Monday, October 2, 2023

Knowing limits

The moment you talk about limits, you are necessarily seen as an old fogy. I mean, it is generally the aged who start feeling limited in what they can do. The young generally feel that there is no limit to what they can do. Which, by the way, is not untrue of me, after all. I am no spring chicken, no matter what they say about 'Sixty being the new twenty' or whatever is the catchphrase these days. But, whatever the young may feel, limits exist for everyone.

Tiru, another old fogy, has this to say:

Nunikkombu erinaar aqdiran thookkin uyirkkirudhi aagi vidum - Tirukkural

If the man who has climbed to the tip of a branch attempts to climb further, it will spell the end of his life - Loose Translation

For once, Tiru just states the metaphor trusting his readers' intelligence to understand the lesson that needs to be derived from it. That, if you have the reached the limit of possible progress, to attempt more is certain suicide.

And at once there is a clamor. That this is conservative, this is how all progress is stymied, yada yada. Not really true. I mean, like, if there is a cargo boat and you have loaded it to the limit, of course you'll be told that you ought not to load any more lest the boat sink. Which IS legitimate advice that HAS to be heeded. Now, does it limit the amount of cargo you can ship? Not at all, not if you can find more boats. Does it mean that there is a permanent limit on how much cargo can be shipped per boat? Not if you can design a bigger or better boat.

In other words, the fact that a known solution poses a limit to what you can do does not mean that you cannot find a solution that allows you to do more. The point, however, is that you have to acknowledge the limit posed by the current solution and not blindly insist on loading the existing boat with more cargo. OR, as in Tiru's metaphor, attempt to climb further after reaching the tip of the branch that you are climbing.

To acknowledge limits is not to cease to persist in solving your problem. It is only a caution to avoid butting your head persistently in a dead end!

Monday, September 25, 2023

Dangerous rage

The problem with anger is that everyone seems to be down on it. I mean, have you ever heard ANY advice in support of anger? Ever? And yet it is a very common emotion. There is hardly anyone who has not felt it. And, yet, there is nobody who really supports the idea of feeling anger no matter how justified it is.

Given that, it is not surprising that Tiru, too, joins the bandwagon of people who oppose the idea of being angry. Or, more to the point, against the idea of expressing anger.

Sellaa idatthu sinam theedhu sellidatthinum il adhanin theeya pira - Tirukkural

Anger is bad even when directed at those it cannot injure; where it can injure nothing is more evil than that - Loose Translation

Of course, expressing anger to those who you are powerless to injure is bad. I mean, come on, do you really think that yelling at your boss is going to have good consequences? OR screaming at the traffic cop who's pulled you up for speeding when you cannot call on anyone more powerful than him in the time-honored 'Jaantaa nahin main koun hoon'? OR at the professor who is guiding you on your research? I mean, really, does it need a Tiru to tell you that expressing anger in such circumstances is a form of suicide that needs an IQ in the single digits to commit?

But what's the big deal about expressing anger where you have the power to injure? Was Tiru worried about your subordinate taking you to HR for screaming at him? OR you suing the traffic cop for racial discrimination or the Prof for harassment? I daresay not. Not only did Tiru live in simpler times when Authority was always one way and clearly defined but also that, if he had conceived of these things, he would have categorized these relationships also as 'Sellaa idam' meaning places where you are powerless.

So, then, what exactly is the evil he warns you of when you are expressing anger at those who are in your power? THAT, precisely, IS the problem. That expressing anger at them could soon turn into bullying. That you would become the sort of person who misuses his power, who ceases to care for their feelings and use them as whipping boys.

The evil that Tiru warns of is the way that expressing anger like that can warp your character. A far worse evil, in his view, than facing the consequences of showing anger to the more powerful. After all, in the latter case, you'll be taught the lesson that it is a mistake by the immediate consequences!

Sunday, September 17, 2023

No desire for success?

To not desire success is not merely rare, it is close to impossible. More often than not, when you see someone who seems immune to the lure of success, what you see is only someone whose idea of success is different from the conventional idea of success (Like, you know, teaching the slum children in his area rather than setting up a Byjus; like climbing mountains instead of a corporate ladder). To have NO idea of what constitutes success for you in the future AND, thus, to not chase anything in life is given only to the self-realized Saint (who has ALREADY succeeded in getting where he wanted to get) OR those who think no more of life than to eat and sleep it away. (AND even THEY will have an idea of success IF they had to strive to get enough to eat!)

Yet, Tiru defines some people as not desiring success who fall into neither of these categories.

Aranaakkam vendaadhaan enbaan piranaakkam penaadhu azhukkaruppaan - Tirukkural

He who envies rather than rejoicing in others' success is to be seen as someone who neither desires virtue nor success - Loose translation.

Tiru, therefore, says that anyone who truly desires success in any field will be rejoicing in the success of others in his field and not envying them.

I think you need to really understand what Tiru thinks is 'desire' before you can understand what he is saying here. Like, yeah, I mean you'd like to be the next Shahrukh Khan and the only thing that is stopping you from becoming one is the fact that nobody has, as yet, come to your doorstep with superstardom on a platter. Desire of THAT sort everyone has. I mean, even Mungerilal had his haseen sapne where he dreamt of becoming the next Adani.

But Tiru is a very finicky guy. When he calls something 'desire for success', it is not merely this fleeting fancy for all the good things - wealth, fame, whatever - that will come out of achieving success; It is a desire to BECOME the sort of person who will say and do the things that are needed for that success to come your way. In other words, he calls it desire for success ONLY if you are willing to put in the hard yards in order to pursue success AND not merely drool about the pleasurable life AFTER you achieve that success.

In that context, it makes sense that if you keep looking at others' success with envy, you're unlikely to be actually putting in the effort in honing your own ability and skills to achieve success. To the man who is actually working to succeed, other people's success is an inspiration as well as a lesson in how to succeed. To the man who merely toys with the idea of success, anyone else who has succeeded is an obstacle to his own success. I mean, if you feel that YOU control the metrics of your success by how you act, you learn from others; if you think success is handed over in a sort of lottery, THEN someone else getting it seems like your being deprived of it by them. THEN all you feel is only envy.

If you have ever heard words of envy, you'll always hear the seeds of failure in them. "Of course, he will succeed! He is the MD's relative after all." There! You have already decided that since you are not related to anyone important, you are never going to succeed. OR "People like him find a way to suck up to the bosses and climb the ladder. Us straightforward people..." You as good as say that you will NEVER succeed. If you decide that you can never become the sort of person who succeeds, then can you really claim to desire success? You are unlikely to even try to do what is in your control.

It is not that the world is fair; that none of that nepotism OR flattery works. Of course, they do. But if you truly desire success, you'll not waste time in envy. You'll seek to see whether what you CAN do will also get you success. OR change your place of work to where you can still pursue success.

OR, perhaps, you can reset your idea of success to achieve excellence in the number of people you can actively envy!

Monday, September 11, 2023

Action and words

I was traveling by a SETC bus in Tamil Nadu and the bus passed by a political meeting where the speaker was promising Heaven on Earth once he came to power. Which was an ironical time for my eyes to land on this Thirukkural written in the bus. (Those who know Tamil Nadu will know that all government buses have one or two Thirukkurals written in them).

Solludhal yaarkkum eliya ariyavaam solliya vannam seyal - Tirukkural

Speech is easy for anyone; what's rare is to do as you say - Loose Translation.

THAT in the context of a political speech was very funny indeed. I mean, it essentially says, "Making promises is easy; delivering is difficult" and, in the backdrop, a politician was making promises!

But THAT's not all that it was saying really. I mean, you could interpret it as, "Giving instructions is easy. Carrying them out is rare." Now THAT strikes close to home. I mean, like, "I want this done and I want this done yesterday" is sort of easy to say. But tough to do unless you know time travel. (I know, I know, it is metaphorical but, come on, how often have deadlines been realistic?) It is a fact that a lot of times, the so-called instructions are only a wish-list and no real help for anyone who actually has to do the job. Like, "This should be zero defect, scalable, yada yada" Easy to say; tough to do.

Worse still are the things that we say related to character. Working without regard to outcomes, not being judgmental about people, hating the sin and not the sinner and so on. I mean, easy to say, easier by far to share memes but to live up to that? Absolutely impossible to actually do for most people.

Which is why some things keep going round and round forever as memes. EVERYONE agrees with the words, nobody is able to translate it to action!