On making our world not just better but happier…

Having continuous conversations with your children is the best way to prepare them for the real world and to help groom them into being smart human beings.
Goldie Hawn, 69, with MindUP kids
Picture Courtesy: The Hawn Foundation Website
The latest issue of Harvard Business Review features an interview by Alison Beard with the famous Hollywood actor Goldie Hawn. Hawn was famous for such hits as Cactus Flower, Private Benjamin, The First Wives Club and Everyone Says I Love You. Hawn told Beard that her Hawn Foundation teaches resilience and mindfulness to 400,000 children around the world: “After 9/11, I realized that our children were no longer going to be living in a secure world. I also realized that the things we do in the first part of our Life aren’t always what we do moving on. How could I make a change and give back? So I brought together neuroscientists, positive psychologists, teachers, and mindfulness practitioners to create a program we call MindUP. It’s designed to help children understand their own neurology, develop mental stability, and reduce stress. People told me I would never be able to teach children how their brains work. And I said, Why not? There are now more than 400,000 doing MindUP worldwide.” Calling herself a “mindfulness campaigner”, Hawn says she wants to “build leaders of tomorrow by nurturing the children of today”.
I second that and champion that totally. The Information Age that we live in today delivers unfiltered, often uncensorable, information to children 24×7. There’s hardly any child who’s not aware of rape or terrorism or break-ups/divorce or poverty or prostitution or child-trafficking or drugs or war. On one side we parents wish to raise our children teaching them to be truthful and compassionate. On the other side, our societies, our nations and even our families are behaving so contradictory to the value systems we preach and wish that our children practice. For instance, you teach your child not to steal or lie. But you watch, often with your child, pirated online links of new movie releases. Don’t we realize that lifting someone’s intellectual property without paying for it is theft? Or consider the fact that we want, especially in the wake of the Nirbhaya episode in India, our male children to grow up to respect women. But we ourselves use so much of abusive slang (our seemingly innocuous MCs and BCs are precisely that!) or crack sexist jokes that deride women. Or we want protect our children from the gory social challenges of terrorism, poverty, child abuse and child trafficking. But the real world – and all our cinema – is full of them. The more we conceal, the more curious our children are to “see” first-hand what the real world is really like. Or the amount of academic and social pressure, in the name of extra-curricular activities, we heap on our children is not funny. We don’t realize that all this stress is perhaps numbing them, making them cold and, in some cases, even insensitive to their role as responsible global citizens of the future. This is where Hawn’s program attempts to want make a difference.
But you don’t need to wait for Hawn’s initiative to arrive in your neighborhood. You can lead as a parent by starting to have honest, open, conversations with your children. Teach them what’s right. Teach them to learn from their choices and mistakes. Share with them the gory details of real world issues from poverty to prostitution and help them resolve to make a difference. My wife and I ran a program on Life Skills for two years at a government-aided school in Chennai some years ago. We noticed that all 60 children we worked with each year resolved never to smoke or drink because they were all from families where a parent, or both parents, were alcoholic or smoking addicts. So, our learning has been that children are very open and willing to make intelligent choices – even better than adults – if they have access to facts and the true, bigger picture. And finally, help children, through conversations, understand that Life is never a straight line. Teach them that Life cannot be progressed in a linear fashion. Prepare them – and invite them – to face Life and whatever comes their way; be it a health challenge, a financial setback for the family, a relationship breakdown or even death. Preparing children to be “ready for anything” makes them less insecure and, in fact, stronger to deal with the ups and downs of Life.
The key is to help children realize the value of living smartly, intelligently. I learnt the value of mindfulness, and the power of being resilient, at age 35. I wish I had learnt it earlier. I would then have lived many more years of my Life meaningfully and fully. Like Hawn, I totally endorse the view that we must “catch ‘em young”! Because a more resilient and mindful generation of adults will not just make our world better, it will make it a happier one too!

Forgive, forget, act__but don’t avenge!

This may well sound counter-intuitive. Contradictory too!  How can you forgive and forget, still act, but not avenge? Doesn’t action, or reaction or revenge, come from remembering__and not forgetting__the pain of an injustice, an injury? How can one forgive and act__without avenging?

Let me share some learnings here. One sure learning is that we have made it complex with the way we deal with injustices and injuries in Life! This is not as difficult to achieve or as complex to understand as it sounds.

I met a friend recently after 20-odd years. I knew she had been divorced from her husband (whom I also knew very well__all three of us were colleagues at one point in time) for some years now. So, when we met for coffee, I did not bring up any reference to him, choosing to hold conversation over her son, her work and her interest in my work. Then, after hearing some of what I do and what I plan to do with our business, she quickly suggested that I should meet her ex-husband. I was quite surprised. I had known through common friends that in the years she been separating from her husband, things had been pretty rough for her. And so I had concluded that there might still be much acrimony between them. My first response was one of amazement when she said she would speak to him and re-connect me with him!

I asked her: “If you don’t mind, what led to the two of you divorcing? And how’s it that you both are still in touch?”

She replied: “Well, after the initial euphoria of the physical attraction had died down, we discovered that we could be excellent colleagues but never be good soul-mates. We enjoyed discussing work. But the moment we looked at each other as spouses we found we could not relate with the other on expectations, roles and responsibilities. Our sex Life had virtually ended in a few years of the marriage. But we went on with the charade of a marriage, first for family, then for society and then for our child. Every day was a nightmare__fights, followed by long periods of sulking. I always got the feeling he wanted me out. And I thought he was also interested in someone else. So I became both combative and possessive. This led to more fights. Then, seven years ago, I reasoned to myself, why am I holding him and me, and our son, to ransom in a relationship which is dead? It was so evident that it doesn’t exist. I reckoned that while I demanded him to be my husband, I had long ago refused to treat him as one. He was a doting father. But I could not accept him as my husband. While the early attempts to let go of him and our marriage were complete with mature reasoning, at the execution stage__when it came to speaking my mind__I faltered. Each time I tried, the beast of betrayal consumed me. I wanted to avenge him. But later I realized it was meaningless. It dawned on me that the reason he was interested in someone else was that he was no longer interested in me. So, I forgave myself, forgave him and decided to act! We sat together and agreed that we needed to dissolve this meaningless framework of marriage. We agreed to separate, divorce, while continuing be good colleagues. We are very good friends even now. He’s a good father to our son. He’s remarried and has a child from his second marriage. And there’s so much peace for all of us.”

I am impressed by the mature, practical approach my friend had taken in place of action that could well have been acrimonious, full of pain and suffering for all parties concerned.

My learning is that everyone who has been treated unjustly, unfairly by Life, or by someone, will initially want to dwell in the following two realms:

  • How dare ____________  do this to me? Fill in the blank with he, she, person’s name, company name, team name, Life, country name__whatever suits the context.
  • I will avenge this come what may!

Thinking within these realms is normal. So, relax if you have thought this way! But also know that both these realms thrive in the dark epicenter of your ego. If you are feeling hurt, feeling vengeful, about anyone or anything, it is because of your ego. The ego controls all negativity in you. The antidote for ego is awareness. When you are aware that the nature of Life is inscrutable__that anything can happen, including injustice, to you, you will be unmoved. When you realize that people act unjustly, causing untold suffering and misery to those around them, because they themselves are suffering, you will respond with empathy than react with anger.

Look around. There’s so much injustice that’s happening to you or to people around you! Even before the memories of the gory end Nirbhaya met with have died down, the Suryanelli rape case (of 1996) has come back into focus. If you read the facts of the case, your heart will ache with compassion and grieve with helplessness. If you understand truly how the ‘collective conscience of the Indian people’ led to the questionable trial and redoubtable hanging of Afzal Guru, you will feel your blood boil.

So, in a way, I don’t think either the world or Life is going to get any more just or fair. Every such episode can unleash in you a torrent of anger, anguish, suffering and misery! There’s no way you__or I__can escape being touched by the ripples of everyday Life. But you can, with awareness, refuse to be moved by them. Seeking vengeance always delivers more suffering than there already is. Awareness, on the other hand, delivers forgiveness. Understand the true implication of practicing forgiveness. Forgiveness is for you to feel free, liberated, because it is important you get away from what is causing you the suffering! It is only when you think forgiving someone is letting them go scot-free, that you hesitate, you cling on. Instead, focus on your freedom. Your liberation. Only then can you detach from what or who is causing the injustice and instead focus on the act of injustice itself. When you are free, detached, you are unmoved by the happening. It has touched you and left you unmoved. Like the way a wave touches the shore and recedes. You are then (like the shore) a mere witness, an observer, of your own Life, of people, of events (like the waves) in your Life. You will then be, and in, bliss.

This does not mean you should not act. If Gandhi had not acted on the injustice that was meted out to Indians, we would not have become free as a nation. Action, however, need not necessarily, in this context, connote revenge, violence and acrimony. Gandhi acted with monomaniacal focus, with ‘ahimsa’ (where he championed the absence of violent thought in the first place) as his main theme. Forgiving, forgetting if you can, acting, and not avenging, really means this: keeping the focus, replacing all violent thought with concerted action to change a current reality__that you find hard to accept__into a future state which you believe is the best for all concerned.

This is what my friend did. You too can try this in any situation you are faced with in your Life. Changing your approach to injustice, changes how you feel within yourself. How you feel within has a huge impact on what you will do to make things better. This is what intelligent living is all about __ making your Life better by living it better!