Resilience /1

I like to think that Resilience is more a function of attitude than skill. This definition allows room for nurture to make a person rather than just leaving to nature (or the DNA you are born with). Of course, I acknowledge that many people whom we call resilient are naturally so. They, due to their bringing up or life experiences present a particular attitude to life’s challenges. But it hardly means it isn’t learn-able.

See: Resilience is the ability to continue when you’re in the dumps. It is a conviction so strong that it sounds irrational to others.

I think it stems from the underlying belief that the current (low) moment is just a small detour in the much longer journey of life. I learnt in a Radiolab episode once of a tribe that has exceptional navigational skills. Their language has a few hundred terms to refer to the cardinal directions. Think of a word for slightly east of north, another word for slightly *more* east of north. Get the drift ? They did an experiment where they blindfolded one of them inside a closed room and revolved them quite a few times and asked them which direction their nose pointed to. They were simply too accurate ! Turns out in their minds they always have a map with themselves as a dot on it. It helps them re-anchor whenever they are lost. And people who’ve lived with them and learnt their language also start doing the same.

It is learnable, you see – the ability to view the larger story with the current time as a marker on it, guiding you to the larger goal.

More important to everyday life, you can make some of your own practise assignments that will help you behave more resilient.

I like to think so.

Colonialism, 2014

The other day I was at the embassy area when the auto passed near the very long queues outside the US embassy. Intelligent, smart and well-to-do people (their clothes told me so) were sitting on the pavement. I don’t know why they were all waiting there instead of the nearby market. I mean it is not like the guards would call out their names across the street. Perhaps the importance that visa application or green card approval carries in their life plans made them sit there, uncomplaining in the heat of Delhi. Vendors make a good business out of selling them snacks and water.

I was looking at the crowd as we passed by them in the auto rickshaw when the driver said: ‘angrez log ab bhi raaj kar rahe hain’.


Exhibit 1: Clayton Christensen. His book The Innovator’s Dilemma is a celebrated one. He talks about how companies lose out on great opportunities because they stay focussed on where they earn most of their profits from today and hence sidestep what is new, promising but perhaps too small today.

Exhibit 2: Jonathan Ive, in many interviews and in his tribute speech to Steve Jobs explains that Steve had a lot of respect for fledgling ideas. He knew that “while ideas ultimately can be so powerful they begin as fragile barely formed thoughts, so easily missed, so easily compromised, so easily dismissed.

I could several stories about how large, incumbent companies have been overcome by new, smaller ones but I will skip that part because what I would like to do is extend this to our lives as well.

Most of us have an idea of what we want to do when asked to define a no-holds-barred ambition. I, for instance, want to a) make a product that is used by millions of people everyday b) want to make the world smaller by being able to travel with the same kind of planning that we do for making coffee c) want to learn programming again and experience the joy of building something that others use.

I am sure you have your ideas too, perhaps even more fun than the above 🙂 But the one thing I often hear myself (and also others) say is that they are too invested in their current lifestyle, commitments and they have responsibilities they must respect and a combination of these greatly affects their ability to pursue their dream.

I believe the reality of how we operate is totally different. I say so because while we all have stuff to pursue, the action really happens on a microscopic, everyday level when we wake up and make a decision to work on X or Y. Let’s say you want to learn gardening (or programming for that matter, in my case). The time you invest in learning the new skill doesn’t give returns right away and your mind sub-consciously continues to fight the low probabilities of success of this new venture against the assuredness of the current. We’re conservative beings, risk-averse and wanna maximise on what we know. I think this is what our brains do because of how they’ve evolved. Self-preservation, if nothing else for a fancy word.

The fact however is that you change your probabilities of success by sheer hard work and perseverance. You have to,  you *must* fool your brain at those giving-up moments to somehow circumvent the doubts during this transition from low-success probability to a higher-success one.

Fight the incumbent thoughts in your mind that tell you to hold on to what you have instead of embracing the change. And tell yourself that you will put in the hours to do what is required without even thinking of results for a fixed time every day.

PS: I’m trying to do this these days to learn programming. I’ll let you guys know how far I reach 🙂

The story that Betelgeuse will tell

I got curious about stars when I could first see a lot of them in the sky. This happened when I lived away from  Delhi for the first time. We urban sissies hardly see 20 stars on a good cloudless night while at least 100 are visible at a good star viewing site within the circle you can make with your thumb and index finger.

Star gazing is the most humbling hobby. Every time I walk at night when I can see some stars, I can’t help noticing the familiar ones. They’ve remained there as I have changed cities, grown up, gone through the ups and downs of life. Most of these stars are so far away that what we observe today is where the star was tens, hundreds or thousands of years ago.

In the northern hemisphere (where most people live anyway), you can’t miss Orion that looks like this in citylight:orion-city


In rural areas, it might look like this:


The shape and the star names are in this image:


I like to think of stars as witness to our world, and they actually see what our world was like back then and even now! Consider the top left star on Orion,  Betelgeuse – which is pretty bright and is slightly red-ish. It is 427 light years away. That star, when you see it today was at that spot back in 1587. In that time, Delhi looked *very* different. It was when Akbar was the 45 year old ruler of pretty much most of what is India and Pakistan today.

Think about what Betelgeuse will tell a future generation about you in 2441 AD, 427 years from now.

What do you think will remain of you then ?

The Car UI

The cars of olden days were all born with manual gear change. The Ambassador as I remember also had a pedal to the right that dimmed the headlights. The dipper, you know.

The four foot pedals were ABCD, that is:

In that order. Makes it easy to remember no?

I wonder if the current cars have any such smarts and simplicity…

Talking / Trusting

Today on a ride back from the beach on the auto I had to stop at an ATM because money was short. I asked the auto guy to find an ATM and he stopped at one enroute.

It was dark when we started so I’m pretty sure neither of us recognized each other enough to spot in the crowd. I got down, walked to the ATM and wondered how I would find him if I did lose him in the crowd. Never mind that for now because it deserves another post (it is an auth and identification problem similar to a browser handshaking a banks’ server).

I walked in the (right) auto and didn’t say a word and got dropped at the hotel. I loved that. Yes, the part where I didn’t have to say a word. You can sure go ahead with how-unsocial-I-must-be sort of jokes but here is why I liked it: the unspoken trust between two individuals is priceless.

A gazillion wasteful processes exist in our world to compensate for the lack of trust between people. Bus conductors, preventive litigators, currency notes, airplane boarding passes, gates, window grills.
All that is a bloody waste and it exists because people can’t trust each other.

Fluid motion

@: fluid-motion
Vehicles in different fluids behave differently when it comes to comfort of the passengers in them. The size of the vehicle and the position in which you are seated has an impact on your comfort. Here are some general principles:

# Boats

## Small Motorboats
Motorboats rise a bit from the front due to the engine being at the very back. So if you are seated at the front, you will experience the up and down of every wave. Very thrilling, but not comfortable. The back, right where the motor is happens to be the least bumpy place to be.

## Sailboats
They have a long keel at the center bottom that goes much further below the water and keeps the boat stable. Staying above that is the most comfortable location.
In general though, sailboats are not bumpy. So all positions work out okay.

# Aeroplanes
The front of the aircraft is usually the least bumpy at least in the Jets. The other position is in the rows along the wings.

The back is usually the bumpiest.