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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Of Change, Clichés and Reality Checks

I heard in some TV show of an experiment where they gave people glasses that fed them with an upside down view of the world. At first, they had trouble but in three days, they got used to it and could make their way around. Then, they removed the glasses.
The scientists wanted to know if the recovery of normal perception would take as long as the 'upside down' conditioning did. Knowing that the way we usually see the world is 'normal', you would expect it to take less time, wouldn't you? But no, the test subjects where just as disoriented as during the first change, and took all of three days to get used to the upright world.
The conclusion? Even something trivial as which way up is subject to conditioning. Our brain has immense power to adapt, and half the things we believe to be set in stone are not actually so.
Hmm, that statement got dangerously close to cliché territory, didn't it? Very self-help! Maybe the other day's motivational session courtesy Aakash (should I write about that or not... show of hands?) left me with some inspiration. But I know what it most certainly left me with. I volunteered at the session and scored myself a bar of Bournville... hey, hey, hey!
Ahem, focusing. Focusing.
So, people want to change things -- say people like me, and we're always up to making some noise. But lately, I find people throwing all their nonsense unplanned dreams into the world and expecting them to come true. I'm sorry, y'all, but if you want to bring a social revolution or something, my heart is with you, but you need a damn head! Back in Carmel, the SPICE Club did very little for the society and the planet compared to bigger organizations for similar causes; but whatever was done was planned and hence fruitful.
The other day this girl I know -- sweet girl, really, nice heart and all -- comes at me with this weird and creepy-ass rumbling ramble about wanting to go 'motivate' poor kids. Apparently, she got First World Guilt when she passed a slum on the way back from shoe shopping at the mall. She felt we should do something. I had to explain to her that this stuff needs commitment and expertise and not just good intentions -- doing something is different from donating to the Prime Minister's damn Relief Fund. You need something real, like the SPICE Club took up coaching some underprivileged kids. Besides, just talking to them would be intruding into their lives and wasting their time, probably getting in the way of their livelihoods and the work of real social workers, and leave with a fake self-satisfaction that we've done something. It's the typical thing we privileged people do to feel less bad about our indulgences and, well, privileges.  I know many great movements are born from the aforesaid First World Guilt, especially if said First World is ensconced in the Third World, as it is in India -- I, however, highly doubt that quenching the guilt is equivalent to an actual contribution.
At the cost of further cliché, I will say that one should rather start small, around oneself -- be nice to the maid and her kids, stop the elders in your home from mistreating the staff. I will also reiterate that most states of affairs that we take as unchangeable are actually a result of conditioning. Some take three days and some take three decades, but change is possible.
It has to be, however, real change, which comes from realistic effort and a mindset built for not dreaming but doing. Which is why I told that girl -- go and find someone who really knows this work, and volunteer with them instead of stepping out on your own. There is no point in ignoring all the work done by the experts and reinventing the wheel. In the change business, as well as in any other field, growth begins with learning. Always.
Ciao, and peace.

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