Communication – are we single tracked?

In a recent get-together, a colleague confessed that things were not as well with the group as they should have been. The reason – everyone spoke a common dialect, excepting him – and they preferred to communicate in their native tongue rather than english. And no matter how much he tried, the language barrier was proving insurmountable.

Now, here’s the interesting thing – this guy was one of the most affable chaps you could ever hope to meet. And one of the most travelled – so adapting to new cultures and languages came easily to him. The team was a very enterprising unit as well, so how did they not realise he was feeling out of place, and why was he finding it so difficult to communicate to them they needed to speak in English – at least when he was around?

The problem got me thinking on something more fundamental. Knowingly or unknowingly – the spoken word (or written language) has become the defacto means of communication. They communicate ideas, they communicate emotion, they communicate everything these days. So much so, that we have become a little insensitive to other means over time!

If you dont believe me, lets take stock – when was the last time you sat with your friend comfortably in silence (true communion huh!). Where the silence spoke a language that you understood? On a more profound note – think about ramana maharishi or eckhart tolle’s silences which transform you with no need for words.

Or remember the last time you enjoyed music that didn’t need lyrics to move you. Listening to the music translated the emotions directly (the violin duo of ganesh-kumaresh are doing an awesome job with their new album in this regard).

Remember when you practiced munna bhai’s hug theraphy on someone (a child, a friend, a spouse, a relative..) and they felt better immediately. Remember a tough day, when someone laid a hand on yours in understanding – and you felt more reassured?

Dont get me wrong – we still need the words to survive today. However words are easier to manipulate. The body and the soul are better (and faster) at detecting sincerity than the mind is. They are also more adept at communicating emotion and experiences than the spoken word can ever be. Its harder to fake sincerity – try faking a comfortable silence or composing music you cant identify with and you’ll know what I mean!

The word of course helps detail out ideas and implementation – its the blood that keeps our society alive, we couldn’t do without it. Also, some of our best authors and speakers do an awesome job of translating great ideas, emotions and experiences through the spoken word as well. Just try to read through a PG Wodehouse without laughing – am sure you’ll agree with me.

Endpoint – words (written and spoken) are required – its what allows us to live our lives today for the most part. But would it be a good idea to become a little sensitive to the other means (touch, pure sound, maybe vision, sense of feel etc.) and incorporate them into out lives – it may add more spirit to our lives?

Eulogy time..

A good collegue, a friend passed away this morning. A gentle man devoured by a ravaging cancer. Over time, the disease took away his appetite,  his mobility, his stamina. It could of course do little about his smile, which continued to shine through – amidst  grimacing pain. It’s this smile, and his gentle habit that I know will inspire his family and friends forever. 

Death forces us to ponder on bigger themes.

On the fickleness of life and the futility of trying to caliberate the effectiveness of our minute lifetimes, foibles and stresses on the grand scale of evolution. What’s a hundred years (or less) matter in an evolutionary history of eons – our mountains fade away into molehills when seen in perspective. And should this insight not destress us as we understand that our life’s events are for the most part insignificant on a world scale?

It also encourages us to acknowledge the ancients wisdom in codifying a religion embracing concepts of immortality. When nature takes away a loved one from the reaches of our eye and touch, it is religion that assures us of the loved ones not being lost forever – only to our five senses. Sometimes we need to augment the scientist’s facts with religion’s truths – the mind needs the solace of the soul so to speak.

As I write this, I know its a normal day for nature – though a devastating day for ones experiencing the loss. Time and prayers will heal some, in the meantime its perhaps best to pack some goodness, a comforting shoulder and a thoughtful mind and offer these to the many who need it…..and maybe saying a hero’s story or two in praise of the departed one would help too.

Which economy do you prefer? Should we make a choice?

Tomorrow is a beloved grandmother’s death anniversary. Hindu customs require one to undertake certain rituals, prominent among them being to symbolically feed three generations of ancestors who are with us no more – as a means of gratitude for what they have done for us and wish them well. It is believed that these rites accrue them good fortune in their future lives – and that is a strong inspiration for the descendants to continue the practice.

As I reflect upon the Hindu life of old, I see that this “gratitude economy” was everywhere to see. Three times a day the sun was (and continues to be in many households even today) honoured for its generosity (at dawn, noon and dusk) – the sun you see just gives – it doesn’t exert itself more for either the millionaire or the saint, anyone can choose to bask in its warmth (or not), and either way it just goes on giving. Nature and the ecosystem were honoured in many ways (through worship of cows, the morning rituals of kolams which become food for the ants and so on), guests were revered and fed without preamble (the apartment culture and urbanization put brakes on this one) and the sages were remembered and thanked forever. The traditional meeting translates to roughly “I salute the divinity in you” (or so I think). Gratitude seems to have been the fuel on which society ran.

Today, we seem to be getting onto the “feel good” economy. We exercise to feel good about our body, meditation is done to make us feel more at peace with ourselves. The friends we keep, the titles we go after – they are all predominantly aimed at ensuring a high “feel good” score. No?

Now, there isn’t anything wrong with either – the gratitude economy seems to bring in a sense of awe for the world (and takes us out of the equation!). The “feel good” economy on the other hand is strongly focused on ourselves and how we interact with the world. We become “awesome” here.

Look a little deeper, and you realize that in the gratitude economy, we have nothing to lose really – it’s just a celebration of what is. Live to serve (and don’t go capturing matrices on how many you thanked or served). Pressure is zilch here but don’t go looking for a sense of personal fulfillment. If our eyes are turned toward a better body or a bigger title, make no mistake – following the gratitude economy alone will leave us unfulfilled.

On the other hand, the “feel good” economy perceives success as a series of milestones achieved – and more often than not these are milestones coveted by society at large. You are one among a million fellow runners in the marathon – and if we aren’t careful (or very good at running) we can start feeling very lonely in a crowded race. Its very easy to adopt someone else’s goals in the “Feel good” economy and feel low when we don’t succeed enough.

And this brings me back to the starting post. Perhaps, it’s best to have a bit of both – and we consciously need to choose the mix that works best for us. Are you more for being the guy who prefers doing “unremembered and random acts of kindness” or the guy who wants to be remembered for living and making a difference?