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!
To serve, ahead of saying you deserve, is a beautiful way to make your Life meaningful.
An interesting story in today’s Economic Times caught my attention this morning. The story was revisiting and reviewing the legacy of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi – today marks her 100th birthday.
I have seen Indira Gandhi once. She came to campaign for the elections in Kerala in 1982. I was living in Kollam back then; I was a student, barely 15 years old. Along with a few of my friends I had gathered close to a special stage that was erected in the middle of the Asramam maidanam in Kollam. The crowds cheered lustily when she landed in a helicopter some distance away from the stage. She walked briskly to the stage and raced up the stairs to reach the top – and delivered a great speech in flawless English. She must have been 65 but she had so much energy. I was mesmerized by her aura, her power, her diction and her energy.
I resolved right then that someday I too would be the Prime Minister of India. I wanted to be like Indira Gandhi – powerful, charismatic and in control. That was an ambition that I nurtured till a decade back.
But over the past 10 years – thanks perhaps to my personal evolution through our bankruptcy – I have let that ambition dissolve. Someone recently asked me if “spirituality dilutes your ambition, your worldliness”. And I replied, “Spirituality helps you realize the futility of mindless pursuit and avaricious ambition. It awakens you to a Higher Purpose – you begin to see the opportunity in being useful, in creating value for people around you, than wanting to cling on, to control and to only be individually successful.” While I certainly don’t plan – not anymore – to enter politics either for the sake of power or for wanting to be Prime Minister, I must confess, I have not really turned less ambitious. I will say that my personal evolution has helped me realize that to serve selflessly is more purposeful, more meaningful, than pursuing what you think you deserve. To serve, ahead of saying you deserve, is a beautiful way to make your Life meaningful.
Reading about Indira Gandhi this morning made me reflect on my journey, my evolution. I still count her among my icons. She had this unique ability to blend her personal ambition with her deep desire to serve India. In a way, her vision for a secular India is more relevant today than it ever was. I sincerely hope a leader who can revisit and reclaim that idea of India emerges soon.
As for me, along with Vaani, the focus in Life is just two-fold: one, work hard and repay all the money we owe to our 179 creditors/Angels (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) and two, be driven by our Higher Purpose of Inspiring Happiness – helping people understand that it is possible to be non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering. In the time we have remaining on the planet, we want to be unwavering in this focus.
Having said that, I must clarify that ambition is not a dirty word. Ambition is very important for progress, for human achievement. But I now understand that ambition must go beyond you. It must benefit others. To want to leave the world better than you found it is ambition too. I believe I am blessed that my bankruptcy revealed the Purpose of my creation to me and has helped me see my congenital ambitious streak in a meaningful light!
When you are lost in Life, focus on lasting it by living it meaningfully!
Every once in a while, Life will hang you from the edge of a precipice. You will not know what’s hit you. You will be clueless about what to do. And you will simply lack the motivation to go on. You will be numbed by your crisis.
How do you deal with such a phase when you are depressed, lost and don’t know what to do?
I have been there and I have felt exactly that way. So, I talk from experience – of what I have learned from my own dark phase in Life!
If you look at it dispassionately, Life is pretty meaningless. You came with nothing. And you will go with nothing. So, all this drama over what is yours, what you want to achieve, what you have lost, what you want to control…all this drama is futile. Nothing really will stay on forever. Not even you. When your time here is up, and your number is called, you too will perish. It is only because we don’t realize and awaken to this truth about Life that we suffer. This is why, in some situations, we get so attached with our circumstances that we feel lost. For instance, you haven’t got a job and you are being rejected time and again. You don’t know what to do. Or despite your best efforts you are not able to communicate with or relate to your spouse – and you see the relationship withering away. Or your business is just not picking up no matter how hard you work or how creatively you present your wares. When things don’t go the way you plan for them to be, you will naturally feel lost – and often depressed. In such times, however depressed you are, however much you think it is a no-go, it is important that you last the tenure of the tough phase.
For this, you must shift the focus from feeling lost to working to last the phase – often just lasting one day at a time! This is not as difficult as you imagine it to be. Whatever be the circumstance, Life is not over until it really is over. So, why fret about a Life challenge incessantly? Yes, when the challenge first strikes, you will feel clueless, you will not know what to do, you will feel lost. But then remind yourself that, like everything else in Life, even this phase is impermanent – it will surely pass. So, focus on having to last! Start living Life meaningfully. You may not have everything the way you want it, you may not have everything in your control, but celebrate what you have and train yourself live in the moment. For instance, even if you hate your job, serve your customers selflessly – it is because of them that you even have a job and are paid a salary! Or even if you and your spouse cannot relate to each other, be compassionate to your spouse – after all, you did have some great times together! Or even if your business is not picking up, offer something of value that none of your stakeholders cannot refuse – because unless they see value, no one’s going to prefer your business over another product or service. Or, simply, make it a point to watch a sunrise or sunset daily – learn to enjoy the magic and beauty of Life.
Know this: no matter what has happened to you or is happening to you, every moment has to be lived through in Life. Instead of merely surviving and lasting the course, imagining Life to be dreary, depressive and hopeless, why not celebrate and live it meaningfully, happily?
Life simply happens – you complicate it by labeling events per your expectations.
“I don’t deserve this s**t in Life,” declared a lady the other day while sharing how tough her Life was – single parenting, a stressful job, mounting expenses and a family that refused to understand her. She wanted to know how someone could create a Life they truly deserve.
There’s only one way to do this. You must expunge the word ‘deserve’ from your Life, you must stop seeking deservance and you must drop all expectations. The truth about all our lives is that no one deserves s**t, yet s**t happens to all of us!
Having said that, I want to clarify that defining something in your Life as s**t is a very human thing to do. Life itself does not label any of its happenings. It just keeps on happening. Just because you don’t like what’s happening to you, because you don’t want it in your Life, you label it as s**t. The moment you label something as bad or ugly, suffering sets in. Instead see Life as an endless series of events. Don’t call it by any name – don’t say such-and-such event is good or say that something else is bad. Just take each event as it comes and deal with it. This is how you expunge this idea of deservance from your mind, from your Life. When you don’t put conditions on Life, it can never haunt you. Simple.
There is only one way Life works. It simply goes on happening. So, take everything in your stride. And be accepting of whatever comes your way. Everything you do, do it as an offering to a higher energy. Don’t let your mind talk to you about what you deserve. If it does, take your mind off that expectation. If you let it grow, it will make your Life miserable. Drop the very idea that you deserve anything. In fact, your greatest wealth, what you truly deserve, has already been given to you – this lifetime, in this human form. Just be happy and content with it. Then nothing will seem like s**t and no s**t will happen or disturb your inner peace!
Your Life’s Purpose is not to earn a living alone and to keep thinking you deserve more!
A FB post by a friend raises this very interesting, fundamental question: “Do uncertain times call for a certainty of Purpose?”
My answer: “Of course it does!”
Though we don’t normally see it, recognize it or realize it, all creation has a Purpose. If you look around you, every aspect of Nature serves a Purpose. The sun, the trees, the animals, the birds, the insects, the rivers, the oceans – each of these forms of creation is there with a reason. The human species too has been created with and for a reason. But somewhere along the way, we humans have forgotten a. that we have been created b. that the Purpose of our creation is not to merely earn a living or to plunder the planet and cannibalize other species that we co-habit this space with.
Let us first appreciate that the human form is a blessing we receive from creation. Think about it: we could have been created in any other form – why are we created human? Therefore, we must then understand that if we have been created human, there must a reason for it. And that reason cannot be to amass wealth, to stress over material accumulations and to suffer when our wants are unfulfilled. Very simply, the Purpose of being created human is to serve, and through serving other forms of creation, being happy. But what do we do instead? We are continuously seeking deservance, and when we don’t get what we want, we are ending up being unhappy! Isn’t this a complete waste of our being human?
Now, to go back to my friend’s FB post, we all know, without a doubt, that all Life is uncertain. And inscrutable. When you have clarity on why you are here, why you are going through this human experience, you can live Life better. It is when you are confused that you are confounded. That’s how you end up suffering. Let me explain. When you think of your Life’s Purpose as only making money or as being successful or famous, and when these things don’t happen or if they happen but also don’t stay with you permanently, then you are unhappy, then you suffer. But if you realize that, despite your having money or not, despite being successful or not, despite being famous or not, your Life’s Purpose is only to serve, only to make this world a better place, then you can only be happy. Simple.
So, clarity of Purpose is crucial to help us along the journey of Life. When there is an awareness of the why of your creation, when there is Purpose, your Life matters. And only the presence of what matters to you can make you happy!
Living a meaningful Life, and not a huge bank balance, makes you happy!
Two days ago Vaani was moderating a panel conversation on three interesting books that provoked management thought. She chose to talk about what she had learnt from management guru Jim Collins’ Good to Great. The other two panelists shared their perspectives from The 20 Minute MBA by Chip Walker and The Science of Getting Rich by Wallace D Wattles.
The gentleman who spoke from his reading of The Science of Getting Rich, in my personal opinion, completely missed the core of this seminal work. Over a 100 years old (it was first published in 1910), The Science of Getting Rich preceded other books in the same genre like Charles F Haanel’s The Master Key System (1912), Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich (1937) and Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret (2007). This gentleman tried to exhort the audience to believe that a ‘Massive Bank Account’ (his expansion for the ubiquitous MBA) was the key to Life. And clearly that’s not what Wattles talked about in The Science of Getting Rich. The book says that getting rich is important but emphasizes that financial success comes only when you live a full Life, driven and guided by a set of spiritual values which include gratitude, value creation, co-creation (vs competition), recognizing the futility of negative thinking, trusting the process of Life, being patient, playing to your fullest potential and letting go of worry. In trying to exaggerate his personal ‘Massive Bank Account’ theory, the reviewer, was, unwittingly perhaps, getting an impressionable young audience (most of them college students) to imagine that making money precluded everything else in Life. Whereas, the very book he was referring to defines the science of getting rich as the practice of simple spiritual laws that lead to, among other things, financial success too.
I believe much of our society today, like the gentleman in question, misses the big picture. Everyone wants quick success – name, fame, money and things. So people are always looking for short-cuts to get to the top. The truth about Life is that there is only one way and it is the way of inner peace and happiness. You are happy only when you do what you love doing, it is only when you repeatedly do what you love doing that you learn to be world-class at it and it is only when you are world-class at some thing that you become insanely financially successful. If you chase a ‘Massive Bank Account’ (bank balance, that is, as the gentleman propositioned the other day) instead, you may well get it, but you may not necessarily be happy. Life is a limited period offer and, sooner than later, everyone realizes and wakes up to the reality that happiness and inner peace are what matter the most. So, why not employ the science of getting rich properly by following certain undisputable, unputdownable, non-negotiable spiritual laws of Life?
I have nothing against people wanting, or making, money. But making money is not what Life’s Purpose is all about. Money is just a resource. Having more of it surely makes Life comfortable but not necessarily happier. If you can learn to be happy instead of only wanting to be wealthy, if you can serve before saying you deserve, then, you are living a purposeful Life! I look at it this way, inspired by the Prayer of St.Francis (the 13th Century Saint from Assisi); I feel each of us must urge Life every single day thus:
Make me useful in each moment,
Make me create value each day,
Keep me grounded, humble
And soaked in gratitude – for all that I have,
Make me always aware that true success
Comes only from my willingness to serve before I say I deserve
If this can be our daily prayer to Life, then we will surely be living intelligently and happily, instead of slaving away mindlessly.
PS: If you liked this blogpost, please share it to help spread the learning it carries!
Be who you are, love – and live – the way you are. Don’t analyze too much.
The other day, after we stepped out of a grocery store on a busy street, a man approached us. He must have been in his 60s. He asked us for some money saying he had not eaten. I did want to give him some money – not that we have any of our own, earned, money – maybe twenty rupees, but I am very wary of doing charity on crowded streets. When you pause to pull out your wallet, a whole bunch of people seeking alms accost you. And then you create a spectacle – whether you donate to each of them or you don’t. Besides, the syndicate that runs this alms-collection operation in Indian cities is controlled by the mafia. So, over time, Vaani and I have set up a simple process. Whenever we want to serve, we cook a meal at home and go round a few blocks feeding random, hungry, strangers in adjacent neighborhoods. And whenever we want to support a cause, we do it online – we support http://www.rasaindia.org or http://www.akshayatrust.org or we choose from a variety of meaningful programs on http://www.truegiftsindia.org.
Interestingly, the same day that the incident I have narrated above happened, a friend, who follows my Blog, pinged me from New York. He asked: “What is that thing that holds us back from doing good…many times I see a helpless person or animal on the street…I can empathize with that person, I feel sad, but I hardly step out and help…we read about this everyday…people see an injured person on the road and walk away…or they see a hungry, homeless, person, on a few stop to help…is it a “why should I care?” feeling or is it something to do with “not wanting to dirty our hands”?”
I am not sure such analysis of human intention is helpful. I fundamentally believe that all of us are do-gooders. We are all compassionate. And all of us want to help. But each one of us has a way to express this compassionate side to us. There are people who are extremely comfortable with taking complete ownership of social causes and driving them – at significant cost to themselves financially and time-wise. There are people who just like to donate to a charity they support. There are others who believe in volunteering and offering their sweat and time to institutions or networks that are leading social change. And then there are those who do whatever they do, sometimes doing all of what I have outlined, alternating between models, mediums and channels, quietly. There are also folks who have taken to serving others, who believe it’s their raison d’etre to work towards uplifting Life and humanity. And, of course, there are some people who don’t wish to get involved in doing anything for others. Surely, it takes all kinds of people to make this world. And I don’t think we must label anyone as good or bad depending on whether they have an expressive, visible, do-good gene in them or not. I don’t advise judging anyone on whether they stopped by to help someone on the street or not. I don’t even want to evaluate my compassion in respect of others – there have been many occasions when I have wanted to do something for someone, but I simply can’t because we ourselves are going through a tough time! So, I believe we must allow each one of us to be human in our own unique ways.
Of course, we can make this world a much better place if each of us did just a wee bit more than what we are doing presently for fellow humans, for other Life around us and for the planet. But let our need and ability to serve, to contribute, come from within. Let us not compare, let us not rate our compassion or that of others. Just being who we are, the way we are, and being at peace ourselves, will make us happier people. And the happier we are, the happier our world will be!