28 August, 2016

to kymaia: be unreasonable


you stood on the chair in our balcony and shouted to me, "look baba, no hands", and it suddenly dawned on me that one day, you are going to grow up and leave...suddenly, you felt a lot more grown up than your 23 months

that was a month ago

today, on 28 august 2016, you turn 2. the multiplication table for children popularly goes like this: whimsical ones, terrible twos, terrifying threes, fearsome fours, fierce fives...you get the idea. i am told it gets even worse during the teenage years, when you rebel, make mistakes, take unnecessary risks with your mind and body, trust the wrong people, and antagonise those who love you. this is all supposed to end by the time you are out of your teenage years, which is quite some time away for you, though knowing how quickly time passes when you are having fun, it is quite possible that before we know it, you'd be an adult and i'd be left wondering where all those years went!

the funny part is, most successful people (and i am talking about really successful ones, not just the more popular financially or professionally successful bunch) never really grow out of this: they rebel, make mistakes, trust the wrong people, take (what seem like) unnecessary risks, antagonise and frustrate people who love them, and more or less look as if they have a death-wish. and as may be expected, many do not make it and fail to leave a mark. but the ones who do, change the world, and it is their lives that we must hold up as worthy of emulation

if this is the terrible 2s, i never want you to grow up
talking of which, you are probably the first generation of humans who may live forever. so, don't put too much into age-based labels. you may study till you are 40, start your first career and end it by 60, study again till 70, then start a new career, and then go back to pursuing some other passion, and so on forever. it is awe-inspiring where medical, nutritional, and genetic science could take us as it is being married to computing, networking, and communications technologies. you may even be able to choose your body or any body part and have it made bespoke! this isn't some far away future i speak of, but possible in your lifetime, making your life much much longer than any human till date

when i was born, in 1972, diseases like polio (eradicated in 2011), and smallpox (eradicated in 1980) were still a reality, vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella were just being tried out, cancer was thought to be a death sentence, HIV AIDS was virtually unknown, and hepatitis vaccines were at least decade away.

an englishman, he wasn't given to hyperbole normally
you are born in a different world. that you will live longer is undisputed. but this post isn't about that. this is about how you choose to live that long life

a longer life can have several advantages. it would allow you to make even more mistakes and recover from them, learn, and try even riskier endeavours that make you even happier and the world even better, in one long virtuous cycle of life

to do so, though, you need to remember some basic lessons i intend to teach you, the first of which i shall impart today. so, here goes:


that's not shaw's picture though! that's another, equally unreasonable man
this may sound like bad advice prima facie, but if you want to change the world (and i do so hope you want to) and live a fulfilling life, there is no other way to be but unreasonable. coming from a rationalist, reason-driven man like me, it may even sound counterintuitive, but the "reason" part of the "unreasonable" is different from the "reasoning" part i teach you. the "unreasonable" part is about other people's impressions, golden rules on "how it's always been done", opinions of people who have no qualification other than just being older than you, the social pressures and requirements to confirm, a task that others think is "beyond your station", peer pressure, and so on. the "unreasonable" part does not pertain to physical evidence, logic, reasoning, scientific proof, and so on

let me make it clear by taking some examples below:


your drive is controlled only by your own ambition and hunger to achieve what you aspire to do. there are very few people in this world who are genetically gifted for the job they do. in the top 10 golfers, for example, you'd find only 1 or 2 who have the perfect body for it. but golf, like everything else, is not just about your body. most other golfers in that list are not as naturally gifted as the 1 or 2. they practice, they think, they plan, they equip themselves with the right tools, they find the right coach, they find the right caddie, they find the right rhythm...in short, they create a perfect storm that culminates in their success on the golf course. as in golf, so in life: you have what you have in terms of genetics and physical traits. how you use them, and how you complement and enhance them to create that perfect storm is what your drive will decide. in this quest, you'll be told by many a wise people that you don't have the genes for it, or the body for it, or the education for it, or whatever else. ignore them. they are the trolls of the real world. don't feed them. spend that time and energy working at your goals. they'll call you unreasonable. note that this is not a pejorative. it is a medal to be worn with pride


in relationships, whether personal or professional, you will be faced at many times with a dilemma: do i stay loyal to this person, brand, organisation, profession, or whatever else you are connected to? the answer is simple: yes. loyalty has nothing to do with external circumstances (except for one test, which i shall come to anon) but with your own morals and ethics. once you give a word, it is an iron-clad contract. no one, not even you, has the right to breach it. renegotiate it, by all means. even end it, with mutual consent. but even to think of breaching it means you need to introspect as to what brought you to this point. i know this is difficult. but here's the thing: if it were easy, we'd be living in such a better world than the current shit we find ourselves in. that is why, most people will ask you to "be practical" or something similar. they'll ask you to choose "practicality" (a highly subjective term) over loyalty. when they do, remember to replace the world "practicality" with "selfishness" and see if the argument still makes sense. chances are, it never will. you may be known as the "unreasonably loyal" person, but trust me on this: that's a good reputation to have, if it is reputation you seek

what's the exception i spoke about earlier? it is that your loyalty to the truth must remain sacrosanct and above and beyond your loyalty to anything or anybody else. if there is ever a conflict between the two, anyone who knows you must also know which side you'll be on: the side of the truth


this is a corollary to the exception i spoke of in the last point. being loyal first to the truth and then to everybody and everyone will make you honest automatically. however, being "honest" also means being capable of looking at things you love, whether outside of you (your hobbies, your possessions, your friends, your family, your profession, etc.) or inside yourself with a dispassionate and impartial eye. this is easier said than done. in fact, when you can actually do this, let me know. i have been trying to be brutally honest with myself for years, having never achieved it

now, to the "unreasonable" part. why i ask you not just to be honest, but unreasonably so is because you will be constantly tempted and advised to economise on honesty for the sake of love, the society, your job, your family, your friendships, and so on. in face of such an easy way out (by being dishonest just that slightly), if you keep your honesty, you will be called unreasonable. once again, do not worry. you can, and you will learn to, live with it. the others who have been dishonest, who have compromised, and who have lied to the people they love, to others, and to themselves will, eventually, find that none of it was worth the burden. your life will be unbelievably light and carefree if you can just stick to this one advice


it goes without saying that if you are unreasonably loyal to, honest with, and driven by the things and people you love, you will be unreasonably loving without any effort. however, there are times when even honesty and drive does not make up for the obstacles one has to surmount in something that sounds so simple: love. this could be your love for a sport, or for a human; it could be a cause or a profession; it could be a child, or a pet, or a spouse, or a friend. it matters not. you need to remember that the pithy saying, "loving something so much, it hurts," is a cliché because it is so true. you will realise the difficulty in loving someone despite the unsurmountable obstacles, the irresistible temptations, and the limitless stress. it is not easy. but then, i never said it was. what i can guarantee you is one thing: if you love something, the love you give and the emotions it arouses in you are reward enough. expect nothing in return, for expectation dilutes love. you will know as you grow up that this is perhaps the most difficult of advices to follow, but if you do, you will earn such happiness in life as is unparalleled by any other emotion

related to this is the advice that you must never give up on love. you must fight for it, even if it kills you. if you cannot find within yourself the willingness to do so, then take it from me that you have yet to find real love. if you really love someone or something, you will sacrifice everything for it. have no doubts: there is no emotion as magical and as fulfilling as true love. may you find it, may you keep it, and may it stay eternal


being unreasonably driven requires you to be unreasonably perseverant about your goals. but this is not just about goals. it is about relationships, about knowledge, about your chosen profession, about your health, and about whatever it is that you set your mind to: it could be as large as globally eradicating hunger or as small as running a mile a day

from someone who hasn't been able to quit smoking since the past decade, this advice must come as a bit rich. i agree. i have not been as persistent and perseverant in chasing my self-set goals as i would have liked to be. but that makes me even more qualified to tell you about its importance. if i have managed to fall into a hole and unable to come out as yet, it makes it even more incumbent upon me to warn you of the hole so you don't make the same mistake. so, i agree. i am guilty as charged. as far as this one advice goes, i have been found more than wanting myself

but you must not do what i foolishly did. you must not give up. you must not lose hope and accept defeat, even if it is the only reasonable course of action. be unreasonably perseverant in your endeavours, for only persistence and patience will win in the end, and no amount of justifications will excuse you from being left with the feeling that perhaps if only you had tried harder, you'd have succeeded. trust me, that is the worst feeling to have; to miss the boat and to know that one could have easily been on it, but for one's own lack of persistence. the worst thing you can tell yourself as you grow and look back at your life is, "i told you so..." don't ever give up...ever


which brings me to the point about optimism. the only way you are going to keep the drive and perseverance about anything intact through a long and arduous journey towards your goal is by being optimistic. pessimism kills the spirit. don't let it kill yours. be cynical by all means. be sceptical about things, including your own abilities to achieve the goal. but in cynicism and scepticism, apply the dampener of "reasonableness", while always looking at the brighter side, always hoping for better, always believing in the good...even if, at times, it isn't reasonable to do so. being unreasonably optimistic will make you, and whoever comes in contact with you, a happier person. this, in itself, is a reward, now isn't it?

on the subject of quitting smoking: i am still optimistic that on my next attempt, i will be able to cleanse myself of this vile habit. if nothing, the one thing i surely am is unreasonably optimistic. and even generally, this is an area where you have tough competition from me, what with my failed businesses, failed relationships, failed attempts at quitting smoking or learning how to swing a golf club perfectly. with all this, i remain the eternal optimist, hoping against all odds that my 2-year old will grow up and remember to read this, that this blog will still be around in another 10 years, that google and blogger will still be alive, that it will still make sense to you, and that i will live that long with my decadent lifestyle, to see it happen! no one who knows me can deny that if nothing, i am an optimist and an eternal romantic at heart to believe it'll all be OK one day


question everything. nothing is sacred. nothing is beyond questioning. nothing is off-limits to interrogation. be curious and enquiring. let no idea, no thought, no rule, no statement, nothing, and no one be exempt from examination, criticism, and deconstruction. not even me, or what i say

you will be told that some cows are holy and some ideas are best left alone from the stark illumination of a close examination. you will even be told that some things are unquestionable and untouchable because you may offend someone's sensibilities if you look critically at some idea or the other. your friends, family, and the society may tell you to "respect" an idea or belief. don't listen to them. ideas are not real. beliefs are not real. they can be questioned, critiqued, even mocked. there is no freedom without the freedom to offend

be fearless in this regard. remember: people are to be respected, not ideas. any offence people take when their ideas and beliefs are held up to scrutiny is their problem, not yours. do not fall for the "sane advice" of well-meaning people that by questioning, dissecting, or even mocking some idea or notion you are hurting people. they may attempt to fool you by claiming it is an unnecessary  enterprise and without profit to look at their beliefs closely, and that anything other than an approach and attitude of "respect" is unreasonable. tell them exactly where to take and stuff their bullshit

if being reasonable is to accept knowledge without questioning its source or authenticity, then being unreasonable is not a choice; it is mandatory to a thinking person. truth is not reached by fiat, but by constant questioning, calculation, debate, and reasoning. the one constant about truth-seekers is doubt, and this doubt has lead to every single scientific breakthrough in our entire history. remember: doubt is not bad. doubt is the beginning

i do not know who said it, but this quotation has had a profound influence on me, and i hope it does on you too: "i shall not believe anything because it is divine, but because it appeals to my intellect." conclusions reached without understanding, without research, without questioning, without doubt, without calculation, and without comprehensive study, either by you, or by experts (peer-reviewed by other, equally expert, people) are but a result of lazy thinking and do not lead to the truth. you have a brain. use it before you believe anything


which brings me to the concept of study. the dictionary defines it as "the devotion of time and attention to gaining knowledge of an academic subject, especially by means of books" or "a detailed investigation and analysis of a subject or situation." the bedrock of study is curiosity, and its foundation doubt. but the bridge between curiosity and doubt is called questioning, which we discussed above. if you are curious and questioning, you will arrive at doubt. the only way to solve doubt is study. in this too, i exhort you to be unreasonably studious. don't be satisfied with one angle or perspective. don't be satisfied with one book, or on narrative. delve deep, read and study other angles to the same problem, and finally, and most importantly, apply your own mind before coming to a conclusion

most people (whether writers, journalists, orators, politicians, artists, or storytellers) have biases. learn about them when considering their work. it will help you see their thoughts in a different light. also, some mediums are more powerful than others. moving pictures affect some more deeply than the written word. this depends on your own experiences, and hence biases. recognise it. as long as you know your own biases, you will be able to mentally remove them along with the storyteller's. no one can be totally objective, but the purpose and intent of study is to find an objective or, at the very least, a well-rounded view of the story

it might seem unreasonable to keep digging, to keep studying, and to keep your mind open at times. it might seem unnecessary to study something beyond the popularly held explanations or beliefs. don't let that affect you. no one is ever the holder of all knowledge on any one subject. there is always something new to learn, something novel to discover, and something even more intricate to master. in fact, the more you study, the more you'll realise that you know even less about the subject. keep at it. the joy of discovering something hitherto unknown facet of a story is unparalleled

besides, without study, without reading, you can at most live one life. but with reading and studying, by assimilating the experiences of thousands of other people, who may have lived during different times and under different conditions, studying and commenting on different events from different angles, you can live a thousand lives! isn't that just worth being unreasonably studious?


when you are yourself unreasonably loyal, loving, and driven, it comes naturally to you to be unreasonably demanding of others in regards the same. most people will tell you that this isn't how it works; that just because you didn't eat the lion doesn't mean the lion is obliged to spare your life. but this is a bullshit analogy. by being fiercely loyal and unquestionably loving to a human, you are not sparing their lives but enhancing them. to expect that they don't betray your love and trust is the least you can expect. when i ask you to be unreasonably demanding, i mean that you should shower your love and loyalty only on others who return the same. as in love, so in your profession. be demanding of your colleagues, your juniors, your bosses, your customers, and your vendors. but remember that to be demanding, your own conduct needs to stand up to the same scrutiny. you can only demand equivalent to what you offer in return. in effect, the first person you need to be unreasonably demanding towards is your own self. only when you can meet such high standards of expectation in your own conduct, may you demand the same from others

that being said, do not stick by people who cannot return your love, trust, or loyalty...and the best way to weed out those who don't care for you and what you bring to the relationship is to be as unreasonably demanding of their love, loyalty, drive, persistence, and optimism as you are. you are better off without them

but those who do stick around and return your feelings with the intensity that matches yours...those who share your values and value your share...those are the ones that will be around, through thick and thin, through sickness and health, through prosperity and poverty, through ups and downs...those, my girl, are the keepers. if and when you find such people, be unreasonably demanding of the same emotions from them as you offer in return...and, it goes without saying, be unreasonably demanding on yourself to making it work


which leads to what you do when these "keepers" slip up. there will be times when you yourself slip up. don't be harsh on them, or on yourself. forgiveness comes from love, and being unreasonably forgiving is a natural corollary to being unreasonably loving. in case of conflict between being demanding and forgiving, remember it is nobler to forgive, and in the long run, more fulfilling to both parties. this is, unfortunately, easier said than done. it takes great patience, generosity, trust, and optimism to practice. what's more, this patience, generosity, trust, and optimism must be as much in the relationship between you and the person you are forgiving, as it must be inside you own self. without an unlimited supply of these within your own mind, you cannot walk this path. the saying, "to err is human, to forgive divine" is not about a supernatural being's right to forgive, but actually about what it takes inside of you to forgive someone truly

also remember that just like you need to set, and meet, your own high expectations in your conduct and be unreasonably demanding in those standards first with yourself before expecting them of others, you need to offer forgiveness to yourself too first before you can offer it to others. forgive yourself for slipping up as long as you get up, brush yourself off, and keep walking in the right direction. it is an art to learn how to do this. it takes time, but it is one of the non-negotiables, without which your life will be far less fulfilling and happy than if you were to master the art of forgiveness even by a small measure


what i have advised in the first part requires great amount of patience and practice. as i said in the last paragraph, you must forgive yourself if you trip once in a while. but to do all of this, you need a quality that goes hand-in-hand with being forgiving: generosity. the funny part of generosity is that there is really no limit to it, and hence, there is no way to be generous to an unreasonable amount. our mythologies describe innumerable incidents of unreasonable generosity that led to the downfall and destruction of the donor, which in fact was sometimes the objective (by other scheming parties). the interesting part about all these stories has always been that the donor has been held up as the hero, regardless of their antecedents, backstory, or pedigree!

in effect, there is really no way to be generous to the point of unreasonableness. all i can ask is for you to be as generous as you possibly can. but here's the thing: if you are unreasonably generous, to be unreasonably driven, loyal, honest, loving, perseverant, optimistic, questioning, studious, demanding, and forgiving will flow so naturally and effortlessly, that you'd hardly think about any of it. there's a phrase in english to describe someone so unreasonably generous as to this facet actually being seen as a character flaw: "generous to a fault." kymaia, my darling, if you can be anything, be that. and as with unreasonable honesty, if and when you can actually achieve this, let me know, for this is one of those quality i wish i had in far more abundance than i have been blessed with


and now, here's some advice that goes counter to all of this: that regardless of how hard you try, you will never be able to achieve it all. there will be places you'll break down, or compromise, or act selfishly, or be tempted to lie a little...it doesn't matter. as long as you know what you set out to be, as long as your intentions were honourable, and as long as you did what was fair (with fairness being all about others first, and yourself last), as long as you held yourself to standards that were, are, and will forever be considered unreasonable, i think you are doing fine

to repeat: your intention to hold yourself to unreasonably high standards is the first step to getting there, even if you eventually fall a bit short. i promise to help you and drill these into you for as long as you are in my custody...but you'll soon grow wings and leave the nest

and that is the real test of character: when you are alone, when no one has to see, when no one has to know, how you behave. if you pass that test, the world is yours, kymaia, and i will be one proud father to applaud with misty eyes, looking at you standing wherever you will, shouting, "look baba, no hands"