What do you want to do before you die?

When you contemplate on death, and understand it to be the most predictable and inevitable aspect of your Life, you will start living instead of merely existing!

The “Before I Die” Wall in Wallace Garden, Chennai;
outside Tuscana Pizzeria
This afternoon, while walking along Wallace Garden, in Chennai, we chanced upon a large, unique, black board outside the Tuscana Pizzeria. It had the words “Before I die” stenciled in a big font on it, followed by several “I want to _______________” prompts on it. Which is, anyone can write, what they want to do before they die, in the blank space opposite each “I want to” prompt. I filled the blank opposite my “I want to” prompt with “Live Fully!” My wife filled her blank with “Record a Song – Album!” Neither of us thought too much. We simply picked up the chalk piece provided beside the black board and shared our innermost feeling fluently. There was no holding back. And I believe that’s what’s most inspiring this idea – of expressing yourself freely, with absolute honesty, when you contemplate on death.

Death is not a bad idea. It is not a depressing thought. It actually is an empowering, inevitable reality. A truth that none of us can hide from or avoid. Candy Chang, a Taiwanese-American artist, is the inspiration and the force behind the “Before I die” movement. In 2011, after a period of intense grief and depression, which followed the loss of someone dear to her, she took the permission to paint the outer wall of an abandoned house in her neighborhood, with chalkboard paint and stenciled it with a grid of the sentence “Before I die I want to _______.” Anyone walking by could pick up a piece of chalk, reflect on their lives, and share their personal aspirations in public space. It was all an experiment and she didn’t know what to expect. By the next day, all 80 prompts were filled and responses spilled into the margins: “Before I die I want to… ‘sing for millions’, ‘plant a tree’, ‘hold her one more time’, ‘straddle the International Date Line’, ‘see my daughter graduate’, ‘eat more of everything’, ‘abandon all insecurities’, ‘be completely myself’…”  People’s responses made her laugh out loud and tear up. They consoled her during hard times. She understood her neighbors in new and enlightening ways, and the wall reminded her that she’s not alone as she tries to make sense of her Life.
After posting a few photos, she received hundreds of messages from people who wanted to make a wall with their community. She created a website with resources and now thanks to passionate people around the world, over 500 “Before I Die” walls have been created in over 30 languages and over 60 countries, including Kazakhstan, Portugal, Japan, Denmark, Iraq, Argentina, and South Africa. My wife and I, as is obvious, had stumbled upon the wall in Chennai. And let me confess, the experience has left me completely energized and enriched.
We must often take time to pause and reflect on our lives. The problem with today’s lifestyles is that everything is so simple – and is increasingly getting simpler, thanks to technology – yet our lives remain more complex and complicated than ever before. Despite email, no one really responds or reaches out to others. Sharing has been reduced to letting others know what inane stuff you have chanced upon on facebook. WhatsApp and text messaging provide instant gratification but no warmth. Everyone’s busier than ever before but no one knows where they are going. Sometimes it’s even difficult for people to know whether they are going or coming. Contemplating on death, therefore, is an important reflection point. In fact, it can also be theinflection point in your Life once you realize that you don’t have all the time here – on this planet – which you, unfortunately, still believe you have! The awakening moment is when you understand that you are speeding towards your death, albeit at a different speed compared to others! That’s when, you will wake up, you will throw out all that’s – or whoever is – unimportant in your Life. And that’s when you will start living meaningfully, purposefully and joyously! So, what are you waiting for? What do you want to do before you die? Answer that question now – and just go do it!

(PS: Content related to Candy Chang has been taken from her official website.)

Always empower your children with the truth

One of the key responsibilities we have as parents is to be honest and speak the truth with our children.
There may often be the urge to hide the truth from children imagining that they may not comprehend or they may not be able to handle the real world. So, whether there is a relationship issue between parents or there is some difficult or unique Life situation that the parents are handling, with regard to either the children or the family, it is best to share whatever is going on with the kids. Honestly. Transparently. Of course, you can always package the truth in a creative yet simple manner in which the children will understand it better.
All of us know that children are very perceptive, intelligent and curious. Yet we are reluctant to share what we have learnt from Life with our children. Really, the adult view that children will not understand is a myth. They know almost everything about everything. Often times, they know better than the parents! An integral part of parenting is to have open conversations even on “seemingly difficult or taboo” subjects like sex or a biological process like menstruation or divorce. Children have no notion of right or wrong. And none of what is socially taboo is really wrong. So, by not discussing with them or telling them what we know when they ask us, we are encouraging them to either conform to mindless social norms or to think of those subjects as wrong! Which is unfair. For if sex were something wrong to indulge in then children wouldn’t be born in the first place. Or how can a biological process, which is as an aspect of creation, be wrong? It is like saying facial hair in men is wrong – even if you don’t like it, can you do anything about the way a male is biologically engineered? Is going for a divorce really wrong? It is only an affirmation of incompatibility between two people – which really is a great step towards their own happiness and inner peace. It’s another matter that most parents can’t handle incompatibility issues maturely and make the divorce process messy – particularly for their children.

Don’t philosophize the truth with your children. Tell it the way it is. Children are phenomenally intuitive. They grasp the truth. And internalize it quickly. My own experience with parenting has been full of interesting moments of truth and learning opportunities.
I remember when our son was about three years old, we attended the weddings of a few of our friends – all of which took place in the same year. And naturally, in the following year, some of these women got pregnant. We attended their baby shower events with our son in tow. Around then, my wife and I were also expecting our second one. One evening our son demanded to know from my wife: “Mom, how do people have babies?” My wife replied matter-of-factly: “When they get married!” There was a long silence for several minutes. It appeared to us that our son had forgotten both the question and the answer. He seemed to be immersed in playing with his collection of Hot Wheels miniature cars. Suddenly he looked up and shot his next question: “But dad and you never got married, so how did you have me? And now you are having another baby?” Startled, my wife and I looked at each other and smiled. Obviously, since our son was not at our wedding, he didn’t think of us as married at that time! I explained: “Babies are born when a man and a woman come together. Most of the times they are married when they come together. Just as your mom and I. You will learn how this works when you grow older. It’s pretty simple actually!” That’s it! Our son did not have another question. And we have never discussed it again!
Children are also always watching their parents – and imitating them. The first heroes and icons for a child are her or his parents. As a young CEO, I was wantonly aggressive in my 30s. I used swearwords all the time. My son was barely eight when I caught him swearing. The computer, on which he was playing a video game,  was hanging. “F#%$!”, he swore. I happened to be in the room. I looked at him and told him in a stern tone: “No! That’s not a word you must use son!”. He shot back: “But you use it all the time!” I remember being caught defenseless. I quickly apologized to him and promised him that I would not use it again. My assurance didn’t matter to him, I suppose, for he asked: “What does f#%$ mean, dad?” I concealed my shock and replied with a straight face: “It’s a word that people use to swear. It means the act of sex that a man and woman have. Again, I am sorry for using it. It’s not a word that people should use. Definitely not children. And you will understand this word and what sex means when you grow up. I won’t use the word again. It will be nice if you also don’t use it!” From that day on, I curbed my urge to swear – eventually I have given up swearing totally! I guess my son may be swearing at times, like most people do in a subconscious sort of way these days – but I am also sure he will remember this conversation from an educational perspective, of what he learned from me, just as the way I remember teaching him!
Surely, discussing the truth – in any context – is always uncomfortable. Yet, whenever we have had to discuss difficult situations or issues with my son and my daughter, through their teens and into adulthood now, my wife and I have always told them the truth. If we know better than them we share what we know. If we don’t know something, we admit we don’t know. Simple. At the end of every conversation, we pause and ask them if they have questions. If they don’t we invite them to come forward to ask them whenever they have one. We have found this approach very productive; evidence being that their adolescent years have been very enriching – full of learning, sharing and camaraderie – for all of us!
The initial growing up years of children, from childhood to adulthood, are both precocious and precious. It is important that parents hold their hands and walk them through this phase. What they learn through this time stays with them forever. Irrespective of the circumstances in which you have to be a parent to them and irrespective of the environment they have to grow up in, if you can help your children know and face the reality of their lives, of this world, you will have given them the best education that they can possibly receive. One reason why many of us like to avoid telling it as it is to children is because our parents never told us so. But that’s not a great excuse. The world we live in is not the same world in which we were raised. What our parents did__or did not do__was from their worldly view. Surely we don’t necessarily hold the same view. So, we can be progressive, a lot more liberal and certainly direct and upfront. Not that our children will not learn without us. They eventually will. But there’s greater joy in educating our children and empowering them with the truth than watching them struggle, stumble, fall and learn!