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Strength is life, Weakness is death

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My mother has the habit of sending quotes along with her good morning messages on WhatsApp. One morning she sent this popular quote credited to Swami Vivekananda which says “Strength is life, weakness is death” I’ve heard this message umpteen number of times yet, for some reason this time it hit me hard. Thoughts started to wander about what is strength, how do we define it? What makes one strong and what makes one weak? Why is strength life and why is weakness death? What is life? What is death? Where does strength or weakness stem from? What can increase strength and reduce weakness?

It became rather confusing and difficult for me to comprehend the seemingly innocuous quote. I started asking around what the actual meaning of this quote was. Started searching on the internet. However, I couldn’t find a satisfactory explanation. I decided to explore it myself.

There is physical strength and weakness and then there is psychological strength and weakness.

Physical strength is relatively easier to understand although it’s difficult to put a definite measure to it. I can see why strength is life in this case. If the physique is too weak, it becomes unsuitable to sustain regular activities that we associate with being alive. Hence strength is certainly life. Yet, time wears down the physical strength, weakens it and eventually death is inevitable! Physical strength we know, increases with repeated use of muscles, limbs against incremental pressure or load and with eating the right diet. Physical strength reduces with excessive rest, illness or improper diet.

Psychological strength on the other hand is not easier to comprehend and certainly not possible to measure. What does psychological strength mean? Does it mean the ability to be calm? Ability to maintain sanity despite vicissitudes of life? Not getting perturbed by setbacks in life? Being hopeful? Does it mean the ability to be resolute? Ability to overcome obvious/non-obvious physical weakness? Ability to accept and deal with whatever unexpected things life throws at us? Deal with shortcomings? Liberty? Having faith in one’s own abilities? I don’t know!

We could probably try to understand this from what is not and look at what is psychological weakness and how to reduce weakness which could possibly increase strength? What is psychological weakness? Being depressed? Being envious? Being greedy? Succumbing to Desires or Selfishness or Fear? Having Self-Doubt? Lust? Succumbing to shortcomings? Does that mean overcoming these factors would obviously lead to psychological strength?

Does that mean, being positive, being calm or selfless or being resolute, fearless, hopeful, accepting and unperturbed in the face of setbacks – Life?

Does that mean being envious, greedy, desirous, selfish, fearful and full of self-doubt is Death?

What is life? What is death?

Life happens by accident to all of us. It sticks on to us till Death. We could do something, or we could do nothing, yet life would continue to stick-on with its idiosyncrasies. Of course, one could end their life prematurely however that’s when one succumbs to their own psychological weaknesses. Thus, if life would anyway stick on to us till death we might as well live it and enjoy it. In fact, instead of entirely surrendering to life’s idiosyncrasies we might as well live it on purpose, live it at our own terms. Live exploring our talents, being hopeful and positive, struggling through troubled times, helping each other, socializing is life! Isn’t it? On the other hand, withdrawing into a cocoon, afraid of exploring our talents, depressed and negative, succumbing to troubled times, hating others, contracting ourselves to being self-oriented/obsessed can’t be called living, if we are not living we are only waiting for life to end on its own volition – i.e. death. Isn’t it?

When we are strong we do the right things, when we are weak we commit mistakes. It is weakness, says the Vedanta, which is the cause of all misery in this world. Weakness is the one cause of suffering. We become miserable because we are weak. We lie, steal, kill and commit other crimes, because we are weak. We die because we are weak. Where there is nothing to weaken us, there is no death nor sorrow. We are miserable through delusion. Give up the delusion and the whole thing vanishes. Similarly Bible says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13)

Thus psychologically strength is indeed life and weakness is indeed death! Yet physical strength cannot be undermined as a weak and sick physique might prevent the psychological strength from manifesting. That’s why Swamiji says “How will you struggle with the mind unless the physique be strong?” Hence the need for cleanliness, exercise and proper diet to maintain a healthy physique. The physique probably then unlocks a path to peep into the mind.

Be healthy, be fit, meditate, be happy, be positive, explore talents, connect with people, help others, expand your social circle, recover fast from setbacks, work – that’s lifehqdefault

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Caste in Cement

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Dr BR Ambedkar wrote a book called “Annihilation of Caste”.

Can’t annihilate caste. Caste is more than just a lifestyle. In fact, I think that the Battle to annihilate caste is a losing one. When I say caste is a lifestyle, I don’t mean it as some sort of acquired taste based on the economic status of an individual. Rather, I mean it as something that has become a natural habit, so natural that it becomes ingrained in the individual’s DNA. I know this might appear a bit archaic idea and not particularly progressive however, look at the last 70 years of our attempt to annihilate caste. If anything, it has only cemented the idea of caste even more in the minds of the younger generation. Those who give up the idea of caste and try to be caste neutral (for lack of a better word) would anyway subconsciously adopt practices that only differentiates them from the other.

I think, before we talk about annihilating caste it’s essential that we understand what it encompasses. Caste dictates the diction of the language we speak, caste dictates the jobs that we could covet, caste dictates our food habits/cuisine, dictates the deities we worship and how we worship, dictates the festivals we celebrate and our traditional attire, dictates marriage rituals and many more such day to day things; In fact, so disparate are these habits that here one man’s food is indeed another man’s poison. Thus, I believe, caste forms a very integral part of an individual’s identity. Annihilating caste is akin to annihilating a large part of an individual’s identity, hence it hasn’t been an easy task to achieve this goal set by no lesser an individual than Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar. I see people getting appalled by the idea of Indians travelling abroad carry their caste

Indian_Caste_System

identities with them. What’s so appalling about it? It is such an integral part of an individual’s identity, it shouldn’t be surprising if Indians who travel or settle abroad also carry their caste along. I remember reading an article by the historian Dipankar Gupta, where he says that people from lower caste oppressed for ages, are not in a hurry to convert themselves to an upper caste even if they were given a chance to do so. This is very interesting to note, because why would an individual from an oppressed caste leave an opportunity to escape all that and convert to a caste which is privileged? Gupta points out that so strong is this caste identity that a person belonging to it strongly identifies with it, takes pride in its history, it’s culture, takes pride in its own heroes idolize, and they also take pride in the contribution of their respective community towards the country’s success.

There are individuals who try to live caste neutral, they have often been blamed to be too westernized and disrespectful of the Hindu ethos. This also goes in conjunction with our general distrust in many things western which I will cover in a different blog. The emancipated idea of caste espoused in our scriptures, where caste is linked with action or karma and not birth is very difficult to understand and implement. So, what we would have to live with is this unfortunate idea of caste linked with birth!

Does that mean that we can’t do anything about the discrimination that the individuals from some castes face?

Does that mean we can’t ever get rid of this system of reservation that seems to cripple meritocracy?

No, it doesn’t mean that at all. This is where I think we should train all our effort on eliminating caste-based discrimination and not the caste. When an individual’s identity is not threatened, ridiculed or questioned then the individual’s willingness to accept other identities without discrimination becomes relatively easier. In fact, this is what we see in private sector that’s still hasn’t yielded in any way to reservation, people from various caste backgrounds purely on the basis of their merit get selected to work for the corporate. No one cares or bothers about which caste or religion that individual comes from, all they care about is whether they are contributing to the common goal of the team/organization. However, when the individual goes back home or has his meal he sticks strongly to the background that he comes from, no one tries to prove that their habit is superior to the others or that their habit is better than the others. When a manager evaluates an employee, he does so purely on the basis of merit and performance and not because of that individual’s caste. This is the type of society that we should target to create. We’ve to accept that our society is pluralistic in more ways than one. It will continue to have different castes which would’ve disparate habits and yet we have to also accept that no caste is superior to the other no habit is inferior to the other no matter how contradictory it might be.

While I said what I said, I am not oblivious of the history of discrimination suffered by certain castes and some out-castes. A discrimination that has been a sore to which we have tried to apply the balm of reservations with limited to no success. In fact, I feel, reservation might have helped a small percentage of the historically disadvantaged communities to emancipate themselves only economically, however I don’t think it has managed to do much as far as their standing in society is concerned. If anything, it has only deepened the divide especially as jobs become lesser and difficult to get. I am also aware that historically there has been a caste hierarchy based on purity of one and the impurity of the other. Yet I think caste is a difficult and complex aspect to get rid-of. I feel if we focus on annihilating caste eventually what we would end-up doing is create a new caste hierarchy where what’s on the top today would just be replaced with what we have at the bottom. Instead if we just focus on the issue of hierarchy, social discrimination without challenging or hating any of the castes, we might make a faster progress. In this of course people from all the castes would’ve to forgive and forget some of the atrocities meted out or received. This is a given, because this would have been required even the day when caste would’ve been annihilated.

 

 

Am I Good Enough


The problem with insecurities is that it has a characteristic of snowballing into something uncontrollable and big. Once an insecurity germinates in our mind it is best to nip it in the bud. Any time spent in watering the bud, even if accidentally, can be dramatically dangerous for the wellbeing of the individual. In fact, insecurities have been known to have many at its gun point including some very well-known and seemingly successful personalities. In fact, it has a very impressive head count.

To be born as a human means to be born with many vulnerabilities, fragilities and shortcomings.  I consider it to be the beauty of life or nature that it has this inherent characteristic to balance things. Where it gives us strengths it balances by giving us weaknesses, where it gives us opportunities it balances by giving us adversities and so on and so forth and between these pairs of extremes is that beautiful conundrum called life that keeps vacillating between these extremes. Life, thus, is like a series of never-ending struggles. Most of the times our fiercest struggle is against our own internal demons. These internal demons are so powerful that they could make an external situation appear insurmountable.   I think the most menacing of internal demons or human fragilities is ‘Insecurity’. Which means our fiercest and longest struggle for a lifetime is against ‘insecurities’. Although, I must also say that insecurity is a great leveler, as it afflicts just about everyone without discrimination. Insecurities! There is no end to the list of things that we as humans could be insecure about. Thus, how individuals deal with these insecurities is what becomes the sole factor in determining whether we would be happy, sad, successful, failures, contented, depressed or even suicidal. There are many who have fallen prey to their own insecurities and have surrendered their and lives meekly to it.

Where do these insecurities come from? identifying, accepting and dealing with our insecurities are no easy task. Insecurities come from

  • Comparisons
  • Rejections
  • Failures

What are we usually insecure of? Interestingly whatever we identify ourselves with could be the source of our insecurities. For example, I identify myself with my car and if I see someone else with a bigger car I feel insecure. I think insecurities have to do with:

  • Look
  • Body
  • Intellect
  • Education
  • Material Possessions

Yet, if you look at it, without comparison, rejection or failure there is no improvement, no growth and no learning. It could be safely concluded that insecurities are unavoidable. So, the question should not be about ‘how to avoid insecurities’ the question should be about ‘how to deal with our insecurities’. To deal with insecurities we primarily need to deal with the thoughts we tend to have about insecurities. To deal with the thoughts we have about insecurities, we need to understand the characteristics of these thoughts:

They are addictive and tend to snowball

Once thoughts of our insecurities start filling our mind, they are so addictive, we tend to keep dwelling about it again and again and again. We become helpless as more and more thoughts of our insecurities keep rushing in and we feel ok to stay with them for longer periods of time. Also, if we started with thoughts on one insecurity and dwelled on it for some time, soon thoughts about some other insecurity start rushing in and before we realize it snowballs out of control into some massive monster that we find hard to control. However, like any other addiction, you cannot give it up bit by bit. It’s all or nothing game. Also, like any addiction, it’s a lifestyle thing. Once a thought about insecurity strikes us it’s best dropped at once. If it is difficult to drop them then, its essential that we alter out lifestyle to prevent those insecurities from taking control of us. For example, if an individual has had a breakup that has exposed some of the internal insecurities then it is advisable to alter whatever the individual was doing when in the relationship to prevent those thoughts about insecurities from striking back. Like take a different route to office, drink different, meet different set of people, develop new pass times.

They are low energy predators and thus action arresters

Thoughts about our insecurities strike when we are low on energy. The fact that they are themselves energy sappers also makes the matters worse as they ensure we stay in a state of low energy and hence these thoughts continue to feed on it. Thus it’s essential to break this vicious cycle and raise our energy levels by engaging in some rigorous physical activity which could get the adrenaline pumping and also release mood uplifting hormones which tend to increase the level of activity pulling an individual into high energy zone. Thoughts about insecurities are very difficult to strike at this state. Engaging in new activities, especially physical in nature help a lot. Thus, many people after a bout of depression tend to take to gym or long distance running or photography which are mood enhancers as they are high energy activities that make it difficult for insecurities to come back.

They appear real and thus they instill fear

We strongly believe in our insecurities and thus any thoughts about our insecurities always appear real. However, they are just as real or false as our abilities and the thoughts about our abilities. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in between. As we continue to fuel thoughts about our insecurities they tend to become solid believable images and appear real. We become serious about them and they become insurmountable mental blocks. We need to realize that at the end of the day this is just an image and it can be changed. What matters is whether we believe in these images. Therefore, we need to learn to take life a bit easy, be able to laugh at our insecurities and build an image about ourselves which is favorable to us. Knowing the fact that everybody has their own insecurities, is one way to calm ourselves down. We must accept that we can’t be good at everything and bad at nothing. We need to be able to laugh and joke about our drawbacks and shortcomings which basically beak the image we tend create about our insecurities.

Appreciate the capabilities you have and also appreciate the shortcomings. Learn to embrace yourself along with all the shortcomings. Feel happy that everyone suffers from insecurities. Do not dwell on it much, keep moving, keep the energy high, break the worry habit and replace mental images of insecurity with favorable images of strength, parity and Happiness. That’s the only way of leading a happy and fulfilled life.

TroughFic

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I’ll start with a blunt statement. Governments/State Departments around the world have no incentive in reducing traffic. An explosive statement like that needs to be backed with strong logic. Do I have one? Let me explain. First let’s examine the reasons for Traffic Congestion

  • Lack of infrastructure which means lack sufficiently motorable, well maintained and wide roads
  • Too many vehicles on the road at the same time, including public, private and pooled transport
  • Poor Civic Sense, frequent lane changing, scant respect for rules, road rage
  • Sufficient Parking space
  • Less reliance on Public Transport

Now let’s look at what benefits the Authorities:

  • Car/vehicle sales are a measure of robustness of the economy and all effort is made for increasing the volume
  • More sale of vehicles means greater tax revenue both in terms of sales tax or road tax
  • More the traffic, lower the mileage given by a vehicle
  • Lower the mileage of a vehicle more the consumption of fuel which are all sold by State owned companies and tax revenue as per the tax collected on each liter of fuel sold
  • More the traffic more the chances of traffic rule violation and hence greater revenue for Traffic Police

Yet for ordinary citizens like us, traffic is a huge problem. Why do I say so? It’s because traffic increases travel time this increases stress levels and lowers productivity. There is a higher chance of road rage and accidents. More traffic leads to low mileage obtained from the vehicle thus increasing expenditure on fuel and car maintenance. Of course, traffic leads to loss of productive hours, impacts mental health and certainly impacts personal relationships.

Yet there is a subjectivity to the entire situation. This I say because, it’s foolish to imagine roads without any traffic at all! Then the question is ‘how much traffic’ is acceptable? What average vehicular speed would be considered as optimal, comfortable, plausible and acceptable? Is there a standard vehicle vs motor-able road ratio?

What are the possible solutions? All the large-scale solutions involve an expenditure by the authorities/state which include Improving infrastructure, improving Public Transport and stricter enforcement of rules. Albeit the growth of vehicles on the road could far outpace improvements in any of these factors. While authorities wake-up and start attaching value to loss of productive hours due to traffic or human life and ‘quality of life’. We are left to ourselves to figure out what works for us as an individual or as a community and follow those practices for peace of mind and happiness.

Trump’s Victory Explained

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Contrary to all expectations, contrary to all opinion polls and exit polls Donald Trump is the President of US. To the horror and chagrin of many and yet to the elation and hope of some it’s Trump administration that’s in-charge for the next 4 years. How did this happen? What propelled a character like Trump to the most powerful position of the world? No matter how disappointed and let down many feel I think there is a silver lining to this dark cloud.

Hope for Anti-Establishment:

trumpIt is interesting to note that people across the world, whether in rich or developing countries, are extremely cynical of their politics and politicians. Often people resign to a corrupt and impossible system. Except for criticizing from outside, an invisible entry barrier stops many from coming into active politics. It is in this regards that the elected government and the leadup to his election must be seen with great interest.

That an apolitical and anti-establishment guy is at the helm of US politics should be a sign of great hope rather than despair. It gives hope of wriggling countries out of the tight grip of a corrupt ‘political establishment‘. Even Democrat Bernie Sanders, though a career politician, can’t be considered as an ‘establishment’ guy. This shows that there is scope for professionals or non-establishment guys from various fields to enter politics. This could be revolutionary change as it would keep all politicians as honest as possible and also attract fresh talent. Especially those who want to genuinely improve the condition of their fellow citizens and not just interested in making a career in politics. Thus a Trump victory has to be hailed in this aspect.

Capitalism, Globalization and Equality:

Post cold-war, many countries in the world adopted to open market economy. The hope was that this would create more jobs, improve productivity and alleviate poverty. The initial days saw a very heady rate of growth and creation of many millionaires. The open market economy seemed to work on principles of merit and appeared to overcome the problems of accident of birth. Capitalism is basically a game driven by Demand and Supply. What’s in abundant supply but is lower in demand would be cheap, what is scarce in supply but is high in demand would be dearer. So on and so forth. Tagging along with capitalist economy was Globalization. The concept was to visualize a border-less world, at least economically, and utilize manpower, or skills or expertise wherever it might be available from. The revolution in Information Technology was breaking down barriers and brought countries virtually together. The introduction of this new globalization variable in the game of Demand and Supply literally broke the geographical barriers. This meant that if the manufacturing of a component by a company was expensive in one country, that company assisted by bilateral agreements between Governments could shift their factory to another country where it would be more affordable and profitable.

The world saw a possibility of redistribution of wealth from Developed economies to developing economies and a greater scope of poverty alleviation. Large corporations were excited with the sight of newer unseen and untapped markets. Again the initial days saw rapid proliferation of jobs. It also saw many jobs being offshored from high cost locations to low cost locations. Large corporations soon became Multi-Nationals. The hope behind these endeavors was that as more and more people get added to the work force and get employed, more and more people will find a way out of poverty. Once the production improves, once the consumption increases and prosperity spreads the impact would trickle down to the lowest common denominator in all societies.Did this happen? Were the targets met?

Alas, this wasn’t to happen. As market driven economy strengthened and private organizations became stronger the wealth instead of spreading started getting concentrated in few hands. Of course, few people have escaped poverty of course a vibrant middle class has been created yet there are millions who have got tired waiting for a drop of that trickle. Each passing day their frustration has only increased. This has driven people to depend on Governments to take care of their needs and requirements. Proliferation of Globalization meant jobs were getting off shored to locations which would save cost. The hope was that the people who would lose jobs would somehow up-skill themselves find greener pastures and continue to take benefit from the evolving economic situations. Moreover, evolving technology meant there were more automation of jobs, more mechanization of work and more reliance on robots. This led to reduction in the demand for manual workforce. Over dependence on Private sector to generate jobs and fuel growth was not creating the number of jobs required. Thus people around the world have shown a renewed belief in Governments to help improve their condition.

Also the point to be noted here is that as Market driven economics took center stage and large corporations became the engines for growth, Governments were increasingly seen as facilitators. Facilitators who could devise policies to benefit private companies, devise policies that could increase their profit. This reached to such a stage where both seemed to be feeding off each other completely self absorbed and oblivious of the growing section of frustrated and deprived sections of society. The ‘system’ became self serving forgetting the epithet of “Of the People, By the People and For the People”. Thus the question now was more about dignity and equality. There are sections of society that has felt itself to have been deprived a fair share of the pie in this evolving economic scenario. It’s a section that has felt humiliated and neglected at the hands of their own governments or by the very companies that were meant to improve their condition. They feel even the media looked the other way and didn’t highlight their plight. This inequality in available opportunities and continual deprivation led to seething and simmering anger among many. An anger that was waiting to find it’s voice.

The Message Over Personality

Look at the set of events that have unfolded across the world in the last year. US elected a person of dubious character and UK voted for the contentious Brexit. Both these events were counter intuitive and shocking. In both these events some very cleverly designed propaganda was used to sway people. Most of the material used for such propaganda campaign were found to be fake. Also in this age of information revolution to verify claims isn’t that difficult at all. Yet Trump is the President of USA and UK did vote for Brexit. How could one explain this? Has the world dumbed down or against the run of events have people chosen to be deliberately ignorant? I think there is more stronger reason behind this. This reason lies hidden in the sequence of events I describe in the earlier section. The deprived and angered section of society has finally exerted themselves. They finally found someone who was willing to listen to their problems and raise their issues. They finally found a platform where those issues that were close to their heart were heard without being ridiculed. Thus despite being led by dubious leaders who used questionable means, people have rallied behind them. I believe people have chosen the “Message” over the person who was espousing it.

The reason why I feel that people have chosen the message and not the personality is because, if we look at election campaign leading up to the Inauguration day, the Republican party saw Donald Trump emerge as their leader. Similarly, among the Democrats, Bernie Sanders received an overwhelming response and gave Hillary Clinton very tough fight till the very end. If we look at the “Message” of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, on could find a lot of similarities. In fact some say that if Bernie Sanders was the chosen as the Democrat candidate then he might have defeated Trump hands down.

Conclusion

I think it’s important to understand that Trump comes to power as an apolitical and anti-establishment. He is 70 and is already rich. This all indicate it’s not going to be business as usual. No matter how odd his policies appear they are consistent to the “Message”. In fact he has nothing to lose by resorting to contentious policies and shaking up the entire system. In that bargain if some of the deprived section of the society managed to get a portion of the expected pie it would be a success. Even if they don’t it’s not a failure. How that could be achieved and whether it is achievable or not is beyond the point. Also if people like Trump must be countered people will have to forget the ‘Personality’ that is driving the policies and focus only and only on the “Message”. If anyone has a “Message” that is better than the “Message” of Trump and has a ‘people connect’ people will hook onto whoever provides that message. The mantra should be Address the “Message” not the person behind it.