Monday, August 27, 2018

Old Fables New Morals - The wind and the sun

This comparison thing that I was talking of some time back seems to have infected everything. Like, there is this fable by a laddie called Aesop (who seemed to believe that no child should ever listen to a story without being burdened by a moral at the end). And, you know what, even the wind and the sun apparently indulged in this comparison game.

So, apparently the wind and the sun were arguing about which of them was the strongest. Like all big-shots, they did not want to fight each other and risk being injured themselves. So they decided to try their strength on a poor traveler who was wearing a cloak. The deal was that whichever of them made the traveler take off the cloak was to be considered the mightier entity.

The wind had the first shot at it, with the sun retreating behind a cloud and allowing a free hand. The wind huffed and puffed, blew and gusted, buffeted and pummeled the poor chap, causing him to hold on to his cloak all the tighter. At last, the wind retreated in defeat.

Now the sun came out and shone on the traveler. He started getting hot under the collar...err...cloak, and removed it.

AND Aesop wants you to learn that gentleness serves you better than force. But, then, we can forgive the poor chap because, in his time, performance appraisal was not invented yet. As you know, this decision of who was the more useful, mighty, whatever of the two can hardly be left to them to decide. It has to be decided by HR professionals after a due process of appraising the performance.

So, the wind goes in first for this performance appraisal interview.

"What do you think of your performance?"

A shamefaced wind says, "I tried my best with all my strength. Despite my best efforts, I could not make the man remove his cloak."

"Yes, we know! We saw how much effort and dedication you brought to the task. You are a good team-player."

And then comes the Sun, confident that this time he would get a great rating.

"So what do you have to say for yourself?"

Nonplussed by a certain coldness in the query (That passive-aggressive thingy people talk about? Who do you think are the best experts at that?), the Sun said, "I successfully accomplished the mission."

"Nonsense! You were just hanging around, grinning all over your face, doing nothing. Just because the traveler chose to take off his cloak then, you claim you made him do it?"

That, dear friends, is the real moral of the story. "It is better to make visible efforts, even without results, than to get results without making your efforts visible."

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Comparison game

Like all of us, my first introduction to this comparison game was as a child. Of course, I had no idea that this is the game I was expected to play, and excel in, all my life. In fact, this was what most people called life.

There I went, grinning from ear to ear and practically dancing all the way home. A most unnatural happening for me, let me tell you, especially when I was carrying home test results. The norm, under such circumstances, was to drag my feet as though I was struggling forward against the giant pull of Jupiter.

The reason why dancing featured on the agenda on that day? In a moment of aberration, my physics teacher had given me 89% in that test. So, I proudly present it to my dad and...

"What did Kumar get?"

Nothing pricks the balloon of your happiness faster than a question like that, I am sure you will agree.

"95", I said in a small voice, as though lowering the voice would make 95 less than 89.

Well, it did not.

You know, there are these people who go 'Awww' when someone puts up a meme saying "I cried because I had no shoes till I saw a man who had no feet". My dad, unfortunately, was not one of them. I mean, yeah, I did sort of hint that there were these guys who had not even passed the test, a lot who had scored less than me and that 89 really was not all that bad especially considering what I usually got and all that eloquence dashed in vain against the rock of the fact that Kumar scored more than me.

You know, I had always envied the guys who could celebrate the fact that they passed their test, every now and then, just to vary the monotony and claimed that their parents celebrated the fact. I passed every time (barely, perhaps, but still...) and there were no signs of celebration at my home, ever.

That is the strange thing about comparisons. If you dither around wondering if you will pass or fail, a pass is an achievement. If you are habitually in the 50s, a 60+ is ecstasy, but just passing is agony. And so on till you go and dash against someone like Kumar, who always out-scores you. And HE, I am sure, was always on tenterhooks lest someone pushed him to second place and HIS father got on his case.

This comparison game is a mug's game, let me tell you. I mean, yeah, it sounds rather high-brow to talk of shoes and feet and all but it is a teeny bit ugly to feel happy because someone is more unfortunate than you. (Yeah, I know, it was meant to shut up that 'self-pitying whine app' in people but it seldom works that way. It is mostly used by people who have a tendency to gloat). And the problem is that you are still playing the comparison game when you do that. By the nature of the game, you spend a couple of nano-seconds on looking at people worse of than you and then start thinking, "That's all very well but look at all those guys up there" and back you go to feeling unhappy.

And then there are those who say 'Compare not with others but with yourself'. That's rather pithy and nice but the problem is that THAT will make you happy only when you are better off today than yesterday. What if you are not? What exactly do you think makes a retired person morose if not because of comparing his yesterdays with his today?

So, you end up with the guys who say, "Compare yourself today with what you were yesterday, not on the basis of what you had, what society thought of you or any such external things. Compare yourself on how you have grown as a person, in wisdom and realization." Nice...but, you know what, one has to be a Saint for that to work. Else, you look to others to see if they think you are wiser now than you were...and find that they are trying to impress YOU with THEIR wisdom. AND, hey, there you go, comparing "Am I wiser than that guy?"

It is a mug's game, like I said before. Play it only when you are sure that you love being unhappy.

OR if you, like me, want to compare yourself on how lazy you can be. THEN you would find that you CAN get too lazy to bother to compare!

Monday, August 13, 2018

Moral of the story

As a kid, the words I used to dread were, 'So, tell me, what is the moral of the story?' Invariably, whatever I understood from the story turned out to be absolutely wrong and would end up with a long dreary lecture...when the adult telling the story is in a good mood, that is. When in a bad mood...well those were the 'Spare the rod and spoil the child' days, so I guess I do not need to say more.

So, yes, I did like to listen to stories but the thought of that question lurking around quite spoiled the joy, let me tell you. I mean it is all nice hearing about animals talking and all but, when all you were intending is to get entertained, it is really irritating to be expected to have learnt something from the doings of ants and parrots and lice and bedbugs. Quite makes you yearn for the physics lessons where, at least, it was clear whether you knew the answer or not (You know, like 'What is Boyle's law?' and you are sure that you cannot recognize it if it was served to you on a platter). I have a sneaking suspicion that most kids get driven away from reading fiction because they have not been able to get over the trauma of being asked for the moral of the story.

Like that tale about the ant and the grasshopper. Where the poor grasshopper comes starving in winter to the ant asking for some food and the ant asks it why it did not store food in summer. The grasshopper, being musically inclined, was so lost in singing that it had not found time for storing food. So the ant says, 'Now go and dance then'.

And up pops that damn question. My first try was 'Ants are cruel. I should stamp them when I see them'. Nope, that did not cut the mustard. My next attempt was 'Ants do not like singing. They prefer dancing.' That look on my dad's face, it somehow did not seem like appreciation, more like an interest in playing the drums on me. By now, thoroughly vexed and wondering why I ever was interested in listening to stories, I tried, "Singing is bad." And then the drums really started. So, that the moral of THIS story was 'There is a time for work and a time for play' was, shall we say, drummed into me.

So, yes, the net result was I developed a serious antipathy to ants. And grasshoppers too for if only the dratted things had stored food, there would never have been that story and I would have not known how the drum felt when it was used in a performance.

Came adulthood and I thought adults would always know the right morals of the stories. Surprise! Surprise! The only difference was that they did not run the risk of physical punishment that I ran. Otherwise...

Like, there was this tale from the Puranas about Tulsi. Her husband is a demon who is the scourge of the gods but cannot be killed as long as Tulsi is chaste. So, while he is at war with Shiva, with Shiva's trident attacking him in vain, Vishnu takes his form and seduces Tulsi. Thereupon Shiva kills the demon - Shankachud. Coming to know of the deceit practiced on her, Tulsi curses Vishnu to turn to stone. He takes the curse on himself and THAT is why the Shaligram stones are considered Vishnu.

Now, apparently, the Purana expected people to understand that to thus breach the chastity of a woman, for whatever reason, had to be punished even if it were done by Vishnu. (AND if that is the intent, I'd give the Nobel in literature to someone who can manage a story which communicates that 'moral' WITHOUT Vishnu seducing a woman in such a manner). That, though, is not how it works. A lady came around screaming that Hindu gods were always anti-woman. And, I am sure, there would be men claiming, "Why are you blaming me? Even Vishnu did it." as though it was meant as a precedent. (Strangely, though, they never get told the second half '...and was punished, and so will you be')

Essentially, if asked the moral of ANY story, almost invariably people get it wrong. Just like kids. People will understand only what they want to understand. They call it 'confirmation bias' or some such learned thing, I believe, which essentially breaks down to saying that they will first form a belief and then understand facts/incidents/stories in a manner that supports their belief. (If only I COULD use these terms...THEN I'd be considered wise, erudite and all sorts of things that make people go 'Awww", instead of the 'Yetch' that I normally get.)

If only I had known that as a kid...then I could have said, "Even you do not get the moral of the story right, so why pick on me?"

Not that it would have helped much. They would have only said, "Do as I say, do not do as I do" and continued with the drumming.

AND the moral of THIS story is...

Monday, August 6, 2018

Impressing people - the easy way

You know, every time I see people looking at me, impressed with my intelligence or my sense of humor or whatever, I do not even have to pinch myself. I know I must be dreaming.

The thing is, it is so damn difficult impressing people. I mean, when someone has shared a thought, I have cudgeled my brains and come up with brilliant additions to it. When someone cracks a joke, I have come up with additional funny lines. None of that seem to work.

So...(Come on! Yes, I was going to bring a friend into it, why do you have to steal the words from my mouth even here?)

"You know what the problem is with you?"

Yeah! If ONE time a friend of mine will think that the problem is with the other guy and not with me, the Kalki Avatar will be swinging a sword and riding a horse all over an apocalyptic world.

"I'm sure you will tell me."

"Well...if only you knew how to look at yourself in the mirror. Anyway, the problem is that you try too hard."

I did not see THAT coming. I mean, here I was, some sort of an understudy for the modern Rip Van Winkle and I...I...was being accused of trying too HARD?

"Yes, too hard", he said, noticing the look of utter incredulity on my face. "All you needed to do on that day was to appreciate Ramesh's idea. Instead of working at thinking up more variations..."

"Come on! What's the big deal about appreciating a..."

"Well! If your mouth will always outrun your brain..."

While I was dumbstruck, trying to choose one of a dozen insults to hurl at him...

"Think! If you can, that is. If you call him a genius for being able to think that up, he is unlikely to think of you as an idiot, is he? I mean, who can be proud of being called a genius by an idiot?"

Hmmm! This chap...he had a point. I mean, yes, unless I can see the guy praising me as a discerning chap, what would be the value of his praise? So...hmmm! This seemed easy...

"Of course, you will muck it up as usual. Go all wide-eyed and say 'How do you manage to do that?' when someone cracks a yawn, instead of when he cracks a difficult problem. AND then come complaining to me that my advice does not work and people only think you are being sarcastic. To even praise so the other chap wants to bask in your praise...that does take SOME discernment. And unless he wants to bask in the praise, he will not develop any higher opinion of you."

Water off a duck's back. I mean, you can get used to people calling you names if they do it often enough. And is sort of like hearing a Punjabi using swear words. You stop thinking of what they mean and see them only as punctuation marks.

"Does it also work for being seen for having a sense of humor?"

"I knew this was coming. That's even easier. All you had to do that day was laugh at Sohan's joke. Instead, you go trying to cap his lines and steal his thunder..."

Ah! Why did it never cross my mind? I mean, I am the original lazy bum so why in this thing alone did I choose to work more than I needed to? But...

"Hey! That is not how it happens with me. I mean when I crack a joke or..."

"You see, THERE there is a difference. People are not trying to impress YOU, then. They could not care less what you thought of them. They are trying to impress the others around..."

Ye Gods! So that was why...

Fools, all of them, anyway! I mean, come on, I can hardly get an audience for what I am saying and these guys really think someone is going to bother to check THEIR responses to me and be impressed? Fat chance!

Now, time to go and practice laughter which sounds appropriately appreciative...