Sunday, June 23, 2013

Playing Politics without Principles

This quote from Gandhi prompted me to write this piece:

"The things that will destroy us are:
politics without principle;
pleasure without conscience;
wealth without work;
knowledge without character;
business without morality;
science without humanity; and
worship without sacrifice."

Mahatma Gandhi

Edward Snowden has brought America on its chin. A delicate looking young man who suffers from epilepsy has the mighty nation of America scrambling. Was it really asleep when he left Hong Kong for Moscow? Or could it just not make up it's mind how to respond to a man who has come to symbolize the citizen's right to know in a democracy? In a somewhat delayed reaction, after revoking his citizenship, they are now hunting him down publicly with unprecedented zeal.

I don't know what my views are about Snowden's judgement. He may have been somewhat misguided in his idealistic view of American democracy. I have seen more years than him and know that a country like America cannot propagate notions of freedom, liberty and equality or grandstand as a world super power, with that power being quickly eroded, unless they are also engaged in covert espionage over countries that are closing in on them with opposing ideologies and notions of how countries and citizens should be governed and managed. China is a case in point. So what exactly is America the mighty trying to prove going after this slight young man who betrayed his previous employer, the National Security Agency by blowing the whistle on their surveillance of Americans and other nations? Making an example of him for the rest of America, lest this should set a trend? Flexing their muscle at nations that dare challenge their right to bring down the heavy hand of reprisal on him? Or using this as a litmus test to gauge their stature and bargaining power on the world stage? It may be all of the above. Sadly, what it is not doing, is demonstrating how their actions uphold the lofty principles enshrined in their constitution.

America is reacting not from a place of principles but of fear. When a nation plays politics without principles and lacks clarity of conviction, then it loses the public relations battle, its stature as a leader and the trust of its citizens. Needless to say, such actions do not engender patriotism - quite the reverse. This occurrence could have been handled with dignity and grace. As things stand it will go down in history as that watershed moment when America lost face on the world stage, lost the trust of its citizens and lacked the leadership to play politics with principles.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Living without judgement

I would much rather be scheming disruptive technologies that merit consideration by Google X or plotting the next big iPhone app (ok I am getting ahead of myself! But I got your attention didn't I?!) Instead, I waste time judging myself and others. I have therefore decided to save time for intellectual pursuits by living life without judgement. The idea has always appealed to me, but practise it, I have not. When I recently decided to do something about it, I began by noticing my tendency to make flippant remarks, laden with judgement of myself and others, which were intended to be funny but where the humour was completely lost on the audience and words hung in dead air.

I also realized that I engaged in small talk to fill awkward silences. And I filled them with criticisms of all things minor or major, albeit impersonal. "The weather is lousy.. that restaurant was great but the service was slow.. I love City x but hate City y". I purposely searched out themes that people would agree with me on. I scored on the approval front, but let the conversation degrade with the other person playing along in the same vein.

The worst kind of judgement I have indulged in, is of others, as dull, incompetent, conniving, selfish, fat, controlling etc. I am by no means unique because in most company such remarks are open season. As a society , we thrive on such behaviour because it makes us feel superior and better, strokes our ego and vitiates our need to do anything deserving of high honours or praise. After all, are we not perfect already with no room for improvement, while everyone around us is flawed, inadequate and lacking?

Judgement not only stunts our personal growth, it stunts the growth of others- most of whom are not strong or mature enough to challenge others' view of themselves. They actually live up to others' judgement of them - maybe as a self-fulfilling prophecy? Also, it limits how we interact with one another given the assumptions and stereotypes our conversations emanate from. Would it not be great if all our lives were lived with no judgement but with pure intellectual curiosity? Where, we came into and left situations with no expectations, just compassion and attentiveness? Where we were scrupulously aware of what we said to one another and of our body language and cues as we observed each other? Where we could all be unselfconscious, safe and at home around each other?

How then do I plan to achieve this?

For starters, I have been receiving solicited and unsolicited advice on what I have done, its impact on others and what I need to change. Second, I have observed my compulsion to talk for the sake of talking and practised the Zen art of listening instead. Last but not least, I am cultivating open minded, honest and courageous living where I do not consciously expect anything , judge anyone or seek the approval of others!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Our first Time at a Symphony

My husband and I went to a Toronto Symphony Orchestra concert tonight, the eve of our anniversary! He picked me up at work, we ate at a falafel place and arrived at Roy Thomson Hall, a marvelous venue with amazing acoustics and over 1500 seating in the heart of downtown Toronto. Contrary to our expectations the crowd was demographically diverse, casually dressed and musically engaged. The balmy night saw lots of people milling about in Toronto's theatre district, giving the evening a celebratory air.

We took our seats in the circular balcony of the packed hall directed by friendly ushers all elegantly dressed in black. TSO is a non profit organization which relies a lot on volunteers who are music aficionados and who get rewarded for their efforts, with concert tickets. The concert began on time and the whole experience mimicked western society - orderly and organized to the point of being rigid. It was also very accessible, with no associated elitism or snobbery, a North American hallmark. The orchestra was conducted with precision and the playing was technically impeccable. Underpinning the performance was a rigorous adherance to rules, tradition, and the sheets of music all of which is key to the synchronicity that a symphony symbolises. You could not hear a pin drop during the concert. When we were late reentering the hall after intermission, we were asked to sit out a piece for all of nine minutes. The focal instruments of the evening's concert were the violin and the Double Bass and the signature pieces were by contemporary American musician Edgar Meyer, who also played the Double Bass. They were superbly executed, even to my untrained ears. The orchestra of musicians were all top notch but they appeared to be tightly controlled. I am sure this varies with the temperament and stature of the conductor, and TSO's Peter Oundjian, who is well liked and popular, may be more open to input from his team of musicians, than some others.

The concert concluded to thunderous applause, which was unabashedly over the top, bordering on the sycophantic and lasting several minutes. It was amusing to watch the conductor and star musicians lap it all up, while lurching in and out of the hall for repeated bows. All in all it was a novel experience to watch the musicians play on cue, each with a distinct individual style amidst generally uniform movements and gestures. The two hours went by quickly. While I did miss the lack of predictability, minor chaos and improvisation that marks our Indian classical concerts, we could definitely take a page from the West for the organization, order and respect they bring even into art!