Friday, October 24, 2014

The Universal Rule

There is only one universal rule: there is no universal rule.

Or, for that matter, there is no universal law, fact, or whatever you might think of.

Everything has some kind of exception. Whatever seems fine right now will end up to be a bias in retrospect. Historically, the Earth was flat, and the universe revolved around it. Then, everything was supposed to fall on to earth. Newton must have had a hard time convincing people that the earth moved towards a falling apple as well. Then of course, mass could never be converted to energy. Even today, some people are pessimistic about the chances of poverty being erased from the face of the earth.

Whenever we do something, there are certain things that increase chances of success. Like studying more increases your chances of getting better grades, exercising more increases your chances of having better health and looks, and spending more time on the internet reduces your chances of spending time with family and friends.

But what if the people grading your tests focus more on originality than cramming, exercise leads to health issues like blood pressure or arthritis, and you are away from family and friends so you end up skyping them all the time?

It does not take long to realize that the tables have turned, and that there indeed is no universal rule. 

I once considered that I could eat as much as I liked, and not exercise at all, and I would be fine. Now that the hidden phenomenon called ageing has started to kick in, I realize that I was wrong. Now that I have written it here, I am realizing that I am a bit embarrassed. Partly because I am not old at all.

Have you ever realized something you considered as a given was not actually true?

Some time back, in another post, I wrote "attack is the best form of defense." Some time later, someone pointed out that this is not really the case. More importantly, they were able to convince me of their point. It is funny how it relates to almost everything in an almost universal manner :-)

Monday, October 6, 2014

Things Done Well

Sometimes we get insights from the most unexpected of places. I saw the movie Fight Club the other day.

I did not like it at all. Not at all. I just kept on waiting for something great or inspiring to happen, but it didn't. I had heard read a lot about the movie, about the character Tyler Durden, on reddit. What is surprising is that you will not find a single person who simply is neutral about it. People either love it or hate it.

What surprised me about Fight Club was how well it was made. The music, the characters, the narration and everything else that I am not mentioning here was superb. If you throw the personal liking part away, I think it is one of the best movies I have ever seen.

As far as I am concerned, the makers did all that they could. But still I did not like it. This does not make them any less deserving of credit for what they did. This was a big revelation for me: people's opinion of your work are mostly meaningless ramblings, seen through the lens of their own perceptions.

I need to learn more about appreciating the goodness in things I don't like.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Attack to defend

Just started playing table tennis. Of course, I am not good at it.

People just keep defeating me, which is all right. But when they smash, or drive the ball, it makes me crazy. The loss of a point, or a game for that matter, does not hurt that much.

So, what do I do? I smash before they can smash!

Needless to say, I can't smash. But I will end up losing a point anyway, so it is better to attack and lose than to defend and lose.

It is just like the saying: attack is the best form of defense. This applies to a lot of situations in life. When do you attack to defend?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Don't be good

My friend Kashish Bhatia is the culprit for this post. The title here is the summary of a two-hour rant we shared a few nights back. The man is a quiet person mostly, but was on fire that day. Try not to take it at face value :-)

We are all taught to be good from childhood. The problem is, in our homes, and in our communities, and in our education systems, we are taught only the things that are wrong or completely useless.

No one teaches us how to negotiate, or how to think in such and such situation, or how to do something constructive instead of wasting time on the internet. 

Additionally, our childhood experience revolved around making people happy. Parents, teachers, coaches, elders, the peer group, you name it. Apparently, even saying "Bye" to visitors is an important thing.

Somewhere along the line, we grow up. And we forget the difference between behaving well and doing things that we like. It is one thing to have a good relationship with your team lead, but it is another thing to miss family and work weekends just because you are an important resource for the team, in your TL's words.

What Kashish "ji" taught me that night is that it is really important to not give a fuck. While arguing with a client, it is worth not quoting down just to win a contract. Shitty work for a shitty price is worse than no work and some stress. Ditto for all professional and personal relationships. Our teachers, elders and seniors are right only as long as they are right. A moment of doubt is a moment of chasing our own intuition rather than what someone else, who most likely has never been in our situation tells us.

The best part about this advice is that it is just like capitalism. At least in theory. You do what you want. You get what you want. If not from your current situation, you do something to change the situation. An important inference is to make sure you don't get into All-Eggs-in-a-Single-Basket situations. I am almost in one right now. Not cool.

The ability to walk away from a situation, no matter how important for you, is the most important thing between your current position and success. And by success, I also mean happiness. If nothing else, it gives you a psychological advantage. I have worked at a place where they made you wear formal clothes. And I was stupid enough to want that job that much. It is atleast worth it to negotiate for better, which I did not do at that time.

This brings us to the next thing: red flags. No matter how tempting at the time, don't touch the following things even with a long stick: workplaces that offer you a fast paced environment, people intent on knowing your past romantic experiences, clients wanting you to offer a low price just this once, and of course, 2 pizzas at the price of 1. The last one is just unhealthy! Feel free to make up your own red flags.

What is more important is that with this way of thinking no one takes anyone else for granted. You don't get in the way of your parents'/children's hobbies, and they don't get in the way of yours. This does not mean you can't have any family time, of course.

As Kashish pointed out, it is important to draw a balance somewhere. It is worth missing football today because your grandmother is having a heart bypass, but not because you need to work for 16 hours. Or, 16 hours is fine if you have been able to negotiate a better situation: more money or compensatory leave later :-)

Here goes down the drain my attempt at keeping blog posts short. But who gives a fuck anymore?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Cultural Obsessions

I read somewhere on travel.stackexchange that one of the things to do to learn about someone's culture is asking them what their mom used to cook for breakfast. I can't find the link right now.

A much better thing to ask is to ask what a person's culture is obsessive about. For example,

  • Easter Islanders obsessed about building big stone bodies.
  • The Yapese obsessed about stone money.
  • The Indo-Aryans were obsessed about cows.
  • Central Asian tribes in the times of Changez Khan were obsessed with raiding India, China and Persia.
  • Present urban folk in any place are obsessed about vacations :-)

These are just examples. Presently, in the post-modern age of specialization, people are too varied to have cultural obsessions. But this is not entirely true. Abscence of evidence is not evidence of abscence.

That said, if you ever ask someone about any obsession of their culture, make sure you do that tactfully.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

You are a psychologist

Have you ever had to talk your parents into buying you something? Did you need to throw a tantrum? Did you negotiate, saying things like all my friends have [it], or no more [things] for me this year?

Who hasn't made an excuse for a leave at the workplace because their best friend from school was in town? Don't you always try to get off work early on the day of some great sports event? Haven't you seen people wait to drink in office parties, just to let someone else do it first?

Do you tell bad news straight away or wait for some time, or for the right moment? Or do you tell bad news straight away only when it suits the situation? Have you ever sat on good news, except to give someone a surprise?

If the answer to any of the above questions is Yes, then yes, you are a psychologist. You may not want to admit it, but you are one. It is kind of implied in the fact that we humans are social animals. Manipulation is like a knife. We can either use it to make great food, or to cut through a jungle, or, we can use it to kill others. We are all psychologists, but it is upto us how to use this 'gift' of ours.