Thursday, June 16, 2016

I don’t know your story

Almost 13 years back I was coaxed into attending a 2-3 day Art of Living course by my roommate, who was (and probably still is) an ardent follower. I was reluctant because at a time when I was still a student, earning negligible and had a lot of student debt to pay, I didn’t want to shell out close to $200 for a workshop I didn’t care much about. But I couldn’t figure out a way to say no. So I said yes. I attended the course and was surprised to see the wide demographics of attendees. There were men and women all the way from their early twenties to late fifties. There were students, working professionals and home makers. 13 years later, there is only one thing I remember from that entire session. It was an activity that we did in which everybody sat face to face with another person for, I think, a minute and then switched partners. We essentially got to sit opposite most of the people in the group. While sitting opposite each other, all we had to do was hold hands and look into the other person’s eyes. Yes. That was the exercise. I am giggling like a teenager as I am typing this. And I had a similar reaction back then as well. Well, this is an awkward exercise. Once we got over the initial awkwardness, something magical happened. There was this guy in the group and I had totally judged him the minute I saw him, for no particular reason. When I got a chance to sit opposite him and hold his hands and look into his eyes, I realized that all my judgement washed away. Looking into people’s eyes is powerful. It is probably the most honest part of our body. Our eyes tell our story. And more often than not, we don't pause to look into people’s eyes and take a moment to see them. Really see them. I think I have told this story before. But it is by far one of the most important experiences of my life. Because it taught me to try to understand people before judging them. 

The most powerful way, I have learned, of not judging people is to know their story. Everyone has a story. It is so easy to look at everything and everyone with one single lens and assume them to be good or bad. Until, of course, we know their story. Stories help us understand why people behave a certain way, or eat certain things, or spend on a certain item, or read a certain book, or play a certain sport, or wear certain outfits. 

Our story conveys the reason why we do what we do. Our story conveys how we got to this point. It makes us, even if for an instant, think about somebody else’s point of view. It makes our heart bigger. It makes our actions kinder. It makes our mind broader. It makes us love more. You will find out there is always more to people than meets the eye. You will understand people even when you don't agree with them. You will pass fewer judgements on people once you know their angle, their story. Especially when they are people who don't look, or eat, or dress, or think, or act like you. It will make us a better human.

Stories are important, people. Let us make time to find out someone’s story.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Rules, Who?

Have you ever seen anything great happen when people follow rules? By great I mean out-of-this-world, or path-breaking, or crazy-innovative. Following rules can definitely result in excellence. In fact, to some extent excellence maybe a result of following some set of rules. But I highly doubt it can result in something that would change my life as I live it today. Changing lives means bending or breaking rules. It means taking a different path than the rest of everybody else. It means saying bye-bye to the crowd. It means having the courage to stand up when you stand out.

The thought itself makes me cringe. The thought of breaking rules. Not that I have never broken any rules. I totally have. But not enough. And there is a reason why this thought makes me cringe. It makes me extremely uncomfortable and reach out to my mind-space that I am not used to reaching out to. The discomfort in merely articulating this thought process is indicative of how deep-rooted our notion of following rules is.
I think I am no exception. I think that most of us would believe in following rules, give or take. We are taught this as kids. We are conditioned to believe that is the way. We are rewarded for following rules. We are punished for breaking rules. We are awarded for being like everybody else – in actions, thoughts, ideas, appearance, you name it. We are laughed at when we don’t blend. In fact, I am now doing the same with my kids now. I am establishing rules for them. All day every day I am trying to make sure they function within a set of rules. And I am beginning to question myself.
I am in no way trying to encourage the state of absolute entropy. I am not trying to encourage anarchy either.
My limited point is, why rules? Why so many rules? Why rules about what we do, what we don’t do, what we wear, how we dress, how we eat, how we talk, how we look, how we react? I mean there are obvious reasons. Most of the reasons will be hard to argue with. We follow rules for safety, coherence, sanity, civility. But there is something fundamentally wrong if the unfamiliar makes us cringe and uncomfortable and sometimes adversarial. I want my kids to be safe. I don’t want them to break rules that will hurt them. I want to be protective about them. I want everybody to like them. I want the world for them. Anyway, that’s not the point. It doesn’t matter, pretty much at all, what I want for them.
But how will they grow if they don’t break rules?
None of the innovations would have happened if we all followed the rules. Innovations happen because people challenge, because people are curious, because people question, and most importantly because somebody decided to follow a path not chosen by the rest of us. Our lives change because somebody decided to break the rules.
So while I don’t do it myself, just yet, I hugely admire people who do. The breaking rules part. Unless of course, it is my kids. Then I get mad because they broke “the rules.” I mean how can I not yell at them for eating from the counter top as opposed to their plates. Because, you know, those are the rules. I have tried hard to figure this out about myself. Figure out my line. The line I can cross, and the line I can’t cross. When is it ok for my kids to break my rules? And when is it not ok? I do know that one of my lines in this regard is pertaining to health and safety. Anything that hurts them or others and makes them unsafe is off limits. But what about the rest of the rules? How do I deal with that? Should I want my children to conform to the norms? Or should I encourage revolt? This question can get really hairy and controversial in about 5 seconds. And I don’t have a good response for that. But at the end of a rule breaking day, when it is dark and all the kids are tucked in, I can chuckle to myself. And maybe feel a little proud. Feel proud that they broke a rule today. Is that bizarre? Honestly though, with two toddlers and infant, I have those moments often. They break rules. All. Day. Long. It is exhausting. It drives me nuts. It makes me shout. So it doesn’t take much effort for them to break the rules. But this kind of rule breaking as a silver lining. This kind of rule breaking takes the face of innocence, that most of us lack. The naivety of belief, of faith, that most of us lost long time ago. I look for that silver lining, while I struggle with this decision for my kids. Because for most my rules, my kids react with “Rules, Who?”