The missing goat

This has been on my mind for couple of weeks now. If you haven’t heard the story of the missing goat till now, let me just briefly sum it up for you, next few lines have been directly quoted from a website –

It all started one lazy Sunday afternoon in a small town. Two school-going friends had a crazy idea. They rounded up three goats from the neighbourhood and painted the number 1, 2 and 4 on their sides. That night they let the goats loose inside their school building. The next morning, when the authorities entered the school, they could smell something was wrong. They soon saw goat droppings on the stairs and near the entrance and realised that some goats had entered the building.

A search was immediately launched and very soon, the three goats were found. But, the authorities were worried, where was goat No. 3? They spent the rest of the day looking for goat No.3. There was panic and frustration. The school declared a holiday for the students. The teachers, helpers and the canteen boy were all busy looking for the goat No. 3, which, of course, was never found. Simply because it did not exist.

Similar stories have been doing rounds on social media recently and as you may have guessed it by now, the story ends with a life lesson that we should not keep chasing things which don’t exist or we should be happy and grateful for what we have rather than chasing the never ending pursuit of happiness. Story in first glance looks compelling and even convincing to a lot of people. It makes us question ourself that, do we really need to have a life purpose or meaning in life ? Scientist too believe that life in itself doesn’t have a purpose. We just happened. Well, as logical as it sounds scientifically, in Dorothy Allison’s words “It is still impossible to fathom that we are just meat and electrical synapses.”

There are lot of things in the universe which we can’t justify with our own reasoning, something of that sort is human spirit. It has defined our evolution, our journey as a race to this 21st century of science and technology. The never ending quest for learning and exploring more has been our only way of survival. Our ability to invest in future is one of the greatest reason for where we are today as a race. Capitalism, socialism, our financial and social institutions all are based on an imagined public order, a better future. So when people tell me this story of the missing goat, I can’t help but smirk blatantly.

To me the whole idea of being satisfied with what we have is as hideous as it is ridiculous. Aiming high in every way possible is something I have always believed in. This applies to every field of life. Financially, socially, intellectually or spiritually, If we are not constantly looking for a way of improvement, we are just burden on the society. With the start up culture suddenly becoming popular, it has simultaneously made people question the very foundation of the underlying need for realising life purpose of human psyche. With statistics of majority of start up failing in early stages it only makes sense to go with flow and accept what we already know, that it’s incredibly hard to succeed unless you are relentless and ruthless about what you dream to achieve, and you have got to top that with little bit of luck too. Ofcourse most of the people still fail in their quest for achieving great success their life, but that can not be accepted as reason enough for not trying at all. At the same time we have to understand that winning or achieving should not be whole reason of trying. Phil knight in very early pages of “SHOE DOG” has mentioned that “when you are running on an oval track or down an empty street. You have no real destination. At least none that fully justifies the effort. In that case the act itself becomes destination. It’s not just that there is no finish line but it’s that you define the finish line. whatever gain or pleasure you define from running, you must find them within.”

I know the above idea sounds quixotic but it really isn’t. The catch is that a lot of us define satisfactory and happy life as something which is free of trouble, worries, uncertainties, failures and (surprisingly) hard-work. Ironically if you take these things away there is hardly any life left. Attaching ourself to idea of linear progression of life is harmless to our physical condition but it nearly destroys our experience of life inwardly. Life after all is a journey and ephemeral to the very core. It is only foolish not to try while we can. Life is meant to be played as an infinite game. The purpose is to play, not to win.

To sum up unequivocally, I would say that dream and dream big, No matter how ridiculous it sounds and put everything behind it. You might fail and fail miserably and in those moments of failure if you find strength to try again, you will witness the existence of human spirit which transcends any kind of worldly pleasure you will ever witness on winning.

John Prine’s beautiful words have been defining line of my mental state:

“If dreams were thunder and lightening was desire, this old house would have burnt down a long time ago.”

AJ

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Oceans

I remember the night, sitting on the edge of a dismantled boat, they call it a “Dhow” in Kenya. I was in Diani, beautiful sea shore on Indian Ocean on the coast of Kenya. I was there with two other friends and they had retired for the night, it must have been 11.00 pm in the night. I couldn’t sleep, so went out of the resort. Beach was empty. But here was this boat, ragged as much possible but still discernible of its glorious past. View in front of me was frightening and surreal at the very moment. For some reason I have always imagined sea as a living body, as something with life of its own, with a palpable soul. That night it was in front of me. Just the ocean and me, nothing in between. I could feel the water trying to reach me to say something, waves slowly fading away as they touch the ground, but every hush it made while fading away was a syllable in its own language. With most honest thoughts I know I didn’t feel the rapture that people talk about in front the sea, it was rather a reticent enormousness that engulfedme. I just sat there, trying to understand what I was witnessing.

Oceans are so much similar to dreams to me, all we can do is skim the surface of it, or may be reach a level under, but trying to reach the whole depth is a question of ridiculous nakedness of our own incapabilities and obliviousness. I dived in that very ocean, I was so happy to even touch the things that existed below mean sea level, or was it all even that? I was born in mountains, Himalayan foothills, so land I understand very well, the tougher the better. Land changes shape, in spite of our minuscule life size, we see creations taking shape and perishing on land all together. I wonder how deriding oceans laugh would be, looking at humans who think they have conquered the world. While I was diving and was under the water, most of my focus was at staying alive. What’s left was busy admiring the beauty that ocean chose to show me. I didn’t take pictures, wouldn’t that be wasting beauty? What I could witness from naked eyes could never be explained in pictures or even words.

Every time I see an ocean, it’s impossible for me to turn my eyes away from it. I look in wonder at the indomitable, boisterous persona that the ocean carries . With as little as we have got to offer to ocean in return, I feel like surrendering to it with unpardonable contempt for our own ignorance. Like all our continents, oceans were never claimed to have been discovered, they were always recognised as ever existing reality, to be accepted rather than understood.

AJ

Demons of Childhood

True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country. – Kurt Vonnegut

Imagine yourself as 13 year old boy sitting in the classroom when whole class is full of chatter and squeaking, waiting for your English teacher to enter the class. You are busy with the boy next to you, telling him about your neighbourhood stories from last evening about the eccentric man you saw who kept looking at the sky counting the stars in broad day light. It’s a funny story to tell. All of a sudden a paper ball hits on your neck, it’s not painful, but you look back in anticipation for what’s coming next. As soon as you look back, you hear the boy from the rear yell at you “what are you looking at as***le?” You want to say something but you know you are not in control of situation. You look around. Almost everyone is looking at you, their expressions vary from hysterical laugh to empathetic pity. You have no idea which expression is most extreme to your own feelings. All of them make you feel disgusted. You want to go back and hit him hard but he is surrounded by couple of others, who look equally hostile. You plan to report it the teacher who is about to enter the class, but you decide against it because you know it will only make the matter worse. The story you were telling is lost and with it enthusiasm and excitement of telling the story. All you want is the day to get over.

Bullying has been much ignored subject and taken for granted in schools. Harsher forms like ragging has been banned and govt regulations has been put in place to counter them, but bullying continues in school like it has always been. We shrug the incidents off by saying “kids will be kids”. It is actually factual that we can’t bring in laws or penalise these incidents for simple reason that children responsible for such behaviour are below the legal age for any action. However time has come to accept what severe repercussions it can bring for the children who are bullied for a long period of time. School becomes an eerie place for them, and they loose focus on things which they are supposed to focus on. It’s has been reiterated many times that children subjected to bullying generally suffer from low self-esteem, lack confidence and hesitate to take initiatives in class.

I tried to look at statistics and it has been found that 1 in every 3 children in school are subjected to bullying, a lot of them on every day basis. Much worse is the situation in boarding school. No matter how expensive the school is, the story for these kids don’t seem to change. I am not trying to put schools in categories of quality, but we generally assume that in these high end schools teachers are more attentive to individual child’s need. This is not a matter of discipline or regulations but the general environment in which children are being raised. It’s more about the environment we have created for them to grow up and incessant need to compete. Competitions are good, they bring about more desire in child to do better, and perform better. The problem starts when this competition comes burgeoning in every aspect of child’s life. The child I am talking about is the one who is a bully by nature. His environment is teaching him that power is good, making fun of others makes him feel superior about himself. No matter how demeaning it is to others. It’s useful or not is not anymore his concern. All he is seeking is more attention and feeling of being considered important.

The problem most important to be understood is that convict is as naïve as the victim, and this environment makes the future worse for both of them. Children who get bullied on regular basis mostly are able to deal with these incidents outwardly, they generally are able to pass school with no severe problems. What we don’t realise is what’s being piled up in his subconscious. It’s a simple case of negative reinforcement. Adolescent age is when we learn most of the skills, which are vital for our life and career in general. If during those years, a lot of what you get is undeserved criticism, it’s more likely to think of the world as unfair and loosing hope for excelling in certain things which you weren’t that bad to start with. Life sometimes can throw you in situations which ideally would require you to boldly stand your ground, which you were never given a chance to learn. Outcome of such encounter is irrelevant, but if you can’t handle such situation steadfastly, the feeling of self loathing comes back creeping with unnerving emotional pain. Isolation, aggression, trust issues are equally common traits which are hardwired in the brain by the time severely bullied children reach their adulthood. They are awkward in work places, keep their ideas to themselves, make bad team players, and for obvious reason lack certain skills like delivering a speech or outdoor tasks. People affected more severely can become bully themselves assuming that this is how one is supposed to behave once given power and all the aggression comes out bursting on people around them. There are people who are able to deal with past demons in better ways and actually come out as more empathic and compassionate but they still lack confidence.

For the children who wield this superficial power in school, end of school is end of their power, and it’s like burst of a bubble, new environment around them is perplexing at best, and end of a sweet dreams in worst cases. Anxiety, unintended anger can be few outcomes. They may have a feeling of being cheated and behave in certain situation like a child throwing tantrums when their favourite toy is taken away. Life suddenly turns into an uphill climb to them which used to be a sail with the wind in school. Needless to say that it might take them years again to really understand that what they have been enjoying these years is just rejected by the vast new world. The whole concept of power seems to have changed upside down, very different standards and scales for being popular and desirable. They feel indignant for the joke played on them by society. They realise that, a face in the crowd is all that they are.

As I have asserted before that this is not a problem which can be solved by rules or discipline. What really is required is stimulating an environment in school in which unjust attention is not given to everyday competition, we need to make children understand that compassion and empathy is more desirable a trait than being strong or being good at a certain outward skill. Having good looks is not the measure of how better human being you are and it is rather something that alienates you from the others than it makes you popular. Most important of all, life is full of ups and downs and they should get prepared for the journey that life is, rather than fastening their ropes for the current sail assuming wind will always flow in same direction. As Dalai Lama rightly Said “When educating the minds of our youth, we must not forget to educate their hearts.”

AJ

The Anti-Lucifer effect

Stanford prison experiment is again in news. Ben Blum in His recent claims have come to a conclusion that the whole experiment was somehow rigged to get the desired results, and in laymen’s terms “Standard protocols” for conducting an experiment were not followed. Honestly i read the news and didn’t give much thought to it, until a friend of mine went on to support the original theory that we more or less are influenced by the circumstances and under certain external environments we are much likely to behave in certain manner irrespective of our own personal feelings and values, which is called “the Lucifer effect”. The title takes its name from the biblical story of the favored angel of God, Lucifer, his fall from grace, and his assumption of the role of satan.

It was a disturbing thing to me to see people agree so easily with the conclusions of the theory, more importantly i could see right in front of my eyes why the whole experiment has been so successful in convincing people of its results. As Ben Blum rightly said that we desperately want to believe that we humans are not inherently evil but if circumstances present themselves in way to make us act in an evil manner, there is very little we can do about it.

Of-course the finding by Ben Blum are relieving in a certain way, and it puts back the onus on individual for the pain and suffering they inflict on others. The whole ordeal was still must twisted and terrifying to me.

Let’s consider the two circumstances one by one. Considering the first situation that Prof Philip Zimbardo (Author of The Lucifer effect, and architect of whole SPE) was right and we try to believe that we are profoundly affected by the situation we are put in. Although the present situation doesn’t look too bad, the future seems disturbingly griming. With resources getting scarcer and geopolitical scenario tenser than ever, we are heading to a future which will put us all in a very dangerous position, and since we are assuming we are being controlled by the environment around us, i shudder to think what we would be doing to each other.

Now let’s consider we actually are in control of ourselves under any circumstances and we actually can control what we do to others, and then look at the past. Millions and millions have died in hate crimes and genocides. What does that prove? I don’t know if it proves anything but it surely points towards a very cynical world view. It points to a assumption that we humans are not inherently good people, that irrespective of knowing and understanding our circumstances, our minds and consciousness still want to oppress and subjugate others to pain and suffering.

So what is the way out? I am not sure. The most optimistic world view would be that we humans are inherently good, and only under forced circumstances, we behave evil.  I am not sure if any experiments have been done to prove the outcome. May be in bits and pieces this hypothesis is being proved at every street corner, in every city, and every piece of land inhabited with humans. Every act of kindness, no matter how small it is, itself is living proof of a this “Anti-Lucifer effect”. Honestly i couldn’t think of a better name.

A.J.

Ref:

  1. http://www.prisonexp.org/book/
  2. https://medium.com/s/trustissues/the-lifespan-of-a-lie-d869212b1f62

What Success Looks Like Everyday

While reading “Made in America by Sam Walton” last few days, it was easy to come to a conclusion that no matter what a man can achieve, his humility sometimes is biggest reflection of him after all. Sam Walton while describing his journey all the way from his first store in Newport Arkansas till he received Presidential Medal of Freedom categorically kept in readers mind that whatever he achieved in his life, personal wealth was last to be mentioned. His customers and his associates were his greatest achievements. He never planned to make Walmart the giant it is today, but he was never complacent either.

David Glass (Former President and CEO – Walmart) commented once that “Two things about Sam Walton distinguish him from almost everyone else I know. First, he gets up every day bound and determined to improve something. Second, he is less afraid of being wrong than anyone I’ve ever known. And once he sees he’s wrong, he just shakes it off and heads in another direction”. What i was able to infer after reading the book is that, Sam Walton never started the whole thing as a grand plan. It was one day at a time and one step at a time. Little improvement everyday, rather than expecting a giant leap overnight.

That’s what success takes. It wears you down to last piece. The Journey most times is tiring, monotonous and even irritating sometimes. I saw a TED Talk few days ago which was in similar lines. A speaker went on to explain his achievement with just a little twitch he did with his behaviour. Whatever he planned to achieve, he always divided the whole plan into smallest pieces possible. As small as a milestone which can be achieved in 15 minutes. It made a lot of sense to me. Being present at what you are doing right now and giving 100 percent of what you have got is what you need to do to achieve something which would take 10 years to achieve.

I wouldn’t say that Made in America is most inspiring book, Sam Walton hardly uses the big inspiring words we generally expect from an icon that he is. The whole story is rather a revelation about what your everyday should look like if you want to achieve something big in your life. Today people may not have very high opinion about walmart as a company, but it’s an epitome of one man’s conviction and his relentless pursuit of something bigger than himself

A.J.