Saturday, May 14, 2016


India is one of the countries that still has a lot of heterogeneity. While one would feel proud of many of these heterogeneous aspects, some of them hurt - sometimes very deeply. Yesterday was one such day, where I was watching something without the ability to fix things.

At first sight, it appeared to be a pleasant thing to watch - a small girl was in a roadside henna shop and getting her forearms, wrists and palms painted. She was all smiles. I was watching her from my car stuck in traffic jam. It was so cute to watch her getting excited about the design emerging in front of her eyes. Her already large eyes kept widening and her smile kept broadening getting more beautiful! I even felt, her eyes may just pop out of her face any time! A couple of girls approached the shop, eagerly looking at the little girl, she too showed her hand with a lot of happiness and pride. All three of them were smiling! Smiles are contagious… I was smiling inside the car. The traffic cleared in about 2 minutes. When all vehicles started moving, it happened… the watchman who came from nowhere chased away the two other girls. That is when I realised, he was able recognize some details that I and the other little girl failed to. The two girls are poor, not dressed properly. They probably are from the lowest strata of the society

By the time my brain took the shock, processed the details left out, I had crossed hundred meters or so. I don’t know how the girls felt, I was so upset sitting in a racing car, surrounded by other racing cars and bikes. My driver was puzzled to hear me screaming 'stop the car' but he managed to pull the car to the side in a few  hundred meters. I wanted to get down, go pay for the henna work for the two other girls to keep them smiling. Only when I was about to get down, my rational brain started working - I have crossed quite a distance, I will take another 15 minutes to reach the shop if I walk back and if I turned the car around I will take about 30 mins because the next U turn is further down the road. The girls would have gone very far in the opposite direction by that time. Even if I locate them, they are not going to trust me as I am a total stranger. After all, henna is not their highest priority in life. In spite of these thoughts trying to stop me from action, I opened the door only to be stopped by the driver stating it is no parking area and we are creating more traffic behind us; he advised me not to get down unless it is a life threatening need! All cars behind were honking as if all of them are yelling at me!! I asked him to move forward but my mind stayed back at that moment!

I was thinking of my protected childhood and how I was pampered. I remembered the day when my dad went and bought a dress late in the night (around 11 pm) just because I wanted it - I did not even demand it immediately; I JUST wanted it at some point in time in future. But it was made available on the very same day. But these two children were not even able to watch henna being done for someone else. Why is life so hard for some people? Is it their fault that they are born in their respective families, instead of mine? Is it "Karma"? Is it really "Karma"? What are they to learn from this incident? What is the first girl to learn, will she ever be able to do henna without thinking of this incident in her entire life? How about the other two children, will they ever interact with others freely? If it is Karma playing all this, what kind of Karma is the watchman acquiring? He was the root cause for my driver to skip a heartbeat by my screams and was the reason behind another traffic jam - more importantly - he removed smiles from four people instantly and pushed us into a state of shock. But he is only doing his job! he is paid to do this work after all!

What is my role in this? Is it only writing these emotional articles? If I can't act, do I even have the right to comment about the inequalities? Should I drop everything else and work on projects focused on this problem? Or, such a project will get into my never ending list of "to-do"? Is it my "Shelly"self picking up another seashell enroute? What is the reaction of the "Lean Coach" in me who is obsessed with limiting the work in progress? What is the reaction of the researcher in me who wants to make people stick to their long term goals without getting distracted easily? 

I am caught in the middle of conflicting thoughts again!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Tool / technique to be considerate!!

Life answers our questions in different ways! Sometimes, we learn from experience, sometimes an unrelated event answers the questions, sometimes an experienced person (age does not matter - they should just have the experience in the relevant subject) teaches! This article is based on an interesting input I got from one of the conferences I attended recently. Before I attended the conference, I was wondering if there is a tool to make people  considerate and was I concerned!

A wonderful presenter talked about how can we shake our own beliefs / expectations about the various "rules" we have in our mind and start to be more considerate. These rules are typically the "tolerance" questions! These are the rules we hold sacred irrespective of whether we follow it all the time or not. Please note, if we hold "never lie" rule does not necessarily mean we do not lie always; it could just mean that we do not like others to lie to us :-)

He made us write the rules that are so dear to us - the rules that will make us go mad if broken or we hold others by the neck if they do not follow it. For example if you think people should be on time for the meeting, then you would write "I must always come to the meetings on time". Then he asked us to replace the "must" with "can"; your rule would now read as "I can always come to the meetings on time".  When you write this statement you can realise that not everyone can always come on time; you can feel your attitude changing slowly; this sentence feels more right than the previous one! Then he asked us to replace the "always" with "sometimes". So your sentence would read "I can sometimes come to the meetings on time" - Ah! You feel the sentence is wrong again! You will start counting the scenarios when things can go awfully wrong if people are late! Add them as your constraints with a "when" clause "I can sometimes come to the meetings on time when a) the meeting is to decide product launch date b) the meeting involves people from ….." and so on

It was interesting to note that no one volunteered to share their rule to discuss how it felt, after a 10 minute exercise! We do have a lot of such filters and rules; but it is hard for us to accept that we have such rules, especially in front of a group of people who were sensitised about these filters and undue expectations induced by these filters!! But we do that all the time! We yell at people, silently make a mental note that someone is bad or penalise them in different ways just because they are different from us! Sometimes intentionally, many times unintentionally! All these "30 seconds" first impression issues arise as a result of these filters! Most of the relationships - both professional and personal - strain because of these filters!

I will add a step to the above process. Because our rules are usually for others, I will prefer to write it as "Everyone must always come on time to meetings". It feels 100% right. Then "everyone" to "I" - I will change it to "I must always come on time to meetings". This brings the first level turn in most cases in my opinion.

Think of a person you interact frequently and rate them for the following statements in a three scale score i) always ii) it depends iii) not at all.  "He/She is out right in sharing opinions" and "He/She forgives mistakes of others". After that, rate yourself for the same statements. Most likely, you chose an always or not at all option for the other person and it depends for yourself. That is because you know when you withheld sharing a opinion you wanted to share or vice versa but you do not know the same for the other person. Usually when it comes to others, we tend to favour a binary response but when it comes to us things start to become fuzzy. That is why I feel, it is better to write the rule for "Everyone" and then change it to "I". This can alter our attitude towards the statement at the first level. And then follow the rest of the steps. You will come up with decent set of guidance for your group!

I have started removing my filters slowly! Sure it is not easy! But I keep reminding myself that I am not born with these filters; they came to me / I acquired them over a period. Most often, I did not even choose them! I learnt them mostly unconsciously, at best, subconsciously. When conscious choices themselves do not apply universally, why defend something that was not a conscious choice! Why carry a cross painstakingly! 

Let us remove filters! Let us be considerate! Let us be more human!