25 THINGS I LEARNED FROM THE FIRST 50 YEARS OF MY LIFE
I turned 50 today. When I look back and see the distance I covered from where I started and where I am now I feel extremely happy and content, despite my ordinary, and earthly existence as a commoner in a developing country like India which has its own ever increasing social problems and difficulties. I started writing this note with a simple intention of taking stock of my life so far and to list what I have learned from life.
Later I felt I should place this learning in the public domain, though I am not saying anything new or drastically different from what you all have already learned. I might just be summing up what many of you might have already discovered in life. Some of you may even feel that this note is too ‘preachy’ or too subjective. You could be absolutely right - I just made some subjective interpretations about many things which I came across in life. But they are honest interpretations of my own experience! Here goes the list.
Comparing your life with that of someone who is lesser privileged than you has immense benefits: It is always better if we do not compare our life with that of others. Everyone is here to live their unique lives. However, comparing our life with that of others based on social norms may help us to see where we are in the eyes of others. But if we want to be happy, we must compare our life with that of someone who is lesser privileged than us. It will help us to understand and appreciate our blessings more than our deficiencies and help us to look forward to the future with hope and optimism.
Choose your special role in a society, which will always remain unequal: Unlike equity (fare shares), equality (equal shares) is never possible in society. Every society and community have sociopaths who are not going with the accepted ideals and moral values. Unfortunately such sociopaths are very powerful and by using means of communication and coercion, they manipulate social institutions to enforce their control and will over other people and resources. You can choose your location among any of the three domains: 'poor', 'rich' or 'those who work for minimising the gap between the rich and poor' who are mostly poets, activists and other creative individuals.
To end conflicts, make people aware of their opportunities: Most conflicts in society emerge partly due to greed and partly due to lack of awareness of the umpteen opportunities available to those in conflict. We may be able to do nothing to eliminate conflicts driven by the greedy, but by making common people aware of the opportunities available to them, we may reduce numbers and extent of conflicts in many fronts!
Trying individual and local changes is much more fruitful than just talking about radical global changes: Large scale global changes are good to talk about, but what actually work are individual/localised actions aiming at small changes. Changed individuals and communities will change society through a gradual process. The changes brought about by regime changes will never remain constant. Change is probably the only constant existed in the human history!
We should keep on re-discovering our life: The most important thing in life is to discover and re-discover who we really are. At critical junctures in the journey of our life, we should keep on re-discovering ourselves. It may be true that we have opted for career choices like doctors, engineers, journalists etc. during our teenage. Our first career is just one of the many discoveries of our life. We are also born to be singers, writers, painters and many more. We should continue to re-discover our life.
One can make a career change at any point of life: Age is no bar to begin a new career. Ideally, career moves should be made after a lot of thinking and consultations. But if you feel to move from one career to another thanks to your inner calling about, which you are also very convinced, you must just do it! Other people’s opinions do not have any value in front of your own convictions about possibilities inherent in your new career option.
Due to some unfortunate reasons, if you later discover that your new career move is not going to work for you, there is nothing wrong in returning back to your earlier career or trying yet another turf. After all, it is your life and you are living it for yourself, you are not living your life to meet the expectations of others!
An ethical, relaxed and informed fight will ultimately win: People at your school, work place or in the neighborhood may enter in competition with you due to several reasons including scarcity of resources, rewards and recognitions. No one needs to run away from such competitions. One should rather face it. The final victory comes to the one who offer an ethical, relaxed and informed fight.
You can win arguments by accepting your opponent as a person: We regularly come across a lot of people in all walks of life who unnecessarily argue about everything. People who argue a lot in life usually suffer from severe inferiority complex. Their feelings of inadequacy make them very sensitive and these feelings often force them to desperately 'seek recognition' in life. They could also be suffering from depression and loneliness in their personal life. We should never fight with such argumentative persons, rather we should start from a position of accepting their point of view to win them over and use their confidence in us for convincing them about what we think right.
Forgiving is healing: Forgiving others for all their wrongdoings is the starting point of all healing processes within us. Most of our physical and mental problems have roots in our own hidden anger and ill feelings towards others. Therefore we should maintain a policy of forgiving, not for the sake of others but for our own well-being and health.
Being non-judgmental is the right attitude for success: Nobody is perfect to the extent that they could make foolproof judgements about others. One should stay away from judging others for the sake of one’s own health and well-being. Being non-judgmental is the right attitude for success.
Kindness take us to greater heights: We should always be genuinely kind, thankful and respectful to others. Gathering everyone’s goodwill is important for success of our life. These attitudes will spread positive energy on our way and this energy can take us to greater heights in life.
Tell the truth with love: Truth is often subjective and it often resembles fiction. Our subjective understanding of truth is not sufficient to reach conclusions about other people’s actions and behaviors. Moreover, there is a big difference between ‘telling the truth’ and ‘telling the truth with love’. You may shout your interpretation of the truth from the rooftop. In that process you may be destroying individuals who are ‘untruthful’ without giving them an opportunity to correct. In that process we are generating many enemies too. In any case, standing firmly for truth is a dangerous option – a life choice one needs to take after much consideration as all those who stood for truth against untruthful regimes eventually got killed or imprisoned!
Belief in God has its own benefits and practical applications, besides its scope for finding our own answers to the mysteries of life: There are many people who believe there is no God, mostly because they never had an encounter with God or their experiences in life might have been so horrifying that they could not feel God’s presence in their difficult times. Some people blame lifestyles and misdeeds of Gurus and priests as a reason for their not believing in God. All my experiences in life are in affirmation of God’s existence and that is solely because of my numerous encounters with God, notwithstanding many of those Gurus and religious fanatics who tried to embed their brand of religiosity into my personality. One thing we need to take care is not equating God with our banker, doctor or a miracle man!
Prayer should be able to make us happy, irrespective of whether we got what we have asked for or not: A prayer is a process of establishing communion with God. It is never a list of things, which God has to grant you. Through prayer, as you establish a communion with God, you will know that you are in the presence of God. Above all, God will also know your prayerful presence; your needs and physical presence (which are already known to God). In the course of prayer, you will either find ways to meet your needs or the need to wait, to postpone or even to cancel your need.
Religion has benefits, but we should be watchful: Religion is not an essential prerequisite for social harmony or even for individual salvation. Quite often religions hinder these. Religions brainwash, manipulate and use its followers for political ends. When the objective of religions becomes increasing the number of their followers, it becomes a political entity. However, there are many enlightened minds within the religions too, though they are only a minority. I must add that there is no urgent need to discourage anyone who wants to pursue any religion, though we may keep a watch on the destructive and regressive influences religion has in the lives of individuals who are closer to us, like those who are our family members!
Spirituality is much more satisfying than religiosity: I have seen numerous individuals who are either irreligious or atheists, but are deeply spiritual. Unfortunately many religious people including gurus do not let ordinary people to live a really spiritual life; rather they make them over religious, intolerant and fanatic. Quite often they capitalize common people’s dreams, anxieties and aspirations and offer escapist solutions to their problems!
Accumulating things are always 'pain inducing' while giving up things are very comforting: We feel insulted when the rich people advise us to ‘find happiness and contentment in what we already have’. We may be rightly offended, as some of these advices could be coming out of their fear and hypocrisy. However, if we apply this principle in our life as a matter of conviction, there is no limit to our happiness and satisfaction.
Everyone should learn from their personal and collective histories, to avoid mistakes: History is always the story of the winners as the losers are never there to tell us their version of the story. Winner’s versions of history always glorify them. But history is also a graveyard of winners as the losers might come back to power later on! At some point of time in history we may come to know alternate versions of history, though it may be too late! We still need to learn history to know our roots, the paths we have taken and to use history lessons to not to make the same mistakes again.
Beware of fake sciences: Thanks to limitations of our own sense organs and the influence of vested and commercial interests, most scientific research today are inaccurate and even ‘fixed’ and the knowledge generated from such ‘manipulated knowledge’ are sold in the market as science. There is nothing called objective understanding of any phenomenon. Above all, most of the knowledge is often what the powerful wants to propagate as science!
Love is what you give out to others; not what you seek, possess or hold on: Unless you are ready to sacrifice your time, resources and energy for others you will never find love in life. Making ourselves worthy for other’s love is a challenge which we all need to take up in life and we will be able to do that only by removing all the obstacles which stand between us and our lover. When we love someone (including our own children), just love them for the sake of love. Loving someone with expectations may lead to frustration!
Be an active part of the cycle of giving and receiving: One should keep on freely ‘giving’ things, ideas, wishes and opportunities to others. People whom you have helped earlier may not help you later, in return. But by giving or by helping others, you are contributing to the ‘cycle of giving’ and philanthropy in society. Someone else –usually an unexpected person will help you when you are in need. In case you cannot help the same person back in life, you need not worry, you may help somebody else!
Be positive by re-working our plans, despite continuous failures: Not losing hope is the greatest asset you can have in your life. No plan would work exactly as it has been planned earlier. Despite continuous failures, we need to re-work our plans till we reach somewhere nearer to our expected goals/results.
Never miss an opportunity to travel: One should spend time and resources to understand geographies and cultures other than the place where one is born. Most of our intolerance and phobias are the result of our reluctance to move out of our comfort zones to appreciate and experiment other people’s lifestyles, cultures and food habits. Investing in enriching experiences like travel will be much more useful than investing in material possessions like a luxury car or a multi-storied house.
Expose our senses to perceive wonders around us: If you keep your eyes, ears and minds open, you will discover many small and big wonders of life within and around you. It is not necessary that you have to plan for exotic holidays in faraway places. It will be great if we could spend time searching for the wonders around us and within our immediate environment - like the chirping of birds, falling of leaves, shooting stars, wind, rain, and sunshine.
At no point of time, one should live a life without work: Work gives purpose, meaning and identity to our life. We should keep our life busy with some kind of meaningful work. No one should indefinitely wait for someone else to give meaning to their life. Your work should be something which you should like very much. If you are not fortunate enough to get such jobs in life, while doing your ‘not so exciting’ work, you must spend some time in doing the type of work which you like the most too (perhaps as a hobby) so that whenever you get a chance, you can move over to the job which you like the most. When you start doing what you like, you will discover the joy of doing WORK. Anything else you do comes out of compulsion and it will never offer you joy and satisfaction.
Thank you for reading this note. Through this note, I never wanted to offer any formula for success or happiness; after all happiness, success, failure etc. are matters of perception. What is more important is being content with who you are and what you do. If you reflect on the lessons that I learned from life, I am sure you will be able to be content and inquisitive and I believe that is enough to say that you live a successful and happy life. (Kandathil Sebastian is a novelist and a social development sector professional. His best selling novels include Wisdom of the White Mountain and Dolmens in the Blue Mountain)