Wednesday, November 13, 2013

How I know I am a good person?

They say that you must visit your dentist at least once a year. So I do. Less for getting them cleaned and scaled in the places I wasn't able to reach; but more for the compliments that I get from the pretty doc about how nice my teeth are and how well I have kept them.

And so I continue my annual visits to my dentist. Even if I don't have a problem. Its just plain old Preventive Maintenance.
 On the same lines, docs at the Radiology department of Kokilaben are beginning to get accustomed to see me every 2-3 years - for a renalscan. I was born with a single kidney which is in perfect health - and I would like it to stay that way. SO I visit the docs even when I have no complaints - a fact that amuses many of them here in India - A doc I visited regarding advice for running long distances actually asked me "Agar koi problem nahin hai toh kyun aaye ho?"

No I am not a hypocondriac. I have a doc friend (who also has a webcomic) to whom I transfer my worries over phone whenever I have them, and even tho she asks me to stop worrying, most of the time they have been legitimate and I have had to them treated - the latest one was the jock itch resulting from excessive sweating during running. A whole course of anti-fungals was taken. I realized that runners give and take a lot of advice on the technique, shoes to wear, training programs etc.. But we miss out on the vital, the more intimate aspects of running - "the chaddi". If you are going to be running for hours at a stretch, you better wear an underwear which doesn't irritate your skin by rubbing tightly against it. Here is some advice regarding that. As for me - and Indian men in general - I am just glad that Jockey has become our succour and has came out with the awesome new seamfree Style #1460 - best. chaddi. ever.

That got me thinking, that most of the time we become aware of problem in our own lives much after they have begun to manifest themselves very noticeably by which time we have already must request external help to solve them. So, being an engineer, shouldn't I be able to do stuff before hand to prevent them even before they occur? Professor Nair (taught us Engineering Drawing at VESIT) used to tell me that "... being an engineer is all about taking decisions - when you have to take a decision, you have to take a decision  - there are no two ways about it, you can't delay taking a decision!". 7 years later, I realize that , that is just half of the attitude that an engineer is required to have - the reactive part. The other half - the proactive attitude - is what I am talking about at the moment.

I am not embarrassed to admit that I have been to see a psychotherapist twice thus far. And I am beginning too think that she deserves a regular annual visit too, like the dentists, even if you don't have any problems. Even though you might be a ninja at maintaining your sanity and work-life balance, you WILL falter every now and then and it is COMMON SENSE to be prepared and ready to disarm an undesirable situation at the whiff of the fart and not just after the shit hits the roof. Nevertheless, I visited her after my ceiling was already dripping with shit - the first time to seek advice for a dear one and the other for myself. The second time, she wasn't much of a help, turned out it was vitamin B deficiency which was making me irritable and lethargic for the preceding few weeks.

On those two visits, I learned a few essential things - yes the story so far has just been a build up to the actual core of the matter that I want to get at.

She advised me to read M. Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled. Now I detest self-help books. Spirituality even more so. And, if I ever set my eyes on him, I would absolutely fucking disembowel Deepak Chopra and lay his guts along the red line of paan spits running parallel to the mumbai local railway tracks. But, 2 years after reading it, I still wax hysterical about this particular book. It should be made mandatory reading when you turn 25. In developed countries, many  professions  (not just  the air traffic controllers) are required to undergo regular psychological evaluation to see if they are fit for their jobs. That is when they should be advised to read that book.

But the point here is that realized that we lack definition and direction - What is love? And am I a good person?
I found answers for myself in that book and awesome article: How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen

Let me answer the two questions one by one.

What is love?
Different people have different definition of this. And I had given up trying to define it specially after the "love is forever" delusion of the teenage years wore off. It turns out, like for everything else, you have to work hard to make love last. But saala pehle - in the "3 idiots (movie)" wala professor's tone - "machine love ka definition kya hai?"

And so after much delebrations and reading M Scott Peck, I came to the following three definitions that work for me:
  1. Growth - It is the quintessential quality of being alive in a worthwhile manner. We are said to be "growing" when we keep learning new things and acquiring new skills everyday. Consider this through examples:
    1. The toddler used to crawl yesterday, today he can walk - he has grown.
    2. I couldn't swim yesterday, but today I am able to keep afloat, tomorrow, I would have learnt the breast stroke - I am growing.
    3. The thief's son did not know how to pick locks yesterday. Today he knows how to pick an enormous variety of locks. He can pick one in a lesser about of time than his dad - the thief's son has grown.
    4. Yesterday I did not know how to troll people on twitter. Today @ZeniaIrani acknowledges that I am "Trollbag cha raja" - I have grown. The most worthwhile growing that I have done :P
  2. Nurture - refers to your "facilitation" of someone else's growth. Example:
    1. Son struggling with math. Dad helps him using practical examples from real life. Kid gets a good score in math, now he knows his shit. Dad has nurtured his son.
    2. A friend (same age as me) who missed out on learning how to ride a bicycle when she was young. At 28 she wants to ride one to work daily. I help her buy a bicycle. Then I spent 1-2 hours trying to figure out how to teach her (an all grown lady) to ride one. I acquire a new skill - how to teach adults to ride a bike. I have grown. She nurtured me. And of course I too nurtured her. She can now ride a bike.
    3. When I was young, I took the school bus to school and back home everyday. I did not know how to travel by BEST bus. My dad took me a couple of times. I learned how to figure out which bus would take me home, where the bus stops were and how to by a ticket. I missed my school bus from school one day. I was scared but I took a BEST bus home that day all alone for the first time. My dad nurtured me.
    4. I did not know how to dance. I still don't. I am still waiting for some one to nurture me in that regard.
  3. Love - refers to you nurturing someone "willingly" even when (and this is important) IT COMES AT A GREAT COST TO YOU. It essential that you recognize that love has a pre-requisites - discipline, bravery and determination. They say that once you have decided to love someone, you have to give it "your all" - "your all" all being discipline, bravery and determination that you must sustain till the end of your stamina. You can love a person, you can love an object, you can love a hobby and you can love your profession. Whatever it is that you love, you will know you love it because by the end of the day of loving it, you will be completely exhausted and tired and yet happy (yes @ZeniaIrani TWHS). Examples:
    1. New mother. Infant still on mother's milk. Its been crying all day. Mother is completely exhausted like crazy and extremely hungry and yet she feeds her baby first, puts it to sleep and then with the last few morsels of energy, goes to the kitchen, cooks for herself and eats. Mother puts her baby's nurturing ahead of her own convenience. Mother did all those things for her baby even though it was DIFFICULT (time and energy consuming) for her. Mother loves baby.
    2. Teenager girl. Drug addict. Throwing tantrums. Family and friends stage an intervention. Help her through de-addiction by spending long periods of time with her playing sports - using up their own work leaves for her. Those people nurture her at the cost of the time they would have spent on nurturing their own hobby/profession etc. Even though it was DIFFICULT (time and attention consuming) for them, they still did it for her. They love her.
    3. Child wants to play with dad. Dad busy working from home. Dad pauses work and plays with kid all day, having adventures and all. Dad then stays up all night to finish work even though - he forgoes sleep to ensure that he spends time with his son creating memories and helping him towards being a better person in the future. It was DIFFICULT for dad to complete his work by staying up late. Dad loves his son.
    4. It was my first marathon. I hadn't practiced. But I was going to attempt 42 kms anyway. A friend was taking part in the marathon too under the 21 kms category. We both started together. It took her 2 hrs 50 mins to finish it. I would take 4 more hours beyond that much to complete my 42. She stayed at the finish line all those hours waiting for me, talked to me a couple of times over phone during that time and made sure that I kept going. I visualized her waiting at the finish and that kept me going. And when I reached there, she was there. I had grown up with this girl. Love. Must have been!
So, the best examples of love are the ones between parents and their children. And love is DIFFICULT. If you are in love with someone, and if it makes your life hellish - that's when you have to stick with them the most. It is supposed to be that way! Fight it through, keep the nourishment privileges that you provide for the other person on even if that person is making life difficult for you. Of course there has to be some time when you will have to give up and let them go. But many people give up quite early. You must usually give up early when you realize that it isn't healthy love but something else: you have to learn to distinguish between healthy love and unhealthy addiction (emotional dependence, infatuation, jealousy, lust, possessiveness). You have to be aware that even though love must be unconditional, for a successful relationship, the other person must also "love" you in the same healthy way that you do. It seems very important to recognize this. Both parties should be realized persons and aware of what it means to love and be loved.

Hence what does not not seem to be love:

  1. Giving lift to your girlfriend everyday to college to the point that she become so dependent/spoilt that she blames you for her missing out on the lecture just because you were not there to take her to college - you are not nurturing her, just making her dependent and spoilt. She is doing the opposite of growing. She can no longer go to college herself.
  2. Warming food for your teenage son every time. Again you are stifling his growth towards independence. He should learn to do shit on his own. Opposite of nurturing happening here.
  3. Calling your check on your spouse at work every now and then. Stifling. Not nurturing. Irritating.
  4. Poking your nose in your girlfriends business - hows that going to nurture her? She wasn't stuck with a problem and did not ask for your help.
  5. Anything that does the opposite of nurturing and creates negative feelings simultaneously is not love.
  6. Caring is just a very small part of love. Nurturing is the major part. And of course if you are going to be caring, you must not do it at the cost of anti-nurturing. 

So this definition of love suits me. I have defined it for me. So that I know if I really love someone/something and realize how far I am willing to go for them/it.

How I know I am a good person?
Life has been compared to a journey. But what are the milestones? is it your first steps, riding a bike without falling, falling in love, the first kiss, marrying, having kids, parents passing away? 
These are but milestones with regards to passage of time. 

But how do you know if you are going in the "right" direction? The "right direction" being something you define yourself, of how you want to see yourself to be in a few years from now. You need a yardstick to make sure you are on the right path (How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen)

I found mine.

Throughout your life you meet people. People elder to you (other than your parents). Who guide you for some distance. Give you a bit of a nudge (or many few nudges). Nurture you even. The mentors. The father figures and the mother figures.

I have had my share of these people on whose shoulders I have jumped skipped and hopped further. These are the "wonderful people" besides your own parents who acted as your milestones. How do you recognize these people? Simple. They are elder to you and you have come to respect them for what they are and the choices they have made. And then they give you free advice. Good advice. They see a younger version of themselves in you and don't want you to make the same mistakes that they made when they were your age. They want you to do better than themselves. They want you to excel. They want to nurture you and your dreams. And yet expect nothing back from you. Love you even - even at the cost of you feeling "ow that advice that he gave me, felt like a bromantic moment! queasily intimate!!". Gaygiri even. But good advice.

So, let me take this time to thank my parents, my school teachers from Rajhans, college professors from VESIT and my managers at my ex-workplaces. More specifically:

Prof. Nair (VESIT), Prof. Atul Mody (VESIT), Prof. Dhananjay Gadre, Mr Shailesh Gala (LARE), Prof. Manish Patil (LARE) & Mr Raja Kanna (TCS) - Thanks baap log.

PS: SO I spent the whole day thinking, that really the only way to figure out if you are really good - after you are willing to set aside your delusions about yourselves; which should be easier for any scientific minded person - is to conduct a mental survey of all the people you are impacting and are being impacted by. If most of them want to nurture you (as against stifling you) AND ALSO if all your action when taken as a sum total cause more nurturing than suffering then I you can call yourself good. Seems like a "good" first draft of the definition. The definition - by definition - itself is "good". :P
... of courses, I might just be rationalizing...