April 27, 2012

Character is the key

A child brought up with good character is like armor on a soldier. It will help parry many a blow of the enemy without which the soldier would certainly succumb. Our world is a jungle of sorts -- filled with both wonder and danger, depending on how we look at it. The wonder of the plethora of services it provides to sustain our wellbeing is juxtaposed with the inherent dangers that can also easily annihilate us in mind and body.

Good character nurtured through a wise and caring upbringing can allay much of these ambient dangers and allow us to enjoy fully the benefits of joy life has for us. But breeding good character doesn't come easy. It requires that we make conscious effort to experience and understand the hardships of life at an early age, which will lay the foundation for empathy with those more unfortunate than us. It will require parents to give up their reticence – of their ego -- to make their children engage in the so called menial and tedious work that we have come to believe that only laborers must do. It is only this type of engagement with the basics of life that will give us an inner sense of compassion for others’ misfortunes because it is only then that we are truly aware of the pain and suffering another human being can go through. The childhood exposure to this breadth of human experience transforms us into balanced citizens by adult life.

Thus, responsible parenting is a serious imperative upon us for creating a bright and harmonious future for our nation. It makes economic sense too, for a society imbued with good character does not need the extensive law enforcement mechanisms that cost so much, to keep mischief under control. The urgings and the power of the inner voice of conscience –our authentic self -- will guide us through any jungle out there. Should this not be the dream of every parent?

April 26, 2012

Empathizing with the old

Young and old are not separate entities, but relative positions at two ends of a continuum we call life. There is no line demarcating young from the old, and at any given point on this continuum, there’s someone who is older or younger than you except at the point of birth where life begins and at the other extremity called death where life ends. While the physical image of young and old gives us the visual of the form, how we feel about our age is often a fabrication of our minds.

All of us are young to begin with, and the inevitable process of entropy continues to the time of old age and finally death -- that ultimate inevitability. You can be sure the 80 year-old man with the walking stick you saw yesterday on the street, or the one you observed sitting meekly leaning against the side wall of the mosque before prayers, was in the exuberance of youth just like you perhaps sixty or so years ago. When we are young, the resilience and the exuberance this period of our life brings often makes us forget that there will ever be another day. But inevitably, and inexorably that process of nature continues silently and unrelentingly. This change is seen as a loss because our physical appearance begins to give way, and the physical organs of our body begin to malfunction more frequently, etc. And true, however much we apply our creams and lotions, or prolong our time here by medicines and machines that cost fortunes, the effect of preservation or holding back nature can only be temporary – please believe me.

But getting older is not something to be afraid of. If we can prepare for this inevitability by facing this reality with confidence, the dividends will be very rewarding. The wisdom you gain from experience and the support structure you will have in a family well nurtured will give you unlimited joy. But to prepare for that day we first need to be aware of this impending natural inevitability, and accept that getting old will happen you too, just as it had happened to the man you saw laboring along the street or sitting meekly in the mosque. We can’t hold back the universe, but must accept its offerings and inevitabilities. And when we accept things as they are, a delightful sense of peace and confidence pervades our very being. With this confidence gained from acceptance, your next move will have to be the active preparation for your old age, so that your old age will be a continuation of this mental confidence and satisfaction. It may be sad, but true, that without preparation, you can never get the better of an outcome.

So it goes without saying, the youth of Maldives of today, as those everywhere else, must prepare for the dusk of their life. Now, here’s where the golden rule must impress great meaning. Would you not in your old age be happy when the youth of tomorrow gives you the respect that will make you glow with joy, and feel a sense of pride that your life’s purpose was fulfilled? Perhaps no one will disagree. So, we’ve got to start preparing by respecting the old of today! What you sow is what you reap, as they say. That respect the youth of today can muster for the old of today will give you the benefits of a joyous and cared-for old age for you tomorrow. It begins by practicing respect for others through the conscious process of showing love – through the act of giving and helping out. Respect is built through making conscious decisions in our minds - every one of us - to be nice to the old and aged, not speak harsh words to them, and not make them feel they are the alienated and the disdained. Neglect brings tears to their sad eyes even though you in your youth may not even notice it as you move in your hurry to amass all the glittering toys that you see in the market today - not being aware that you are here because of them.

Those among the youth, who for some reason or other, are frustrated and angry may blame your present predicament on your parents or others who looked after you, to insinuate that the reason for your misfortune of today is because your parents did not take care of you well enough or did not nurture the confidence in you that would have helped you to be more adjusted. Let me tell you, with hindsight, that firstly, the past is dead and however much we want to go back and rectify it we cannot do it. So let's not blame the past, but learn to forgive instead. It will only make you ever more miserable if you don’t and you will carry that pain in yourselves that will manifest as social mischief, angry society, drug abuse, crime and violence. So, let’s just begin from today to build good feelings and good examples for the future by being good role models -- because you, the youth of today, will be the parents of tomorrow that will have kids and nurture the leaders of yet another generation.

When we cannot instill this love and caring, the adults we get will be those with so many insecurities, and insecure individuals without self-confidence reflect their inadequacies through bullying and violence. We see this in schools where the bully is really a very insecure individual who is not sure of his capabilities and so he has to demonstrate in anti-social ways. We see this in our adult life too, where the insecure will hurt people and do even harsher things to those seemingly in weaker predicaments. Punishment may instill fear for compliance for the moment. But instigated fear will only be momentary and it is certainly not the solution for a sustainable society. The youth of today must listen to the wisdom of the past. Respect the old. What we get in school and university is only knowledge and information. But to transform this into intelligence requires a dose of experience and the opportunity to match knowledge with practice. This wisdom then accumulates into collective wisdom. And if we look for such collective wisdom of the past, it is there right beside you for your taking, if only you would ask – in the form of grandparents, wise men and women, and of course in our revered scriptures.

Believe it or not, I can say this from hindsight of six decades of life, such wisdom and the good morals it embodies is indeed the anchor of life; it is the hand-hold you have in the turbulent sea that we call our life. You must hold on to these, otherwise, sadly, the deep blue sea is there to consume you. You are the future of this nation. You must build your lives with this moral anchor so that you and your children will have a safe haven on this earth to live in to prepare for a safer heaven beyond. Let's not divide ourselves and yet hope to create harmony in this world. You may feel momentary pride in following bad examples just because your ego prods you to do so. Its selfish nudging will show you momentary pleasures like in a thrilling movie or in a pleasant dream, that will inevitably end, and ultimately reality will hit you as you never imagined – but alas, it maybe too late. You must learn to listen to your authentic self - that aspect of your being that is not competitive and not selfish for gain; that inner voice that only wants you to be a part of the oneness that we all are. Each one of us is but a wave in the sea, not separate from it.

April 25, 2012

With great power comes great responsibility

If we ask what the word freedom meant, most Maldivians would say it’s about being free from the rules that bound us, or being free to say what we please or do what we want. Rightly so, that is what freedom is about -- to be free from a constraint that was or that could be. However, in our new and fledgling democracy, it is imperative that we try to understand the concept behind the word and internalize the values inherent in the practice of democracy. Otherwise, the chaos in our minds and on our streets is what we will get, and we can only hope to practice a farce of the choice we have in democracy and demonstrate only the madness in the method.

So, with democracy on everyone’s lips, this moment must not be seen however as mere lip service, but one to seize with rapture for reaping the benefits democracy provides. While the taste of freedom in democracy maybe exhilarating, its good practice does come with a price tag called responsibility – the more power, the greater the responsibility. In fact, there cannot be freedom without responsibility – a necessary complement to each other. Responsibility is what keeps individual freedom from being abused. We will recall how when we didn’t have this freedom, we were physically, mentally and behaviorally insulted. Now that we have the freedom we had wished for and struggled for, should we not respect this other necessary complement of democracy called social responsibility? No question, the diverse views that populate our landscape of democracy are what make it so vibrant, yet these are also the very entities that precipitate disputes of various kinds and make getting to consensus so difficult. Nevertheless, we cannot squash this vibrancy and hope to have a thriving and viable democracy. We must learn to handle the diversity of view points in civilized discussion, without going to war each time. When dialogue or discussion degrades into assertiveness, aggression and violence, then we are proving to ourselves and to others the immaturity of our sensibilities. Such stubborn selfishness indicates a regrettable weakness in ourselves to keep the fabric of our democracy from tearing and exposing the splits for exploitation by nefarious elements, from within or from without. We need forums for discussing our issues in a multi-partisan manner.

Every issue has a solution to be found if we would care to take the time and the commitment to do so. Lasting solutions can only come this way – when national issues are best dealt with by us nationals with a sense of responsibility and a dose of nationalism that now, unfortunately, seems to be eroding as greed and selfishness swells.

April 20, 2012

Don’t try to change others but try to understand them

Many partnerships in life tend to break for several reasons. Firstly, the second law of thermodynamics must hold - that everything goes to entropy. That everything tends to degenerate and fall apart or disintegrate if no external energy is expended to keeping it happening so. The other reason is that we expect others to behave as we do and so when that does not happen, the relationship falters and if left unattended will fall apart. The other is the lack of awareness on the part of the partners of the nature of us individuals. When this awareness is gained or is imbued into us, then it would dawn on us of our idiosyncrasies and that these personality traits cannot be just wished away. This awareness, if instilled and such constructs when reflected upon deep enough and accepted as truths, we will think twice or even more before making our judgments on the other person. Being judgmental is perhaps the most salient weakness in us and that which needs to be guarded against if partners want to maintain a harmonious relationship. But no doubt, this is also the most difficult, for this is the ego in full action. We don't want to relinquish our viewpoints and opinions, for the ego’s stubbornness to hold on, for it would say to us that giving up means losing. So that view point becomes what we are, for no one wants to lose; it is the protection of our individuality, and so, it would seem that if our individuality is forfeited then we are lost. Modern life with its egoism, selfishness and individuality that is always looking for competition and the indulgence of greed for gain, is the reflection of bloated egos.

With that mindset, sublime values that lets go of attachments cannot happen and signals the destruction of relationships and partnerships. In the case of marriage which is an example of a partnership like no other in its sacredness to the upliftment of society, its breakdown is also about our inability to fathom individual differences and accept these as spiritual virtues. The breakdown indicates the rise of the ego and the conflict of personalities. The book "men are from mars and women are from venus" gives a good peek into this aspect of personalities that nature has bestowed on us to be what we are. It’s a great example of the difference between the mindset of men and women and a signal for learning to understand the genesis of our separate thought processes and being mindful of dialoguing to those sensibilities rather than to the selfish callings of the ego.

Like a marriage, our lives are full of partnerships, for relationships are what make us thrive as humans and more generally as living beings. Social harmony must be built on such a foundation of awareness - a move away from the selfishness and greed that manifests as the want for wealth, power, position and visibility, to that wonderful state of being that can make us feel that we belong to everybody. As a famous spiritual saying goes - "first we are nobody, then we are somebody, then we must strive to be everybody".

April 13, 2012

Good parenting: helping to nurture the calling within

Good parenting. – It’s about helping our children to survive in the environment we leave behind. That much no one disputes. Perhaps that’s what each parent in us knows intuitively. But the approach with which we go about it does vary, and will make the difference in our children’s skill and ability to face their future. The basis of how we do this relates to how well we understand our children’s needs and demonstrate continuously and persistently, our love and support for them. A child is dough in our hands and we as "bakers" have the control of how the dough can turn out – bread, bun, roshi or the like; an irrevocable transformation. But unlike a baker who turns out bread for the demand of the market out there, the parent has a tougher job – that of understanding the inner leaning of a child or the potential to be her best for society.

Unfortunately, many of us parents carry within us our own non-negotiable notions of what our children should be when they grow up, and so become rigid in our demands without understanding their innate potential to become what they can best become. Our stiff attitude is often a result of our past unfulfilled aspirations – for our children to be what we could not be, or for them to be just like the successful self that we had become in the family’s occupational groove. Either way it is our ego that dictates our hopes for our children. When we listen to our ego, we are making a big mistake. We are being blind to a God-given gift of a skill that each one of us is sent to this world with -- to be discovered within us for using it in the service of mankind. God sends every one of us to this world with a gift of a skill; something we can do better than anyone else. If we can sincerely search for this --without being side tracked and influenced to follow the success path of others --, find it, and put it into the service of society, and not for selfish reasons, one would have clear success in life. You will also know when you have found that skill of a calling. It is that skill, in which when you engage yourself, you lose track of time. Some say this is the definition of enjoyment.

People who are truly successful in their jobs are those who enjoy their trade, while those who are miserable going to work and spending stressful days are obviously not enjoying themselves. The misery is perhaps because their jobs do not align with the divine niche they were given. Parental and societal pressure directs us to where the money is but not where the heart is. If we can be made aware of this early in life, many of us would not have to go the way of such struggle. Incidentally, there are so many stories of people who discovered or were assisted towards such callings in early life or even in mid-career, and who, in the awareness or delight of that discovery, sought career path changes that transformed their lives and succeeded fabulously.

Good parenting is also about role modeling the accepted norms of society, and coaching children about having healthy and harmonious relationships with people –what is now called emotional intelligence. Roll modeling is a hard thing to do, but parental maturity must provide that edge of life-skills support to their children that will help them find that given path to a happy and prosperous future.

April 11, 2012

Sincere party affiliation or selfish opportunism

I wonder why in Maldives we hold so strong to our party affiliations? Is it because we harbor a steadfast association with our party philosophy? Is this party groundwork so strong such that in abandoning it, we abandon our moral standing? Which of our parties have such irrevocable ideologies that we, in our doggedness to protect our allegiance to it, become so unyieldingly partisan -- to the point of forfeiting the love of family, community and our cherished history of social cohesion? Clearly, there is no party asserting such strong characterizing ideologies, and thus it cannot be that which holds us so mesmerized. Or could it be a narcissistic matter of our ego that does not want to lose out on the image we seek to uphold at any cost – even at the cost of alienated family relationships? Or yet, is it the vestiges of subservient deference to authority nurtured of our imperial past which just doesn’t seem to wash away, and so our subconscious mind follows the hard-wiring that we have inherited from our past collective consciousness, and thus again subjecting us to what is called a blind following? Does any of the above seem the likely cause?

Yet another very plausible one remains, and this may not be far from the truth – that of party personalities being the major attractant rather than party ideologies, or any of the above; personalities who aspire to the leadership of the nation and our proximity to them being what brings us the strong promise of personal windfalls. Unfortunately, and sadly, this notion, as the prevailing edict in Maldivian’s party affiliation, is strengthened by the shameful public display of across party switchovers that many high profile political figures are constantly enacting in congruence with the changing political weather. Such betrayals do not set an example for party cohesion and the good practice of democracy in our nation, but only demonstrate the fickleness of the party model we practice.

So, if our model of democracy is about hero-worship, does this not also fall squarely in line with what our religion Islam so vehemently opposes. We, as good Muslims, are supposed to shun other deities, whether men or money, avoid willful divisions that breed social disruption and call for keeping away behaviors and thoughts that breed ill-will amongst whom we call our brothers and sisters in a nation of common faith. The proliferation of division and conflict we observe in Maldives from the moment what we call multi-party democracy took berth, has shown us nothing but family fractures and social breakdown. Some people may say it is just the teething problems of a fledgling democracy. But do we want to go through all this when we see even the so-called mature democracies of the world after years of practice, mired in strife and corruption-ridden multi-party quagmires. The skein of politics in a world of graft and greed that define this scheme of politics seems too entangled and complex. Why do we in Maldives, in a nation that is not beset with natural divisions of ethnicity, language or religion create these artificial divisions just because democracy is implemented that way elsewhere?

We have the power of individual will to make our own decisions of the structure of the democratic process we want to pursue. That is what democracy is about; to raise voice when action by parties or leadership goes against moral principles and demand social equity. Given this present dark period in our national life, isn’t it time to call for a rethink of an alternative to the party mechanism to implement our democracy? After all, the use of parties is only a tool for the process. There must be other methods and other tools to elect our leaders and exercise democracy! Can we search within our local sensibilities for a more appropriate and less disruptive method to do so that will keep the harmony of our local and religious beliefs intact? Why do we have to import a method just because that is the way it has been in larger multi-racial and multi-ethnic and multi-cultural democracies? We need to, after four agonizing years of social rift, and still sustaining, wake up to the foolishness that we have been perpetrating in the name of democracy. The farce of our parties is that these are built on following personalities and not philosophies. It is the trip of the ego that is driving us and dividing us rather than the voice of our authentic self that is always there to unite us. The Maldivian public needs to wake up from this dream of deception, and take up the wheel of reality.

April 9, 2012

Prevention is needed now more than ever

Once upon a time, when disease prevention's primary focus was on environmental protection and its management, it was quite a hassle for us to individually maintain clean sanitation, safe water and dispose our garbage. We did so through a mix of individual approaches that lacked a collective clout. However, it was a daily chore that had to be carried out if we wanted to enjoy a healthy household keeping at bay, communicable diseases such as diarrheas, skin infections, fevers, and various forms of insect borne infections. As our towns and our cities grew, and even in our small islands in Maldives, we soon gave up this job to our elected municipal officials to handle with the hope of  a coordinated and consistent approach. Later, in addition to water and sanitation and solid wastes, we added healthy housing also to the responsibilities of these elected officials. Crowded and ill-ventilated housing brought in the dangers of all kinds of respiratory infections, and tuberculosis, a particularly dangerous one. Unlike in a homogenous community of a village or a small island community, city life meant all kinds of people inevitably coming to live in proximity to each other and so, as the saying goes, “everyone’s responsibility becomes nobody’s responsibility”. So it was fitting that the municipality included this into its work list.

However, again, the time has come for us to be responsible individually, for it is the era of non-communicable diseases now. It is estimated that 60 percent of all deaths in this world are from NCDs. The prevalence of heart disease, hypertension, cancers, diabetes Alzheimers, dementia, and the like are on the rise even in developing countries. For example, even today, two-thirds of the world’s type-2 diabetes is in the developing world, Obviously, as the world grays, the burden will increase. Population projections indicate that in a couple of decades, those over 60 years of age will out-number those under the age of 15, and this is indeed a cause for concern.

Keeping from these afflictions requires prevention, but our municipal authorities can provide only limited help in this case The onus is on us again to be wise and selective in using the scores of enticements we have in this modern era. The expanding feast of the taste-buds in the marketplace that holds the potential for those added calories, all types of stimulants that keep you dazed half the day, video-based entertainment and social media that keep you physically inactive for hours, fast cars and motor-cycles that thrill and injure and not infrequently kill, and those ever present cigarettes which Mr Bernard Shaw defined as “white long cylindrical objects with a fire at one end, and a fool at the other” are the noteworthy. Truly, we should not be fooled by the companies that produce these. Their well researched and wily adverts are made to fool the customer every time. So the onus is on us to eat wisely, exercise regularly, shun those seemingly lovable bad habits of smoking and drinking, and take time periodically each day to meditate away from the busy chatter of our mind. Being wise to the crafty callings of the ego, and eschewing those momentary pleasures, will bring you a world of benefit in the many years you have left in your life. Those of us who can take up this challenge will reap the success of good health.

April 4, 2012

Chaotic roads reflect the chaos in our mind

This moment in my life, I happen to be resident in India. I see the chaos on the streets of Delhi and begin to realize that streets reflect the culture of a people. As a very descriptive editorial in the Times of India, New Delhi April 4, 2012 issue lists out, the increasing throng of vehicles on Delhi’s roads reflect the hierarchy of society in the varying shapes and sizes of vehicles plying, the lack of compassion for pedestrians, aggressive attitudes of not giving way in the lane or at traffic lights or running the red light, abhorring lane driving, keeping ambulances waiting but giving way to the entourage of the rich and powerful, cutting the lane, or seeking to get the best position in the queue at toll-gates, honking the moment the red-light changes to green, etc. From a sociological analysis, these behaviors collectively indicate, the writer notes, is a living example of history and how the people have been nurtured by it. How our social values and mores have been shaped. The ways in which we drive, deal with our fellow-drivers, and with pedestrians are fundamentally linked to these historical and social conditions.

How about our roads in our little capital of Maldives? Would our little chaotic corner of the world give some insights to what is seething in the value-deprived depths of our social ethos? The chaotic road dynamic in Male, while uncomparable to that of Delhi, shares the bases of the sociological underpinnings that define a past, if not one that we are learning as we “progress” in national economic development. I say economic because that seems to be where the totality of our national focus is on. The decisions on national development that we hear about daily in our media or ambient gossip are all about money and materialism, and very little about the silent breakdown of our social fabric. We don’t hear our leaders raising these in public forums or see new foundations for it laid in schools or family circles. There seems a general short shrift given to this aspect while embellishing the programs that would lay the ground for economic development. How much of it are we blindly seeking? How much of it are we really willing to share with our fellow citizens, or are we just moving this agenda for the benefits of a few? How much of it can we carry away with us to the next world? Unfortunately, the chaos we are witnessing on the streets of Male – the selfish disregard to pedestrian safety, the speeding by sized or oversized motor-cycles, the lack of walk space for pedestrians, the street violence prepetrated--and sadly injuries and deaths from such events--is the result of the mindless push of economic development in a context without the requisite social fabric to value the realized gains from it. The windfalls of economic development in the hands of those who don’t have the social values and mores to use these delights wisely cannot but lead to greater chaos and social fragmentation. We need a balanced agenda for a balanced polity of the future.