Lessons Learnt from Life - 1

“This above all : to thine ownself be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
thou canst not then be false to any man.”  

-Shakespeare (Hamlet) 

Life is a montage of moments; there is sorrow, there is joy: there is despair, there is hope: there is hatred, there is affection: there are lows and highs. At times we encounter outrageous or disdainful behavior but on other occasions we are treated most courteously and with great respect. Whereas we come across insubordination we also experience willing, enthusiastic co-operation.

Tell me not in mournful numbers
Life is ‘but an empty dream!’
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem,
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal
- Longfellow, A Psalm of Life

We face downright wicked people but we also meet amiable, good-hearted, righteous persons. There will be situations when we may feel betrayed, violated, used, hurt, saddened, angry etc. but on other occasions we shall meet people who are trustworthy, appreciative of your work, provide happiness and comfort. That’s life! None of us asked to be born: neither did we ask to be rich or poor, tall or short, fair or dark. No matter how we choose to look at it, life is a challenge. Since we are emotional beings we get caught in the whirling vortex of life. Although it is difficult to escape from the clutches of the daily grind, it is not impossible to come out unscathed if we keep learning as we move on this voyage of life. We learn through experiences as we engage in an exchange of emotions, feelings and action. Revelations come our way which are painful, unsettling, often surprising, unpredictable and at times elevating. Shakespeare in his play All’s Well that Ends Well states beautifully:

“The web of our life is of mingled yarn, good and ill together.” 

The lessons from the web of life come as surely as the tide or the day and night. We have to untangle the yarn. The passage through my roller coaster, eventful life has taught me many lessons.

Manipulation Boomerangs:  Hypocrisy and deception are rampant in every field of life. People try to manipulate and think that it will help them reach the pinnacle of glory and success. We put on a mask and pretend to be what we are not but invariably the veneer comes off and we feel small, our self-esteem sags, our level of self-confidence is lowered and we feel mortified. If we keep the camouflage on for a longish period we shall be driven by the compulsion of that mask: we shall not be able to use the endowments of our true self.

Every truth passes through three stages before it is recognized. In the first, it is ridiculed, in the second it is opposed, in the third it is regarded as self-evident.
- Arthur Schopenhauer     

I also fell prey to this human failing but every time I was caught in my own trap when the truth revealed itself. Other people also tried to put obstacles in my path and caused tremendous problems: they have falsely accused me and endeavored to blemish my integrity: they succeeded initially but ultimately had to eat humble pie when confronted with the truth. As I continued my journey in life I realized that it is best to stick to the truth rather than manipulate it, for truth has a sterling quality of raising its head: we cannot duck it: it outlives everything. It’s only a matter of time when it manifests itself. 

How true is Oscar Wilde when he says:

         “He who lives more lives than one
          More death than one must he die

Most of us know what constitutes our nucleus, indestructible, inviolate core. We often slap that sense to sleep but it is a voice that does not go and keeps haunting us later. Temporarily and superficially we feel satisfied but are tormented subsequently. Therefore I have followed the dictum of Dr. Seuss (American writer and cartoonist):

          “Be who you are and say what you feel
            because those who mind don’t matter
            and those who matter don’t mind

Moral Authority is stronger than Official Authority

People in-charge of personnel often use official authority by ordering around. Often they encounter resistance and the work is not done with the right spirit. At times their authority is challenged also. It is extremely difficult to tolerate such situations. Consequently, conflicts emerge. People in senior positions may be able to subdue their subordinates but will not get their willing support. In such situations team work and synergy will be a casualty. If Nature has placed us in a position of authority let us be understanding and kind to our co-workers, more so to the ancillary staff. The “Jadoo Ki Jhappi” of Munnabhai fame works wonders.

In my younger days I also tried to control people and extract work but was not always successful. Gradually I experienced a change in my style as it dawned on me that moral authority works better than official authority, be it the workplace or the family. For exercising such authority one has to know one’s job very well: competence is the key. When people with whom you are associated are convinced that you are a knowledgeable person and have their well being at heart then they listen to you. The Head, remaining humble, has to give credit to others rather than usurp it himself. Humility and recognition of the talents and good work of others elevates you. Generosity to others is as essential as strictness with oneself. If we practice what we preach there will be very few hiccups. With empathetic attitude, by and large, people do come round and work sincerely and conduct themselves in a dignified manner. The undercurrent of resentment disappears.

Anger Rarely Helps : “For every minute you are angry you lose 60 seconds of happiness”. – R.W. Emerson.

That is Emerson’s opinion: I think we forego calmness for a much longer period.

Are we ever happy with the decisions we have taken or the words we have spoken when we are angry? No, the decisions taken in anger are faulty and, therefore, do not endure. We have to frequently apologize to others. Even Parashuram, great master of martial arts and symbol of strength, had to apologize to Ram and Lakshman, for he had lost his reasoning power in anger during Sita’s ‘swayamvar’. Whenever we do wriggle out of such a situation, the feeling of guilt lingers. I can vividly recall having slapped a few students in my early days of teaching, specially a frail looking 11- year old Digvijay, the son of a Brigadier and another boy Roy Ewing, aged 16, the son of the editor of Eve’s Weekly: the fact that even after 40 years I have pangs of conscience is proof enough that anger does not help. When we are angry we lose our total awareness: the thinking power is sapped and often we regret later.

Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who is burnt” - Gautama Buddha

It is common knowledge that people who seethe with anger, be it due to ill-tempered behavior or road rage or spouses yelling at each other during marital spats or teachers shouting at their pupils or corporate bosses losing their temper on their juniors etc, are more prone to hypertension, heart disease and stroke. Research has shown that they also take longer to recover from injury. Remember, laughter is the best medicine!

Quite often we get angry when we see the imperfection or a different standard in others: our fuse is blown off when people or situations fall short of our expectations: but the anger is to no avail. We are all fallible and vulnerable. We cannot escape human frailties and inadequacies. Therefore, when you begin to feel angry turn to your own shortcomings, the anger will dissolve. Perfection is a utopian concept: it is only an ideal, which like stars, cannot be reached but only attempted. Therefore, we should be more patient and understanding and get the work done with love and an encouraging attitude. We should constantly endeavor to evolve to a higher level of existence. 

Life is a Game to be Played:  Existence is a game to be played with understanding and full enthusiasm. We should do our best in all endeavors but be constantly aware that it is a game we are playing. We ought to be fully conscious that we are all actors and to quote from Shakespeare’s “As You Like It:”

           “All the world’s a stage, 
             And all the men and women merely players; 
             They have their entrances and their exits

If we look at life from this angle we shall face less tension. Nobody can claim permanent ownership of material positions. We are only custodians and must leave everything to posterity. Being alive to this fact, we should not get too attached to worldly things which are ephemeral. The loss of material things or money will hurt us only transiently but we would be back to our normal self very soon. We should absolutely insulate our inner-selves from getting hurt from every little thing. Life is too precious to be taken too seriously: there is nothing in this world about which we should despair beyond a point. I have yet to see heaven falling! Therefore, let us savor the quirks, twists and turns of life: otherwise we shall miss the thrill of the unexpected and excitement of the unknown. Life is not meant to be a never ending journey: we should not be just survivors: we ought to be adventurers. We do not know the agenda: there will never be complete security within ourselves. No warning comes to us, no red alert is afforded to us for any imminent danger. It just happens. Therefore, we should deal with life passionately as it unfolds without getting excessively attached to people, places or possessions (3Ps).

Commitment Leads to Success

In today’s competitive world, winning has become top priority. There is cut-throat competition in every walk of life. But remember competition creates anxiety and makes people nervous. The more nervous they are the more they are prone to failure. Therefore, our effort ought to be to compete with one’s own self rather than with others i.e. to keep improving in all fields of endeavor. Life has to keep moving whatever the circumstances. It runs on commitments. If we examine any area of human life we shall notice that the more we commit the greater the energy we get. This is the law of Nature. Even in the domain of work the more responsibility we take the more power and influence comes to us.

Great organizations demand a high level of commitment by the people involved, that is how they become great” - Bill Gates

The ‘Mantra’ for success is total dedication and commitment to the cause you have undertaken to accomplish. Growth and fulfillment come only to those who make and keep commitments and promises – commitments made and word given to oneself and to others !

Blame Thyself 

People often grumble and complain that circumstances did not favor them. They feel, if they had a better boss or were born to richer parents or had gone to a better school or they had a more understanding spouse, their life would have been happier. After having experienced life I realized that we ourselves are responsible for our misfortunes. We have not exerted enough nor used our full potential or not treated people well. All problems are rooted within us they are nothing but reflections of our inner maladies. When we keep clashing with people and our relationship is soured repeatedly we should realize that the trouble lies within us not with others. Once we become aware that we are the cause and the outer is only the effect then we will be able to resolve the issues in our own minds and our ingrained patterns of behaviour will change. The external circumstances will not trouble us to a great extent. 

Be Self-Referred

As long as we refer ourselves to objects or persons we will not be happy. We have to be convinced that we are good enough as we are: this voice has to come from our soul. We should identify ourselves with our inner-self. There should be no urge to prove ourselves to others. We can be free only when we are not dependent on the opinion of others about us. Otherwise we will become like a yo-yo, our moods swinging from elevation to depression with good or bad remarks of others. No doubt I felt temporarily elated by getting the approval of others but as I progressed in life I became more careful of not letting it affect me excessively. We should train ourselves for equanimity in life. Many hours of happiness can be invalidated by a sorrow of a few seconds. The reverse is also true. Therefore, we should learn to take things in our stride and not be unduly affected by varying circumstances. The secret is that when you are feeling low recall happy moments of your life. We should remember that nobody in this world has complete satisfaction in life. Once we know this fact we will not feel inordinately in the dumps. I feel we should determine our own worth instead of letting others do it: they may short-change us !

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
Robert Frost

Nothing is Absolute

The world is full of people who feel absolutely certain about themselves. We as human beings form opinions about others and declare once and for all that a person is a liar or dishonest. This is not true for all times. Nothing is set in stone. Ideals, values, moral standards etc. keep changing with the passage of time. We should keep scope for the fact that the person must be speaking the truth on many occasions or he must have been honest many a time. Therefore, I have figured out in life that we should use words like “ in my opinion”, “I think”, “there have been occasions”, “may be”, “perhaps” etc. we should allow a margin to ourselves for revising our own impression or give a chance to others to form their own opinion. Although it is almost inherent in human nature to label people, we should rise above this weakness and not make a declaration in absolute terms, for everything in life is relative. I started realizing sometime back the significance of Friedrich Nietzche’s statement:

There are no eternal facts, as there are no absolute truths.”

Positive Action Must Continue

I have observed in life that every positive force generates some negative force. Even when a few people have done some good work many others would criticize them, may be out of jealousy or they are not able to do as well, being underachievers. Therefore, we should keep exerting positive force continuously to achieve the desired result.

Many a time “evil” triumphs over “good”. My experience tells me that this happens because “bad” people are aggressive and by coercion subdue “good” people: often well-intentioned persons keep quiet, not wanting to get entangled in any mess. My conviction is that all those persons who want the civil society to function in a cleaner manner, must exert themselves: they should not take ‘evil’ lying down.

Being negative takes the spirit out of us: adopting a stance of negativism only creates unnecessary pain and avoidable difficulties in life. We stand to gain by nipping in the bud such thoughts as they arise. If we make a conscious effort to emit positive vibes we shall definitely be happier.

The Most essential Things in Life are almost Free

In modern day consumeristic society people have excessively started running  after material things which are only peripheral to their existence:  the pleasure they provide is fleeting and that leaves us wanting more thereafter. Shahrukh Khan’s gift of a Mercedes to Farah Khan or Manik Chand’s Maybach to his daughter pale into insignificance in comparison to Mukesh Ambani’s present of a custom-built luxury Airbus jet costing Rs. 242 crores to his wife, Nita, on her birthday. There is no end to these materialistic pursuits.

On the other hand what can be more relaxing than a good refreshing bath or a half-an-hour afternoon snooze, a morning walk or an evening saunter in a beautiful garden full of greenery and multihued flowers. What can substitute for air, sunlight and water! Can listening to good music or reading an interesting book be replaced by other means of relaxation? Which human being will not marvel at the different formations the birds fly in or the songs they sing? Who will not be thrilled by the canopy of stars on a clear night or be fascinated by the intricately woven nest of a Weaverbird. Can one ignore to notice the beauty of the snowflakes falling noiselessly. The whole existence is joyful. The fact is that Nature has bestowed great bounties to us all but we should know how to use them and relax.

        “One impulse from a vernal wood
          May teach more of man,
          Of moral evil and of good,
          Than all the sages can
.”  -
William Wordsworth

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More by :  S. C. Arora

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