Tag Archives: #diversity

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?

Birthplace and Death

All of my paternal grandmothers have breathed their last in our ancestral village – the village where they were married into not the village where they were born. This topic was the talk of the town for quite a while. Even now somebody will say – it is very curious that all the daughter in laws of this family died in their husbands’ house. In Indian culture after a daughter is married, she is technically a part of her husband’s family, village and hence the significance that they died where they were married into – and also in the ancestral home not in the city they lived.

In India, these things are not just mere occurrences – there is some meaning behind everything – we might have forgotten the meaning, but the meaning still exists. For example, women in India wear bangles because the touch of the bangles on the forearm is supposed to calm you down and in olden days women folk all lived together, and hence patience was a much-needed quality.

The reason I bring up this topic is – I believe that you are born in a place for a reason, and your body inherently knows it as its home because that’s where it breathed its first breath and that’s where it’s most comfortable. For the last two years due to some reason or other, I could not visit India. And towards the end, I could feel it as a physical imbalance in my body. Now, I don’t know how true that is and how much it is in my head, but something was happening. When I landed in India – the minutes I stepped out the plane my body breathed freely even though it is hot and humid. The smells, familiar faces, accent makes me feel at home. It’s like I can be myself without thinking. If you have never lived in a different culture or a country, then it will be hard to comprehend what I mean by ‘being myself without thinking.’

Every culture has its norms some of them are explicit and some of it implicit. Like in England – talking about the weather is a way of saying Hello. In India, it is ok for a stranger to ask you how much is your salary. If you move to a different culture in some ways you are trying to fit in as you do not know what is accepted – what kind of clothing, food is accepted – so whether you realize it or not if you are thinking about these things which do take a toll on your body. And then some places are a lot more inviting to accepting other cultures, and some are not. For example, London invites different cultures, and that’s why I still feel at home in London. But not all places are as welcoming as London, and that means you, your mind, your body, and soul have to do extra work to fit in.

At the end of the day, you are where you need to be – there is no denying that, whether you believe it or not is not relevant. And it only makes ‘the’ you in you more defined.

Diversity And Inclusion – Airbnb

I had written a post about Diversity and Inclusion a while ago. And I am still fascinated by the power of diversity.

I like to travel as some of you know – and I realized that for the last few trips we have always stayed at an Airbnb. I remember being skeptical about the idea initially. What! Do you live in someone’s house? They live there too! How does that work?

But, after the very first one, I was hooked to the idea. I was a total convert. Why do I like Airbnb? And how is it related to Diversity and inclusion. For those of you not familiar with Airbnb – here is the link to the website. But even important is their mission

“Our diverse global community makes Airbnb possible. Building an inclusive platform for all hosts and guests is our greatest goal, and we’re always working to improve it.”

Brian Chesky – co-founder and CEO of Airbnb states the following succinctly.

If you think about it, the very foundation of Airbnb is based on inclusion. You open your houses first to a stranger and then open your hearts to them as well. It is difficult to not like a human after you have ‘really’ seen them. For example, in my most recent trip to Toronto with my friend we were staying with an Asian family – complete with a kid, grandparent, and the parents. It was a very lovely Airbnb – the living room and kitchen was a common area, our bedrooms and bathroom were separated.

And if you are from an Asian culture, you instinctively understand the situation. The grandparent(s) usually travels along with the family to take care of the kid. They did not speak English, and we did not speak Chinese. The first day we were there, we were very polite and just nodded and smiled at each other if we crossed paths. At night the little kid starts crying. My friend and I give each other a look – ‘Kids’ and we went to sleep as the rooms were very well segregated. Next day we saw what they had for breakfast, they saw that we skipped breakfast. We could see the kid viewing us to see what we did, how we did etc. That evening she came up to us with her mother shyly and gave us two candies. Next day we returned the favor. And by that time we had become quite familiar with each other. And when we left, we took selfies. We exchanged our names.

Now, this is what happens in a joint family in India. You live with other people – you ADJUST, and you ACCEPT. This is what makes us a grow as a person. Living in Airbnb reminds me of that. And at the same time in a world where technology is pulling people away, we need more of these instances to remind us that we are all humans who share space on this lovely planet called earth.

I enjoy these tiny, intimate connection with people who I have never met – because it reminds me of our oneness.

Not all who wander are lost

I remember somebody telling me about their best friend who has known them since childhood. Most people will probably say, ‘Awwww, that’s so nice.’ Not you, you are thinking – ‘That is so scary, why would I want that?’

You have lived in a place for five-plus years, and the locals ask you – “Is this place home?” And your answer is ‘No’ or if you are polite – you laugh and beat around the bush.

When people talk about exploring new places – going somewhere new – your heart gives a little tug.

If you resonated with the statements above, then you know what I mean by ‘Plight of an expat.’ These are people who have lived away from their so-called “Home” for so long that it is no longer home. And not having a home is their home now.

The world is made up of two kinds of people: those who travel and those who don’t. And for the most case, I do not think this is a choice – I believe some people are just wired that way. (There are exceptions always but still) These people never live in one place for long. They get bored of places, people, routines. They like change. And in most of these cases, these people moved around a lot growing up, and that’s the only life they know. Sounds familiar! And it is hard to explain to somebody who hasn’t experienced this about the feeling of not belonging anywhere.

This blog is dedicated to people who know what I am talking about and to raise awareness about global nomads. Yes, they exist. These people have a culture and social norms of their own.
They speak a language which is not rooted in one place but applies to everybody because nobody is from one place.
They are not asking the other person to conform to their ways but expand their’s to include others.
They understand that what is right for them might not be appropriate for others and they are ok with that.
They are willing to experience your ways and customs because they want to connect with you.
They want to know more about you because they are curious, they want to expand, they like change and diversity.

For a global nomad, they know nothing else – this is their life as they know it. I could go on and on and on. World today needs more of the above. Even if we cannot travel – we can expand our boundaries, bring awareness to the world outside of us. Be more welcoming to others in our life. We are all humans, and we all experience the same emotions of joy, happiness, anger. The barriers created by words, boundaries on earth are artificial and built by us and can be broken by us. But for that to happen, we have to recognize that we have created this and the person on the other side is us – we are all alike and not different.

And if you find it hard to follow then travel – go live somewhere else, experience somebody’s world and see yourself reflected in them.

Thinking Different

For selection into an orchestra, the potential candidates were asked to perform behind a screen so that the examiners had no idea who was playing – a carpet was placed behind the screen to prevent the heels of the women to give them away. RESULTS: The number of women in orchestras rose from 5% to 25% after the blind auditions.

Airbnb is well known for having diversity as their highest goal – Belong Anywhere (which appeals much to the nomad within me).
At the heart of our mission is the idea that people are fundamentally good and every community is a place where you can belong. I sincerely believe that [discrimination] is the greatest challenge we face as a company. It cuts to the core of who we are and the values that we stand for. Brian Chesky CEO, Co-founder of Airbnb.

Let’s take an example: At a work meeting, five out four people state that it takes them thirty minutes to complete a report and one person says it takes them two hours to do the same report. What is the usual reaction – the fifth person is looked upon as an oddity or somebody who is not smart enough.

Let’s reverse the example: At a work meeting, five out four people state that it takes them two hours to a report and one person says it takes them thirty minutes to do the same report. The reaction now is – the fifth person is looked upon as somebody who is not doing their due diligence.

I am not debating the right amount of time to complete an office report – I am trying to highlight two things a) unconscious bias b) diversity in thinking styles (which I was ignorant of until recently). Whether we know it or not we all have an unconscious bias – and we don’t know what we don’t know. Once we become aware of them, it is up to us to deal with it effectively.

The diversity in thinking style was an eye-opener for me as I did not think that I was exhibiting bias when people did things differently than me. I understood that they processed things differently. It’s like an in a country of blind people – a one-eyed man is an outlier. If the majority of people are exhibiting a behavior that tends to become a norm and if you are not in that majority then you are not the norm.

Why is important to celebrate a diversity of any kind? Can you imagine a world filled with just engineers or with just artists? In our human predicament, we need the opposite to show us the mirror and help us achieve balance. All these distinctions are created by us, and we make them true.

Everything has a place in this universe – good and the bad, dark and the light, young and old, black and white, like and dislike. We have a preference for certain things because for some reason we have a preference for one – in the end, we are all the same – here is to Belonging Everywhere.