patience to do that, so I decided to delete such emails. Funnily, enough one of my team members mentioned the same thing, ‘Why does she/he keep sending emails? And it gets my mind racing.” I told her – “Ignore the emails – just delete it – it’s not the best use of your time.”

There was another time when I was worried about something at work, and one of my peers nonchalantly made a statement, ‘It’s not worth putting energy into.”

How many times in our lives do we spend an obscenely vast chunks of time spending emotional/mental (and sometimes even physical) energy on something tiny? It’s not worth it.

I cannot recall which book I was reading, but one of the statements in the book was, “You are a tiny speck in the universe, and nobody gives a shit about you.” All the things that we do to make ourselves feel important – at some level, they are meaningless.

How do we first identify that it’s not worth spending our energy on? One of the critical indicators could be – ‘Are you dealing with an exception or a regular occurrence?’ If it is an exception and happens once every five years – not worth it. And if it does happen – then yeah, find a way to deal with it and move on. The thing about life that people forget is ‘Moving On’ refers to your thoughts and mental state as well – Keep Moving.

Another question could be, ‘What kind of an impact will this have in my life?’ Do you keep thinking about traffic, or do you think about your future partner? If it has no impact on your life – there is your answer. It seems ridiculously simple, but I find myself surprised at the inordinate amount of time I spend thinking about something that does not even occur in my life.

Ok, so now you can identify which questions are worth it and which are not? Now, how do you get your mind to move in the same direction? Training our minds is where most of us struggle. Most of the time, we are so unconscious that we do not even know what we are thinking. We are all puppets of our minds – Somebody says something to us, and off we go on a roundtrip around the world. We rarely ask ourselves – is my mind focusing on what I want it to think? Meditation is one way to train the mind – watch your thoughts, become aware of them and awareness will automatically bring it to your attention – when you can make a conscious choice about whether it’s worth it or not and move on.

What things are you spending time on which are not worth it?

State Of Things

During our trip to Turkey, we went to visit the ruins which were just outside the city. The guide took us to the ruins where the hospital had once stood, and he said, ‘This hospital was famous for not having a single patient die on them.’ We all looked at him expectantly and then said, ‘That’s because they never took on those patients who might die.’

For as long as humans exist – I can guarantee that if a system exists, we will know how to game it. How is it what the Turks did any different from the corporates of today who slightly modify their metrics to tell the story they want.

It makes you wonder – Have we been caught up so much in the gaming the system that we have lost sight of the fact that it is a system – not THE system. Sometimes I wonder that is why we lack imagination. Don’t agree with me. Let’s journey through history to see the standard plot lines.

  • Kings occupied other countries and waged war. (This is a cyclical process)
  • World War 1
  • World War 2
  • Even now, the squabbling of the territory continues like Palestine/Kashmir…
    If you think the story will change in the future – think again. Aliens and planets will replace people and Places in the above examples. It’s like we don’t know anything else except fighting for land and amassing power. These are the stories that continue throughout the history of humankind and will continue to dominate the future too unless something changes.

The question that arises now is why change? To understand the answer take a look at the state of your country, the world. Are we in a better place than when we started – no, in fact, we are regressing at such a rapid rate that at some point we might not exist at all. Life on earth might be better off if you took humans away.

Why haven’t we changed? Because we are focused on playing the game that we have become the character and forgotten that it’s just a game. We are so focused on getting through the daily grind of our lives that we seldom stop to wonder if there is any point to the daily grind? So many of our societal models are outdated, like the entire production floor in factories. Our education system, our offices, even our traffic lights are designed to support the mindless thinking required from a factory worker. There was a time when that was needed. But in today’s day and age, we need self-managed, innovative, creative people.

In schools, kids are expected to sit at their desks quietly for five to six hours a day – which kid can do that, but this is all training so that when you grow up, you can go and do this in a factory. If you look around, you will see a lot of examples where active questioning is discouraged. Things are changing like Montessori schools, remote offices – these changes are happening in small pockets. We need to embrace these and refine these models to arrive at a new system that will ensure a sustainable future – one that is vastly different from where we started.

How are you going to embrace change, today?