Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Paradox of Our Times

Every once in a while, I hear a piece of news that shocks me. There’s a lot of evil out there in the world. Some of it is unerringly close to us, some not so. Thanks to our connectivity and the in-built viral nature of bad news and disaster, such stuff gets out pretty quickly.

I was beyond shocked when I heard of a 15 year old who murdered his teacher in school because she’d reprimanded him, back home in Chennai. The news shook me. My mother teaches many a 15 year old..

Of course, the post mortems are out. The teaching community is shocked. Tensions are high. Schools are worried and things will likely get strict for a while before it is forgotten by the majority. My condolences go out to the teacher’s family.

I was thinking about the causes for such an incident. And, as is the case with such incidents, a plane crash analogy is apt. A plane crash never takes place because of one cause. Typically, it takes an average of 7 things that take place one after another. Similarly, such an incident is likely to be caused by poor parenting, a bad environment at home among many others.

While this news is particularly shocking, there’s no dearth of such stories these days. Suicide, desperate crime is on the up. And, given the challenging time most of the world is going through at the moment, such incidents are likely to be on the up. The more the unhappiness and discontentment, the more the crime.

A lot of the damage is done young. Most criminals in decades past didn’t have the benefit of a good education. These days, however, we hear of well educated criminals. Pressure of expectation seems to drive many a man insane. And I use man here simply because most crime is, at the end of the day, testosterone driven.

I'm reminded of a popular forward I read ages ago..

The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings, but shorter tempers; wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints; we spend more, but have less; we buy more, but enjoy it less.

We have bigger houses and smaller families; more conveniences, but less time; we have more degrees, but less sense; more knowledge, but less judgment; more experts, but more problems; more medicine, but less wellness.

We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get angry too quickly, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too seldom, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom.

We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often. We've learned how to make a living, but not a life; we've added years to life, not life to years.

We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbor. We've conquered outer space, but not inner space; we've done larger
things, but not better things.

We've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul; we've split the atom, but not our prejudice.
We write more, but learn less; we plan more, but accomplish less. We've learned to rush, but not to wait; we have higher incomes, but lower morals; we have more food, but less appeasement; we build more computers to hold more information to produce more copies than ever, but have less communication; we've become long on quantity, but short on quality.

These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion; tall men, and short character; steep profits, and shallow relationships. These are the times of world peace, but domestic warfare; more leisure, but less fun; more kinds of food, but less nutrition.

These are days of two incomes, but more divorce; of fancier houses, but broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throw away morality, one-night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer to quiet to kill.

It is a time when there is much in the show window and nothing in the stockroom; a time when technology has brought this letter to you, and a time when you can choose either to make a difference, or to just hit delete...

By Dr Bob Moorehead

Truth is often vastly stranger than fiction. And there are many truisms in that piece..

Someone once said it to me that the idealist will always point to education as a solution to societal problems. I laughed. It did ring a bell. I do admittedly think of what we can change in the education system when thinking of massive societal problems and will do so again now.

There’s way too much pressure on the youth out there. It’s literally driving people insane. And here’s the bad news - I don’t think that’s going to change. We don’t live in isolated disconnected worlds. We’re in a global race for most things these days. While that has many many positives, it also poses many problems for those who are resistant to a change to the status quo.

The system is designed to encourage this. What was previously a local competition is now, for the most part, global. When you secure a seat at a top school or a job in a top company, you are literally competing against talent all over the world. There is competition everywhere. And it is only going to increase.

Banning competition and attempting to run away from it is not the answer either. Things have changed. It is the way of things.

What hasn’t changed yet is our reaction to competition. The way we live our lives today, we could be competing for ever without ever hitting the big jackpot. Getting into a top school, a top job or even making a million these days is not enough. We want more. And then some more. Because we want to stay ahead. Made a million at 25? Meh. Look at Mark Zuckerberg.. and so on.

And thus, the rat race goes on. The problem with a rat race, of course, is that even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat. And then, of course, there are those who hit road blocks and since failure is unacceptable, insanity beckons.

The real answer, of course, is that there is no race. The only race we run is one we design for ourselves against ourselves. We’re screwed the moment we lose sight of that. And I do mean screwed. Because, the moment we do lose sight of that, we practically say goodbye to happiness and welcome updating statuses of our desired Facebook lives.

As a race, we seem to dismiss continual progress and small wins. We only smile when we land the big jackpot. We will only be happy when we land the big jackpot. And, lest I forget, we will only be successful when we land that jackpot. Everything we run behind seems to be about that big jackpot. For some, it’s retiring when they are 40 (retire and then do what?) and for some others, it’s making that targeted amount of money so they can then buy their aeroplane or their fancy yacht and then spend the rest of their lives rueing the fact that the size of their neighbour's is bigger than theirs.

We really do underestimate and dismiss the small things. If you’ve ever worked on a tough successful project/activity with a team, you know that the memories and fun times are never after the project is a success but from the days when you were up at inane hours of the night facing adversity and still finding reasons to laugh till your stomachs hurt. Success is the journey..

Someday, I believe the a learning a day philosophy will be taught in schools. (If I sound narcissistic here, I’d like you to know that I didn’t invent the idea. I think I got on the bandwagon 2,000 or so years too late for that..;-)) We grossly underestimate the impact of getting a little better every day. It’s like writing one page every day. 365 days later, you could be the author of a book. Somehow, we’re not taught to think like that. Life, success, happiness are described as ends of long, dreary tunnels.

It’s not all that serious. What’s the point of all of this if we’re not making mistakes, falling in love and having fun?

We can’t always do big things. But we can do small things with great love. And over time, these small things will become big things.. that’s how great bridges are built, that’s how great art is done, that’s how great relationships are built.. and that’s how these things will be built. Rome was not built in a day.

We can learn something small every day. We can choose to get better every day. We can change how things work out in our lives. And we can dance to our own tunes and find great happiness.

One day at a time. One thing at a time. One person at a time.

I know it’s the age of fast food and instant gratification. But, these things are fleeting. They are good for a high. But, we all know how that ends..

Patience. That’s been by biggest learning in the a learning a day journey.

And that’s why I hope we’ll see this philosophy taught in schools all over the world.

I hope. I believe..

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