Friday, March 16, 2018

Obstacle or Challenge?

When faced with a problem, the instinctive notion is to look at it as an obstacle. Very few people have the courage to look at it as a challenge. This is despite the complexity/simplicity of the problem that faces them. One such person who saw every obstacle in his life as a challenge to overcome is Stephen Hawking. His life itself is an inspiration (I am sure to many) for me. When diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) he focused all his energy into doing what he loved doing the best which was to keep going, and went on to do quite a lot. His contributions speak volumes about the person that he was. To smile while living with ALS, having to depend on someone to do even something as basic as getting out of his bed in the morning, is something that should teach us all to be appreciative of the comfortable life that we are all blessed with and be thankful for it. 

Hawking compared black holes to depression, making it clear that neither the black holes or depression are impossible to escape. " holes ain’t as black as they are painted. They are not the eternal prisons they were once thought. Things can get out of a black hole both on the outside and possibly to another universe. So if you feel you are in a black hole, don’t give up; there’s a way out,” he said.[1]

On the day Stephen Hawking’s passing away was known to the world, my daughter, 10 yrs old, came back from school and we discussed about what they did that day in school. Of course, the school had discussions and activities centering around Stephen Hawking and his work. I happened to be reading the article on his message on depression and we both came across the quote he had made:

“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it. If you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don’t throw it away.”

“Mom, what does that mean? I remember reading another quote which says ‘Reach for the stars, you will at least land up in the moon’. Do both signify the same thing?”

“Not really. The one about reaching to the stars means, aim as high as possible. Even if you fail to reach your target and fall short, you will still fall at a much higher level than where you started. The one made my Hawkings has more to the quote than just aiming high”.

“So what does it mean?”

“Just defining the words that makes the sentence, it means that do not look down on the floor and below your eye level, rise your head high and look up into the sky and be curious about stars and beyond. Now if we go deeper and try to interpret it in the context (of depression), then he means to say that you should not crib about the problems and obstacles that you face in your life but always be eager to know more about life and the reason for our existence and turn every obstacle into a challenge to be overcome; like the tree stump that grew around the fence (obstacle in its growth path) that we saw on our way to your school. Be curious about everything but safely. Love what you do - the work that you do whatever it might be - as the work you do gives you a reason for the life that you live and without it there is nothing. Lastly, be thankful for being surrounded by loved ones who are willing and able to help you in your time of need.”

“So very true Mom. We should not be mean to ourselves by always being sad. We should try to not be rude to others and be willing to help them out whenever they need help. How difficult it must have been for him but he still did so much.”

Being able to inspire children with the life he lived, I think, is one big achievement as it helps shape the next generation that is going to take over the world. Nudging them in the right direction with the right attitude is a job well done. I am thankful to him for enabling me to have this conversation with my daughter and instill the quality of “Never giving up” by quoting his life itself as an example. He was and still is an influencer because of all that he accomplished not just in his professional life but also due to his attitude to want to ‘keep going on’ by looking at every obstacle/problem in life as a challenge to overcome and make a positive and meaningful contribution to the world that we live in.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Interview of Mr. Rajan Radhakrishnan

Wanted to share a recent TV interview of our multi-faceted family friend - Mr. Rajan Radhakrishnan (also known as Raj Thilak - his Tamil movie industry name, who acted in many movies incl. 60 Naal 60 Nimidam). He narrates his life journey in simple words, not just boasting his successes but also gracefully about the failures in his life, the way he overcame them. Today, he runs a succesful restuarant chain - Madras Pavilion - based in Texas, USA. He continues to produce several Tamil movies including Nandha, Mounam Pesiyadhe and Kadhai & contributes to chartiable causes like Udhavum Karangal.

He also gives an insight into the struggles of a foreigner moving to US, wanting to live the American Dream, and progressively integrating into their lifestyle. In the 90's where information was not available at the click of a button with Google :-), setting up a business from scratch, making it successful and keeping its USP a success for several decades, in a foreign land, is a feat worth learning for our GenNext. His simple advise for success is to Stay Focused and Enjoy Life

Here is the interview (in Tamil):

A few more articles featuring him and his passion:
  1. Fundraiser event for Udhavum Karangal
  2. Fundraiser for Houston Tamil Convention
  3. Sponsoring events with South Indian singers/actors

Sunday, November 19, 2017

"Elephant in the Room" - How can you help?

Law and Order Special Victims Logo
A High School auditorium filled with teenagers. Everyone’s face is tense and displays a sense of anxiety as to why they have been asked to assemble, especially when the most unpopular child (not because she is a bully but because she was a survivor of abuse/bullying) is on stage with a Law Enforcement Officer. She starts talking...

“I am a survivor of sexual assault. I felt broken. I was sad, angry. But then what came after - the bullying - I felt like I was underwater, drowning. I want you to know, that what you do, what you say to each other, it hurts. It has consequences you know.” The Officer starts speaking “First of all, I would like to congratulate Mandy for her bravery and courage. We are not here to blame or point fingers. We are not here talk about what could have been. We are here to start a conversation. I would like to invite you all to participate in a simple exercise.” and she stands up. “If you could all just close your eyes and take a second to settle yourselves.” Everyone looks to their neighbours confused and even more scared. The survivor says, “Come on, if I can do it…” and closes her eyes. The rest of them follow the action.

The Officer then goes on to say, “Keeping your eyes closed, I am going to ask you to stand up if you have been hurt by bullying”. A small group of children get up. She continues, “Keeping your eyes closed, stand up if you have been a victim of hazing. If you have ever been hurt by gossip.” Another few join those who are already standing and then she goes on to say, “Stand wp if you have ever been a victim of a sexual assault. Stand up if you have ever been a victim of violence. I would like you to open your eyes and take a look around.” The children are shocked to see that almost the entire auditorium is standing up. She continues to say, “Looking around we can all agree that we are in this together. You have the power to change this by being more accepting, more compassionate. You are not alone.”

Slowly, each child start talking about the incidents that affected them. Some accepted that their inaction to openly stand by those they were close with when they came to them for help was wrong. Some claimed that they were being bullish as they were under the impression that it was the norm and it was how they were funny and cool, but now they realise that they have wronged.

The above narration is from of a recent episode “No Good Reason” from “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”. This is a fictional series that has been telecast in the USA and is in its 19th season and started from the year 1999. The episodes are often "ripped from the headlines" or loosely based on real crimes that have received media attention.
Why did I narrate this scene? When I saw this scene, even though I knew it was only a work of fiction, it shook me to the core because it felt like true life incident. It is not uncommon these days to come across news articles on victims of bullying, sexual assault, violence (any kind), gossip/false news, where even loss of life as one of the many consequences. In the last couple of years, there have been numerous trending hashtags including #MeToo, #NotAllMen, #YesAllWomen and many more. None of these were restricted to a gender, group, ethnicity, state, or country. It was a worldwide phenomenon impacting each one of us in some way or the other. I fear for the kind of world that we will soon leave behind for our future generations:
  • Self-Centric: glued to the gadgets to garner fame on social media, away from human interactions
  • Lack of empathy to fellow human beings
  • Lack of drive and the intelligence to filter unverified forwards/real news and judging on an impulse
  • Lack of basic survival skills
  • Inability to have meaningful conversations
  • Developing extremely polarised views

How can you Help?

Whether you have been personally affected by any form of violence or abuse, each one of us are part of the problem. We directly or indirectly contribute to the issue by our indifference. I understand that it is difficult to personally interfere and stand up for the one being victimised every time you witness such incident, but there might be other ways by which you can at least be supportive.
  • When the victim comes to you for help (in any form),
    • Being there for the person by empathising with them
    • Not being judgemental
    • By providing a listening ear when they go through the healing process.
  • Awareness about the local laws of the land and registering such misdeeds or mishaps
  • Alert the Emergency services giving clear instructions to the location of the incident and/or approach the right authorities and appraise them appropriately.
  • Connecting with our children, peers and elders who are in your social circle of influence about:
    • The difference between a joke and a “rude” joke, at the cost of attacking someone’s self esteem or dignity.
    • The importance of standing up for what is right
    • To be socially aware and responsible for the consequences of our words and actions including, leaving behind responsible digital footprints (e.g. comments you make in social media)
  • Having simple “home rules” to facilitate healthy conversations
    • This can be a specific time of day say, Dinner, without gadgets where the whole family sits together and shares their views. This can help develop a healthy habit of being open to different viewpoints,  and reduces polarisation of thoughts and learn how to ‘agree to disagree’ politely.
Here are some interesting videos that addresses harassment and doing the right thing in small but impactful ways:
  1. Harassment on local transport
  2. Handling Sexual Harassment at Work
  3. Domestic Abuse - Women Safety Begins at Home
  4. Stop Bullying - Everyone Can Help
  5. I'm Really Sorry - A movie on Bullying
I am sure if all of us work with all sincerity to acknowledge the problem and then think of more creative ways to overcome such issues, the “Elephant in the room” can be addressed.