Monday, 24 December 2012

The Key to Million Smiles - II

In the last post on touching lives, we explored how a slight shift in perspective could bring a huge difference to countless 'Ordinary Lives'. Now we shall analyze the necessity of another 'tweak' concerning 'Sharing Experiences' and its power in further broadening our horizon of impact. Here our theme will be 'the under-privileged', one of the reasons for our belief in 'Make a Difference'.

Among a staggering 7.1 billions of us on earth, have you ever wondered how many you know reasonably well i.e. having spoken to multiple times? My own guesstimate is around 2000 persons (max?). That includes extended family, friends and acquaintances, colleagues, college-mates and so on. Think for a few seconds to have your number before you proceed.

The Mirror
It was a drizzling July-weekend morning in Mumbai when I bumped into Thiru while heading out for a cup of tea. He was a colleague form Chennai on deputation for 3 months in MY city. Slowing down my drowsy steps further, I casually remarked about his morning adventure. “On a trek?”. "No, to the train station", he said. "Oh, on a city sight-seeing tour!," I declared confidently. "I am going to Central Mumbai for teaching computer to kids", and he went on to narrate his experience, upon my probe, with humility and a touch of contentment. He spoke about his association, a smart kid, their excitement and chocolates.

I was numbed. Here I was, staying in Mumbai for 5 years, thinking of making a difference but didn't know where to start from. With a sheepish smile, I also expressed my desire to do "something". Honestly, an attempt to shed my guilt - finding solace in mere expression. How easy and effortless!!

For next two months, we would work in same project, lunch together and board the same bus. But I just COULD NOT lead myself to accompany him. Didn't I want to make a difference? I truly wanted to BUT probably on my own terms. Without any discomfort, without losing my weekend and depriving myself of the blissful early-morning sleep! His SHARING of experience, however, did stir my world and later helped me step out of my 'comfort' zone.

Horizons of Impact
There is no dearth of people with such a gap between their desire and actions. When eventually we do make an effort, our actions unwittingly limit the very impact we set out to create. Based on how we operate, there could be different horizons or categories with the degree of impact and its sustenance varying dramatically across them. Higher the horizon, broader is the impact. All higher levels of course carry the characteristics of lower ones.

1. The 'Unawares'  They are oblivious, or even indifferent, of the need for them to get involved. However, I would presume their number to be a bit low. They are busy in their world grappling with their seemingly endless troubles. To them, it is a problem for the authorities to address. They may also have a feeling that nothing much can be improved anyway, a gross under-realization of their potential.

2. The 'Sympathizers'  If you often think of giving-back to the community but unable to then this is your group. Find peace in the fact that majority of us reside here. Despite their intentions, they don't take steps due to perceived scarcity of time, lack of guidance and easy-opportunities (don't know where/how to start), mistrust of NGOs/org and many other good reasons. In nutshell, they are the fence-sitters who need a nudge or two to get rolling. I was also part of this group until Thiru shared his experience.

This group is so large that it can tilt the whole scale if moved even a notch up. But who will prod them?

3. The 'Donors'  This probably is the second largest group. Donors act in an individual capacity and form the backbone of every social uplift effort. Though they help sustain a movement, their behavior constrains the very change they intend to usher. They DO NOT share their contribution openly. They either are overly humble or feel uncomfortable. Consequently, their efforts do not inspire others thus limiting its impact just to them and the needy.

This is what needs to change. Only if they can open up and start sharing, the whole game will change. Judge it for yourself if you are a donor. Did you ever share the experience beyond your family or group that accompanied you?

4. The 'Advocates'  An advocate is a donor who has stepped out of his comfort zone. They speak up for the cause with passion and proactively, encourage people and rally them. Realizing the constraints of otherwise individual-contribution, they spread awareness among ‘Unawares’ by sharing their experiences. They nudge the sympathizers into donors or even push them higher. Such a perspective is critical to broaden the support, sustain the efforts and bring a lasting change.

Unfortunately, few people operate at this level. The day Donors turn into Advocates, the world will transform into a more livable planet due to their enormous impact. Arun is one such advocate. If Thiru helped me become a donor, Arun pushed me even higher by highlighting the difference in extent of change created by a donor and an advocate.

5. The 'Anchors'  As the name suggests, they hold the fort. They create opportunities for others. Donors or advocates will be lost without them. They either manage events/org professionally or volunteer to manage from time to time. They also hook into wider events by organizing similar ones locally. They create the biggest impact - acting as a channel for all others and channeling the combined energy to the needy. They impact everyone!!

Interestingly, people don't move into this level owing to an internal conflict - a misconception about fall in effective individual contribution. This is removed when one looks at the overall objective e.g. in a tree plantation drive, do you wish to see 10 saplings planted by you or 500? At the end, does it matter who planted them?

Which level is the best to operate at?
Every level above 'Unawares' is important. They all make a difference though results vary. In fact, an individual rarely stays just at one level. He plays different roles on different occasions and that's the beauty of it.

Having said this, Advocates and Anchors are still critical. To realize their value, imagine the world if everyone were to be Sympathizers or Donors. There wouldn't have been a Gandhi, MLK or Mother Teresa.

Path to a Better World
So, how many in my circle are above the level of Sympathizers? Among the 2K, may be 50? But is that the real number? I don't believe so as I know there are many more who are just Donors. The day they start sharing, the count will rise and they will inspire many more like me to move up a level thus expanding the support for the objective we all care about though buried deep in our hearts-

To leave a world more beautiful than what we inherited!! 
Do not contribute in isolation. Share your experiences, exhort and inspire others. That is the only path to a promising future!!

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The Key to Million Smiles

Many a times all it takes is a slight shift in perspective to follow through with our intentions and fulfill desires. Otherwise the robotic everyday life and its whirlpool of regular chores never ceases to consume us every moment.

One intention we all harbor is 'Making a Difference or Touching Lives' but unable to act due to perceived lack of time. This planet, the world, poverty, the underprivileged, the elderly and the homeless cross our mind frequently. We do grab sporadic opportunities to contribute our bit but the results are a mere fraction of our true potential. Besides, it isn't sustainable unless we dive in leaving everything aside. 

So, how do we maximize and sustain the impact we so dearly intend? The answer again lies in our perspective. We must 'tweak' it to do two things:

(i) Dissociate 'Make a Difference or Touching Lives' from 'People-in-Distress'
(ii) Spread awareness and inspire others to help sustain the change. This topic is for next post.

i. Change the way we look at 'Make a Difference' 
If we analyze aforesaid thoughts crossing our mind, and many more like them, they have a pattern. They mostly relate to problems, unfortunate people, their misery and even helplessness. But is touching lives just about helping people-in-distress? We can and must do it in everyday life with ORDINARY people too - family, friends, relatives, colleagues and customers. It is with them we spend most of our life and hence can make the biggest difference. 

How we approach and engage ourselves in everything we do creates profound impact on the world around and in us. At the end, how well we have lived our lives will also be defined by this simple fact. Lack of time is not the constraint, lack of perspective and attitude is.

The short true story here is all about how 'Perspective and Attitude' help touch countless lives. Sometimes we won't even realize the extent of its impact. 

Tale of Young Ordinary Lives
In the monsoon of 1992, I, among a flock of over 300 youngsters, had landed on the outskirts of a small town in Southern India to earn our Engineering degrees!! Travelling 1000s of miles away from home, many of us had left the security of family for the first time in our lives.

In last two decades, whenever I have dusted that 4 year-window for a quick peek, a person has always smiled past it vividly reminding me of his impact in my life, and probably in lives of thousands others!! 

The Acknowledgement
It was my second week in college. Ragging had already crushed our excitement. With fear in the heart, weary eyes, disturbed mind and occasionally red cheeks, hell couldn't be worse than this, so I thought. One afternoon, as I was leaping up the curved stairway of our hostel floors, there he was, dressed in khaki uniform, descending one step at a time. Wearing plastic 'rain-shoes', black-framed (or brown?) glasses and no cap, he was in his 50s. Oozing incredible calmness, his wrinkled eyes and soft smile seemed to acknowledge the storm in my world. 

"Any letter for me, room 63?", I asked hesitantly. Pausing in his steps, he dug into a hand-held bundle and took a while before signalling with a polite shake of the head. "Can you check the bag?," I pointed to the one suspended around his shoulder. "No, it isn't there either", was the quick response before his voice was buried in the cacophony of others who, like me, had surrounded him by then. Until that moment, I had never realized the value of a postman. 

A Glimmer of Hope(s)
In the following years, the way he would interact and serve us, his customers, it seemed as if this was the only thing he ever wanted to do. He merrily walked the campus with our load and would often be stopped for inquiries about mail. I never saw him declining such ad-hoc requests. In those early 90s, when even land-lines, let alone mobiles, were true luxury in small towns, he was our hope. And he never let it dim by happily flipping the bundled-letters for us, even if we had received one the day before. 

Somewhere along our journey, we voluntarily started 'tipping' him upon receiving a check or money-order. If we collected it from post office after a missed delivery, we would leave the tip for him with his colleagues.

He seemed to understand and realize what we all longed for. It wasn't a piece of hand-written paper but a subtle assurance that, yes, it would arrive one day. And that he communicated splendidly without words - a smile followed by his polite shake of the head. Indeed a man of few words!! He was living up to his job - Deliver Letters - in a way that would make thousands like me cherish his memories for rest of their lives. 

The Last Day
The whole college knew about it. He arrived in same slow steady steps, smile and happiness of contentment. This time, however, we were shaking hands with him, for the the first and last time ever. There wasn't even a hint of today being his last day. Few good Samaritans ran collection-campaign, a gesture of our collective THANK YOU.

Another postman replaced him for remaining few months (or an year?). He too lived up to his job description - Deliver Letters. I have no memories of him. None whatsoever.

Knock at the Door
I had graduated now and was based in Mumbai with already an year into my job. Hopping through TV channels on a hot Saturday afternoon, the noise and my frustration was interrupted by shrillness of the bell. Dragging myself to the door, I opened it to receive someone whom I had never seen all year round. 

"I am your postman, Diwali Baksheesh please". 
Welcome to Mumbai, and this World!! This is how we live!!

Friday, 21 September 2012

Wholesome Living and Health

Three golden rules drive longevity and health of cars universally: (a) Regular Service (b) Drive at least once a week and (c) Good quality fuel. For our owned cars, we follow them almost 100%. For rented cars, however, we flout them 100% and don't care. The very same rules govern the longevity and physical health of humans too. How far do we go in following them for ourselves? Is our concern for our health a reflection of an owned or a rented car? 

Body - The Trigger for Change
Body is what we think of when the topic is health. Though it is the most common trigger for our lifestyle change, we give a damn to the golden rules. For years, we drive it from one parking place to another with least effort and discomfort, never really mindful of what we eat. Only when it breaks down or warns us (medical reports), we pause and contemplate some 'action'. And what do we do? We enroll in a gym, make advance payments (for commitment) and try altering our eating habits. Body, accustomed to luxurious living, is now dragged ruthlessly to gym and is deprived of its favourite delicacies. This 'punishment' style of ushering a change works by forcing it into submission. Does it last beyond a month or two? 

Sustaining the Change - Will Power or Love?
The problem is our approach and source of motivation (WHY). While our motivation/WHY is to fix reports fast, the approach is like one time project. Initiating lifestyle change is easy but sustaining it is a challenge. We rely on our will-power to keep going. It does propel us out of inertia but how long can it support something we don't love? Sound health is not a onetime task. Inactivity of a period can't be compensated by hyper-activity in another. 

For lasting change, we need to weave our plans around what we love to make it a routine than a strenuous effort. A good plan respects body, has variety and emphasizes on awareness/check-ups. It starts slow and builds on, eventually engaging for 20+ minutes at a stretch. Does it mean our short walk or taking stairs is a waste? No. Our 'WHY' is an active lifestyle. We don't turn into an active human being at the stroke of 'T' hrs every day. Such activities help internalize the change and develop a passion for good health. So go for them. Few other tips are:

1. Don't rely solely on gym. It is just one of the alternatives. 
2. Don't push yourself too hard. Skip a day or two if feel like. Don't feel guilty.
3. Adopt different forms of exercises - dance, climbing stairs, jogging, cycling, skipping, sports, playing with kids, brisk walk, swimming and many more. Learn a skill, if you don't know.
4. Choose an exercise partner. It will keep you going. I was inspired and encouraged by my college friend Rohan and I still follow his words more than a decade-and-half later.
5. A fixed exercise time is helpful but not critical. 

Welcome Healthy Food
Body is as healthy as the food it digests. An active lifestyle can't undo the harm of regular unhealthy food we indulge in at parties, office, malls or even home. Avoid the swing from addiction to complete abstinence as it also relies on will-power and won't last long. To develop healthy eating habit:

1. A mindful occasional indulgence is OK. Complete abstinence is cruelty to taste buds. 
2. Become aware of the quality of your eatables, what is and is not healthy.
3. Observe your eating patterns and their occasions/context. 
4. Pre-empt your indulgence or its impact by eating healthy snack before such occasions. You won't eat something, however delicious, when you are not hungry.
5. Consciously adopt regular light meals/snacks to minimize the opportunities to slip.

Regular exercise and healthy diet keeps our body fit. But is that enough?

Mind and Heart
Mind and heart are the other two aspects to wholesome living. Mind controls our thoughts which impact how we feel. By clinging to experiences, it creates illusion of busyness, lack of time, conflict in priorities and feelings of stress. Exercise is a stress buster and cleanses the mind. Ability to 'Let Go' opens it up to new perspectives and unlocks time. Learning new skills, self-belief and being creative even in mundane tasks keeps it abuzz with healthy thoughts. 

Heart refers to the relationship we share with loved ones and others around us. Our loved ones are our support and wish two things from us - TIME and ATTENTION. So, organize your exercise schedule involving them. Express gratitude regularly for their love and concern. Think beyond self and adopt conscious kindness. Indulge in good causes and make a difference to your world. Such practices keep the heart brimming with fulfillment.

Colors on a canvas matter more than its size.
The Beautiful SELF
Wholesome living and being healthy is not just about our body. It is about the delicate balance among body, mind and heart. Your SELF, and even others around you, are chirpy and healthy when these three are in balance. It is about  indulgence in everything in moderation, not abstinence

To live forever is another fantasy but living more each day can be a reality. In a long journey, a healthy car does matter. But who sits next to you, how thrilled you are in each other's company and where all you go matters even more!!

Is it possible to pursue happiness if the pursuit itself does not make you happy? - Deepak Malhotra

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Appreciation and Gratitude

Your smile touched ears, body developed goose bumps, heart paused to savour the moments and mind didn't care interpreting the true words. Or you were left somewhat embarrassed too. Every word was about you – just about you – soaking your being and energizing the soul.

Showers of genuine appreciation and gratitude! When did you last experience them?

When The Stream Dries Up
As we go about our day, our actions and behaviour impact the world around us. When the impact is not to the liking of others, it is always noticed. This is due to our strong affinity for dislikes. They spring to life instinctively at the slightest sign of uneasiness, inconvenience or unpleasant experiences and are often shown too. We don't get used to them. Remember how we are unable to get away with our mistakes, flaws or irritating-yet-harmless actions, be it at home or outside? When repeated, people quickly run out of patience and don't hesitate to give us a piece of their mind.

Now, on occasions when we do manage to showcase something good, stream of their words dries up. It produces a mere trickle - "Thank You". They quickly get used to it, start taking for granted and its recurring display generates no emotions.

The Occasional Speakers
Things are not that bad either. Others do indulge in wishing, congratulating and showering us with occasional droplets. On a personal level, we are 'entitled' to couple of special days in an year when we are pampered and made to feel special. These are our anniversaries - weddings or birthdays. In office, when we switch projects/jobs, 'farewell-speakers' grab that opportunity to explain how extra-ordinary we were, list our 'supermanic' abilities and how much we would be missed. Annual appraisal is another ritual.

Is that all? Think about it. Are we really NOT doing anything worthwhile throughout the year for persons around us?

Flipping the Coin
Flip the coin now. How about this-

When was the last time we showered someone with genuine appreciation or gratitude? Try recalling. Spend a moment about persons in our lives and what they mean to us. Think about their favours, gestures, executing daily chores for us and living up to our expectations. Or helping us in pursuit of our dreams, shouldering our load. Or inspiring and changing our lives. Or giving us memories we cherish even today. Or standing up for us in our absence. Or smiles, lighting up our mood, wink of eyes. Or giving us company and listening to our ramblings. Or simply being there. And many more.

Why do WE forget them? Why do WE wait for special days or even for them to leave us before we realize their worth?

Even our own indulgence in appreciation remains occasional. Our unawareness - "It never occurred to me" - is a big reason as we too take others for granted. Some of us actually feel embarrassed expressing gratitude (too formal) while others have "They know it" attitude. Sometimes, we may lack the courage as it would require acknowledging our own shortcomings. Worse is the case when we look for "What is in it for me?" and nourish "Mentality of Scarcity".

The Walk Beyond Regret
In many simple every day scenarios, we actually get to choose between an expression of regret-and-gratitude or just regret. Sadly, all of us choose to express mere regret and then stop just there. One such recurring scenario is-

What do we say on being late for an appointment? A "Sorry" or "I'm sorry for being late" or its numerous variants? They all express just our regret and miss something very basic. They do not appreciate the generosity of the person who waited for us. We never go on to add, "...and THANK YOU for waiting for me". How unfortunate that we feel lighter just by shedding our regret and fail to appreciate others' generosity.

Color the Lives
People rightly believe that their presence and actions make difference to our lives. When we express gratitude, it validates and reinforces that belief. It strengthens our bond, brings a sense of fulfillment, joy and freedom. By taking others for granted, we are being insensitive and unkind to them. The least we can do is express gratitude.

Let us not wait for an occasion to celebrate their presence. Rather create one to surprise them, embarrass them, overwhelm them and share their goodness stories with others. Color their lives. Make them feel special. Make them glow. Don’t just be farewell speakers.

People don't remember what you said. However, they do remember how you made them feel. Maya Angelou  

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Ability to 'Let Go'

Long ago, a mighty capable lion ruled a forest. He would leap hard, chase down animals and relish fresh kill. One day he fell into a trap and was bundled away. Tied to a post in zoo, he would still leap hard but couldn't move beyond tether end. It had curbed his free movement, restricted fresh kill and crushed the spirits. His unawareness of the tether and inability to cut it weakened him mentally and physically leading to his eventual decline. 

For us humans, the tether is our frequent indulgence in stressful thoughts relating to everyday experiences that sap our energy, time and peace. If we don't let them go, this recurring chatter creates a false sense of busyness, stagnation and stress. Stagnant thoughts turn us into an irritating giant suffocating us and others around.

Dawn to Dusk - The Flood
Flashing with incredible randomness and speed, flood of thoughts never abates.

Reality strikes with the sound of morning alarm. As we rub sleep out of eyes, mind starts scurrying through our universe leaving behind a slush of anticipation, reluctance, joy, anxiety or similar thoughts. Before we even kiss the warmth of our morning tea, storm has already started brewing in our cup. 

Day arrives and we again hop-on its roller coaster to ride through the same park, experiences and people creating even more thoughts. At dusk, consumed by resultant feelings, grudges, fears or worries that hold no value in the long run, we finally hop-off to sleep in the stillness of night. 

The Drought 
Like breathing, thoughts are natural too. The problem, however, is not their consistency but dearth of new ones. Most of them are stale yet continue to reappear. Unfortunately, positive thoughts don't follow this pattern. They honor our space and melt away fast. We don't replay them continuously as it needs a new listener every time. 

Stressful thoughts, however, have high repeat-value. They are the ones keeping us engaged most of the time. When left unchecked (often), mind rapidly amplifies them, dramatizes the context and delivers high-octane stressful performance. The listener? We rarely look out. Instead we unwittingly slip, get sucked and start identifying with their stories of victimization, worry or helplessness. Repeatedly!!

Falling into The Trap
Thoughts like "what if"(future), "should"(present) or "should have"(past), when overdone, consistently produce the result we already arrived at. 

We have expectations from everything - animate-inanimate, known-unknown, far-near, even from a newborn baby. When they don't live up to it, we can't accept it. First we build expectations by weaving future threads in present. And when future fades into past, we replay it, again in the present, as if it would produce a result to our liking. The irony here is our constant absence from the present. 

Unawareness of our impatience, fear, intolerance, excessive need to win, mistrust of others, jealousy, micro management, control and perfectionist attitude also fans thoughts that not only bog us down and create stress but also eat up our timeNo wonder then we don't seem to have any time for our passions or even to discover them. 

Wriggling Out
Our recurring slip is so subtle that we can't always avoid it. Instead, how quickly we become aware of it, let go and wriggle out is what matters. Steps to help in recovery or even prevent the slip may include:

1. Take a leap into the future. Will it matter in a month/year from now? If no then what is the fuss all about. 
2. Stop blaming others always. All of us are not born only to cause you trouble. Honestly scrutinize your role. 
3. Be mindful of your indulgence in 'victimization' or 'helplessness' stories with fellow 'victims'.
4. Avoid generalizing - "I or he ALWAYS behaves like that". That's rarely true.
5. Confront the situation if possible. It is a better option than being hammered by 'helplessness thoughts' later.
6. Choose your actions. "I choose to surf net than work on my task" is different from "I should be working on my task" (while still continuing to surf).
7. Fear of forgetting tasks/points causes periodic bouts of anxiety. Unload them from mind to your smart device. 
8. When in dilemma between personal or professional friendship, stick to one else you risk losing both.
9. Practice conscious kindness. It will provide you with more reasons to be happy with yourself.

We can build this awareness with practice, identifying our triggers and looking out for them. Watch and learn from others. In college, I was fortunate to meet and learn 'let go' from Sandeep, now my close friend. Another way is to 'designate' objects - like a ring, bangle or watch etc - that may remind us of our current thoughts. 

Expectations are good until they turn into baggage. Planning is good too, not over/under-planning. We must strike a balance and, on times, even not let go e.g. when our rights or principles are at stake. 

Before the Stillness Reigns
We are fortunate to be free. Our thoughts, however, tether us to our everyday experiences - the side posts on our journey. If we don't cut it in time, we can't progress despite our hard leaps. Our awareness and ability to 'Let Go' enables us keep moving. So, serve something new and good to your mind to chew on. 

Life, or whatever is left of it, is for us to choose. 'Letting go' simply creates that space and, more importantly, the time to indulge in it. Choose, before the lights dim. And stillness reigns, FOREVER!!

Life is the sum of all your choices. - Albert Camus

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Welcome greatness, it lives all around you!!

How many times in our lives shall we get to save someone's life or help a challenged person or even offer our seat to a deserving person?

The Gulf
B'day return gift, a flower pot, from one of our small friendsWalking across the road, I noticed an appraoching car and hastened to cross. Soon finding myself alone on the median, I turned around. My acquaintance, who owned multiple vehicles, was still walking at a leisurely pace. Later he grinned while showering this advice with a sense of pride, "Sir, you don't have to run. The driver will slow down". I asked in return,"How do you feel if someone slows you down like this?".

The gulf between our actions and expectations could not have been more palpable.

Dredging up the Ocean
Sometimes a simple ordinary question flummoxes us. Our mind unlocks years of experiences striving to dredge up at least some semblance of an answer from its ocean of memories. Faced with the prospect of responding without conviction, we tend to resort to clarifications or definitions.

"When and what was your last selfless act of kindness?". The question drew a smile and raised eyebrows at first but left me wondering eventually. Your last selfless act of kindness! Think about it before proceeding.

"Easy enough", mind whispered before plunging into its ocean. As it waded back and forth across time, seconds were slipping into minutes with no glimpse of a 'kind' experience. Memory bubbles were bursting everywhere. The few glittering 'kind ones' that I could cling to were pricked by 'selfless' test. It was not an easy question. Though I managed to dredge up something but the intense consuming quest left a tinge of disappointment with the self.

"How about others?", I wondered, as if it would make a difference (or soothe my ego). Over the next few days, I had many of my friends embark upon their individual 'treasure' hunt. Navigating back in their oceans, they reported experiences dating back to months or even years. Some of them were interesting while others brought new perspectives. Few among us had the courage to admit bursting all. There was only one response narrating an act from previous day!! Just one!!

This, however, doesn't imply we aren't kind. We believe ourselves to be one. But then where are our bubbles?

A Case of 'Selective' Kindness
We relish being recipients of kindness or even expect it from others. Look at few of these everyday situations and our wish from a stranger:

1. In a supermarket the person ahead of you, with overflowing trolley, starts paying. You, with few items, wish he had offered you to go ahead first.
2. You are on the slip/side road waiting to enter main traffic. You wish incoming driver slows down slightly allowing you to merge in.
3. In a common area like canteen while you are waiting for an empty table, people, having finished their lunch, are chatting literally ignoring your presence. You wish they had vacated tables without your request.
4. You are in lobby when a person enters and starts the elevator. You wish he had waited for you.

5. It is raining. Everyone has umbrella but you. You wish someone offers to drop you to your car.
6. You are at the door when a person, who just crossed, releases it without looking back. You wish she/he had held it for couple of moments more.

Now how ironic it is that our own circle of kindness normally excludes strangers. In fact, sometimes we act in a way diametrically opposite to how we 'wish' others should have acted in a situation. We shall rarely act like 'that' if the other person were to be our acquaintance.

Another 'natural' filter is our perspective - relating to kindness as an act for the one really in need of help. While 'real/big' opportunities are rare, 'small' ones are all around us but go unnoticed on most occasions.

Situational vs Conscious Kindness
Though kind at heart, our kindness, however, lives in a 'dormant' state. It needs an external trigger - an event or situation - for activation. While most triggers never reach our ocean, few do manage to create ripples of thoughts. The act, however, still remains a rarity. Some of the situations might have inconvenienced or even annoyed us, and would challenge others too, but our action is mere expression of frustration. We don't feel it beyond ourselves or even hope that 'someone' will address it anyway, a case of "Diffusion of Responsibility".

Conscious kindness, on the other hand, is an already active state, self-activated. It is a way of life and works inside-out. It is an awareness of feelings, needs and emotions of living beings. And that includes self too. It helps register even the faintest of triggers but doesn't solely rely on them. How does one self-activate it?

Just let yourself slip into other person's shoes. Empathize for them and opportunities will unveil themselves. Act and then watch how bubbles form in your ocean. It is that simple. Our 'selective' and 'situational' kindness is rarely intentional or selfish. Rather it stems from our lack of active empathy - unable to promptly slip into others' shoes - and that builds unawareness.

The Beautiful Strangers
What does overwhelm you more - a kind gesture from a known person OR a stranger? Here are some of the unique situations and acts of kindness that were shared with me. You may want to think about your response in each situation before reading the act too:

1. In sweltering 40+C summer, you slow down and stop your AC car near a traffic signal. All sorts of unruly motorists and pedestrians are being frenetically directed by traffic cops. Worse, drivers in the perpendicular lane have blocked half your lane. What goes in your mind?
-The person crosses the signal, parks the car and returns with two chilled water bottles for the cops leaving them amazed with smiles.
2. We have encroached on their natural habitat. Twig and feather homes on trees are now concrete glass boxes on RCC columns. Little 'natives' do visit us once in a while. What do they want on a hot summer day?
-Check this "video clip" from the person
3. Last few weeks have been taxing you/team hard leaving everyone stressed. You feel like taking a small break. What do you do next?
-The person takes a break and gets water/coffee for the whole team.
4. A street lamppost fence is broken with a part protruding from its edge. You must maneuver your car to avoid damage. What do you do?
-The person steps out of the car, pushes the fence back inside and then moves on.
5. You spot a visually challenged man attempting to cross the road. What do you do next?
-The person doesn't just help him cross but walks him to his destination 20 minutes away.
6. You are in a mall and have shopped extensivley in a store that also provides courtesy parking coupons. What do you do?
-The person requests two coupons and uses the second one to pay for the car behind.
7. You graduated from the university and have books not commonly available.
-The person donates them to library than keeping with self or selling or giving to friends.
8. On your way to building's parking lot, you find people relaxing post dinner in the late evening breeze and chatting animatedly.
-The person dims car headlights to avoid them the glare.

Do you still think there are not enough opportunities?
Welcome greatness, it lives all around you. - Jim Rohn

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Have you felled any tree?

When we cut trees, soil becomes loose, temperature rises and Earth cries!!
                                                                           -as taught to my 5 Yr old in Sr KG

It was a sunny morning in Bishnoi village on the outskirts of Jodhpur, about 22 KM from the blue city. We had just plopped on the bed in our hut after a 14 hr long journey. Little did I know then that we were in the midst of a place and community that had such monumental historic significance - first Chipko Movement. Later that evening, a casual, and rather quick, narrative of Khejarli village from the camp owner flashed fleeting memories of my high school history lessons. But the reference, and its acceptance, was too matter-of-factly to generate any real curiosity.

Khejarli village witnessed first Chipko Movement when 363 persons, led by Amrita Devi, sacrificed their lives to save sacred Khejri trees.

Golden Days
Until last year, my most 'recent' memories of tree plantation dated back to carefree childhood days (aaah.. a quarter century ago). Village panchayat had initiated the drive to plant 100s of young trees along the main pucca road that run through our village. It was a noble act with eventual success rate in 20s/30s. 

Trees were also fenced to prevent passing cattle feasting on them. We would count trees on that road while 'driving' our local BMW - a worn out tyre - with a stick. In hindsight, I recollect 'young green trees' decorating the road while most old trees often dwarfing the nearby houses. Later, the count was focused on 'young survivors'.

My 'False' Belief
In my early years, I believed that I had never felled a tree. After all, 'Nature care' had always been my noble thought.... mere Thought!! Planting a tree never crossed the mind. Though the 'belief' was shattered long ago but the thought never 'empowered' my hands enough. 

Things changed only last year when I participated in my first tree plantation drive and I realized how fulfilling an experience it was.

We consume and use 10s of products daily without sparing a thought about replenishing its source. 'Replenish' never appears as one of the key 'R's among Reduce-Reuse-Recycle hierarchy. 

A study, based on NASA data, says that there are 61 trees per person in this world as of 2008. It is then fair, albeit on a lighter note, to ask whether I have already consumed my allocation. Or even lighter, whether I am felling your trees.

Seed Collection Drive
Last Saturday, 28th April, I participated in Hariyali Seed Collection drive (thanks to MS association) in Maharashtra Nature Park, Mahim. 

It was a 4 hour event starting at 8 AM and we spent good 2+ hrs in collecting seeds of various species of trees. 

We were a group of about 45 persons and formed 2 teams marching in opposite directions. At the end, total collection amounted to an impressive 4.5 kgs of seeds (approx). What next?

These seeds will be distributed across nurseries to be grown into saplings. Come Monsoon and saplings will be ready to venture into this world and grow into young tender trees.

My Goal
My Goal is to plant at least 100 trees. Current count stands at just 7. I will push it into tens in coming July when I participate in my second green drive.

What is your goal? Are you self-sufficient or felling others' trees? 

July is the month when we, together, can plant few (more), convert that 'noble thought' into young trees and paint The Earth 'Green'!!

"The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now".-Chinese proverb

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