To Be or Not To Be

A little kingdom I possess,
Where thoughts and feelings dwell;
And very hard the task I find
Of governing it well.
-- Louisa May Alcott.
...........hmmm....that more or less describes my situation !!

~A Wise Man Said~

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
-- Aristotle

Sunday, June 10, 2018

More dabbling in verse…

The great bard said, ‘The course of true love never did run smooth’
I don’t know about love but I will say that about truth
The universe conspires to go against your grain
Resist as you might, you are forced to played the game 
Does being good always pay in the end?
Not on this earth, possibly in heaven
Yet nobody ever confirmed that a heaven exists
What good is good then if no good comes of it?

Sunday, June 03, 2018

I used to enjoy and also found it much easier to write in verse form when I was much younger—I find it immodest to use the word ‘poem’ even though that is what I aim at. Maybe there is a natural flow of feeling and evocation of wonder at that age that makes it easier. Or maybe as you read a lot of hard prose as you grow older you lose a certain lyrical and softer quality of expressing ideas and emotions. I don’t know what it is…but even now, now and then, I feel the urge to dabble in verse…
Many a time have I thought of you:
Of words you said, of words I might have said,
Of words I did say, of words you left unsaid,
Of words that didn’t matter, of words that shattered.
And when I think of all those words now,
I smile at myself,
At the waste of all those words.
I see with wisdom born of clarity,
That it was never about words.

Friday, April 06, 2018

I suppose every human being is credible in at least the sense that he or she exists. Unlike God, the existence of a man or a woman is proven. The existence of us creatures in the eyes of society is another matter. I will not go into what a man must be or must do to truly ‘exist’ in today’s society or to be ‘credible’ simply because I am not a man. I do not know. I do not know what goes on within a man’s mind or a man’s heart, what battles and turmoils a man faces, what thoughts keep him sleepless at night…in short, I can’t speak for a man.

I never really thought before about what makes a woman socially credible. Maybe because I never felt discredited before, never felt that there was something that was missing in my identity that made me less of a woman and less of a representative member of the category of women. Something happened recently to make me realise that a woman must be or do certain things for her to be seen as credible, and she must do those things within the time frame assigned to her by society so that her identity card as a woman continues to remain valid.
I find it a bit painful to reflect on this incident chiefly because the actors involved are dear to me…should I say ‘were dear’ because I cannot really pretend that there is no dent in my affection for them. I realised that for people whom society’s rules and prescriptions matter more than their own authentic connections, you cease to be a connection the moment you do not appear to subscribe to the norms or follow the set formulas laid down by society.
The fact is that if you never cared for or bothered with what society demands and expects of you as a woman, especially a traditional society such as ours, it jolts you suddenly to realise that it is not nameless, faceless people who represent this society but those close to you who actually have the power to hurt you, those on whose lap you might have played as a child, those who have seen you grow, those who were always love and fondness for you, those are the people who diminish your essence. They may not understand you as indeed they never have but you think of them as people who do not have to understand you to love you as you do not understand them to love them… It pained me to discover that for some of these people your life and choices if they weren’t in tune with society’s expectations you no longer had the same credibility with them… it pained me even further to find out that they won’t spare any time in finding replacements who give their status as a conventional member a boost. The conventional replacements are only too enthusiastic to acquire a new patron because they in their place are worried about losing the only thing that makes them credible… as society broadens its views. Their docility and conventionality are as much their weapons as their shield…but they hide it in a veneer of benevolence trying not to make too much of their membership as if they never sought it for themselves.
I guess whatever credibility may mean for the world, and what it means evolves over time too, there have to be some people for whom your credibility is defined by your integrity, authenticity, and their own belief in you. If I lose my university ID card today I may expect to be turned away for a class, but I wouldn’t expect to be turned away at home! I’m glad that I had this experience of being ‘turned away’ or more like ‘not being invited’ by some people whom I thought of as closer home… it made me reflect on my credibility.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

I have been in Mumbai since the past two months or so to collect data for my research. I have had occasion to use the Uber ridesharing service quite often in this time. Not so much occasion perhaps as much as an excuse to avoid the crowded local trains in the sweltering heat.
I have always been an extremely cautious person since as long as I can remember. There must have been a lot of things going into how I came to be so but it always seemed to stand me in good stead, this overly guarded nature of mine. The fact that I lived in a country where anything could happen to anyone anywhere be it the local train or the bus or taxi or Uber, in Delhi or Mumbai, only served to reinforce my cautious nature which was never very reckless to begin with.
Now, the process to book an Uber is pretty simple as such. The app throws up the pic of the driver, his name (mostly male), number of the car and so on. I have this habit of checking the number plate and also asking the driver for his name before I get in, which may seem a bit over-cautious but somehow it came naturally to me to take this precaution. The photo of the driver was no use to me because I couldn’t identify the man from the pic but it did make me comfortable to hear the name from the person to make double-sure I wasn’t getting into the wrong car.
Once, when I asked a driver for his name, he seemed offended, and asked my name. As if even he could be mistaken about me. I have noticed other riders just confirm the name with the driver rather than asking for the name but my thought was that a person can always affirm a name if they have a malicious intent. Nothing stops them from misleading me. Today again when I asked a driver for his name he looked at me in a hurt manner even though he did give it to me. He questioned if I hadn’t seen his name on the app. He then asked if I hadn’t seen his car number on the app. I realised that to the drivers it must appear as if I didn’t bother to notice their name or that I was plain rude. They have no way of knowing or imagining that as a woman in this country I had just grown to be very careful in situations that could expose me to any kind of risk especially involving strangers or strange places and a ride in an Uber somehow seems to involve both. It’s not like I have ever had a bad experience so far but that doesn’t mean anything because bad luck doesn’t need to come announced or set a precedence.
There is always a raging debate about whether women “ask for it” in the way they dress, or what time they go out, or how much they drink, and so on. I strongly believe that none of the things a woman (or man) does that has to do with their own body or space may be interpreted as “asking for it”. In principle, in a free country, I should even be able to walk naked if I choose to do so without asking for anything unless I specifically and verbally ask for it. But that is how it would be in an ideal country where everyone respects everyone else’s rights and freedoms, respects the fact that each person’s life is their own, and lets people live their lives as they wish to. I would love to be a citizen of such a country but I am not naïve enough to believe that I am.
The hard truth is that the ideal world is possible only if everyone around you shares the same worldview. For example, I may personally believe that people should not rob other people’s goods, but if everyone in the town does not agree with this principle, I cannot really leave the shop open or unguarded. I would need to protect it irrespective of whether I believe stealing is okay or not because nothing stops the others who don’t agree with me from stealing. Unless everyone agrees and abides by the same code, the onus is on me to protect myself and what is mine knowing what the consequences could be. At least when it comes to external goods the law of the land could help retrieve them for you or you could earn them again, but your body and life are things you cannot retrieve once they are gone. So, if I do want to live by my own principles without caring how the world around me operates, I have do so knowing the cost. Which is why even though I resent having to be too careful, having to be guarded, having to be suspicious, having to second guess people as if my life depended on it, having to mistrust strangers when they have given me no cause, having to always look over my shoulder—I still do. Because the cost of not being those things is too high…
If there is another way to live, I don’t know what it is, at least in the environment that I am in. But coming back to today’s interaction with the Uber driver, I feel sad that he might have thought that I was looking down on him when all I was doing was looking out for me. When I was getting out of the car at my destination, he said, “Have a nice day” in English, probably to impress on me that he wasn’t exactly a lowlife (not that knowing English means you are above being one, but in this culture it does suggest education, exposure, and better opportunities). I responded to him and smiled embarrassedly.
I have now decided to check the Uber car number carefully and then just confirm the driver’s name rather than asking for it. While I can’t stop being cautious, I would like to be more conscious about balancing it with empathy and kindness because it is important to spread more of the latter into the world if we want to not let suspicion and mistrust thrive around us… and if we want to ultimately create a better world where we are not afraid to let our finest instincts show.
I am posting this a little late for women’s day… but wish you all a very Happy Women’s Day nonetheless… 

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Words jostling within me
Some murmurs, some flutters, some growls
Struggle to find a way out
Gentle, kind, listening, patient ears
Don’t seem anywhere about
I look and search and scan
Familiar faces, strange names, remote possibilities
All give me a distant, questioning, sharp look
As if to say—
“You really don’t get it, do you?”
Why do I feel like a sore thumb?
Like something forgotten, something outliving its welcome
What if I did find kindred spirits?
What would I say?
What would these murmurs, flutters, growls amount to?
Maybe nothing much…
Maybe nothing…


Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Call me PiPi

Birthdays come and go. They are a fairly good indicator of the people who come and go in one’s life. One would assume the people who have any sort of presence in one’s life would want to wish one on one’s birthday. But I think that logic may be a bit skewed today in the social media context. It’s become so easy to wish people without really having any bond with them. In comparison, calling was a lot more personal and took some emotional labour, both on the part of the caller and the receiver. People like me who are not exactly the most social of beings may have felt awkward at being in either position…but I now find myself wishing people on Facebook or Whatsapp without a moment’s hesitation. I don’t mind being wished the same way too but I do wonder what it means for personal relationships if even the most important of occasions can now be dealt with so brusquely… but then most things are brusque these days…

I don’t how many of my non-existent readers know that my nickname is Preeti. All my near and dear ones know me as Preeti (which means ‘love’ in Kannada). I myself prefer being called Preeti but with a formal name so very different could never really get people to call me Preeti. Not that I tried very hard except in my head. I would imagine, when I was a lot younger, of how I would ask this friend or that friend or anyone I got to know a little better to call me Preeti instead of Sylvia. I never really managed to get the words out except on very rare occasions.
My first cute little niece was born 3 years ago and when she first started forming words, she happened to call me “PiPi”. I lovvvveed the sound of this word. There’s something so loveable and huggable about this word… I had some thoughts then of getting her to call me Mou which is what a friend of mine is called by her niece… but when I heard PiPi I knew it was perfect. It was me. Now that the niece is 3 and has a better ear for what people around are calling me, she is starting to call me Piti or Preeti (though people around me have been instructed to call me PiPi too). I don’t respond to her calls till she calls me PiPi. Luckily for me my brand new second niece is all of 1.5 years old, and knowing my fondness for PiPi, my bro and sis-in-law trained her to call me PiPi. I find this cute little thing blabbing PiPi at me. It’s a joy, what can I say. I am just hoping my younger niece doesn’t get influenced by the older one. I am trying to get the older one to learn from the younger one. It’s a muddle I don’t mind being in the middle of J
My birthday cake had a PiPi on it… the truth is no matter how many birthdays come and go, all I want is for some things to remain the same… and I am glad to have two more little people in my life who will be there to make it special… whether they call me PiPi or not… I will always be their PiPi at heart…

Sunday, December 24, 2017

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
~Old Irish Blessing

At this time of the year, I somehow feel more nostalgic than other times (if that’s possible!). To all the people who have touched my life so far, some barely scraping the surface and some leaving a huge dent and some not knowing if it’s one or the other… wish you all a very merry Christmas and a joyous New Year… thank you for coming into my life and being here awhile…

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

I guess it’s been a looo…oooong time. When I was living alone here, my emotional outlet was writing. Now that my mom is with me for a few months, can you blame me if I want to spend precious moments with her? J Of course, work keeps me quite busy and I don’t have as much time to just sit and moon around as I would like to. Hmm… I think sitting and mooning around is what I have spent the most time in my life on. Wasn’t it Aristotle who said “The unexamined life is not worth living”? Sometimes I do wonder, why is it not? The liver clearly doesn’t know or care and is as happy and maybe a lot more than someone examining it, I dare say.
Anyway… now that I have warmed up to the blog again… sharing a post I wrote a little while ago but for some reason did not put out.

I have always avoided talking shop on this blog. Or talking work stuff. But I guess I am in that happy position now where my work and personal thoughts are all in the same zone… that is, philosophical J Out of habit though I tend not to talk about things that are closely related to what I am thinking about from a work (now research) perspective, but I guess it’s much harder and probably a bit pointless to maintain that distinction any more.
Out of a number of ideas that have occupied my mind in the past many months, an important one is objectivity vs. subjectivity. As a lay person, I thought of objectivity almost as a virtue. It meant justice, fairness, rationality, detachedness… and not allowing my personal feeling to cloud my judgement. But, now I realise, objectivity could have another meaning. It could mean defining an absolute view. It could mean establishing your version of the truth as ‘the truth’. It could mean not allowing that there could be various ways to look at the same problem and all of them equally admissible. It could mean being intolerant of non-mainstream positions.

To give an example, is history as we are told an objective account? The account serves the interest of some or the other side, usually those on the dominant side …could it be objective? What would objective mean? Objective from whose perspective? If one has to ask that question, it ceases to be objective. Take for example any religion. The religious members within the faction have no doubt that what is written in the Bible or the Koran is objective knowledge or that it is the truth. If one were to contest this fact, the objective would become intolerant because the whole notion of objectivity is founded on the fact that there cannot be another way of looking at the matter. And this needn’t be said only of religion. I personally feel that science fanatics are probably as culpable as the religious ones because just as religion does a bad job of establishing if the earth is round or square, science may be unable to tell why humans behave as they do…because human behaviour is derived as much from culture (which is variable) as from nature (which is fixed). Yet, science fanatics, at least the dogmatic ones, will cry heresy as much as the religious folks simply because they are so wedded to objectivity; they do not realise that sometimes it is more objective to be subjective. Because one supposedly objective view may drown many subjective views but many subjective views may represent a diverse universe better. And in my opinion, may also be a more tolerant universe.  

Friday, June 30, 2017
Why would or why should anyone do what I request them to do or would like them to do? Many do it if they can get them something in return be it immediately or potentially. If they don’t see any return in the transaction, chances are they won’t do it. Also, some people get some sort of ego boost out of doing things for other people… the reason I call it an ego boost and not that they are good people who love to do things for others is because in making others feel good, they feel good, and it is this feeling of ‘good’ that they are after (not that that’s a bad thing at all). But not everyone gets a kick out of helping others. So how do you get people who need to see some tangible or material return to do things for other people? The obvious answer is by giving them these returns but doing that would only reinforce their attitude and behaviour and encourage a society where everyone does things only because they get something in return for it. I feel that we are probably already living in such an economically driven society that is based on the logic of economic exchange rather than community values. Where I don’t do things for you because I trust you will also do things for others including me and we all live cooperatively and in harmony… in the long term. What we have now is a transactional society where you get what you pay for so there’s limited need for trust. I believe that this transactional way of doing things has so spread into society that it pervades even our private lives. Familial relationships also show a market orientation rather than a trust orientation because it is uncomfortable for us to accept things on ‘trust’ now… the logic of relationships in general is shifting to an economic base. 

Of course I don’t mean to say that trust is always returned. That is part of the problem with trust that you don’t have to face in pure economic exchanges—that trust may not be returned. And if there wasn’t the chance that trust may not be returned it would not be called trust. The element of uncertainty is what imbues trust with its moral power. I know that you did not have to return this sum of money that I loaned to you but you still did which means that both the person who loaned the money and the person who returned it are bound by a moral contract rather than an economic one. If one did not believe in moral values or obligations and such, nothing stops them from not returning it. In some ways a real contract frees both people from the uncertainties and tensions that a symbolic contract may bring and that is why we prefer those. But what about when the exchange is not financial? Isn’t a person who cannot be trusted to fulfil monetary obligations on trust as incapable of fulfilling any other moral obligation? By creating a society where people are freed from the burden of taking moral responsibility by resorting to economic contracts, aren’t we in some way dulling the sense of moral obligations… or responsibilities in exchanges based on pure trust… for example, have prenuptial agreements made marriages more successful or have they only made divorces simpler?

Isn’t a well-functioning community at the end of the day one that is founded on principles of trust (or intrinsic values) rather than economics…?

Saturday, June 24, 2017
Among the many competencies I lack, there is one that bothers me the most. It is the ability to school my face to not reflect my true emotions. Some people have told me that my face is like an open book: I wouldn’t have trusted it to be true if many others hadn’t mentioned to me at quite emotional moments that they could tell that I was upset or that something was wrong or that it was clear that I didn’t really like what was said to me. I think it is a grave disadvantage especially in a world where honesty is equated with naïve stupidity and diplomacy is rewarded generously.

As they say, awareness of a problem is half the solution. But in this case I am not sure it is. It is not as if I deliberately let on my emotions. I don’t even realise I am so transparent. And emotional triggers are such that even before you realise you have betrayed an expression you may already have done the damage. Another thing to do may be to practise some sort of neutral smile or arrangement of features that never really drops. I could be too old to try this. I wonder if people who do manage to do this have been doing it successfully for years. If masking my real feelings is too difficult then another option could be to change how I actually feel about things within me. If I feel something is not quite right, maybe I should try not to feel bad about it but to say hang on, park the thought, this doesn’t seem right, but maybe there’s a better explanation, let’s not jump to a conclusion here, or maybe this is a learning situation, let me reflect on what I can learn from this later, nothing to feel down about, or maybe I can say, okay, we live in the real world and there are all sorts of people in the real world, I can’t control their actions, but I can control my reaction to their actions and not transfer power to them, or maybe I can say relax, take a deep breath, you know you have the right intentions and values, not everyone will understand you, and that is okay, let it pass. I guess what I am saying is that positive interior dialogue could help bring my emotions to a better place and not give away what I am feeling. Not because I don’t want to be honest but because honest emotion is seen as a sign of weakness rather than authenticity.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

A lot of people do things in their everyday lives without asking whether it’s the right thing to do but if you were to ask them outright about whether they are ethical or moral people they would have no problem saying a yes. To me people who will stop to think about it or will be doubtful about the answer are likely to be actually more ethical and moral. Reason being, they think deeply about what ethical or moral even means and to say you are either of these means you know exactly what they mean but because these are relative terms you never really can know. So you never really can have a positive answer to this question. And if you do, it means you haven’t even engaged with these terms enough, so if you don’t even care to know what it means to be ethical or moral, chances are you aren’t. I think it is also about how much you think or reflect in general about your own actions. If you do, chances are you will be digging into your own assumptions and not feeling quite comfortable about many of the things you do or why you did them. Exhibit B may not reflect a lot about their actions so it clearly won’t bother them. It’s funny that if you do have a conscience you will not engage in immoral behaviour but because of this very conscience you will probably find even minor transgressions a source of discomfort. On the other hand, if you have a rather dull conscience your major transgressions won’t really prick you much. So what does that mean? That being an ethical and moral person may not give a good night’s sleep after all, it may not make you feel good about yourself after all, but that is a good sign. It means you take that much more responsibility for your own actions and are not afraid to question yourself. It means you care about your fellow humans which is the most you can do on this earth without a guarantee of a next life.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Among the many reasons why people believe we have been dropped here on earth, one reason continues to present itself to me with frightening regularity: it is to teach us lessons. I am not quite sure of the end goal of learning those lessons; whether they are skills that would come in handy in heaven or whether we are given a chance to conduct ourselves better in our next lives, or whatever else it might be, the fact remains that you can’t mistake the lessons that keep punching you in the face. There’s no ignoring them even if one tried, and I do try, to put it mildly. And I do get punched in the face often, and hard.

In the present case, I am still reeling a bit. I have this habit of letting my love of arguing get the better of me. By get the better of me I don’t mean that I become quarrelsome or nasty or try to win at all costs, but I try to push the argument as far as it will go without considering who my opponent is. By ‘who’ I mean it doesn’t matter to me if the opponent is a friend, an enemy, a senior, a junior, a peer, a president, a cobbler, a king, an expert or a novice. This also means that in the context of an argument I meet the opponent as an equal and the validity of an argument to me rests purely on the weight and logic of the arguments themselves and not on who the respective parties are; if who they are, for example an expert, is relevant it would get reflected in the strength of argument itself and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter because knowledge or truth unfortunately does not bow to age or status or qualifications. Well as all this sounds in theory I have learnt that there are some categories of people who are more than happy to call you out for a bout of argument but are not comfortable when you argue with them as if who they are doesn’t matter! It is almost as if they are offended that you are not taking into account their very many years of experience, expert status, accomplishments, official accolades and all of the rest, and the little chit of a person that you are with none of all this grandiosity attached, dare to argue with them as if you are their equal! They are shocked at your presumptuousness! They have come to believe that the argument is only as good as the arguer and the arguer having made it in the world should at least now be able to put up their feet and not keep having to prove their position with troublesome arguments. Why, then, do you ask, do they invite you or provoke you to have a debate because everything they have to say is proven and nothing you have to say can match it? Indeed, why. Well, that’s where my lessons come in. I have time and again been misled into situations where I have had the horror of realising that the person who appeared to love a dialogue for the pleasure of knowledge or truth was actually not expecting someone to have an equal say at all… Most people quickly get a sense of this and play by the rules… but I have yet to learn.  
A thing that most struck me is that a person who reaches a certain position in life through long years of study in a subject may indeed claim to be an expert in it but just because someone else has not reached the same position cannot simply assume that that person lacks the intellect to grapple with or the understanding to grasp the subject. The fact that a person was able to achieve an exalted position may reflect on their abilities but it is not pure abilities and talent that take a person where they are (it would be extremely naïve to think so)…and by the same logic, if a person isn’t in the same league as you it may say less about their natural abilities and more about their opportunities and circumstances. We don’t know. But, the arguments stripped away from all those externalities and entrapments should be able to stand on their own if they come from a position of real strength. The desire to gag the supposedly weak would suggest the opposite.

Sunday, April 09, 2017
There is something about food. You take it for granted most of the time. I am not talking about the availability or lack of food which is a separate issue altogether. But the emotional side of food. The emotional connections that are built through food. Growing up, the breakfast rush to get to school. The food you have in the recesses with friends or alone if you are a loner. The times you don’t bring lunch because your mother couldn’t make something or something happened. The dinners that are had with the TV rather than the family. Lunches on weekends when something special maybe Chicken and Pulao is made because everyone is at home and it’s so noisy but still… the TV is switched on since morning and nobody can do anything about it because your brother is lording over the remote. You sort of notice what’s on your plate and sort of don’t. You notice because it’s your favourite Puri, Bhaji and Shrikhand and Shrikhand because you love it. You notice the Dosa and Sambar and know it’s coming because of the commotion of the grinder and all the smells coming out of the kitchen.

It’s obvious when it’s Easter because people haven’t had any meat for many weeks and we make pork only twice a year mostly, on Christmas and on Easter, so how can you not look forward to it. You know the ritual by now, the pork or Dukra Maas as we call it in Konkani is on the stove in the afternoon and then you who are supposed to be an expert in the house in telling the taste are invited to check if everything is alright with the gravy. Maybe a little more salt and a little more vinegar, you say. You don’t want it too spicy of course. And your brother who knows you will always downplay the spice butts in and asks to add more chilli. It’s not hot at all. Your mom tries to make you both happy telling you she won’t put any more chilli but I know she does because it does taste a bit hotter later. The Sannas that look like Idlis but aren't are a perfect foil to the Dukra Maas. Steamed cakes of rice they make the Dukra Maas taste perfect. Some of us have a go at it before the mass and some have a small go before and a big go after the mass which is around one in the night but who minds. We aren’t exactly a health-conscious family but we certainly are taste-conscious. I usually keep a big bottle of Fanta or Mirinda around because it goes marvellously well with the spicy pork.

Easter’s coming this weekend and I am thinking of food… and I am thinking of all the memories associated with food which is more than food… it’s like if I could have the exact same Pork and Sannas now I would be transported home without leaving my room…but that’s not possible because the food is as much a product of my home as my home is a product of that food in my mind… if you know what I mean… I went to an Indian shop the day before and one of the things I was very keen to find is a coconut scraper. If I could get my hands on it I would buy coconuts and I would make some home style dishes, I said to myself. So I did buy a coconut, a scraper, lots of Indian veggies, even a Dosa making powder! And today morning I had Dosa and Sambar for breakfast J. It wasn’t perfect, the Dosas looked all countries on the map and some unidentifiable ones… but you know what, they took me home. They took me to all those times in my home when mom made those Dosas and I like a queen just kept having them with the Sambar and the Chutney oblivious to all the sweet labour behind it. The grating of the coconut to the pouring of Dosa batter. Having done all of it myself and tasted the fruit of all that effort, I was happy. I was happy to be taken home and I was happy to relish a lot of things about the food I had taken for granted and that was brought home to me…

End of nostalgia… J

Wish you all a very Happy Easter and very special Easter meals… enjoy them, make the most of them and those who make them!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Why I Don’t Buy into Positivity

There is a pervasive sentiment that positivity is the cure for all ills. Even if you’re on your deathbed, there will be some who will tell you that if you are positive enough, you might come out of it alive. The more depressed you feel inwardly, at the state of world affairs or personal affairs, the more pressure you feel to put on an outward mask of fake positivity. And there is enough pseudo-science out there that will tell you that if you smile for 21 days, you will actually start feeling happy on the 22nd. I have no idea where they dig these numbers from.
I personally find positivity or rather the cult of positivity positively negative. Negative in that it seems to impose inauthenticity or tells me in a rather roundabout way that my feelings if they are not all peachy are not ‘valid’ or ‘good’ and must be ‘fixed’. I thought I was rather alone in my animosity toward positivity until I read this academic article which nicely puts it as ‘the tyranny of positive thinking’. It says that if positivity is overly encouraged, say in an organisational setting, people may start keeping their misgivings to themselves or stop voicing any contrary opinions for fear of appearing ‘negative’. Positivity in other words could be a threat to critical thinking as critical thinking in a sense demands evaluating the ‘negatives’. Leaders’ emphasis on positivity may actually be a means of keeping out dissenting voices and propagating their own ‘positive’ narratives as true (the article gives examples of positivity mantras such as “bring me answers, not problems” or “you worry too much”)—for some reason positivity gets more easy acceptance as truth and anyone showing a negative spot is taken for the villain (he isn’t). Positivity also encourages a ‘blame the victim’ attitude. If the path to success is strewn with positivity, failure is just a direct result of not following that path! Organisations seem to think that positivity is good for productivity which it could be if positivity is all about being cheerful no matter what the situation; again, acknowledging that there is less to be positive about may actually create a more positive situation for the worker and ironically even for the organisation than to enforce the self-belief that all is well and good. The article also brings up an example of a US President who didn’t like “pessimism, hand-wringing or doubt” actually diminishing the administration’s ability to deal with disasters! (clearly, wishing them away didn’t work!)
I value authenticity and critical thinking over positivity. I see no harm in optimism and hope, in fact, they certainly help you move on from a place of despair, but I’d rather look at despair in the eye and then move on than pretend that it doesn’t exist or clamp down on people who see it for what it is. I’d rather listen to a practical assessment of problems and try to fix them than pretend that things will get better if I just keep feeling positive that they will. In my opinion, excessive positivity is as bad as excessive negativity—both distort the situation and move the focus away from a solution.

Monday, February 13, 2017

With so much nonsense going on in the world (I mean TRUMP of course), I am worried about something. The more idiocy I see around me, the more the rise of the stupid, the more I start wondering, not so much whether God exists, which I wonder all the time, but an option not infinitely better: Is God rational? Even the manner in which we humans define ‘good’ today, thanks to the trouble philosophers have gone to over the ages to ferret out various definitions of the word, more or less tends to be rational. But, we have no means of knowing today as we didn’t back then whether God himself/herself/itself is rational.
And suppose for a moment that God’s definition of ‘good’ is not a rational one. What happens then? Truth, honesty, justice, integrity, loyalty, equality… all this good stuff… all these values… what happens to them? What if all this doesn’t exactly lead you to God or to heaven? We don’t know what else does except that some extremely religious folks seem to think you could go to church as a sort of backdoor entry to heaven without all the other inconvenient claptrap.
I guess life would cease to have any meaning if it weren’t founded on a rational system of ideas, not just rationality on earth but equally important as seen from above. If someone committed a crime and did not get caught, one could still say that he will one day meet his maker and have to answer for his crimes. One could say that because one believes that one’s idea of crime and justice are the same as that in heaven. But what about the complex modern day crimes or onslaughts against ‘good’? They are not as simple as a murder where a life is clearly lost. How would God judge those crimes? There is no way to know.
I for one believe that rationality is the best means we have with us for apprehending a ‘good’ world. Rationality not disconnected from empathy, of course. What I fear are ironically people who make an appearance of religiosity at the expense of rationality. I’d rather have the philosopher’s version of ‘good’ than the priest’s—no offence to the priest but his followers don’t give one confidence.