Monday musing

“The smartest, most interesting, most dynamic, most impactful people … lived to figure it out…. Sometimes, the only way to discover who you are or what life you should lead is to do less planning and more living— to burst the double bubble of comfort and convention and just do stuff, even if you don’t know precisely where it’s going to lead.”

– Dan Pink in his Weinberg College commencement speech

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Empathy or Sympathy

I remember confusing the two some years back. During a recent situation i began to recollect how people tend to confuse the two. After all to empathize or sympathize for someone going through a tough time is a natural response for many of us. But there is a striking difference in the two states.

In the recent MH 370 flight case, what most of us can do is just sympathize. This is because in order to empathize one should have experienced and gone through the situation. To empathize is to understand precisely what the person is going through since you have been through the exact similar situation. I strongly believe that when we are being sold something with a promise or a warranty especially in case of a service, all the sales person is doing is sympathizing for your current state. Heading for the spa after a hard day, you are more likely to hear, ‘We understand your stress and physical strain and hence do what’s best for you”. Well do they? I have my doubts. At a weight loss clinic, the promising dietitian may not have put herself through years of bland food. All she / he is sharing could very well be textbook knowledge. But doesn’t she speak and empathize when you fall back? She is only sympathizing.

This brings me to larger issues we face in life, at work or in crucial stages. We are more likely to say that we empathize but we wouldn’t have really gone down the same road as others to do so. Hence i think more often than not we are only sympathizing. Empathy is also used in a more personal context whereas you could sympathize with anyone from your neighbors to co-workers. I leave you with this quote to mull over this for longer:

“Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection – or compassionate action.”
Daniel Goleman 

Doubt me not.

Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd – Voltaire

I remember seeing this quote and wondering if its safe to doubt everything around me. We do feel a false sense of certainty at times and when routine kicks in we fear stagnation. That is a worrisome thought and hence i constantly seek out new tasks or routines to put myself through more experiences. The doubt is that little nudge that pushes me to explore more.

Certainty being absurd according to the witty french philosopher is something i completely agree with. With just six degrees of separation online how frequent it is to come across people you don’t know and connect to work on something bigger. In a city like mumbai where one could face strikes / delays / torrential rains or even more pleasant things like someone returning a lost wallet / helping you find your way back / offering directions its more often to see doubt at the base of things. Maybe we doubt more because we know and understand more. After-all, more perspectives could add to doubt, but the collective view will be of more value than a singular distorted opinion. In a democratic society like ours i must say the elections are a classic example. Individuals more certain of a win are looked at with suspicion. There is no dearth of internet memes surrounding the upcoming voting season.

In my case, i choose doubt more over certainty. Its good to know some things for certain but when you begin to think everything is for certain, then ‘Houston, we have a problem’.

Consistency

“Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only completely consistent people are the dead.” – Alduos Huxley

The quote sparked a bunch of thoughts to my head. Firstly, most of us are looking for familiarity in situations we find ourselves in. We like to think back if we have done this before and wonder how can i do this task better. In short, we are looking for some kind of consistency. In life or in experiences. When faced with a situation we know little off, we begin to feel that this is not the comfort zone and wonder how soon will it be over. Seeking consistency is the mistake we make. Many would like to think of it as stability too. Or as some of us like to think of it as “settling down”.

The second line of Huxley’s quote is a very valid one. Its definitely better to be at ease with change. Rather than stagnating, getting bored and loosing focus i would surely prefer situations that intrigue me. That’s the point that the quote is also trying to make. Why seek consistency? Rather most of the world around us is chaotic and ever-changing. Maybe all we need to do is pause and revel in the present, as it passes us by.

Easy Friday: Hope

Hope_minutelyinfinite

This little fortune cookie sparked some hope in me as we were winding up a lazy lunch last week. Smooth seas, well don’t we all want to sail away and feel the breeze in our face? But then again, how long can we bask in our comfort zone i ask. It’s always good to get used to an idea or a notion but rarely do we appreciate a change in perspective. As we grow older, our ideas get set in stone. We rationalize by telling ourselves that these are the principles we want to live by.

We build a cocoon to make life peaceful and keep any distractions at bay. However in doing so, we keep hoping that nothing bad comes our way. Hope. A powerful word. Isn’t hoping for nothing bad to happen an indirect way of our subconscious telling us that you didn’t do enough or need to do more. On the contrary by hoping for the best, aren’t we tricking ourselves to make believe in things that are probably not possible in the first place? Maybe all we need is to be flexible to go with the flow and roll with the punches. Living, then wouldn’t seem so tough at all.

For this i would tend to side with Friedrich Nietzsche who said, “Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man”.