Be like Water

Picture credits: Alabama Co-opertaive Extension System

"Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend."

– Bruce Lee

Majority of us fall victim to thinking in fixed and certain ways. Just because something worked out for us once we believe that’s how it’s always supposed to be. Were we loved enough at our homes by our parents and siblings? That’s good to know. Were we loved enough by our friends and teachers at school? That’s good too. However, as we get older and start getting reality checks we understand that rigidity is not always a good thing. Flexibility is. Becoming like water is seriously a challenge but the challenge is totally worth it. Bruce Lee is telling us to be like water because people who become like water can make it through any hardest possible obstacles. 

Lao Tzu once said, “Water is the softest and most yielding substance. Yet nothing is better than water, for overcoming the hard and rigid, because nothing can compete with it.” If you observe water carefully you will see that it’s nature is very resilient. It’s resilient to changes. Just the way Bruce Lee said if you put water in a glass it becomes the glass but when you put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Life is always going to keep throwing trash at us. That’s a harsh reality. Becoming resilient like water can prevent us from feeling victimised. We must keep moving forward taking different shapes and sizes because that’s the best shot we have at facing tough times. The pandemic is a great example of a need to build resilience and flexibility during harsh times. We did not expect something like this to happen. We only used to study it in our history books. Unfortunately, the written text has become a reality because history has been repeated. Lives are not the same anymore. We are unable to meet people in person the way we used to do pre-pandemic. Colleges and schools have opted for either online learning or hybrid learning. We have to work not in our offices but homes. On top of that work from home is another big deal for majority of people (as it has its own pitfalls). Is this in our control? Absolutely not. No matter how challenging everything has become we can learn one fundamental lesson from water: to stay flexible and adjust to the circumstances outside our control. 

Water isn’t merely about flexibility it’s also about softness. We think softness is a bad thing. People who are soft and not robust from the inside are weak but that’s not true. Water is soft but it has got tremendous power. If it has to it can cause huge destruction (as we all see in hurricanes, floods). Many times ‘strength’ or I should say ‘forceful strength’ doesn’t get us anywhere. It’s total waste of energy. In those moments being soft can make things possible for us. It might take some time. It’d be like taking ‘baby steps’. But things will happen. Do you think working 18 hours a day will finally make things happier in your personal life? No. It will not. You’re just exhausting yourself. You’re exhausting yourself both physically and mentally. You think forcing yourself to work for the insane amount of hours will make your life perfect. Actually your life is far from perfect. Look at water. Touch it. What do you feel? SOFTNESS. Maybe you will realise that your long term goals can be achieved with having a tranquil mind and one day at a time approach. Your softness will become your superpower. 

Most Important Lessons I have learned so far during the pandemic

Picture credits: Roffey Park Institute

Every event in our lives teaches us something. If you believe it doesn’t then I’d suggest you take a look at any event of your life again: this time more carefully. I am pretty sure you’re going to see it yourself that you had some learning. It’s impossible to believe that the pandemic is not teaching us anything. There is so much learning each day and remembering and not forgetting those lessons ever may help shape our lives for the better.

Personally, I have learned a lot of things in the past one year. While I was grateful of my life during this time, nonetheless it wasn’t an easy year. Actually it wasn’t easy for anyone. In spite of everything I have had a few realisations and I’d like to share some of them with you.

You’re always hanging by a thread

What I am about to say is going to sound cliche but it’s the harsh reality of a human life: life is very short. You can put your 100% energy into predicting the future still you will fail. You will fail badly. Everybody is hanging by a fine thread. If the thread breaks up it simply means that you are alive no more. What may sound scary is that you can never know when your own thread is going to break. One day you’re like ‘life is a bed of roses’ and another day your worst nightmares have come true. I don’t mean to make you feel depressed. My purpose is to bring it to your attention that don’t disrespect life. Don’t treat it like garbage. Value it. Bad things do happen. Sometimes the worst possible things but such events are supposed to make you stronger and not ridicule at life itself.

Never stop fighting for your/loved ones life

When we are at a very dark place it is natural to start losing hope. Giving up seems like the only option. I am not perfect. Even I tend to start losing hope sometimes when nothing is in my favour. In those moments only our resilience and bravery is tested. If we try our best to maintain our demeanour we can think clearly. When we think clearly we stop focusing on what has happened to us and start focusing on what we can do now. Options, which we thought earlier we had none, become very much visible. I believe it is about intention. A good intention make things possible while no intention does nothing good to us. No matter what you’re going through in your life never stop fighting for your life and the life of your loved ones.

Your focus must be on what you control

There are two kinds of things in this world: the things we control and the things we don’t control. Humans want to control everything. They often believe that they have a control over everything and that’s why their lives become miserable. Some people have a good sense of what they control and what they don’t. Such people have a much better life than those who focus way too much on the things beyond their control. I know it sounds easier than done because while I understand the fact intellectually it is hard for me sometimes to act upon it. Nevertheless, it is never too late. The next time you are in an adverse situation ask yourself one simple question, “What I can change and what I cannot?” I am sure you’ll be having enough clarity to make a better decision.

Each day is a gift

We have a tendency towards believing that life is short but not too short. We have a lot of time. There’s no need of hurry. Indeed, that’s the reason we fail to celebrate each day. The pandemic has shown me very clearly that in no time you can lose anyone. One day you’re talking and laughing with someone and the next day that person is gone forever. It can give you the chills if you think about it deep enough. Therefore, be grateful every single day. Try to look at each day as if it were your last. By saying this I don’t mean you start living in a fantasy world where nothing is broken. You shouldn’t stop feeling all the negative emotions. But every day remind yourself: how would you want to live your life today if this was your last day?

Impermanence is a reality

Everything is transitory. I am sure you have heard it many times. Accept it. Accept the fact that your life, the life of your closed ones, your possessions and your achievements are all temporary. None of them is going to stay with you till eternity. Focus your attention, time and energy into the things that matter: a purposeful life, good deeds and spreading love all around.

Under the Microscope: People with a Psychology degree- What I have found and why I feel enraged?

Picture credits: PNGWing

I have an under-graduate degree in economics. Quite honestly, I don’t remember what I studied and don’t like economics anymore. There are many reasons and I don’t want to bore you right away. So, maybe some other time. Back to where I was, I don’t like economics anymore. Right now I call myself a ‘psychology student’ because I am a psychology student. Over the past 4 years I have been around people who either have a psych background or are striving for what I am striving for. I have made certain observations about these people and they make me feel enraged. I know you’re going to stick it to my face that I have anger issues and must start meditating or even join an anger management class. Trust me, I am not angry in a bad way. I feel enraged but laugh at the same time because I find it funny.

I believe you can have any degree in the world and yet your life will remain the same (obviously, not true for everyone). I am specifically talking about people with degrees in medical science, psychology, physics, chemistry, etc. People with the above mentioned backgrounds should do everything in their power to stop being illogical and unscientific. When I encounter illogical and unscientific ideas I feel sad and my sadness elevates when those ideas come from people who claim themselves to be ‘potential psychologists’ or ‘medical doctors’. Based on what I have been seeing over the past few years, my observations are as follows:

Science is not everyone’s cup of tea

I could not stress upon it enough. Ever since I have started making sense of the things around me I have found that majority of the people with a medical degree, engineering degree, physics and chemistry degree and psychology degree are merely degree holders. Their education in these subjects did not change them at all. Such people call themselves medical doctors, psychologists, physicists, etc. and still their mind has only expanded professionally and not personally. They don’t know how to challenge the narratives they have been exposed with since childhood. Would you believe me if I told you that I have met psychology students who believe exorcism can cure schizophrenia? Would you believe me if I told you that I know people with a modern medicine degree who think homeopathy is not a pseudo-science? Would you also believe me if I told you that I know a lot of people who don’t believe in evolution?

Trust me, science is not everyone’s cup of tea.

Psychology is ‘interesting’ to everyone. Yet not everyone can grasp it intellectually

When I opted psychology for my graduate studies and told people about it (when they asked me) I believe 9 out of 10 people said they like psychology as it’s very ‘interesting’. I am not trying to insult anyone but those people had no idea what psychology as a subject actually means. It’s true that psychology is quite interesting but grasping it intellectually is not an easy job. Pick an academic paper in psychology and start reading it. I am sure you will stop finding it interesting. The subject of psychology is intellectually challenging and if you don’t agree with me then you’re studying the ‘real’ psychology.

You can study ‘abnormal psychology’ and then go around talking superstitious stuff

I remember I was in a psychopathology/abnormal psychology class and the topic of discussion was schizophrenia. One thing led to another and very soon my classmates started talking about their long held superstitious beliefs without even considering for a minute if that was making any sense. Things started becoming more interesting when paranoid schizophrenia was being explained using superstitions and utter nonsense. I am sorry to say this but they didn’t deserve to sit in an abnormal psychology class. Such people don’t deserve to pick up psychology subject at all.

Psychology isn’t limited to helping people get back on track in their lives

When my friends used to ask me what I am doing, I used to say that I am studying psychology and will pursue my career in this field. Immediately many of them used to pose another question and ask me, “Are you going to be a doctor of mad people?” I wanted to explain things to them and to a certain level I did but after some time I stopped. Because nothing could change their fixed ideas. So, I want to make things clear: psychology is much more than clinical psychology. Psychology is like an ocean and there are many sub-fields. It’s embodied in economics, anthropology, political science, business and many more. I would encourage people to do some research first and then ask such questions.

Psychology isn’t telepathy

A lot of people ask psychology students “Tell me what I am thinking right now?” I mean seriously? Psychology students/professionals of the field are not telepaths. If you don’t know your own self in the first place how can you expect another person to do it for you? Psychology is indeed about behaviour and mental processes. The focus group of the subject is none other than humans. But the training is not given to become mind readers. Training is given to study behaviours and mental processes scientifically and not randomly.

A single question that is helping me change my perspective

Picture credits: freepik

It’s a human tendency to take life for granted. I know this and you know it too. But why do we do it? Why do we take our family, friends, health, etc for granted? Why do we often miss out on acting in much better ways even though we ‘know’ nothing lasts forever?

Bertrand Russell, a British philosopher, essayist, logician and a social critic aptly said once, “In all affairs, it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.” Quite honestly, I haven’t make a list of all the things I take for granted in my life (probably it’s LIFE in general that I sometimes take for granted just like any other person) but I have come to a realisation that yes, indeed we don’t value our lives the way we should. I believe the pandemic is teaching us a lot in this domain.

Coming back to the question of why we take things in life for granted, psychology has some answers. Human beings are naturally inclined to ‘novelty’. It’s in our evolutionary history. Life, relationships, health seems like permanent. We think they have been there for a very long time and will stay with us for ‘always’. All this doesn’t feel novel or new so we don’t pay much attention. Until something big happens. The pandemic is giving us many examples. We are seeing with our own eyes that a single hour is enough to change our or the lives of our loved ones completely and forever. For many the wounds are never going to heal but others will forget everything and continue living their lives the way they had been living prior to the pandemic.

Isn’t it the perfect time to change that? After all, the losses are irreversible.

Only a couple days back I was pondering upon the same thought and something crossed my mind. It was nothing but a simple, single question. I have lost a very close relative to COVID-19. While reflecting back upon my own life I reminded myself how lucky I am. Quite frankly, I am very grateful of my life each day. Trying to keep myself in my cousin’s shoes I asked myself a question:

“HOW MUCH WOULD YOUR COUSIN BE WILLING TO PAY JUST TO HAVE A 5 MINUTE CONVERSATION WITH THE PERSON SHE HAS LOST?”

Without a doubt: A LOT!! Yes, my cousin would be willing to pay a lot. The cost will be very very high. Doesn’t that change your perspective, even a little bit? It changed mine. That question strikes me hard enough to pause for a moment and think things over again. Now, I am not saying I have become all perfect and will never take people in my life for granted. I am a human after all. I am conditioned to make mistakes. Nevertheless, I am going to try to never stop asking myself that question. It will keep me in check, I am sure.

This too shall pass

Picture credits: Pure Source Recruitment

I know I am not the only one who has been hit psychologically by the pandemic especially the second wave in India. I also know well enough that there are people who are going through the worst time of their lives. Either their own lives are in danger or the lives of their loved ones. People who are not getting infected with the COVID-19 virus are surely getting infected with anxiety or depression. Psychological disturbance during the pandemic in itself a big deal because it paralyses you and actually makes you sick.

If you open Google search and start typing ‘how to deal with anxiety‘, you will find infinite amount of information. Some will suggest you to exercise meditation (mindfulness meditation or simply deep breathing exercises), some will suggest to take care of your body by exercising and consuming a healthy diet. Journalling will also come up, I am sure. These are all evidence based suggestions and people suffering from anxiety these days can introduce them in their daily routine. While the above mentioned suggestions are helpful in easing anxiety levels I am quite sure you, me and everyone is wondering:

WHEN IT IS GOING TO END?

Quite honestly, it’s a difficult question with answers people will not enjoy listening to. Based on my limited knowledge, I believe the pandemic is going to go away when approximately 70-80% of the world’s population is vaccinated. Until then, the waves are going to come and go and come and go….In spite of that, we should not forget how far we have come. Thanks to science and those scientists who managed to come up with vaccines so soon.

Everyone wants the pandemic to end. While pondering upon this thought I was reminded of a Persian adage:THIS TOO SHALL PASS.” Yes, it will pass. The pandemic will pass. Human lives are going to get back to normality. We are going to have days when we don’t have to wear masks and maintain social distancing (physical distancing not emotional distancing). Obviously, we are not going to forget these times. They are going to stay with us as long as we are alive. But remember, THIS TOO SHALL PASS….

THIS TOO SHALL PASS is another way of thinking that nothing in life stays forever. Buddhism revolves around the idea of impermanence: everything is transitory and nothing is permanent. Whatever it is- your feelings, moments, lives , it’s changing all the time.

  • People who are with you right now are not going to be there till eternity.
  • You are not going to be there forever either.
  • Your circumstances are going to change and they won’t remain constant.
  • Your feelings are going to get replaced with other feelings (good for bad and bad for good).

In the same way, this pandemic is not going to stay forever because it shall pass. We may feel right now that this black cloud is going nowhere. But it will pass. It, too, shall pass. Trust me, the lesson of impermanence hasn’t been digested by me completely. I am still learning. But I am glad I have started walking down this path.

We are going through some of the most difficult times right now. Stay wise and please act wisely.

A deadly second wave is here. Make sure you take care of your Mental health too.

Picture credits: NDTV.com

On April 18, 2021 India had a record number of cases and deaths: 2.75 lakhs and 1,620 respectively. It’s something very very serious. People are standing in long queues to get themselves tested for the infection. Healthcare system has collapsed completely that not enough beds and oxygen cylinders are available for COVID-19 patients. People are dying. What could be more worse than that?

While the second wave in India is affecting our physiology we should not forget that it’s also taking a huge toll on our mental health as well. Everyone is stressed. Some wise minds have fear too of contracting the virus. People are very much worried. Quite honestly, stress, fear and worry during these unprecedented times is very common. When situations arise unexpectedly and there is uncertainty around us it’s ordinary to lose grip over our mental well-being. What’s important to know is that we should not let ourselves not prioritise our psychological well-being. While the pandemic is not under our control (although we could have been more careful since the beginning) what’s under our control is how we keep ourselves and our families safe. Moreover, taking good care of our mental health is also under our control.

The worst part is that the pandemic may subside (hard to be exact which year) but the way it’s deteriorating people’s mental health is very concerning. “I don’t think this is going to go back to baseline anytime soon,” says clinical psychologist Luana Marques, at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. Luana Marques is constantly monitoring the mental-health impacts of the crisis in US populations and elsewhere. According to a survey conducted by US Census Bureau it was found that more than 42% of people reported having symptoms of anxiety or depression in December 2020. The number has increased significantly from 11% between January-June 2019. The times are difficult and alarming. Things aren’t very rosy in India as well. The second wave is so deadly that many people (including me) are facing anxiety on a regular basis.

An important question comes up: how to preserve our mental health?

  1. Make time for the activities you enjoy: Some people like to write while others enjoy cooking, reading, watching movies & tv series, etc. Everyone has different activities they enjoy engaging in. Find out what interests you and make time each day for it. It helps take the mind off the pandemic situation.
  2. Talk to people (virtually): The pandemic has made us all feel isolated and lonely. We are unable to meet our friends and relatives. Thanks to technology we have an alternative (although not a permanent one). Talk to your loved ones- call them, Skype them, whatever’s possible. Talk about what you’re feeling. Listen to what they have to say.
  3. Meditate and exercise: It cannot be stressed enough that meditation improves not just our physical health but mental health as well. People who meditate have stronger neural connections which allows for more synchronised communication. Meditating for 5-10 minutes in a day is enough if you’re a beginner. Exercise also have many benefits and make sure you add it to your daily routine.
  4. Eat healthy food: While it is common to gorge on unhealthy food items during times like these, we should not forget to take a healthy and balanced diet. Reduce carbohydrates and sugar in your diet. Add healthy fats. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. There are evidences from scientific studies that diet does play an important role in regulating our mood.
  5. Prioritise your sleep: We often lose our sleep during crises. Having trouble falling asleep or having nightmares becomes common. Make sure to go to bed at a fixed time. Keep your bedroom quiet, dark with a temperature that is not too hot or too cold. Don’t consume caffeine or alchohol before bedtime.
  6. Don’t forget to take breaks from news stories: Consuming news stories constantly all day can definitely create a lot of stress. That is why it’s crucial to take occasional breaks from news stories (on television, social media, etc). It’s fine to keep yourself updated but that shouldn’t mean you let it affect you psychologically. Set a time and frequency for watching the news updates. By doing that you will protect yourself from the stressors.

Routine is saving me from having a mental health crisis

Picture credits: The Spruce

When we hear the word ‘routine’ we almost always have an immediate response:

“Routine? That sounds so boring.”

A year ago, I would have agreed with those ‘five words’. But today I won’t. Well, I have my reasons and the most important one is that routine saved me from having a mental health crisis. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is something we have never experienced before. Things are definitely going to get better and normal very soon (they already are). We must not forget all the lessons this pandemic has taught/teaching us because it’s something we might face again in the future if we don’t correct our mistakes now. Overall, it can be said that our lives have changed forever. So many people have lost their lives. So many people contracted the virus and suffered (so many still are because remember the pandemic isn’t over yet). So many people are going through mental illnesses including clinical depression, anxiety disorders, etc. In such unprecedented times it is quite okay to feel mentally exhausting. During the pandemic, researchers at the University of Glasgow conducted a study to examine the effects of COVID-19 pandemic in the mental well-being of people living in the UK. The study was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry. What was found is that the suicidal thoughts increased from 8% to 10% and it was the highest among young adults (18-29 years). Researchers agreed that the percentage increase might look like a small number but it is a concern because it happened during a short period of time. 

During times like these it is more important than ever to have a routine. It’s not a guarantee that everything is going to be perfectly okay but it does help a lot when there is so much uncertainty around us. Routine gives us something to look forward to everyday and it does give a structure to our days. 

YOUR DAYS ARE STRUCTURED:

As mentioned above, routines help give structure to our days. When we know we have to wake up, eat food, do our most important tasks at a particular time in a day we are guiding our days and not the other way around. There is an agenda and we look forward to completing those agendas when we have a routine. There is more focus and our brains don’t wander much because it knows well enough all that it is supposed to concentrate on. Decide what time you will wake up and stick to it. Decide what time you will go to bed and stick to it. Have a set time for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Structure your days. Have some daily routines because your brain will thank you for that.

LOWER STRESS AND ANXIETY LEVELS:

When days are not planned it becomes natural to get caught on everything that comes our way. This results in more stress and anxiety levels. However, by having a routine we learn what to focus on and at what time. We start training ourselves to focus on what’s right in front of us and let the insignificant things stay what they are. We feel more in control. We feel less stressed and don’t get anxious so easily. Routines act like an anchor of predictability. Dr Steve Orma, a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Clinical Psychologist works with patients suffering from anxiety, insomnia and stress. He says, “Routine helps with stress. Create a set schedule for doing chores, work tasks, meetings, exercise, paying bills, and all the usual things you need to do. Put these into your schedule. Once this becomes your normal routine, it’s easier to accomplish everything, because it becomes habit.” Remember, what gets scheduled gets done. 

YOU ARE MORE CREATIVE AND PRODUCTIVE:

Every creative genius had a secret: a daily routine. I know this wasn’t a secret you were expecting but it’s the truth. Routines helped these geniuses bring out their creativity and be productive. Below image is the daily routine of Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States. 

Picture credits: The Focus Course

It’s quite true that Ben Franklin did not follow his routine 100% every day. It’s not possible. There is so much that comes up unexpectedly because of which sticking to a routine every single day becomes rather impossible. Nevertheless, he was a very productive person because he followed his daily routines as much as he could. Routines help us stay on top of our game just like it helped people like Beethoven and Freud. We are less distracted and start prioritising things in our lives. And people who know what to prioritize can be nothing but creative and productive. 

BETTER MENTAL HEALTH:

Having a good mental health is so important right now. Nothing is of any significance if there is mental turbulence all the time. When the world has become isolated and we have somewhat lost chances to meet our loved ones in person it is natural to feel mentally unstable from time to time. This is where routine comes in to rescue us. If there is anything I am 100% certain of it’s the fact that without having a routine almost every single day I would have lost my demeanour. Routine kept me in check. It made me realise that I could control some of the things in my day. This eventually helped me having a relatively better mental health. 

Don’t be very hard on yourself when it comes to building a routine. It takes time. Forming habits take time. Some days you are going to be very productive while the other days it will hard for you to keep up with your routine. And that’s okay. Life happens. Try again the other day. Just because you have stumbled once doesn’t mean you have to stop trying. Prioritise your mental well-being. There is so much that depends on it. 

Losing loved ones over different political opinions? You’re not alone

Picture credits: University of Louisville Department of Communication

Do you have a friend with whom you don’t feel like talking anymore just because he/she has a different opinion on the policies of your country’s President/Prime Minister? Do you often feel frustrated or angry because after so many years you’re getting to know his/her ‘actual’ political opinions? Do you feel sad that now your friendship is on the verge of becoming a void relationship? 

Trust me, you’re not alone. 

The modern world we are living in is constantly changing. Friendships are formed based on many factors: how long have you known someone, how common your interests are, etc. There is another parameter that has been added up in recent decades: politics. Yes, politics is also deciding if you are going to hang out with someone for a long time period. You are more likely to befriend with someone whose political opinion on a variety of political issues matches with yours than with someone who thinks in a completely opposite direction. I am not talking something that is purely fictional. I can speak for it because over the past year I have had many personal experiences where I didn’t feel like talking to some of my good friends because ‘I got to know the real them’. 

Surprised? I don’t think you should be surprised. A recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre has shown that the political divide is the new normal of the modern world. It’s a reality of the 21st century. Jocelyn Kiley, who is an associate director of research at the Pew Research Centre said that the political divide is on the rise and it hasn’t been so prevalent at any point in modern history. According to Pew, nearly 80% of the Americans say that they have “a few” or “no friends” on the other side. In other words, people supporting the Democrats say they have no friends or few friends who support the Republicans. And the vice versa. The worst part is that the percentage is very high- 80%!!! There is hostility too towards each other. People are letting go off their friendships that are as long as 30 years old. Blocking each other on different social media platforms has become quite common these days. An episode done on the “All Things Considered” podcast by NPR reported a story of a man named Davis who is 42 years old. Davis is a consultant in the US. He is black. During the protests in the country against police brutality, Davis got a reality check of one of his close friends. When his friend tried downplaying police brutality he said he couldn’t take it. He told his friend, “If this is your attitude, we can’t be cool anymore. I don’t respect you now. I don’t. Because people are really dying.” A story of Shama Davis from Los Angeles is another example. Having a disagreement with his friend Shama said, “Dude, I am done. Lose my number.” He unfriended the person he has been friends with for almost 25 years. 

A survey conducted by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) showed that 8 out of 10 Republicans believe Democrats are socialists while Democratic party believes Republicans are racists. It’s like both are pointing at each other. 

The topic is so interesting that even academicians could not refrain themselves from exploring more deeply. A study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships has dived into the political divisions among people. The study is authored by Elina Buliga and Cara MacInnis from the University of Calgary, Canada. Participants were recruited for the study. Out of the total number of participants 142 identified themselves as Liberals while 70 identified themselves as Conservatives. The researchers found that the participants were more inclined towards friends/strangers who shared the same political beliefs than those with different political opinions. Long and established relationships didn’t seem to matter in front of difference of opinion in the political matters. The study does have some shortcomings like not every individual jeopardises his/her relationship with closed ones for the sake of politics. Nevertheless, it points out an interesting and important finding on the political divisions in the modern world. 

What needs to be done now?

Tania Israel, a professor in the counselling, clinical and school psychology department at the University of California, Santa Barbara believes it is not wise to ruin our good old friendships over politics. She says that we must take the first step and talk to people in person. Which is completely right. We should not let social media come in between because that’s not a real world and opinions on social media platforms don’t matter much. It’s time that we become not only tolerant but also acceptable of other people. Talk to your loved ones. Listen what they have to say. Say what you have to say. Talk. Talk and talk. Just not about politics.  

Yuval Noah Harari: A Visionary Man Who Metamorphosed my Ideas about the World

Picture credits: Google Images

I was in the final year of my college when I first got to know there is a book called “SAPIENS: A Brief History of Humankind” that exists. It was one of my classmates who recommended me and my friend this book. For almost 3 years I couldn’t manage to complete this book. Eventually I did. Only a few days ago. 

Describing how the book was seems quite a naïve question. Usual answers coming from the readers are:

“Oh, it was great.”

“You should really read this book. This book changed my life.”

“Yeah, it’s a good book.”       

                                                

But I personally believe that describing this book is a very difficult task. Words do fall short when it comes to describing SAPIENS. I do not mean to sound rude but many people applaud this book and go back to living their lives with the same held beliefs and ideas including “Evolution is tricky. I am sceptical about it.” Such people don’t do justice with the book. I cannot speak for everyone but my ideas have been made better after reading this book. I can speak for myself that my intellect is not the same as before. I am glad that it isn’t. 

Dr Yuval Noah Harari earned his PHD from the University of Oxford in History. He is now a full time professor at Hebrew University and his specialisation is in World History. His book Sapiens is an international bestseller and has been published in more than 30 languages worldwide. In the year 2012, Professor Harari received the annual Polonsky Prize for his work full of creativity and imagination. Dr Harari published another book in the year 2015 and it’s titled “HOMO DEUS: A Brief History of Tomorrow”. This book is about humankind’s future- where we are heading and what our future looks like. Homo Deus is followed by another incredible read “21 Lessons for the 21st Century”. The book is about our present. Dr Harari believes there are 3 problems revolving around heads and we must address them immediately: ecological collapse, technological disruption and nuclear war. Technological disruption is the most tricky one because our pace of technological developments is very fast and even we don’t know where is it we are heading or what is it that we are striving for. 

Cognitive revolution did give us some advantages over other human species including Homo Neanderthals, Homo Erectus, etc. What set us apart was our ability to believe in fictional stories. These fictional stories made us co-operate with our fellows in large numbers. We did manage to create imagined realities and they proved to be very helpful and necessary. Only a limited number of chimpanzees can stay in a room with one another. However, millions of humans co-operate with each other  (majorly strangers) just because they share the same imagined realities. Agricultural revolution changed the course of life of the hunter gatherers forever. When they settled, towns and cities began emerging. This was the period in human history which caused population explosion. More mouths meant a need to grow more and the vicious cycle continued. Scientific revolution has changed things to another level. An excerpt from the book SAPIENS beautifully captures the whole idea:

In 1500, humans were confined to the earth’s surface. They could build towers and climb mountains, but the sky was reserved for birds, angels and deities. On 20 July 1969, humans landed on the moon. This was not merely a historical achievement but an evolutionary and cosmic feat. During the previous 4 billions years of evolution, no organism managed even to leave the earth’s atmosphere, and certainly none left a foot or tentacle print on the moon.”

The world is changing at a much faster pace than anyone could have ever imagined. Technology, nevertheless, has made our lives better. Modern Science has managed to increase our life expectancy. Communication has become so much easier. In no time I can send a professor in the US an e-mail. Did pre-historic humans ever expect such a thing happening in the future? I don’t think so. However, our big problem is that even we are blank when it comes to asking ourselves: 

“WHAT IS IT THAT WE WANT?”

“WHAT WILL BE THE END OF OUR DESIRES?”

“WHERE DO WE SEE OURSELVES IN THE COMING YEARS?”

Dr Harari believes it is high time we grab on an ancient philosophy proposed by Aristotle- KNOW THYSELF. Seriously, we should become self- introspective and question our needs, wants, desires, etc. We should spend time knowing ourselves better than the corporations and government. Companies and governments are playing with our psychology to fulfil their self-interests. Politicians need power and authority. Corporations need profits. What about us? They don’t care about us. We are merely puppets in their hands. This is exactly why we need to start devoting some time into knowing ourselves better and more. Do we really need that new phone if our old one is working just fine? Do we really need that new furniture when our current furniture is only 6 months old? 

Question. Question and question.

I am going to end this blog with a quote by my favourite thinker, Dr Harari:

“I encourage all of us, whatever our beliefs, to question the basic narratives of our world, to connect past developments with present concerns, and not to be afraid of controversial issues.”

Against Empathy. Really?

Picture credits: Coonoor.medium.com

Imagine I am walking down a road to buy some groceries. On the sidewalk I see a homeless man who is begging for money. Some people give him the money while others pass by as if he doesn’t exist. I, on the other hand, trying my best to use my psychology degree to understand my own emotions while looking at a homeless man. Humans feel diverse emotions in their everyday lives. We feel anger, disgust, love, sadness, empathy, jealousy, envy, compassion, etc. We cannot eliminate these emotions altogether. But when they start getting out of our control (especially negative emotions) we should pause for a moment, accept what we are feeling and deal with them with utmost calmness and patience. 

Empathy is one of the emotions that is in spotlight because recent data in experimental psychology clearly says that it is good for our overall well-being. We should be kind and empathetic towards people and if we believe it is hard we can always become one through continuous practice. Empathy is about putting ourselves in other people’s shoes. It’s about feeling what they are feeling. Nothing wrong with that, eh? Well, looks like someone thinks a bit differently. Paul Bloom, a professor of Psychology at Yale University has written a book called “Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion”. You can say that this post is inspired by his argumentin the book. Professor Bloom argues that empathy is a poor moral guide. It exhausts and drains us completely. Going back to the scenario I mentioned at the beginning of this post, if I am going to be empathetic towards the homeless man then I will be putting myself in his situation. I’ll be feeling what he is feeling in that moment. I cannot speak for everyone but I am pretty sure I’ll be having a hard time to control myself because seeing someone in a situation where they are unable to meet their basic requirements is not easy. I’ll be drained emotionally, at least for some time. 

What should I do then? Should I just shut off my moral engine and become a misanthrope? No. I am not supposed to perceive the world as ‘me’ v/s ‘them’. Rather, what professor Bloom says is we should practice another emotion and that’s compassion. Compassion is about caring about other people but not necessarily feeling their suffering. So, in the case of an imagined homeless man compassion will allow me to care about him but not feel his suffering to an extent that I myself start suffering. There is a fine line between empathy and compassion but rather an important one. Clinical studies have also been done on empathy and compassion and their findings are quite interesting. Tania Singer, a social neuroscientist at the Max Planck Society in Germany is very well known in the study of empathy and compassion. She and her colleagues conducted a study where some participants were asked to practice empathy meditation and others compassion meditation. Their brain activities were recorded under a fMRI scanner. It was found that empathy was unpleasant and exhausting. On the other hand, compassion was exhilarating and more positive. 

In his book professor Bloom talked about two kinds of empathy: cognitive and emotional. Cognitive empathy is a kind of empathy that allows us to process other people’s motivations, plans, etc. In other words, we are able to understand the mental state of others. So, if one of my good friends lost her job and I am able to understand why she is feeling sad or disappointed then I am probably practising cognitive empathy. However, in case of emotional empathy I will start putting myself in her shoes and start experiencing every little emotion she is feeling. This will not only be debilitating for me but I will also fail to help her out of the situation because I, too, am messed up. Empathy is said to be biased: we tend to be more empathetic towards people who are our loved ones than anonymous strangers. This eventually narrows down the scope of empathy. As Mother Teresa rightly put it, “If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” 

A relationship between a client and therapist might make the argument more concrete. If a therapist during a counselling session practices empathy then he or she will be very exhausted. It is because by being empathetic the therapist is feeling everything his or her client is feeling: all the emotions. This is not good as it will cloud therapist’s ability to act rationally and professionally. The whole rationale behind the psychotherapy will remain unfulfilled. 

Before becoming the president of The United States of America, Barack Obama gave a speech and an excerpt of his speech is:

to see the world through the eyes of those who are different from us—the child who’s hungry, the steelworker who’s been laid off, the family who lost the entire life they built together when the storm came to town. . . . When you think like this—when you choose to broaden your ambit of concern and empathize with the plight of others, whether they are close friends or distant strangers—it becomes harder not to act, harder not to help.

Mr Obama was right when he appealed to everyone to be empathetic towards people who are distant strangers. Empathy does play a crucial role: when we are empathetic we tend to help people more. I highly doubt if that is a bad thing. But if that same empathy starts to back fire we need to keep aside our empathy and be more compassionate.