January 28, 2008

My Inspiration.

I wrote this narrative for English at 4:30 in the morning. I was really unaware of what I was writing, but it kinda described why I do some of the things I do pretty well. It mentions what inspired me to start this blog and whatever, so check it out (and yes, I'm corny. I talk to my teacher in my essay):

Someone I know taught me once that the rhetoric involved in conveying an idea determines, more than anything else, how hard it hits home (coughYOUcough, and it’s funny because I just coughed my lungs out while typing that). Sometimes, an idea doesn’t even need much rhetoric to get across because the idea gets itself across. Sadly, some ideas that any normal person would declare completely obvious are the ones that the fewest people actually incorporate into their daily lifestyles.

In July, I reluctantly agreed to endure a two-hour journey to Edison, New Jersey for a Jain convention to, in my father’s words, “learn [my] country and be a better Jain,” for “[I] have no respect for [my] blessings.” What I was soon to learn was that there was little religion being preached at this convention. Surprisingly, the organizers of the convention understood my point-of-view. Instead of teaching me prayers, instead of making me feel guilty for my sins, instead of assuming my goal in life was to reach moksha (liberation), the organizers of the convention invited people of all different cultures who represented Jain ideals to speak about their experiences practicing these various ideals.

Nipun Mehta was one of these speakers. Here I was introduced to a man unlike any other I had ever met in my life – one who dedicated his life and soul to spreading happiness and the wealth of kindness. It took me a whole 15 years and 11 months – 5,812 days – but it was on this day that I finally learned the true value of altruism. The session was called “Paying It Forward,” and I was convinced that it would be some speaker talking about how to thrive in the business world while maintaining Jain principles. I was barely interested in that, but I had nothing better to do.

“Paying it forward” was really a simple concept that by spreading kindness from one person to the next, a ripple effect will be produced; it was certainly not an economic theory to make millions of dollars. Nipun started his presentation by counting the 50 people in the room and putting this ripple effect into perspective: if the first person in the room received a giant piece of paper and folded it in half and every subsequent person did the same with that sheet of paper just once, the paper would be thick enough to reach the moon (that is, if paper could be folded that many times).

I was still thinking superficially by that point. Obviously, people should be nice to each other. I don’t need some weird analogy to tell me that much.

I listened anyway to hear him share his insight on the idea of spreading smiles by referring to an anecdote about a rickshaw driver in India. The driver looked like a bum just out to get whatever money he could; according to Nipun, his “teeth were tobacco-ridden, and he seemed like the kind of guy that would spend on his money on alcohol.” He probably would buy cigarettes and alcohol, I thought. For some reason, though, Nipun decided he was trustworthy, and he told his story.

“How much money do you make a day, doing this [driving a rickshaw]?”

“Usually about 240 rupees. Why?” the driver responded, beginning to hold onto his pockets in defense.

He opens his wallet and takes out all the money he has and tells the driver, “Here’s 250 rupees. Now I want you to do two things. Give free rides to anyone that rides in your rickshaw, and use this money for someone else.”

“But sir, you can’t trust me. For all you know, I’ll charge all my rides tonight, and I’ll use all the money on cigarettes. Don’t give me so much money.”

“No. I’ve already entrusted you with this money. I cannot take it back. I have faith that you’ll do the right thing. Goodbye.”

“Wait, sir. Please, let me just take your e-mail address or something. I want you to know what I will have done with this money.”

“There’s no need. Just promise me that you’ll make your best effort to continue to commit various acts of kindness.”

From that point on, the story is completely up in the air; the sincerity of the taxi driver may have only lasted for that day, or it may have continued for weeks, months, or even years. We’ll never know, but we can probably bet that he paid Nipun’s kindness forward in some way. What is certain is how hard Nipun hit me with the point he was making in the story, not to go out and give all the taxi drivers I can find their daily wages, but instead, to trust in the naturally positive nature of humans. Hearing the love in his voice just talking about his day-to-day actions gave me the kind of shivers down my spine that I’d get while hearing a national anthem in a large crowd just because that sense of unity among so many people isn’t frequent nowadays. Just the same, people like him are not so frequent nowadays.

Now, people might call Nipun crazy for “wasting” his money on this rickshaw driver. They might call me crazy for even believing that Nipun makes sense in his actions. I think that his focus lies in the virtue of selflessness, however. It doesn’t matter whether our actions ever come back around, and it doesn’t matter if people treat us the same way we treat them because our behavior should not be at all connected to our expectations of others. In fact, we shouldn’t even expect anything of anyone else. When spreading kindness, we should get rid of this inevitable thought of “What am I getting out of this?” and rather start thinking “Imagine the smile I’m bringing on the opposite end. That smile is enough to keep me doing what I’m doing.”

This may even be hypocritical, for within a few hours of hearing Nipun speak, I was complimenting a girl I met at the convention, hoping maybe I could walk away with a number, or even more valuable in today’s day, her AIM screen name. It was later that night before bed, when I was reflecting on my day that I realized my hypocrisy. I walked out of that room earlier that day feeling like a new person. I felt virtuous just hearing Nipun talk about kindness. But that wasn’t enough. At that point, I had only taken the first step: becoming aware of the selfishness of a lot of my acts. I had admitted to myself that I had a problem, and I had also realized that that’s further than most people get in their entire lives. So rarely do we find people that reflect on life in the same perspective as Nipun. He assumes the mentality that his happiness is inevitable when bringing the same to others’ lives. Typically, people assume the mentality that their happiness is achieved when others return the favors that the originally kind person delivered.

Now, it’s been five months since I heard Nipun speak. Am I selfless? Can I say that my best effort is put into making others smile? Have I really achieved this level of virtue that I so admired in Nipun? No, no, and again, no. Am I more selfless than the 15 year, 11 month old who reluctantly went to the convention? Can I say that I put a very strong effort into making others smile? Have I achieved a higher level of virtue than I had five months ago? Yes, yes, and again, yes.

Five months ago, I’d turn on my computer, log onto AIM, talk to whomever I needed to about things specific to me, and sign off. Then, I’d log into facebook, check out all my new wall posts, messages and all the flattering comments on my photo, and sign off. Within the last five months, I’ve presented myself in a new light to the people around me. I’ve opened this almost-24-hour-a-day shop for people to come to at any time in stressful times. I leave my AIM account at all times with an away message, but everyone knows I don’t do anything but sit in front of my computer all day, so I’m waiting for people to instant message me asking for help with their introductions for whatever English paper they have due the next day (and I probably end up making others’ introductions more solid than the ones in my own papers). I’m waiting for Sally to message me looking for comfort after some guy just cheated on her. I’m waiting for Tom to come to me looking for the answer to number 32 on the AP Bio homework, but we all know I won’t give it to him; I’ll direct him towards the page in the textbook he could read up on it for himself though. On facebook, I got rid of my wall to make people more comfortable approaching me via personal messages instead of on a public page where everyone can see our conversations. I created a blog where I share my oh-so-brilliant insight on the world today, my thoughts on social systems around me, and my values and morals. In making these things public, I allow anyone to learn how I feel about a lot of things, so they can check it out even if I’m not available for them at the given moment.

Obviously, I’m not completely selfless. I do plenty of things for myself, but more than anything, I find satisfaction in smoothening the bumps in the lives of the people around me. I have learned to rely less on what other people will do for me because I really could care less. I will need the people around me every so often, but I know that, without fail, there will always be someone willing to help. Even if that’s not why I do what I do, it is a given outcome, and most certainly a favorable one.

Hope y'all enjoyed. Much love.

UPDATE (1/28/08, 7:31 PM): I shared this post with Nipun, and in his reply, he sent me the link to his story of the rickshaw driver. My retelling of it really does the full story no justice, so if you enjoyed my sub-par clip of the story, definitely check his version out at http://nipun.charityfocus.org/blog/ar/pilgrimpost/000945.html.

January 26, 2008

Why Happy?

I couldn't really put it into better words, or maybe I could, but this is certainly an easier way to convey the message than writing it all out. And watching a video is definitely more appealing than reading my 8-page blog posts. I've seen one or two other videos by this guy, and yes, he's a little flamboyant and whatever, but listen to his message more than his voice inflections. He's got a great point, and I think it's a great living style. I tell people things of this nature all the time, and they say they listen, but then they come to me complaining about their next problem. I have no problem with trying to help, but I think people should really filter their problems and try to solve them themselves. Usually, avoiding a problem is the best way to not suffer its consequences. Most people would say, "Oh, you're just being naïve and ignorant. Everyone has to deal with problems in his/her life." But, you know what? More than 95% of problems are a load of bull. They don't need to be dealt with and cause completely unnecessary stress, which way too many of us deal with nowadays. So try to take what Mr. Buckley says here seriously.

Much love.

January 25, 2008

7-5 6-3 7-6 (7-5)

Today, Novak Djokovic defeated Roger Federer in the Australian Open Semifinal match. Now, I love Roger Federer, but I love Djokovic even more. I just thought I'd share that with the world. Today has been one of the more exciting ones in my life. I'm really just writing this blog so that I can look back at it ten years from now when Djokovic has won 10+ Grand Slams (and yes, I know Federer isn't dead, but Djokovic will continue getting closer and closer to the number one spot) and just reminisce. I saw Federer and Djokovic practice the day before the US Open 2007 began (where Djovokic and Fed faced each other in the final, but Djokovic lost) after Djokovic beat Fed a few weeks earlier, and Djokovic was just rising in the ranks. There, I got his autograph. I almost got Fed's, but he gave me the cold shoulder. Now I'll post some pics just to share them:

Yes, that is me with Roger Federer. No, he did not sign the ball I waved in his face.

That's Djokovic right after he blessed my ball with his signature.

I'll post again when Djokovic is the Australian Open champion.

January 20, 2008

Cockiness and Appreciation.

Finally. It's 3:20 AM. I told Naomi I was going to be in bed by 2:35, but whatever. I will finish this post if it's the last freaking thing I do. I have half a post written from New Years Day. I have bits and pieces of about three other posts saved, none of which are posted.


Okay, so I fell asleep while writing this post. It's now 1:38PM, and I'm laying in bed watching the Australian Open, sucking in all the glory that is midterms week (and I'm not doing any work today. Glorious.)

I've been slacking a lot with this blog, and I'm hoping to get back to regular posts every so often (more so than once every one or two months). If you've actually been here looking for some reading of substance, I'm sorry for leaving you with nothing, but here's what I'm thinking at the current moment (and I'm might mention things totally unrelated simply because they have crossed my mind in the last two months and I've always wanted to write blogs about them but I know I won't in the future so I'm going to jumble a buncha things together here):

Thinking about the people around me, I realize that my life is not mine. It belongs to the people around me. And no, that doesn't mean that I submit to them, but more, everything I do is for others in one way or another, whether it be bad or good. Even the most selfish acts I commit affect the people around me, and recently, I've considered that immensely. It's cliché (as most of the things I think about), but it is so crucial to view situations from every possible perspective before making decisions about them. I understand that sometimes this isn't possible considering the imminence of certain cases, but every time you have a second to think about something you're about to say or do, consider the people around you. Consider who they might share what you did with and how those people may interpret your actions.

Sadly, there have been crucial moments when I've screwed things up majorly recently, but without those mistakes, I wouldn't have thought about this, so I try not to regret too much. Plain and simple, though, before you make a sarcastic comment, before you make a joke that may be funny but isn't completely necessary, before you do something you think you're ready for, before you tell somebody something they may not want to hear, think about the people around you. Think about the people that are around you mentally. And don't just think of that present moment, think of your history with that person and how that may impact the decision you're about to make. Something I've noticed too often in the recent past is that many people tend to keep their feelings stashed away in this hidden part of their hearts, but when that stash gets too full, things start leaking and everything spills out. You then realize all the things you may have done to evoke these feelings. You then realize that maybe it would've been a good idea to practice some tact earlier on.

(This is a terrible transition, but these ideas connect in my head so I'll just continue)
This all brings me to the thought that comes up too commonly in our minds -- "I don't like them/They did [insert crappy thing here] to me/I don't even know the person/What happens to them doesn't affect me, SO I will conduct myself the way I like without regard to them because they do not matter." All of us have thought this one time or another in our lives (unless your name is Sanchita, in which case you are perfect and have not thought negatively about anyone for more than 5.2 seconds at a time). Now, I'm not one to judge because I'm a victim of these thoughts as well, but I'm certainly entitled to my thoughts and opinions. So think about a situation when you've thought this, and now hear me:

I don't give a crap who you are. I don't care what your status is. I don't care how much more important you may be than another person. Regard that person, and treat them as you would your own brother or sister because they are a freaking person. Everybody has emotions. Everybody is affected by emotions. Just because you don't know or care about a person does not make it justified or correct to treat them shittily. Assume you are the guy a girl cheats on her boyfriend (whom you don't know) with but you've never cheated on a girl of your own in your life, you are not justified. Okay, you don't know the girl's boyfriend, and perhaps he'll never find out about you, but that doesn't matter. Say he does, he'll be crushed. Say he doesn't, the girl will either have this mentality that she can do these things and get away
them or the girl will feel guilty and the relationship will go downhill from there. Maybe that example didn't work so well with most of the people reading this, but I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this. Maybe sometimes, you can't do things that don't affect the others around you negatively completely perfectly all the time, but minimize the negative effects of your actions.

Put the six billion people of the world in front of yourself. It would take a saint to do this all the time, but take care of what you need to do, and for everything else, look out for the people around you. Doing so will lead to a mentality that's a lot less arrogant and unpleasant than the one you may (or may not) have right now. You keep your feet on the ground. (It's way too late for me to think of a clever way to incorporate these quotes into this paragraph, but consider the following:

No matter how much I elevate I kiss the ground.
- Common

Those who make the right decisions keep their feet on the ground.
- Deepak Jain, dean at Kellogg

When your shadow becomes longer than your body, you know the sun has set.
- Deepak Jain)
If you think less and less about how you feel about things all the time, your actions become more determined on how they work to improve things for the people around you. Once that happens, a much better satisfaction is reached than when your actions are determined on how they benefit you. I've always thought people just said that just to encourage you to be a better person, but it works. I think I'm starting to get repetitive now. Either that or I'm just not making sense in my head, so I'm going to mention one last thing before I change topics.

Staying away from cockiness and self-importance is important, not just from a character/principle standpoint. What I've noticed recently is how much I take the things and people around me for granted. The last week, I've really tried to almost start fresh, and by that, I mean to take a look at the things I've grown to become accustomed to as if I had just received them: the home I live in, the mother I'm blessed with, my cousins and my siblings who have always been there every year I've been alive, the computer I'm writing this blog post on, the clothing I wear every day, even the clean water I've been able to drink 12 glasses of every day in addition to all that soymilk. I think about how I felt when I had just received these things (except for my mom and my family because I don't really remember when I received them. And the water.), and I remember how pumped I was to have my friends come over my new house, how excited I was to play with my new Mac and convert my friends into Apple-lovers, how much I loved chocolate soymilk because it tasted better than any smoothie I'd ever drank. Today, I walk into my house like it means nothing. I get on this computer as if it were any other. I drink my soymilk within a minute of brushing my teeth, not even bothering to really taste it because I'm so used to it that it barely matters anymore, sacrificing the chocolatey goodness for that nasty mix of chocolate and Colgate Total Plus Whitening mint flavor. It bothers me that it is so hard to fully appreciate these things because I've gotten so used to them. It's necessary to take a step back and really suck in the glory that is the conglomerate of all the pieces of your everyday life. It will force you to stop thinking about all the shit that may be taking place at that given moment because you have so much more to be appreciative of and happy for every. single. freaking. day. of your life.

This doesn't only apply to material goods. Think about your friends. Some of the relationships I have with some people are just so extraordinary. I will talk to these people so often that I will forget just how blessed I am. And sometimes, I may abuse that privilege I have of being surrounded by these people. When that happens, you have to, again, take a step back and thank those around you for being present in your life. They may think it's totally weird. But after they tell you how weird you are for randomly throwing in a random "dude. you're freaking awesome. thanks for everything" into your conversation, they'll think about what you meant. That is when they'll know they are appreciated, and being appreciated is really one of the best feelings you can get, so let people know what they mean to you once in a while rather than just assuming they know what they mean to you or taking them for granted. Polishing the shoes you bought a year ago make them look brand spankin' new, and sometimes, you're even more excited to wear them after that year than you were when you just bought them.

It's 5:45 AM on Sunday morning. I was in bed reading this week's Time 1.5 hours ago, but I got up to write this blog post. I'm kind of glad I just spilled everything I was thinking about, and I'm kind of glad you read all the way to this point. If you just scrolled down here and are now reading this, I guess I'm glad you took the effort to scroll all that distance, but I'd like it more if you read the above. I don't even know if there's a central idea to this post, but if there is, I'd have to say it were appreciation. So now I'm going to title this blog, listen to the rest of this Michael Bublé song ("Everything"), then I'm going to get to bed.

Looking forward to starting the rest of today fresh. Wonder how good the soymilk's gonna be today.

Much love.