A pompous friend and the modest billionaire Azim Premji help reinforce a key guiding principle in Vaani and me – that the essence of responsible citizenship lies in trusteeship.
This past week, a friend reached out wanting to visit us to invite us to his daughter’s wedding. We requested him to avoid the formality and support our initiative to save paper. So we asked him to send the Invite over WhatsApp. But the gentleman and his wife insisted on coming home. When they handed over the Invite, printed on hot pink paper with gold letters in a ‘custom-designed’ font, our friend said: “Each invitation card has cost us Rs.1000 and surely WhatsApp would not have done justice to our effort. So, we decided to come personally…that way you can see how elaborately we have planned this wedding…it will be the grandest in our family for a long, long time…!”
Even as he made that statement – both verbally and through physically handing over that expensive invitation card – Vaani and I wondered, if each card cost a whopping Rs.1000, then how big, how fat and how wasteful will the actual wedding itself be?
Although Vaani and I don’t see it that way anymore, I concede that weddings are regarded as a socially relevant and important occasion by most families. But do they really need to be pompous events where everything is about outdoing someone else, showing off how much you have and investing in a vulgar, reckless, display of ego, wealth and status?
Thankfully, some of the younger folks we know are leading a change among their families and peers. A few weddings we have been invited to in the last couple of years have been zero-waste affairs; they were bootstrapped and done tastefully with no pomp, with only very close family and friends in attendance.
We believe weddings, if they must be done at all, must focus on making the experience memorable for everyone present while keeping the event a responsible celebration that emphasizes companionship and Happiness. And when everyone wills it so, weddings can certainly be carefully, meaningfully, curated on lower budgets; the money saved can be put to better use – for the couple to travel and see the world or set up a new home or to support a social cause that is seriously starved of resources.
I know it will be a long way before this view is embraced by the majority. But clearly a Rs.1000-a-piece wedding invitation card is avoidable. Surely, you can create beautiful Invites that can be e-mailed or sent over WhatsApp.
Interestingly, again this past week, we were invited to an event where Azim Premji of Wipro was given the Madras Management Association – Amalgamations Group Business Leadership Award for 2019.
Why does the incredibly simple, modest, Premji even need to be feted with an award? This was the thought uppermost on our mind when we arrived at the event.
But former ICICI Bank Chairman N.Vaghul nailed the reasoning. He said that in a society where values like integrity and trusteeship are almost extinct, where there is a steady decline in responsible conduct of citizenship, the spotlight on Premji’s principled Life can really help showcase the continued relevance of these values. Through telling the story of his Life, of the world-class institutions he has built (in manufacturing, IT and education) and of how much he is giving away (estimated at close to $ 21 billion) to his charity – the Azim Premji Foundation – we are inviting future generations to pause, reflect and, hopefully, embrace his philosophy of trusteeship (which he says is inspired by Mahatma Gandhi).
Vaani and I took away a key learning from Premji’s acceptance speech. He said that there is only so much that a family can consume. The inference clearly is that whatever is available to a family beyond what they require to meet their basic needs may ideally be given away to support someone else’s need to live a dignified Life.
I didn’t miss the irony from the past week as I sat down early this morning to write this Blogpost. The reality of the world – and the times – we live in struck me hard. Surely there are more people around us who believe that making money and showing it all off is the Purpose of Life. They are like our friend who vainly insists that even the invitation card to his daughter’s wedding must announce his wealth and social status. And, sadly, there are fewer people like Premji, who despite all their wealth, remain grounded and are invested in social good. Which is why I agree with Vaghul. Every time a Premji is celebrated, the message of intelligent living, of compassion, of giving, is celebrated. And given the circus of greed and one-upmanship that we see incessantly playing around us, this celebration of responsible citizenship is critical to inspire people; to invite them to consider living fuller, more meaningful, lives.
The idea of responsible citizenship is not about doing charity when you are asked to do it. I am sure most people out there have enough goodness in them to stand up and be counted when they are asked to contribute. So, that’s not the kind of reactive behavior that I am talking about. Responsible citizenship is about trusteeship.
Think of trusteeship like this. You are a trustee of the Life that’s been given to you. And you are a trustee of the planet that you inhabit. So be responsible with how you live and how you use the planet’s resources. Recognize that you need only so much to live and to support your immediate family. Beyond food, clothing, shelter, education, a reasonable healthcare and retirement plan and hi-speed internet connectivity through a smart device, whatever you have, whatever comes your way, give it away. Give, not because you have to give, not because you are asked to give, but give because you want to give. Recognize that just as this human form, this Life, is a gift, every thing, every resource that you acquire in this lifetime, is also given to you. So, be responsible by employing all that you receive for human good, to make the world a better place.
I too will lean on Gandhi to suggest employing a simple principle to make informed, intelligent, decisions when it comes to practising trusteeship (I have tweaked Gandhi’s original thought to make it relatable to our times): “Recall the face of the poorest – economically, emotionally, spiritually – person you have come across and ask yourself if the step you are about to take will benefit this person? Will this person gain from your making this choice? Will it help restore them to a Life of dignity, love and Happiness? If it will, go do what you are planning to do. If it won’t, well, rethink your choice!”
Apply this principle to my friend’s choice to splurge Rs.1000 on that wedding invitation card. Apply it to Premji’s choice to give away $ 21 billion. And apply it to each of your Life choices – from the past, from the present and to those that may come up in the future. And see how beautifully this principle leads you – every single time – to distinguish between want and need; and to do what is right than what appears to be right!
After postponing – for cost and other reasons – attending to a nagging pain and sensitivity in my teeth for almost a month, I finally visited our dentist earlier this past week. She’s a fine young lady – warm, courteous and very detailed with both her examination of and education on a condition. After review, she concluded that I needed to have my teeth scaled.
We fixed a time on Saturday evening for this process.
Even as Vaani and I arrived at the appointed time at her clinic she was already set, waiting for me. When we thanked her for her professionalism, she said she had imbibed this value from her father-in-law, a veteran doctor who always championed being on time to receive patients.
The scaling process was a simple one. My dentist further made it interesting by keeping me engaged with what she was seeing, what she was doing. When we were done, I asked her for her fee. She stated a very reasonable amount; I was actually expecting the fee to be higher. Surprised, I asked her if she was sure and if she had included her consulting fee for my visit earlier in the week (for which she had not charged then). Her reply was beautiful: “Sir, I am very sure. The reason why I left an established hospital chain, set up a clinic and started practising on my own is because here I can treat my patients the way I like to treat them – charging them reasonably for the services I offer.”
There’s an endearing, old world charm in the young doctor’s outlook to Life and in her attitude towards money.
Think about it. How often do you encounter professionals these days that value your time and who don’t keep you waiting? How likely is it that you will be charged only a fair, reasonable, fee for a professional’s advice or service? Surely, my dentist’s twin principles of patient(customer)-focus and compassion, of striving to not keep a patient waiting and to charge only a reasonable fee, are not just rare, they are perhaps likely to completely fade away from our society soon.
Besides this, there’s an invaluable, spiritual, lesson we can glean from the doctor’s philosophy and work ethic. Getting to that lesson requires that you ask yourself a simple question: What do I want to do with my Life?
Let’s understand this better. You have been given this Life – it is a gift, surely, because you never asked to be born; and you have acquired knowledge in your chosen field. So, what do you want to do with this gift and this knowledge? This is the key question. The answer to this question will lead you to the why of your creation, your Purpose. This answer will open the door to your Happiness.
Now, in my dentist’s case, she is a doctor; but you may be a gardener, a cook, a dancer, a lawyer, an entrepreneur, an accountant, an engineer, a musician, a painter – whoever you are – ask yourself, what do you want to do with the gift of your lifetime and with the knowledge, the training, the expertise you have in your chosen field? When you employ this understanding (of what you want to do with your Life) for serving others – than just yourself – you will awaken to living a Life of meaning and Happiness. You will then discover that your Life matters – because you are living it purposefully.
When you look around, you will realize that many people are feeling incomplete and unhappy with their Life. Look closely and you will find that they have perhaps chosen to serve only their interest, where their focus is only on earning a living, on making money, on profiting materially. Surely, they may be wealthy, and very successful in a worldly sense, but chances are, they may be feeling incomplete and unhappy.
Clearly, money can’t make anyone happy. Of course, you know that! Then, isn’t it common sense that we step out of the earning-a-living trap?
The way to do that is to celebrate Life – fully, every single day, and not just on Diwali or on a birthday or on an anniversary! A true, continuous, celebration of Life is the ability to always be happy and content no matter what is happening in your Life, no matter what you have or don’t have. Simply, Happiness is a decision. You are happy the moment you are content with what you have, when you accept what is. You are happy when you serve another, when you are making our world a better place. I am not saying money is not important. All I am saying is that making money is not the Purpose of your creation. Money is a human invention. In the times when money was not an object, people may have well lived simpler lives – they must have celebrated being with each other, serving each other, creating value for each other. Can’t we still live that way, while making just enough money that we need to get through Life and employing the rest of all that comes our way for universal good?
Today’s a great day to reflect on that opportunity, to go beyond the material celebrations that surround you and ask yourself what do you want do to with your limited-period offer: your priceless Life? May your answer guide you to celebrating your Life, your way – continuously, happily!