Musings for a responsible society

Amidst the dark and grey shades increasingly engulfing, invading and piercing deeper and deeper, let me try to enjoy the little smiles, genuine greens, and the gentle breeze. Oh! Creator! If you don't exist, my vain!
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Find the little acts of inspiration at your arm's length

These are the times when we are flooded and sometimes suffocated with tons of inspirational messages about people and events from all over the world. We admire those facts and accomplishments and tend to forward them to others. However, rarely we notice something in our immediate surroundings that would be worthwhile to get inspired to emulate. 

Behaviours and lifestyles we see in our immediate proximity can be more impactful and easily replicable. Four very humble actions I noticed recently in my immediate family circle have given me instant inspiration and great happiness. I would like to share them with all of you in spite of the possible risk of being branded as a shameless blower of family trumpet!

During the short visit to my sister during Onam holidays, I noticed two little things that my sister, who is an Assistant Professor did. After getting up early and preparing a sumptuous Onam meal and before driving my wife for a quick shopping, she gave a home made quick pedicure to our mother. I observed a very bright, happy and relaxed expression on my mother’s face as she sat on the sofa and her feet gently pedicured by her daughter. But that was not the thing that really touched me. I found out that she carries every working day, one more pack of lunch to be given to a needy student in her college. May be a very small deed. But I felt happy for her students to have a great teacher who walked the talk. 

It is not very unique these days to see people celebrate their important days with people who are less privileged. But, when my daughter did that, I felt really proud. She spent her birthday with inmates of ‘Mercy Home’. She cut her birthday cake there and spent time interacting with very old persons who were mostly physically impaired and mentally special. I could see how she could bring beautiful smiles on their faces. 

My son recently participated in a quiz competition. After clearing the first two levels, he was too happy and told me that if he wins the championship, he would like to use the cash prize of Rs 5001 to buy a new mobile phone for him. He won the first place at the finals and was overjoyed with the victory. While coming out of the hall, he saw a few students from a very economically backward background in the audience. He took my permission and immediately donated the entire money to the teacher who accompanied those students to buy ‘General Knowledge’ books for their school library. As I saw that, I couldn’t control the tears of happiness. 

Last, but the most inspiring action, I would like to share with you in this article is about my wife. Her father became extremely sick in her home town without any immediate medical help. As his condition became worse, she flew to home town on a highly priced air ticket and returned with him and admitted him to a super specialty hospital. I was away at work in another city. No other family member or relatives were nearby to help. She single-handedly took him to a series of specialists and scores of lab tests, and got the emergency surgery done. In spite of being a full time doctor with a busy practice, she spent her days and nights to look after him, to feed him and to attend to all his personal needs. At a time when parents are neglected by busy children or when their dear ones limit their care remotely by sending money without their valuable presence, this is a very laudable work. 

We need not look always far away to get inspired to do something meaningful in our life. I am sure you will see exemplary acts in abundance in your own family as well! Small instances of kind gestures we observe around, can make us proud of the people we are destined to be with rather than always picking out their faults. Who is perfect? Certainly, I am not!!  

 Views are personal.                     ©Sibichen K Mathew

Would like to read another article on related topic? Click here: For inspiration, don’t always look up. Look down too!


Speak your heart; Not your mind

“This is not your court!” The Lawyer’s wife retorted when he argued at home.

“Mum, we are not your students!” Teenage children complained about the way their mum talked.

“I am not yet your wife! Mind your words” The girl got irritated with the way her fiancé talked.

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Yes, there is a mix up in communication in all the three instances above. We play multiple roles in life. Similarly, we associate certain type of communication to particular roles. Society, culture or other agents of socialization such as family or peer group have created stereotypes on how we should communicate. 

Most people rejoice over the words spoken to them from the heart. But a few, who does not have the emotional intelligence, would get hurt when others speak to them from the heart!

Which is most important? Is it the heart, the mind or the body? A tricky question indeed.  And where does the soul fit in?

Yes, the roles and functions of each of the above constituent is inextricably intertwined to one another. Body might have the supremacy when it comes to the fulfilment of the primary needs. Mind takes supremacy when one attempts to find, observe or convey logic and reasoning to people, situations, nature (matter) and relationships. Heart has a predominant role when it comes to the manifestations of the ‘humane’ dimensions of the human self. Soul is the core of the innermost being.

The heart-mind dichotomy in communication

Before we focus on the stereotyped communication in the roles we play, let us discuss the heart-mind dichotomy in the realm of communication and how it can build or mar relationships.

Mind thinks;
Heart feels

Mind thinks rationally, intellectually and logically;
Heart expresses emotionally, empathetically and sympathetically

Mind measures outputs;
Heart measures outcomes

Mind keeps a record of what to receive;
Heart keeps a record of what to give

When two persons speak from their mind it is a dialogue.  But, when they speak from their heart there is symphony which creates a synchrony in their relationship.

When one person speaks from the mind and the other person speaks from the heart, there is dyssemia. There could be a communication gap leading to misunderstanding.

The roles we play and speak

Eric Berne, famous psychiatrist and psycho analyst and the author of ‘Games People Play’, identified three ego states (which are phenomenological realities) from which people communicate to each other. They are child, parent and adult. Parent ego state represents a collection of recordings in the brain of external events experienced or perceived in the first five years of life. Later in life, people tend to communicate based on the perceptions and views of a parent. From the birth to age five, emotions and feelings related to the external events are recorded in the brain. These emotions and feelings are manifested in the everyday interaction and communication later. This is child ego state. In Adult ego state, individual validates the learnings from a parent ego state.

Some examples of recordings in each ego state as given by Eric Berne are as follows:

Parent ego state: “Never talk to strangers”; “Always chew with your mouth closed”

Child ego state: “When I saw the monster’s face, I felt really scared”; “The clown at the birthday party was really funny!

Adult ego state: “Wow. It really is true that pot handles should always be turned into the stove” said Sally as she saw her brother burn himself when he grabbed a pot handle sticking out from the stove. “
In this example, Sally’s Adult reached the conclusion that data in her Parent was valid. Her Parent had been taught “always turn pot handles into the stove, otherwise you could get burned.” And with her analysis of her brother’s experience, her Adult concluded that this was indeed correct.” 

The conversations between two persons (the effect on each other of the other person’s communication) could be analyzed by understanding from which ego state each person communicate. It could be a complementary (Speaking from a child ego state to a parent ego state and the response is also from parent ego state to child ego state) or a crossed transaction (when stimuli and response are not congruent). Not only the words, but also the non-verbal communication is also important. According to Dr. Berne, “one must look at how the words are being delivered (accents on particular words, changes in tone, volume, etc.) as the non-verbal signs accompanying those words (body language, facial expressions, etc.)”.

Daniel Goleman has written extensively on communication in his books ‘Social Intelligence’ and ‘Emotional Intelligence’ wherein he has emphasized the need for empathetic approach in communication. Edward Hallowell who is a psychiatrist and was associated with Harvard Medical School for 20 years said that a five-minute conversation can be a perfectly meaningful human moment. He said that to make the human moment work, you have to set aside what you’re doing, put down the memo you were reading, disengage from your laptop, abandon your daydream, and focus on the person you’re with. Usually when you do that, the other person will feel the energy and respond in kind. Together, you quickly create a force field of exceptional power.

What is the learning from the above discussion?

Irrespective of the role we play, the communication needs to be from the heart to make it effective, purposeful and responsive.

Be focused to the stimuli (ie. to the person communicating to you and the situational context of the communication).

Be an orchestra to the person communicating to you ( Just like when a person sings, the orchestra facilitates the singer, we need to create a receptive verbal and non verbal expression).

Gauge the emotional status of the communicating person and respond accordingly rather than reacting to it.

Communication from the heart creates an environment of sincerity, empathy and frankness.

Views are personal                         © Sibichen K Mathew                                


MARCHing through LIFE: Dare it!

Here is an article on what March is for me and for a few others! Also about the journey from hating March to daring March!!

Why I hate March?

I hate March because it is a month of pay-offs. How much ever I try to clear my dues during the other months, still my table gets piled up with demands. March is really a taxing month. I need to pay my vehicle tax, property tax, income tax self assessment dues, profession tax and many such taxes. I need to pay my vehicle Insurance premium, life insurance premium and medical insurance premium. The March heat triggers electricity meters to supersonic pace.

I hate March, because of examinations. It is testing time for kids of all age groups. One would get confused seeing the syllabus of these kids. One would seriously think. Why the hell are these topics part of their curriculum? What did we gain by studying this stuff in our school days? What did we lose by not studying some of this stuff in our school days? The March-suffering is not limited to the examinations of one’s owns kids, but of many others! There will be a spate of leave applications from your subordinates who are also worried parents. Files will stay motionless in many desks

I hate March because it is the time to queue up before the schools. It is also a time for admissions and long waits outside the rooms of the Principals. (See my article ‘The ordeal called school admissions’)

I hate March because of the continuous receipt of marketing calls from many executives. I feel really sad after giving an impolite response to those nice youngsters who call at odd hours due to the pressure for targets!

I hate March because my banker gives me a call in March to say that I am no longer a priority customer. He says I failed to maintain a ‘privileged minimum balance’

I hate March because I am forced to plan the summer vacation. It is always very difficult to arrive at a consensus! And where is the time to think! By the time we decide, tickets get over!!

I hate March from my school days! It was in March that our dear creator took away my dad from me! And that was Good Friday Eve.

March thus reminds me of Crucifixion. But I wait optimistically with the hope of resurrection in April!

When I wrote this, my readers also had a lot to say about March!

A friend wrote to me:

 “There is no month more beautiful than March - winter fading into spring and renewal all around -tall trees covered in tender green shoots - new admissions -new beginnings -its all a question of the lens u view life with!”

Sarah supported me narrating her March woes:

“I hate March too :) In fact I hate Jan, Feb, March, April, May and July... (too many months to hate!) Jan - We need to run around for investment proof submission Feb - Medical bills submission March - same as above :) April, May - Indian Summer :( July - too many bdays hence lot of expenditure and IT returns filing”

Ciss wrote from Michigan:

“Hi Sibi! I understand your dislike of March, but for me it means so much here. It often is the first time we see a full blue sky that is a hint of spring yet yet to come.”

Animesh had this to say:

“Nice one and interesting Sibi. Loved the way you mixed humor with the reality. In fact, we all hate March for reasons so obvious:) Just like that!”

My brother-in-law had something positive to say about March. He sent me a mail:

 “March starts with an inspiration to move forward..go ahead....MARCH FORTH.... March is also a symbol of liberation of Women .. International Year of Women. I enjoyed summer holidays because of March...experiencing relaxation after hectic schedule.... The efforts in March gives me much pleasure and relaxation in April ... March reminds us to keep our goals in life... March reminds me of setting goals in my work. It helps me to assess my strengths and capacity to manage multitasks. By making all the payments and dues March helps me relax for the rest 11 months. Pain in March helps children to go to the next level in the school…a sense of achievement.....”

But my sister Mini became a bit emotional! She wrote:

 “Hi Sibichen Great article. I was bit emotional and tearful when I read the last but one para”

What is the view of a busy Chartered Accountant? Hear Anil:

“Yes, March is also an accountant’s nightmare. Closing the F.Y accounts, planning taxable income, expect an uninformed auditor’s visit, prepare for board meetings, work out bonuses payable etc. In fact with so many things to do in March, we better start liking it (do we have a choice??!!!)”

But, a busy working woman shouldering a senior post had something positive to say. Pushpa wrote to me:

“Ha, ha. You could try the opposite emotion to experience a change in outlook. March is when the plant and animal kingdoms begin to renew themselves. Open your eyes to see the wonders of God, even with all your deadlines and targets. The glorious new buds, the two-toned greens, the frisky squirrels, the chirpy sparrows, the beautiful parrots, the ever-bathing mynas, the bulbuls, the friendly pigeons... Can’t you see the joy of living which they embody and share with all who notice them? Ooooh. how wonderful is March, for it renew my spirits, deadened by winter blues, which culminates in the Resurrection, when I become wholly new in body, in mind, in spirit.”

Sindhu, the friend wrote:

“Till next March be happy that this March is past. For next March, learn some marching so that you can march through March with courage. I wonder now, if the origin of the word march is this villian March??? But I also believe that pressure of March is necessary to bring forth the blooms of April. I love April. It's just a pure miracle. God knows from where all things come to life!!!”

Sri Ram Ayyangar reminded me that March is also the month when maximum cricket matches take place! So much fun!

A friend warned me strongly:

 “Friend, never say that you hate something or somebody. You can’t hate! I just want to remind you one thing. One has to die, to resurrect. Without a killing dry March, there is no blooming Resurrection in April. March is the best preparation for Easter and without a March, April is never so meaningful. It is amazing to see how good a father you are, without really knowing a father’s role in your life. What I feel is, you became the Father Figure who you lost early in your life.”

Meenakhi Malhotra had this comment:

“My hubby is too virgo. But on the contrary, I feel March is the best time for virgos, because this is the time when a virgo’s  organizing skills and  work management skills get their due recognition and applaud. My hubby, a charted accountant, always prepares for March in advance, all bills and taxes paid, dues cleared, yes! His office hours do take a longer route because of all the closing business. And for me March just breezes past, leaving me enjoying spring, because owing to a CA husband, I do not have to worry about finances and returns :D!

Indu Chibber says:

“Yes,why wait till the last moment ? Apart from the professional hassles March is a beautiful month. You know why?”

The above comments and feedback prompted me to have a re-look at March!

Why I started loving March?

When I look back, I realize that March went off pretty cool!
All Virgos, people say, are hurry worry warts

As I face another March, some of my friends enquired: ‘How is this March treating you?’
I said, it is wonderful!

I am saying this not because this March is not without its attendant difficulties. But my own introspection and the responses from many readers and friends have taught me one very important lesson:

The need to understand that the problems we face in our daily lives are very trivial when compared to the countless blessings that we have!

Life can be compared to a basket of fresh fruits and vegetables - With various shades, shapes, flavors, and taste. Some are bitter, some are too sweet. The bitter ones would ultimately prove to rejuvenate us. Some may look colourful from outside, but could be stale within. If we don’t use the bounty on time, worms would slowly settle within and we would not be able to consume. There could be thorns, which we need to remove carefully. There may be a very tough outer covering that would refuse to get peeled off. But patience, perseverance and timely response would make us relish the platter that life brings, in the most satisfying way.

Why should we dare March?

I consider March as a symbol of life’s challenges. How do we face those challenges in our life? We tend to get irritated over the inevitable without knowing the futility of such a reaction. When wise and patient response is warranted for tackling a critical situation, we just do the contrary. Our emotions overtake our intellect and we become victims of anger, antagonism and ill-will resulting unpleasant reactions from others. At the end, we would still be unhappy.

I think I have improved from the stage of emotional immaturity and my cognitive component has overtaken my affective component. So I have reached the stage where I feel like taking challenges head on. 

Obstacles are like wild animals. They are cowards but they will bluff you if they can. If they see you are afraid of them... they are liable to spring upon you; but if you look at them squarely in the eye, they will slink out of sight. (Orison Swett Marden)                                                                                                      

The challenges can be better managed through prioritization. Once we start focusing on something that deserves our best attention and start solving the puzzles associated with that, we would tend to observe that others start disappearing or becoming less challenging. A simple strategy of not trying to tackle all of them simultaneously could help us to channel all our efforts only to the important tasks. Indeed, experience counts a lot in such situations.

Best illustration for this can be seen in target management, as this is an area that worries many people in the month of March. Various parameters are set for achievement in the early part of the year. However we tend to relax much more than required in the first half of the year. We wake up all of a sudden when we realize or made to realize that the year is going to be over. Even at that crucial stage, the usual tendency is to work to meet each of these parameters at the same time with equal intensity. One requires a little bit of strategizing to get rid of the year end troubles.

An analysis of the past performances, the comparative contribution of each of those parameters to overall growth, the nature of perceptions of the growth by the evaluators, and the resultant reactions and responses can give you enough tips on what to and what not to focus. Many times, we grope in the dark with so much confusion without knowing what we should focus. This adds to our tension, as we try to deal with all the challenges simultaneously by diffusing all our energy and resources to variety of areas, without knowing which parameter needs more attention. When some of the areas are to be left unnoticed and ignored, some others may require only a superficial tinkering.

The above is true in the case of challenges faced in the personal front also. We simply can’t meet all those demands that being thrown to us in the month of March. Accumulation is mainly due to our own tendency to procrastinate, partly because of our laziness. We can’t blame March. It does not spring up any surprises on you. Why should one wait till the deadline to attend to the challenges?

Moral of the story: March never brings problems to you. Rather, you bring problems to March.

Views are personal                                 © Sibichen K Mathew
Sibi5555 (gmail)


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