Learn to live with less

September 29, 2016

Once a farmer lost his watch in the barn. He wanted to get it back at all costs because he had some sentimental value attached to it. He searched for a long time and did not find it. He then took the help of some children who were playing nearby. The children went inside the barn but could not find the watch either. The farmer got very disappointed. Just when he was about to give up, a little boy came and asked to give him another chance. The farmer agreed and the boy went into the barn alone. After a while the boy came out with the watch in his hand!

The farmer was very happy. He asked the boy how he succeeded while everyone else had failed to locate the watch. The boy replied, “I simply sat on the ground in silence. In silence, I heard the ticking of the watch and just looked for it in that direction.”

Silence brings peace and a peaceful mind can think better than a worked up and preoccupied mind!

What should we do to have a peaceful mind?

I once had a colleague whose office desk used to be very clean always. Even if there were a few papers or files he would keep them neatly. Files or papers would never occupy more than 10 per cent of his desk’s space. The rest was just an open space. Once I was in his office and a visitor walked in. Surprised to see his clean desk, he commented, “Either you have very little work or you are very efficient to dispense off your work quickly.” My colleague answered, “I don’t know if I am efficient but I think better working on a cleaner desk rather than the one which is full of papers and documents.”

This indeed is a profound thought!

We feel better and think well when there is more space around us, be it in our office or at home. Unfortunately, we have the habit of accumulating things whether we use them or not. This takes unnecessary space, both physical as well as mental as we remain concerned to do something with our possessions. We can certainly live with less. It will help to ‘let things go’ and take up a cleaning drive from time to time.

I wonder how people can manage 3-4 bank accounts, 8-10 different credit cards, 2-3 phones, 3-4 different loans and so on. Our mind is always crowded.  Moments of silence and peace are few. We are becoming less creative. When we lose a watch, we waste time looking for it, rather than sit in silence and listen to its ticking.



How to Stay on Top of the World

August 31, 2016

An interaction with young people during any of my ‘Opening Doors’ workshops is always an eye opener. I learn a lot from their responses, questions and feedback.

I recently did a few sessions with students of Unity College and Unity Mission School in Lucknow, India.

At the outset, I asked students to identify themselves either with an animal, a musical instrument or any other object. They were given options to select from. The student group chose an interesting array of animals and items such as a horse, lion, guitar, tabla and even a cricket bat to turn the spotlight on their individual strengths.

Needless to say, none of the children identified themselves with a donkey, a species considered to be wanting in intelligence. When the students jocularly remarked on this, I shared a well-known story with them:

One day, a donkey fell into a deep pit and struggled to get out. He brayed for hours while his owner tried to figure out what to do. When the owner realized he couldn’t rescue the animal, he gave up and decided to bury the donkey alive. With a shovel, he began filling the pit with soil. Suddenly, he noticed an amazing thing. As the soil was thrown on him, the donkey would shake it off and step on it. With each shovel of soil, the donkey rose higher by simply shaking off the soil and standing on it instead. Eventually, the mound grew high enough for him to jump out of the pit.

We then discussed lessons emerging from the story:

  • Shake off the dirt: Life is going to throw dirt on you. Don’t allow it to affect your self-esteem. Just shake it off and step forward.
  • Learn from difficult situations: Every obstacle, setback and challenging situation provides an opportunity for learning.
  • Never give up in life: With sustained efforts, we can get out of the deepest trouble. Rather than thinking of the problem or people, who pull you down (even bury you alive!), think of what you can do to get out of the situation.

And, when it comes to learning, we can learn from anyone, just by looking at their strengths. A donkey is known for its endurance and stamina but people have always looked at it as an object of ridicule, overlooking its strengths and usability. I hope my young friends will remember these lessons and put them into practice.


Break the ropes that hold you captive

July 30, 2016

When faced with a problem, you have two options: do something to solve it or do nothing. Everyone will agree that we can’t let it go and do nothing. We need to do something to get out of it but not everyone does it.  Why?

Let me share a known story:

A man once saw elephants that were held by a small rope tied to their front leg. He wondered how such huge creatures can be held only by a small rope. They could break the rope any time but, for some reason, they did not do that.

He asked their trainer, who said, “When they are very young and much smaller we used the same size rope to tie them. At that age, it’s enough to hold them. As they grow up, they are conditioned to believe they cannot break away, so they never try to break free.”

Most of the time, we don’t even make an effort to do something because we are conditioned to believe that this is the way our life is destined to be. We need to change this fatalistic attitude. We need to break the rope that holds us captive.

The real challenge is that the ropes that hold us captive in our life are not visible. In most cases, they get developed as a result of life’s experiences, circumstances, setbacks, broken relationships etc. As time passes by, we get “conditioned” to accepting the life as it is; and stop making efforts to improve it.

We need to find and break the ropes that keep us captive, without even thinking about failures. Failure is part of learning. We should never give up the struggle in life. Theodore Rosevelt sums it up well, “It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.”

My idea alone will not change the world!

June 30, 2016

I attended the Women Deliver Conference in Copenhagen last month. Tom Osborn, 20, Founder and CEO of GreenChar, Kenya was declared winner of the Social Enterprise Challenge Global Solution Award at the conference.

What GreenChar does is significant. From agricultural waste, it makes and distributes low-cost charcoal briquettes. These briquettes help reduce indoor air pollution and lower carbon emissions, besides protecting women from the negative effects of indoor smoke and fuels on their health. The briquettes produced by GreenChar are cheaper and efficient than conventional wood charcoal and firewood.

Indeed, it is a well-deserved honour for young Osborn and his company.

This will certainly motivate young persons to use their entrepreneurial skills towards a bigger cause.

Osborn received a cash prize of $5,000 to scale up his innovation.

He may do so but would that solve Kenya’s energy problem?

I doubt because over 80 per cent Kenyan homes use wood fuels as their main source of household energy. And, over 68 per cent of Kenya’s total energy consumption is wood fuels. This can only be done only if the Government of Kenya picks up the idea and scales it up, in partnership with GreenChar. Such a public private partnership can be a good example of moving towards green energy.

This calls for some out-of-box thinking and openness for partnerships. But more than anything, it calls for an attitude of solving problems based on someone else’s idea.

Leaders need to come out of the attitude of ‘My idea changed the world’ to an attitude of ‘picking up innovative ideas and taking them to scale’ to solve a big problem in their country or world.

We need to redefine what makes a great leader.

Would future international conferences constitute an award for leaders who replicated a successful idea?


A silent signal of truth is louder than a voice of lie

May 28, 2016

At the time when the US presidential election is all over in the news, I take you back to 2004 when Victor Yushchenko stood for the presidency of the Ukraine. Despite all tricks of the ruling party and threats to his life, he did not give up. On the day of the election, he was leading but the results were tampered with. The news anchor of the state run state-run channel UT1 reported, “ladies and gentlemen, we announce that the challenger Victor Yushchenko has been decisively defeated.”

Natalia Dmitruk was a sign language interpreter on the channel. She was on duty to translate the news for the deaf community. She refused to translate the lies. Deviating from the official script followed by the voice announcer, she instead signed to viewers, “I am addressing everybody who is deaf in Ukraine. Our president is Victor Yushchenko. Do not trust the results of the central election committee. They are all lies…. and I am very ashamed to translate such lies to you.”

The deaf community sprang into action. Her co-workers at the channel; and other channels resolved to report fairly. Mass protests led to the “Orange Revolution” when over a million people, wearing orange, made their way to the capital demanding a new election, which happened and Victor Yushchenko became the president.

Natalia’s act demonstrated the strength of her character, integrity and raised the bar for fair reporting of media. When asked why did she do this? Natalia’s answer was modest and simple, “I just went in and did what my conscience told me to do.”

It is important that we all listen to our inner voice —our conscience—that keeps telling us the right thing to do. This reinforces the lesson I shared in one of my previous posts, “If you have character, you have the better part of wealth.”

We are living in the information age, surrounded by 24X7 news. Imagine the impact if we have journalists like Natalia everywhere who tell the truth, expose the oppressors, and take up the rights of innocent people no matter what colour or race they have; and whether they are in Syria, Palestine, Yemen,  Nigeria, Europe, America,  or any other part of the world.

If a person appearing in a lower corner of the television screen can cause a revolution without even speaking a word, the loud voices on media can certainly do much more in these troubled times!



Explore solutions more than funds

April 30, 2016

In my previous post — Have Sight, Lack Vision — I stressed that we need to alter the way we look at things and explore solutions. Availability of, or lack of, resources should not be the guiding force when we explore solutions to problems. Unfortunately, what happens is just the reverse. We often hear of politicians and statesmen talking about the huge sums of money required to address the problems that the world is facing in the domains of health, education, poverty, or climate change. What happens in such a scenario is that resource constraints limit our ability to explore low-cost and affordable solutions.

The poor state of school infrastructure—lack of chairs and desks, toilets, electricity etc —in developing countries is identified as a major factor in the achievement of educational goals for young boys and girls. One of the targets of the Sustainable Development Goal 4 is to : build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability, and gender-sensitive and provide safe, nonviolent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all.

In India, Aarambh – an NGO in Maharashtra used old cardboard boxes to create school bags that transform into desks. Aarambh identified a problem- Childen were sitting on floor and writing. This affected their posture and learning. And they found an affordable solution. They used old discarded cardboard to create school bags which unpack into small desks. This laudable work can be seen here.

I  wonder why don’t governments build on such innovative ideas, instead of running after the money and delaying action.

It is extremely important now that we have the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with 17 goals to be achieved by 2030. Will there be enough money to adequately fund all SDGs?— is the question daunting all. The mad race for securing resources has begun for different SDGs as if they are competing priorities. All goals are important and inextricably linked. What is important is to see their inter-connectedness. The need of the hour is to identify and scale up the solutions that have worked instead of delaying action till all the necessary resources are secured.


Have Sight, Lack Vision

March 25, 2016

A long time ago, there lived a very wealthy man. He had an incurable affliction. His eyes were in constant pain – excruciating pain. For years, he looked far and wide for relief. At last, a monk, who had the expertise to treat such an ailment, was found. The monk prescribed a remedy: the man should only look at the colour green – his gaze should not fall upon any other colour. The rich man and his staff got into action right away. His palatial house, furniture and everything he could possibly see was painted in green or covered in green.  A few weeks later, when the monk came to visit him dressed in his maroon robes, the staff poured buckets of green paint on him too. Drenched in paint, the monk laughed and with great wisdom simply said, ‘If only you had bought a pair of green tinted spectacles, you could have saved so much money and effort…. You can’t paint the world green.’

The moral of the story: Let’s alter how we look at things. If only we could apply the monk’s simple strategy as a principle for life.  Altering our perspective to accommodate our needs and also the limitations of others will only improve relationships, bring peace and happiness.

The story makes me wonder: would the wealthy man have pursued his extravagant strategy had he not been so rich?

The story could also offer lessons for the ongoing European eyesore: the migrant crisis. The recent agreement signed between the European Union (EU) and Turkey to deal with the migrant crisis is disturbing. According to the agreement, the EU will disburse 3 billion euros already pledged to Turkey and provide a further 3 billion by 2018. Turkey will take back all migrants and refugees, who cross over to Greece illegally across the sea. In return, the EU will take in thousands of Syrian refugees from Turkey and move towards granting Turkey membership to the EU.

The refugee crisis has left Europe divided and confused, struggling to find a solution.  First, the refugees were welcomed. Then fences came up. And now, irregular refugees are to be returned. There is no clear plan in place to manage this reverse migration and protect the rights of those who will be returned. Will Turkey provide all of them the right to asylum, the right to work, the right to a dignified life? How will this agreement stop migrants seeking alternative routes to reach Europe? As per BBC reports, there has been a spike in migrant traffic along the very dangerous sea route across the Strait of Sicily.

So the rich nations appear to have discovered a wealthy solution to the tragic humanitarian crisis. Seen through the prism of life, this solution is painfully off colour considering that the rights of refugees stand to be sacrificed at the political altar of wealth.