Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Rhythm of Life

I find people fascinating. I tend to be attracted to people who have quirky sense of humour and are open to exchanging their stories and sharing their thoughts. I like to think that I am open minded and versatile in accepting what comes may but in reality I find that everyday can be a challenge as it is never easy to just accept what you see and what you hear without feeling affected or forming an opinion, a conclusion or a thought. It is never easy to interact with opinionated people but I figure if I stop listening to people who are opinionated, I am just becoming as close minded as these people.

Maybe it is the hot and humid weather, maybe it is the bad traffic, almost everyday I encounter errant and impatient drivers and motorists on the road. I also encounter drivers who do not seem to notice that they are obstructing traffic or entrance to a parking lot.  Today when I approached the driveway that led to my office car park, I honked as I sighted a truck that was parked at the entrance to my office car park. After some honking, the driver stepped down from his truck asking me to wait. He had this hostile look on his face and I decided to stay cool although I very much wanted to insist that he moved his truck. It was then I  wish I could do some kicks and flicks just like in one of those Hongkong kung fu movies. I thought of calling up my office and ask one my of male staff to speak to him. At  that moment, a couple of police officers walked out with one of my office staff members who immediately walked up to the truck to speak to the driver who finally budged.

When we returned to work on Monday, we found an authorized car parking at our office compound, and due to the way the car was left in the middle of our parking lot, we could not fit in all our cars. This morning my office decided to make a police report. That was why the police and policewoman had been called upon to pay a visit to the site. It is still a puzzle as to who could have left his or her car unattended in a private car park. If I let my mind wander, it is a mystery. Maybe it is just one inconsiderate act of some driver, nothing more. It is definitely a good opening line for a story.

While everyone must  fend for himself or herself, he or she must not be oblivious to basic civic courtesies. These days whenever I come across a kind soul or someone with manners, I feel grateful. The truck driver definitely behaved unreasonably when he expected me to wait for him to unload the stuff he was delivering  even though he was blocking my driveway. I could not help feeling that his refusal to shift his truck was a deliberate act  as a form of retaliation because I started honking or that I am a woman.

You reap what you can while you can and you act according to your own whims and needs. That seems to be the motto for  a lot of people to live by in a material world. As one goes about  in their daily life doing things that matter to them, one can become overly self serving and success oriented that one neglects to examine one’s ethics and behaviour. No matter where we live or travel to, we will find that  ethics, kindness and empathy are code of behaviour that matters to all. 

Le Divorce is a fiction that is sassy and stylishly written by Diane Johnson. It is a delightful read since the day Isabel Walker lands herself in Paris to offer help and moral support to her stepsister, Roxy, a poet and an expectant mother who is going through a divorce from her artistic French husband. Their brother, Roger, a successful lawyer in San Francisco is into gun control issues ever since a gunman entered his office building and gunned down fourteen lawyers and clients only two floors below his office.

What surprised him, he said , was that when people heard about the massacre they at first were appalled, but then very quickly, seeking as one does cosmic explanations for tragedy on a this scale, explained it to themselves by saying, with the radiance of sudden comprehension, “Ah,but they were lawyers.”

“In the same tone as they would say,”After all ,they were only dogs,’ Roger said. He had never thought of himself as a member of an undesirable social category, and he was shocked. “I knew they hated lawyers, but I didn’t know how much,” he said, a note of self-pity in his voice.

In the story,  Mrs Pace, a famous American writer living in Paris gave a reading of her memoir- in-progress. Someone asked Mrs Pace.

“How do you remember everything, or do you take notes?”
This was a question that interested her. She leaned forward.
“I ‘ve never understood the proper role of memory in life. I feel I may have spent too long assembling the materials for my memoir and not enough just getting on with it , but I had a dread of being pulled back into the past, to the detriment of day-to-day life, as if you can’t live in two places. In principle memory is to inform the present, by allowing you to learn from your mistakes. Why go back?  I am not by temperament an historian. I would rather think about the present.”’

In this farce, both Rox and Isabel have to face up to issues about morals, money and marriage and their tale is sprinkled with drama and humour. Here is a take when someone was found dead in the building.

Anne- Chantal laughed merrily to think of Madame Florian and a corpse. Only then did Roxy begin to feel how unnatural was this gaiety that seemed to attend the death of a stranger, or perhaps even someone known to them , in her own hallway. But it is a way  that French have, too ,of dealing with grave things, the way the Chinese are said to laugh when you fall down in an embarrassing wan and may have hurt yourself.’

It is so true how sometimes we come across people responding strangely to a situation we view as grave. As the story unfolds, Isabel’s sojourn in Paris turns out to be a romantic adventure indeed.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Success Formulae

Every effort is made by parents to ensure that  their children have the best possible start in life. It has long been established that formula milk cannot be the substitute for breast milk in terms of nutrients for  the formation of brain cells and the overall health of a new born baby.However these days there are advanced milk formulae that purportedly help babies to have a head start in their growth : intellectual, emotional and motor skills. Will these babies grow up to be super competent academically and in sports and be able to empathize with what and how another feel with improved brain power after drinking these amazing milk proteins and added nutrients? Where do these super kids go in the future? Perhaps these smart kids will grow up to be super intelligent beings who will invent humanoids that only they can interact with. Nonetheless braininess does not necessarily guarantee a successful life as highly successful people are known to be not only smart, they are disciplined, relentlessly hard working and constantly striving  to do better.
Dragon Boat Race
In her memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Amy Chua had captured the essence of  how she had been making her daughters do piano and violin practice and constantly holding them to high standards and her child rearing ways were the reverse to the American way of  nurturing your child’s self esteem. She appears to be a classic example of someone who has been bestowed on by her parents a Triple Package of qualities that she has described in the new book that she has co-authored with her Jewish husband Jed Rubenfeld. The new book examines the different ethnic and cultural  groups in America and why some groups do better than others.

According to The Triple Package written by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld,In many Chinese, Korean, and South Asian immigrant families, parents impose exorbitantly high academic expectations on their children (“Why only a 99?”). Implicit in these expectations are both a deep assumption of superiority ( we know you can do better than everyone else) and a needling suggestion of present inadequacy (but you haven’t done remotely well enough yet). Comparisons to cousin X, who just graduated as valeditorian, or so-and –so ‘s daughter, who just got into Harvard, are common –and this itrue in both lower-and higher-income families.

The  said authors  opine that insecurity, a superiority complex and impulse control are the three components that drive certain ethnic group of people to succeed and rise. ‘Superiority plus insecurity is a formula for drive. Superiority plus impulse control is a formula for hardship endurance. When the Triple Package brings all three elements together in a group’s culture, members of the group become disproportionately willing and able to do or accept whatever it takes today in order to make it tomorrow.

They also go on to explain that this success comes at a price, for instance, deeply insecure people are often neurotic and impulse denial can undercut the ability to experience beauty, tranquility, and spontaneous joy and  Triple Package cultures tend to focus on material, conventional, prestige-oriented success.

Impulse control is like stamina. If you ran five miles every few days for several months, you’d build up stamina, which would allow you not only to run farther, but to perform all sorts of unrelated physical tasks better than you could before. As numerous studies have now proved, it’s the same with impulse control. If people are made to do almost any impulse-controlling task-even as simple as getting themselves to sit up straight – on a regular basis for even a few weeks, their overall willpower increases. Suddenly they’re stronger in all kinds of unrelated activities that also require concentration, perseverance, or temptation resistance.’
Prague 2009

The book also talks about how drive, grit  and inspiration are definitely the qualities one needs when one wants to follow one’s passion.

Gates and Zuckerberg-not to mention Steve Jobs –were among the hardest-working, most driven people their peers knew. Obviously creativity also requires the freedom to question and challenge authoriry (which is why China has so far trailed as in inventiveness), the space to wonder and free- associate. But the fact remains that you can’t invent Google, Facebook, or the iPod unless you’ve mastered the basics, are willing to put in long hours, and can pick yourself off the floor when life knocks you down the first ten times.

In conclusion, while we want to tell ourselves that it is hard to succeed unless you love what you do, the real prescription for ground breaking innovation and entrepreneurialism is still the Triple Package ladder. The Triple Package may not promise a meaningful life, it is a form of empowerment, which can be used for selfish gain or for others’ good alike. According to the book, heightened discipline and impulse control plus insecurity and a superiority complex are the ingredients that will lead one to achieve  material success. However I believe that  everything has its price, ultimately the question remains : Should people strive for the Triple Package and still be able to avoid the unhealthy side of narcissism and other pathologies that come with each of the  elements of the Triple Package? 

Dragon Boat Race

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Who are you?

Tournus, South of Bourgogne(Burgundy),France
When we hear someone comment, “ Mmmmm I am surprised that you are doing this. You strike me as someone who is ….”  It is interesting to see how one person views another person. Our appearances cannot be an accurate representation of who we are but as a rule how we carry ourselves and interact with others do give away some clues about the kind of person we are.

I sometimes wonder if that is why we have to compose ourselves before we meet people. There are days when I breeze through without much thought about how I look and dress, but most days I care about how I present myself. I find myself brooding a little if I had let slip one of my off days when I was not paying attention to details. Is it a matter of self  respect or vanity that I want to be looking my best or at least what I think my best? As the famous quote by Oscar Wilde goes, a man’s face is his autobiography and a woman’s face is her work of fiction. Does Wilde think that  women generally pay more attention to their looks ? Personally I do believe that  substance speaks volumes about a person no matter how the person dresses himself or herself to be. But I find it objectionable that some people carry their personal liberties a little too far by not wearing sensible clothes as there is a place for every kind of  dressing. It is a lack of respect and sensitivity for others when they only care for their own comfort.

On Sunday I felt that  some lemon zest would add flavour to the leek and tuna pasta which our helper prepared so I  drove out to a nearby mini market which was closing in the next five minutes. As I neared the shop, a  shirtless man was seen standing outside the mini-market having his smoke. He was obviously oblivious to his bulging belly that was clearly not intended to stop any traffic.  I wonder what would the little prince created by Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry say if he had encountered such a person?

Le Petit Prince  is a fable that tells the story of  a little boy who leaves the safety of his own tiny planet ( the size of which is scarcely bigger than a house) to travel the universe. In his voyage to the earth, he encounters a fox, a snake, a railway pointsman and the merchant who sells patent pills to quench thirst. The narrator of the story is an aviator who has kept his own company and one day he made a forced landing in the Sahara desert and that was how he met the little boy whom he came to describe as the little prince and he had good reason to believe that the planet from which the little prince comes from is the Asteroid known as B 612.

The reason I have told you so much about Asteroid B612, and let you know its number, is because of grown-ups. Grown-ups love figures. When you describe a new friend to them, they never ask you about the important things, They never say: “What’s is his voice like?” What are his favourite games?Does he collect butterflies?” Instead they demand:  “How old is he ? How many brothers has he? How much does he weigh? How much does his father earn?” Only then do they feel they know him.

The humanism of The Little Prince is well demonstrated by the conversation that takes place between the fox and the little Prince.

 I can’t play with you,' said the fox. 'I am not tame.’

'Oh! I beg your pardon,’ said the little prince.

The prince asked the  fox to explain what tame meant.

Something that is frequently neglected,’said the fox. ‘It means “to create ties”.’

The little prince then remembered the rose

that he had taken care of and had left behind, so he reckoned the flower must have tamed him.

The fox said,
My life is very monotonous. I run after the chickens, the men run after me. All the chickens are the same, all the men are the same. Consequently, I get a little bored. But if you tame me, my days will be as if filled with sunlight. I shall know the sound of a footstep different from all the rest……….’

The fox told the little prince a secret when the little prince to leave.
 ‘Goodbye,’ said the fox.’Now here is my secret, very simply: you can only see things clearly with your heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.’

‘It is the time you have wasted on your rose that makes your rose so important.’

The little prince was thus reminded by the fox that he was responsible for his rose.Le Petit Prince (The little prince) is a  beautiful novella that has been poetically written.

I do not profess to have the highest standards of dressing. While I live in a place where the climate is warm and humid all year round, I find it particularly hideous when  men  go topless in public places other than the beach and swimming pools . Even though I know I should not care about aesthetics too much as what is important is invisible, I only wish that  some men should know better that they look better clothed and they should not misinterpret the story written by Hans Christian AndersenThe Emperor’s New Clothes is a children’s story about an emperor who only cared  about his clothes as he was very vain. Two weavers decided to promise the Emperor a new suit of clothes that is invisible to those unfit, stupid or incompetent for their positions.As the Emperor paraded before his subjects, a child cried out, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all.”

Both the Emperor’s New Clothes and  Le Petit Prince (English version) are charming children’s classics for all ages that  are timeless and must be read and re-read time and time again.