Saturday, June 25, 2022

Unexpected Joys

With Kamalahasan's movie 'Vikram' trending all over on Social media, it was only a matter of time before something or the other about it crossed my timeline and piqued my interest. And so it did, this video interview of 'Agent Tina' aka Vasanthi, a barely noticed dance assistant so far but, suddenly, in a cameo that evoked applause and whistles in the theaters. Boy, the sheer unadulterated, and immense, joy in her face as she tried to express how it all felt.

It set me to wondering. I mean, if it were Rajinikant, say, whose scene was getting all that applause, would he be as ecstatic? It is almost axiomatic for his entry in any scene to be greeted by applause, so what is one more in his universe? As far as he is concerned, it would only be cause for grave disappointment if his scene does NOT get applause whereas if he does get applause it is just business as usual.

Expectations, as I have had occasion to say before, is the key. (As usual, repeating myself? Of course, it IS sort of EXPECTED. At my age, I am SUPPOSED to keep repeating myself otherwise I may be disqualified for the senior citizen benefits I am SO looking forward to in a couple of years.) The first time when anything happens, when you are not really expecting it, the pleasure is huge. Afterwards, and if it has happened regularly...

The first time you ever bit into a chocolate; the first time you had an icecream; your first love, yada yada...THOSE where when you had the most joy. After that, when you knew what to expect, the joy is much lesser. AND if you have anything very frequently, your expectations being met is sort of ho-hum. When it is NOT met you get pissed.

The same applies in your expectations of your own success. When first you succeed at anything, even your area of expertise, the high of the success is humongous. As time goes by, your own expectations will ensure that your successes starts seeming mundane. Especially in your own area of expertise. Which is why a 500 buck payout from your article getting published in a newspaper can give you a bigger high than the 2 Lakh salary that pops in every month.

Expectations are the biggest robbers of joy. When, in all that you do in life, success leaves you cold and failures depress you...well, that is a future where all you have to look forward to is boredom or depression, isn't it?

The route to joy, then, is either to rein in the expectations in what you do; OR try doing newer things where you have little reason to hold expectations!

Monday, June 20, 2022

On the average

We take decisions most of our lives based on what we think is true 'on the average'. I mean, it is sort of impossible to know everything and everyone, even if you are a supercomputer, so we  decide issues based on what is 'likely'. And, more often than not, we do not or cannot take the time to discover what is really the truth.

This is especially true when it comes to people. Get to the psychologists and they tell you that there is that which you do not know about yourself. There is this whole rigmarole about what you know about yourself and others also know, what you know but others do not know, what other know and you do not know and what nobody knows! Given that, how is it even possible for you to know the other guy. So, yes, you ASSUME...and to hell with the guy who said that ASSUME means ASS-U-ME. It's fine being an ass, after all, if you are in the company of other asses. Who wants to stick out like a sore thumb?

So, yes, we work on this 'on the average' basis. What the jargon may call a baseline. Like, if you hear of two guys in a fight with one guy being the aggressor AND hear that one is a Tamilian and the other a Punjabi, who do you automatically conclude to be the likely aggressor? The same duo, one lavish wedding and one so-so wedding and if you had to match the man to the wedding, what is your match-up?

Yup, in the absence of any other information, we draw baselines on gender, community, race, profession, whatever. ALL of us, no matter our inclinations, perforce adopt some 'on the average' ideas when dealing with people, especially relative strangers.

Baselines are all good...for starters. Because you have no data to come to any other conclusion. Once you DO interact more with the person, the need is to alter your initial ideas about her to suit what you now know of her. Therein comes the problem. Confirmation bias IS a thing. So, yes, if you think a Tamilian is a 'kanjoos' and you find him spending generously, it is 'Pata nahin aaj kya ho gaya isko'. OR, in other words, his behavior is aberrant on that day. To selectively see and/or interpret behavior to suit your preconceived notion...THAT is more often than not the norm. Which is why most people NEVER change their baseline opinions about anyone, no matter how much evidence exists to the contrary.

Between generations, there IS a bigger problem. There is no real agreement on what IS the 'average' behavior. For example, in my times, Society had a strong taboo against women dressing up in anything other than 'feminine' attire. Middle class Society, especially. Which in effect meant that most parents ENFORCED that attire for fear of facing social opprobrium. To wear jeans, say, automatically indicated that the girl was a rebel or her parents were progressive BECAUSE they had to swim against the social tide. Given that, if you saw a girl in jeans, your 'on the average' assumption was that she was more likely to be outgoing, less likely to be hung up about matters of love and sex. THAT is no longer valid as the 'on the average' assumption today. Women wearing jeans has become so normal that it takes no rebellious nature to spur it. So, the old, who still operate on a dated baseline, tend to make judgments which are no longer in sync with the current world.

A country like India, with widely disparate social mores across states and across the rural-urban divide, has people who operate on such widely varying 'on the average' assumptions about other people that it boggles the mind. No wonder people have such strange and such varying ideas about what sort of people others are!

At the end of the day, none of us can escape having to deal with people based on our own ideas of 'on the average' behavior. The trick is to always remember that it is JUST the first-cut analysis and that you should be willing to modify it till it approximates what the other person really is like.

Otherwise, it will be like the elephant which drowned on account of choosing to cross a river because the average depth of the river made it seem safe!

Monday, June 13, 2022

The 'ist' phenomenon

Sometimes, you run into interesting things on Facebook. (Well, if I did not why would I be spending so much time on Zuckerberg's monster-child?) One of those interesting things that I ran into was this ad posted by a friend on his timeline. 

Far be it from me to wax eloquent on exactly what 'opiniated' means...I assume that it is what us baby-boomers (wrongly) think should be 'opinionated'. And, yes, the thing about 30+ woman wanting 'strictly' a 25-28 year old handsome, well-built lad only, who knows cooking and strictly avoids gas emissions from either end, with applications to be sent to that rather in-your-face email address does seem to make this ad a STATEMENT and not really intended seriously.

Still...I mean, 'works against capitalism and wants someone with a well-established business (not one of those start-ups which may or may not survive), a min. 20 acre farmhouse and bungalow'? I get it, you are trying to spoof demands by bridegrooms from brides but 'works against capitalism' isn't necessary for spoofing THAT. I mean, does it seem like a great recipe for matrimonial harmony for a bride who works against capitalism to be married to a groom with an established business and all that jazz?

To even think that someone who really 'works against capitalism' COULD consider it desirable to marry a rich businessman groom shows an understanding of capitalism, socialism and communism that will boggle Marx. Though, yes, it IS a fact that humanity IS like that. Climate activists can routinely drive SUVs; people can fight for woman's rights AND still defend the IMPOSITION of repressive dress codes in select communities; people can fight tooth and nail about freedom of expression when some books are banned and simultaneously propagate 'cancelling' others...and indignantly deny that any of their actions are in violation of their own values. The very thought that, say, FoE applies equally to those hateful books as to the books they prefer feels absurd.

I had always thought that you choose to follow an ideology...become an 'ist'...after completely understanding it. After all, unlike what you study in college, you are under no compulsion to pick and follow one. And can probably live a complete life and die in peace without ever finding an appropriate label to stick on yourself. So, I had thought that anyone who calls themselves a Socialist, say, has taken the trouble of understand the differences in economic systems and found Socialism the best option in his opinion. I am weird that way. (In every way? THAT, my dear Sir, is ad hominem and it is wrong even when you do it to another and not only when you have it done unto you.)

Apparently, you pick a label and stick it to yourself, probably based on the fact that you hate the only capitalist you know OR because your friends are all Socialists or some such. THEN, you pick up the tenets of the belief system as and when an issue crops up. And, again, probably based on what your circle thinks about it. Having labeled yourself first, you are now not at liberty to pick and choose beliefs...IF everyone believes that a government policy is, say, anti-Socialistic, why then it IS anti-socialistic and you cannot opine otherwise! (Remember what I said about things being a facet of your personality and things becoming your identity? In my previous post? THAT is the problem...if opining otherwise will cost you your identity, and the circle of friends that you built around that identity, then it's stupidly stubborn to hold on to that opinion, isn't it?)

And, so, you have all sorts of self-proclaimed 'ists' running around who probably would astound the originators of those 'isms' when they give voice to what they understand that 'ism' to stand for. Why, you probably even have the proponents of non-violence who proudly proclaim that they will bash the heads in of anyone who does not agree with non-violence!

Me? Did I not say I was a Boomer? A time when people found it quite normal to live and die without having to identify themselves as any 'ist'. Simpler times, thank God! (Yup, I am not an Atheist, either, though I'd not bother to label myself a Theist and fight Social media battles!)

Monday, June 6, 2022

Changing your mind

"If you cannot change your mind, you cannot change anything." I read this somewhere on Social Media and was surprised. I mean, the people who changed the world had, hitherto, seemed to me the sort who were convinced that only they were right and, if the entire world disagreed with them, it is the world that was insane.

But, yes, there was a grain of truth in that, certainly. If you cannot see the world in any manner other than your own, you can be as certain as you please that the world is insane but it is most likely that it is YOU who will be in the straitjacket. To APPEAR sane to the world, it is necessary that you see the world from other points of view, if only to know how to convince the rest of the world that you are right. (AND, make no mistake, you will have to CONVINCE even where it is a matter of saving THEIR lives. The essential rightness of anyone's position does not shine out with the same luster in other people'e eyes.)

Of course, to start with you had to have changed your mind. After all, if you are currently not a mental clone of your parents, if you have radically different beliefs from the people around you, it MUST have been because you changed your mind about the world from what you originally had been taught to believe. So, yes, unless you CAN change your mind, you cannot change anything.

Changing your mind about beliefs that are based on some facts are relatively easy to change. Once you are exposed to new information. (Yeah, yeah, I know that nowadays the new information that floats around can confirm ANY belief since facts are as easily manufactured as opinions.) Which is why, when it comes to scientific hypotheses, modifying them in the light of new facts is relatively easy. (Stop carping, will ya? I said RELATIVELY. I know that even scientists can hug their beliefs and cherry-pick their facts to suit.)

It is the beliefs that have very little or no factual basis which are difficult to dislodge. Given that the belief exists only because we have always believed in it, the tenacity of the belief is astounding. Like, hey, I shall get innumerable houris in Paradise if I do this. Like, eat this and you are condemned to everlasting damnation. I mean, hardly anyone can come back and confirm or deny them, so no facts CAN emerge to change the belief. (Though, I am reasonably sure that, comes the Metaverse, we will have even THAT happening in what passes for facts these days.)

The problem, also, is when the belief ceases to be just an opinion and becomes an identity. I am a Theist, I am a Capitalist, I am a Liberal, I am a Socialist, what have you. Because, now, to change your mind about ANYTHING that belongs as part of your pet canon ceases to be merely a question of modifying your point of view about one facet of Society and becomes tantamount to a loss of identity. You form a circle of friends based on your identity and to lose the identity loses you friends. So, there you are, frozen in mind about what you believe in and incapable of changing your mind about any facet of it.

The funny thing about beliefs which turn into identities is that you CAN have your mind changed but YOU cannot change your mind. Because, when you develop an identity around a belief system and develop your circle of friends around that identity, peer pressure pushes you into believing whatever your circle believes in. And the 'thought-leaders' of those circles will be following a leader or a set of leaders. Presto, your mind can be changed by what those leaders decide. Of course, if their decision run radically counter to what went on before, you may seize control of your mind. Which is why, like I said before in a post, real leaders slowly turn you by stages to the way they want you to go. They do not make abrupt U-turns.

Essentially, therefore, for you to be a leader, YOU have to be able to change your mind...not one of those who have their minds changed for them.

And thus it was that I was proud when I had occasion to say, "I have changed my mind."

Pat came a reply, straight from some book I think, "Good! The one you were using was pretty pathetic."