Monday, 16 March 2015

Descend ... to Arise

“It is unwise to take any situation for granted as the ‘lesser’ mortal may be the very one to teach us the much needed lesson in humility.” 

In an era where larger than life, self-absorbed business leaders are treated like legends, with the indispensible cult following, elevating humility as an essential trait for great leadership may seem peculiar, even a bit obsolete. Yet, humility and the ability to admit error may be two of the most imperative qualities today’s visionary leaders must have.

Qualities long associated with illustrious leadership encompass passion, charisma, enthusiasm, charm, strength and foresight. One crucial element often overlooked is ‘Humility’. We are often taught that exemplary leaders should hide their weaknesses and flaws. This view itself is flawed. Admitting to being wrong is not only commendable, but can also serve as a powerful tool for leaders to increase their authenticity. When practiced regularly, humility can gradually help create a work culture that raises the bar of honesty, solidarity, innovation, openness to change and many other positive features of organizational life.

Many people erroneously believe that humility is the opposite of pride, when, in fact, it is a point of equilibrium. The opposite of pride is actually a lack of self esteem. A modest person is totally different from a person who cannot recognize and appreciate himself as he is. A self-effacing leader is self-aware and not weighed down with insecurities, constantly worrying about how he or she is perceived by their peers. Their egos reflect the reality of their persona and circumstance. They display a healthy sense of self that doesn’t overreact irrationally to external stimuli or perceived threats. From this phenomenal emotional vantage point, they are able to successfully lead their organizations. Quietly confident, they inspire their subordinates and peers to draw on their talents and to seek accomplishment, all in service to the organization and its greater goal.

Humility is the only true wisdom by which we can prepare our minds for all the possible unpredictable changes that life has to life. Self-reflection entails delving deep and asking yourself questions about your values, assessing your strengths and failures, thinking about your perceptions and interactions with others, and imagining where you want to take your life going forward.

As an old Argentinian saying goes. “Tell me what you are conceited about, and I'll tell you what you lack.” The key difference between arrogance and confidence is self-awareness. So how do you avoid the pitfalls that come with the danger of being an arrogant, pompous jerk? Just stay ‘Humble’.

Ditch the exaggerated swagger. Regardless of what you’ve heard, stakeholders just want to communicate with people who are respectful and humble. Swagger, while mildly impressive to some, is a turnoff for most.

Humility offers tremendous foresight. Knowledge that you’re going to get kicked, least of all when you expect it. Arrogance is ignorance, thinking that no one is going to ever dare take aim. It’s tougher for people to kick a nice guy when he’s down. On the contrary, the arrogant chap has always had a ‘bullseye’ painted on his rear end....people were just waiting for the right moment for him to tumble.

Humble leaders also encourage an honest flow of dialogue. Information flows both ways, but a pompous leader can't listen when his mouth is boastfully moving. The best leaders are the best listeners! They strategically know when to turn down the din and make their move.

Great leaders operate from a strong, humble, centre of gravity and are naturally perceived as more honest, trustworthy and competent. Because humility prevents excessive self-focus it also allows leaders to develop deeper perspectives and enables them to correctly foresee the future. They are not fooled by the charade on the surface, and are able to observe and correctly detect behind the flimsy veil of individuals and entire systems. One can correctly summarize that ‘Humility’ is a rare gift that leaders can only acquire once they have taken the long journey into the very heart of who they are...and made peace with their core being.

There’s an old saying that seems to capture it: A pseudo leader always leaves you with a feeling of their greatness, while a humble leader always leaves you with a feeling of your greatness.

Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce through the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.” St. Augustine’s wise words written over two centuries ago leave us with much to ponder upon.     

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

The Final Supper with Death’s Angel

I hate to break this to you, but we’re all going to die. Not now… but one day… sooner or later we’ll all be dead. This isn’t a newsflash. Or a sudden revelation. It’s really going to happen. At some future time… everyone reading this article will be dead.

Sad but true, Death’s Angel will claim all our friends and loved ones. He will claim you and me for sure. The beauty and justice of it all is that Death’s Angel is non-discriminatory and does not keep a “Do Not Kill” list.

And what happens after we die? I don’t know. All of us have our views and beliefs on this topic, but none us have proof of life yonder. Therefore we are rationally left with one sagacious option – the choice of ‘Free Will’ in our current form of existence.

We can choose to believe in the eternal void, or we can choose to believe in permanence. If we ourselves are temporary, then our lives will be filled only with transience. We will exist only for survival, a chore at which we will ultimately fail. But if we live for that which is permanent, then even this fleeting existence will be permeated with immortality. If our existence has a purpose, then that purpose must come from the part of us that is permanent. The choice is whether we live for what is temporary, or do we choose to live for that which is permanent?

Someday our bodies will decay and die. Our houses will crumble. Our loved ones will weep over our remains. Our life stories and picture albums will come to a permanent full stop. If we live for dust, then dust we must become. But when we choose to believe in our own eternalness, we discover our reason of existence. We realize our purpose. And we finally begin to live as the mighty and fearless spirits we are meant to be instead of the fragile moulds which encase them. We evolve to comprehending that nothing fleeting gives our life any meaning. Only the enduring remains eternal, forever.

So what is eternal? Enduring? That lasts beyond the existence of our frail bodies? It is that which echoes most deeply within the great spirits that reside inside us. Faith. Courage. Hope. Compassion. Peace. Kindness. Truth. Freedom. Justice. Honor. Mercy. Humility. And above all, Love.

This is what gives meaning to our lives, helping us to refrain from being tempted by that which is impermanent. Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of Peace & Non Violence endures forever. Picasso and Leonardo da Vinci’s art lives evermore. Gaudi’s architecture continues to awe and inspire. The melodies of Bach and Mozart last for eternity. Mother Teresa’s gift of compassion will continue to enthuse many new generations going forward.

How many of you have embraced your own unique greatness and spent your precious ticking minutes actualizing your destiny? Or would I get a greater response to the question of how many of you are obsessed with the accumulation of dust?

We spend our entire life calculating our material gain and personal glory, or worrying about refuge for our golden years, conniving and accumulating up until the point we don’t even know how much is enough. We forget our pure childhood dreams, our hearts become smaller, and finally we lose our souls in this entire futile process. How many of us have actually paused for a moment and asked ourselves a simple question of “What am I selflessly doing for others?”

We spend an eternity searching for the truth....looking for happiness...seeking the meaning of our lives. But it’s so simple. Our life has no meaning until it has no impact on others. Our life, the values we represent, and the gifts we offer is the message....and the reason why we are put here. Our gift to the world could be a melody, a painting, a child, a piece of literature, an organization, or the expression of an idea whose time has come. Each of these gifts carries within it a slice of our own eternalness. And through these gifts we become immortal.

Live for that which is real. Let your inner spirit express its greatness. At least when it’s time for your final supper with Death’s Angel, the moment will not be pervaded with the stench of dread but rather with a sense of harmony and peace. Only because you know in the depths of your heart that you have dedicated a lifetime to the most heroic labour, committed to your ideals forged in the purity of your conscience, and devoted yourself to the creation of permanent legacies for the world that you leave behind. Your final supper will be a moment of celebration... a peaceful transformation instead of a tragic realization.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Respecting Inequality

Equality for Women? Men and women are certainly not equal. But for that matter, no creature is equal. A young dad, an old widow, an adolescent girl, a deaf man, a poor farmer, a village zamindar, a mill worker, a CEO are all not truly equal. Yet from a larger perspective, all of them occupy an equivalent position as living beings on this planet! Gender, age, wealth, colour, nationality, race, caste or marital status, does not take away their Right to Equality. We came equals into this world, and equals shall we go out of it.

So when exactly did the burning issue of gender inequality enter the picture? The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of the female gender begins right from the moment when the doctor announces “It's a girl”. The right to education, right to Inheritance, right to maintaining their family name, right to performing the parents’ last rites, right to freedom in public spaces or travelling alone, right to independence and self-sufficiency, right to remarriage, even the right to be born have all been reserved for men for centuries. Politics, governance and the institution of making laws was also a male reserved domain. Even today, women are discouraged from pursuing their professions too seriously. A career for women is seen as an option, a hobby perhaps...marriage and children are viewed as the big ticket prize.  So you see, the Game Field was never Equal...not because women were confirmed as an inferior species, but only because this fabricated lie of inequality served certain vested interests!

To me the first step to Equality begins when a woman feels safe! Safe from being sexually exploited either in her own home or at public spaces, safe from her rights and inheritances from being embezzled, safe to choose her education or career without being judged by her family, safe in her choice of marriage, having children or remarrying without society becoming the adjudicator of her life.....and most importantly, safe to be born without being terminated in the first trimester or safe from being buried alive in the backyard even before she could enjoy her first breath of freedom simply because she belonged to the female gender.

Women should be able to step into public transport without facing the traumatic risk of being molested or being raped and killed (and then be blamed for ‘asking for it’). When women ask for or accept being escorted back home, it is generally because public spaces, public transportation and the law in general have not set up adequate deterrents and offered them the security they rightly deserve. Even today society mildly brands sexual harassment as ‘eve teasing’. Tokenism in the form of separate ticket lines for women or separate hotel floors reserved specially for women are meekly accepted as grand gestures offered, almost as an apology for greater atrocities committed on them day in and day out. Sadly, women are the only exploited group in history to have been idealized into powerlessness.

This situation can’t continue forever. We will never be able to boast of a true civilization until we have learned to recognize the equal rights of others. An entire society benefits from a system where every woman has the opportunity to realize her full potential and to contribute to the best of her ability. Equal pay isn't just a women's rights issue; when women get equal pay, their family incomes rise and the whole family benefits. Happy, independent, self-possessed women mean happier families, and happier families mean a happy society....and a progressed nation! The need of the hour is for women to be valued by their families and by society at large....and this task is impossible until they are perceived as ‘liabilities’! To remove this outdated tag, women must be realized as beings who receive equal and fair opportunities from birth onwards. 

Being Equal means enjoying equal rights to justice, opportunities, and happiness. Equality certainly does not indicate that women need to behave like men! True Equality is all about respecting Inequality ....where men and women can be themselves, and bring their own unique strengths, talents and creativity into the world to make it a better place. Equality means women being paid fair wages for an honest day’s work just as much as men having an equal right to enjoy cooking, caring for family, raising children or dancing. It does not mean they have to behave exactly in the manner of a stereotyped mould created many centuries ago. Equality means letting go of our biases, and nurturing a society that offers a more logical and just way of living. Where Equality is equivalent to Respect for all!

The Greek philosopher Aristotle rightly summed up the debate on Equality with the wise words, “The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal.”