The Sea and The Sky – A Haiku

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Reflecting the sky
The water turns lovely blue
Sun brightly approves.

To All the Bullies I’ve Known…

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Thank you for making fun of my glasses, my obesity and my hair,
for you taught me how to love myself for who I am.
I will teach my son to never in his life about such things care,
as the people’s obsession with vanity is quite an elaborate scam.

Thank you for spreading those random rumors about me,
for you taught me that I have no control over what others say.
I will teach my son to always truthful and honest be,
and not partake in, nor believe any unfounded hearsay.

Thank you for humiliating me on that Instagram reel,
for you taught me to separate true friends from those who were merely a farce.
I will teach my son to never hurt and always help heal,
for what seems like harmless banter can leave behind a lifetime of scars.

Thank you for those snide comments on the color of my skin,
for you taught me to be proud of my culture and identity.
I will teach my son to understand and remember his roots and origin,
and that the beauty of this world truly lies in its diversity.

Thank you for all the bullying I had to ever endure,
for without it I wouldn’t be who I grew up to become.
I will teach my son to remember that Karma will ensure,
that life in the end is a game of zero-sum.

Why Social Media is Anti-Social

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We live in a world that revolves around Social Media. The US President announces policy decisions on Twitter before an official press release. We run campaigns and petitions “online” and address the biggest social issues via Twitter revolutions. We define “celebrities” not by the excellence in their fields, but the number of “followers” they have on Instagram. But have we gone so far, that we’ve forgotten the basics of society and of human interaction? Is social media really giving birth to anti-social generations?

  1. We Opine on Everything, Act on Nothing.
    Social media is a great platform for people to express their views and in many cases even spread awareness about certain issues that otherwise do not come to light. Unfortunately however, commenting about a topic or signing an online petition may not always be the answer to real world problems. Social media campaigns may create a tremendous awareness and noise about many issues, but are we really following up on these and taking action to bring the cause to a fruition? Or does voicing support for something gives us a false sense of having done our bit and we then continue on with our lives and move on to the next social media fad?
  2. We “LOL” all the time, but seldom laugh.
    This one really bothers me to the point of annoyance. All the constant chatting, commenting on Facebook, Whatsapp and the “virtual” life that we live, has caused people to relate something funny with a “LOL” or an “ROFL”. And from my own experience of writing LOLs or ROFLs, as well as seeing some of the people around me use “LOL” even in verbal communication, it is clear to me that we’re never really even smiling let alone laughing out loud or rolling on the floor laughing. While communicating with our phones or our laptop screens, have we forgotten to really laugh and smile?
  3. We have thousands of “Followers” and “Friends” but no one that really cares.
    According to a study published by the American Psychology Association, rates of mood disorders and suicide-related outcomes have increased significantly over the last decade among adolescents and young adults, impacting females and those who are wealthier, in particular. Social media is believed to be a potential driver behind the increase. The largest increases were seen among younger adults aged 18-25 (71%). Notably, rates of serious psychological distress increased by 78% among adults aged 20-21 during the time period. Meanwhile, there was a decline among adults aged 65 and older. Well aren’t the adolescents and young adults the ones with thousands of followers and friends on Facebook, Instagram and SnapChat? While the senior citizens don’t have much to look forward to and lack technology know-how as well. But clearly, while we may live in a bubble of all these social media interactions, the reality is that none of these online relationships or connections are deep enough for us to share our true thoughts, joys and sorrows with. Moreover, the tremendous pressure of living up to a “social image” results in the youth developing a wide variety of mental health issues.
  4. We let our confidence be dictated by “Likes” and “Comments“.
    Have you found yourself actively tracking the number of likes and comments on your latest Facebook, Instagram or Twitter post? Yes, we yearn for external affirmation of our views and end up defining the conviction in our thoughts, or the confidence in our new look or piece of art by how many people “like” it. Are we really so short of self-confidence that the passive act of a click by a random stranger means more to us than anything else?
  5. We forget to enjoy the moment trying to create the perfect “Selfie”.
    In the most memorable moments of our lives – whether it is a celebration with friends, a vacation to a beautiful new place, or just a candid moment of joy with your loved ones, there is always either your own inner urge, or that one person that ruins the moment by wanting to click a perfect “selfie” or the perfect picture to post on social media. Can we really truly enjoy a vacation in the mountains or the beach without feeling the need to show it off to the world? What is shocking is that people risk their lives taking the perfect selfie – there is actually a Wikipedia page dedicated to Selfie-related deaths, and the number is by no means small when it comes to people’s lives.
  6. We spend 5 hours on social media and not 5 minutes on social interaction.
    Ask yourself this – what is the average time you spend on your phone or your laptop on social media vs. the actual time spent with your friends and family? Even outside of a COVID-stricken world, I am sure most of you will find the amount is higher for the former than the latter. What started off as a way to keep in touch with your friends, is now increasingly the only way you interact with people. While that may be great for the companies that run the social media platforms, and may or may not be a fault of theirs, should we take a step back and re-assess our priorities?
  7. We know how to chat but not how to converse.
    Most of us can probably chat on messengers with a lot more confidence and ease than we can hold a real conversation. The art and skill that it takes to hold a meaningful conversation with another person in real life is dying, and dying fast. When was the last time you felt comfortable in walking up to a random stranger and giving them a compliment? Can’t recall? When was the last time you “liked” or “commented” on a picture or a post by a person you’ve never met? Probably within the last hour or 2. The most talked-about generation of all time – the “Millennials” are so used to the digital world that they’re losing the basic art of human interaction and communication.

Let us not let social media take away from us the very fundamental that is is based on, the need for social interaction –  defined as an exchange between two or more individuals that is a building block of society. 

7 Longer-Term Positives from the COVID-19 Pandemic

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We’re living through unprecedented times, and the loss and harm caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is irreversible. However, there are some meaningful positives that will come out of all of this if and when the world returns to normal again.

  1. Re-discovering the magic of 24 hours in a day!
    In our fast-paced lives, and the constant struggle to balance work and life, most of us never had enough time. That’s not really the case anymore. The fact that most of us have been confined largely to our homes for most of the year has meant that we have more time at our hands and less things to do. While we’re still doing as much or more with our days, working from home, managing household chores, and many other things, the flexibility at hand has meant most of us are able to do a lot more in a day than we did in a pre-COVID day.
  2. A New Hobby or a Rekindled Affair with an Old One!
    Weekends and vacations have been really hard to fill with quality enjoyment and relaxation, with “going out” not really an option anymore. For most of us this has meant actively finding hobbies or things to do. For some it has meant rekindling an old hobby – writing in my case, for others a chance to pick up that thing you’ve always wanted to do – my wife who’s picked up baking, and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my share of cookies, cakes and breads! We’ve all had a chance to add that added dimension to our lives as a result of this.
  3. Realizing The Value of Relationships & Human Interaction
    While separating everyone physically and limiting most chances of social interaction, the pandemic has brought people closer together in many ways. Some of us are forced to spend more time with our immediate family (some like me have become better parents as a result) as we all remain home-bound together while others have had the chance to connect with old friends over endless Whatsapp and Zoom videocalls. I personally have made an effort to reconnect with old friends more in these past few months, than I did in the last 10 years! The forced physical distancing, has also made us long for that physical interaction so much more – the matches you find on Tinder, Bumble or Hinge don’t seem as interesting anymore when there is absolute no way to follow those up with a real physical date.
  4. A Real Shift towards Flexible Work Arrangements
    While many firms advocated and provided flexible work arrangements for their employees prior to the coronacrisis, the reality was that true flexible work arrangements were more an exception than the rule. However, most firms have now realized that work-from-home may not be just as efficient as working from an office, but might even show increased efficiencies in many cases, thanks to the feeling of freedom and flexibility that it provides. When all this also comes with significant cost-savings in terms of office rentals and related costs, daily commute, and other benefits, flexible work arrangements will probably be a norm going forward.
  5. Your Next Vacation will be Your BEST Yet
    The fact that most of us haven’t had a chance to get too far away from our homes in all these months, let alone crossing any borders, will mean that whenever you go on your next vacation, you’ll truly know to appreciate it. For many of us, getting on a flight, going to a different city or country, or anything related to travel, was such a regular occurrence that it had lost any and all excitement. That will surely change the next time you get a chance to really explore the world – and it will likely feel like your best holiday yet.
  6. The Exponential Acceleration of Technology Adoption
    Necessity is the mother of all invention. And we’ve seen this more than ever in the past 6-8 months than ever before. While the technology largely existed somewhere, the adoption of technologies of the “stay at home” economy has tremendously accelerated thanks to a lack of options. Online entertainment (Netflix), Remote working and interaction (Zoom), Food delivery (Foodpanda / Meituan / Swiggy), Online shopping (Amazon), Social networking (Instagram, Twitter, Tiktok) have all seen a huge surge in terms of adoption as well as metrics such as time and money spent over this period. While some of this may normalize, as we get back to a world of physical interactions, the convenience and ease of use will mean longer-term consumer behavior shifts.
  7. Climate and Environmental Detox
    The positive impact of nationwide lockdowns and the resultant reduction in traffic, industrial emissions, pollution and broader carbon emissions has been talked about widely. While this may be too short a pause for it to have massive and long-lasting impact, it will surely act as a detox for the climate and environment to regain some balance. Moreover, some behavioral shifts that are predicted as a result of the pandemic i.e. less global travel, increased focus on hygiene, more efficient resource allocation, are bound to create a more environment-friendly world post-COVID.

5 of My Favorite Quotes

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  1. While these may not be necessarily ranked as top 5, the first one is by far my favorite quote ever. For those of you who haven’t had a chance, I’d strongly recommend reading Sand and Foam by Kahlil Gibran.

Seven times have I despised my soul:

The first time when I saw her being meek that she might attain height.

The second time when I saw her limping before the crippled.

The third time when she was given to choose between the hard and the easy, and she chose the easy.

The fourth time when she committed a wrong, and comforted herself that others also commit wrong.

The fifth time when she forbore for weakness, and attributed her patience to strength.

The sixth time when she despised the ugliness of a face, and knew not that it was one of her own masks.

And the seventh time when she sang a song of praise, and deemed it a virtue.

Kahlil Gibran, Sand and Foam

2. One of my favorite authors, who also happens to be the author of my favorite book The Fountainhead, wrote this quote as a part of one of her other famous works – Atlas Shrugged. For any of you looking at the best reads around the ideology of individualism over collectivism, Ayn Rand is the go-to author.

Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think that you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.

Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

3. “Eloisa to Abelard” by Alexander Pope is one of the most beautiful tales of love and longing and also includes some of the most beautifully written lines. The title of the famous movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind which is one of the most complex, yet beautiful movies!

How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!

The world forgetting, by the world forgot.

Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!

Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d

Alexander Pope, Eloisa to Abelard

4. Abraham Lincoln probably has to his credit the most number of quotes that are each better than the previous. So I’ve clubbed a few of my favorites quotes from him. As an aside, if you’re looking for some great reads, his famous letter to his son’s teacher is indeed also a masterpiece.

Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.

Those who deny others freedom, deserve it not for themselves.

Abraham Lincoln

5. Albert Einstein was a great physicist, but also a great thinker and philosopher, and one of my favorite quotes comes from him, and is so relevant in the context of our lives.

Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.

Albert Einstein

These are of course only a handful among a treasure of great quotes and words of wisdom by great men and women. I’d love to hear from you about your favorite quotes as well!

Your Entire Life is a Lottery

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You are the master of your destiny. You can influence, direct and control your own environment. You can make your life what you want it to be.

Napoleon Hill

While that remains one of the most motivational and encouraging quotes ever, it may not fundamentally be based on facts. Chance or Fate or Destiny is what really determines an outsized amount of what your life is and you have little control over it.

I know the first instinct is to revolt against this very idea (as was my own) but let me explain why that is the truth. I will look at some of the factors that truly define who we are, and see how much of these do we really control.

I will further divide these factors into two very broad categories – Default Characteristics and Characteristics of Choice.

Default Characteristics – determined for us by virtue of birth.

  1. Parents / Lineage – A big part of who we are is defined by the family we’re born in. Most of us, if not all of us, define ourselves by a name – a “given” name and a last name. We’re born into a last name, and our “given” name is not really of our choosing either – it is our parents’ choice invariably. So, we start out lives with no luxury to choose who we’re born to nor the unique identifier called “name” that we’ll be identified for the rest of our lives with.
  2. Gender – We often associate a huge part of our identity with our gender – we’re mostly proud men and women, and often strongly connect with that broad community and the things that come with being a man or a woman. However, none of it was a choice you made. You were born into it.
  3. Nationality – There are 195 countries in this world – and so if you picked a random one you would have a roughly 0.5% chance of picking your own nation. That is probably a flawed metric, as the population of each country isn’t the same, even by a population weighted metric, your chances of picking China or India are about 1 in 6 each, and your chances of being American are 1 in 25, and so on. So the next time you’re proud to be American, or Indian, or Chinese, or any other nationality, remember you didn’t really have a choice in the matter.
  4. Appearance & Race – Some of us are extremely vain about our appearance, while others spend most of their lives living in insecurities based on what they look like. But we never really chose what we look like, did we? Yes, we may very well workout to have a certain body type, do our hair and make up as we choose, wear the clothes of our liking, but a large part of what we look like is again a default setting we’re born with. This color and race and the discrimination we see around us – did a white man do something different than a black one to be born in that color? What then gives one a right to feel superior than another? The feeling of control and entitlement is a sheer myth.
  5. Religion – Religious beliefs shape the principles and thinking of a lot of people, and so it is a big part of who we are. But aren’t most of us born into our religions, and just learn to live with it? There are some of us who choose our religion, or convert into one we believe in more than the one we’re born in, or some of us who choose to be agnostic or an atheist – but again, those are exceptions and not the rule. We’re born into a religion and then we teach ourselves to believe in the principles of that religion, until we’re convinced this is who we truly are.
  6. Economic Status / Means at hand – Do we all have access to the same means and resources as everyone else? No, we don’t. By virtue of being born to a billionaire, or to a pauper, a huge part of the general direction your life will likely take is pre-determined for you. Sure there are stories of rags to riches, and stories of inherited wealth wasted in a matter of years, but those are again exceptions rather than the rule.

Characteristics of Choice – the things we choose or the part we control, or do we?

OK, fine! You get it! A big part of who we are is determined by birth, and we don’t have control over it. But we surely make choices that determine a lot more than these birth characteristics. Ummm…, not really, no.

But I won’t go into the details of this. If you thought you really fully chose your life partner, or your career, or the things you achieve in life, I’d refer you to the butterfly effect. Every little incident in our lives, whether a result of our own choice, or a chance occurrence, has a non-linear and often outsized impact on everything that follows.

The fact that you broke up with your ex, and ended up at the same club or common friend’s party as the man / woman who’d end up being your spouse, has more to do with chance than anything else. You being so successful at your current job, has probably as much to do with you being rejected in those previous four interviews, or that other candidate having to miss their interview due to a personal emergency, than it does with your actions and the fact that you earned it with your hard work.

You can’t control everything. Sometimes you just need to relax and have faith that things will work out. Let go a little and just let life happen.

Kody Keplinger

And while Kody Kelinger may not be half as well known as Napoleon Hill and most of you (including myself) hadn’t heard of her until you read this, her quote, potentially not as powerful, is probably more pertinent to our lives.

Life essentially just happens to us, but what we can do is control the handful of variables that are in our control – make the choices that we want ourselves to be defined by, act in a way that makes the best of the circumstances that are given to us, and have faith and hope for the best!

After all it isn’t always about the cards you’re dealt, but often how you play the hand that determines the winner. So even if it may feel like you were dealt a shitty hand, I’ve seen pocket aces fold to 2-7 offsuit if you play the field right! So, in this lottery called life I’ll leave you with this quote, and lots of good luck!

Life is a lottery that we’ve already won. But most people have not cashed in their tickets.

Louise L. Hay