Monday, December 22, 2008

Principles of socializing

Socializing is a process where one meets people from different strata of society and from different societies. It is based on communication i.e. one needs to articulate the ideas one has in their mind so that the other person who is the subject of communication understands these ideas as is. This communication is about reality where the topics can range from concrete to abstract, as follows: small-talk, job, family, friends circle, movies and music, a profession, politics, motivation and self-actualization, art and meta-thinking.

However, people have different notions of reality some have wrong models and some have models that are closer to reality. The objective of the socializing process is to understand the other person i.e. his ideas and distinguish between what is correct i.e. closer to reality and what is wrong i.e. far from reality. Once this difference is clear one should articulate this difference. If one does not have this ability then one should develop the tact of keeping ones distance from the subject in the matter of the particular discussion or listen to him to understand about the ideas if the discussing is not abusive. If one feels pushed one can stop the discussion and think about it later. In any case the end objective is to understand the ideas and thus be able to ascertain their degree of truth.

In any case it is important to learn to recognize a dead-end discussion i.e. a circular debate and stop debating if a dead-end is reached in the discussion.

The below text has been added on 19 Feb 2009

One important aspect of socializing that has to be mentioned is that when one is interacting with a person who does not have a realistic view of the topic being discussed it might be a good idea not to make it blatantly apparent to him/her and to use tact to address the person.

It may also be the case that the person being addressed is not ready to listen to the new persepctive in which case it might be a very good idea to not pursue the discussion. What this means for me is that I should, in such situations, try to 'empathize' with the 'other' and just enjoy his/her 'company' while possibly trying to understand him/her better.

This has for me led to another kind of social experience that is very interesting where 'reality' is not being discussed, just enjoyed!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

How I measure my grasp of reality

There has to be a criterion to measure my grasp of reality. For me this is the degree to which I can predict and control myself and the external world along a certain set of factors. These factors can be divided into two categories: Intrinsic factors – that have to do with myself and extrinsic factors – that have to do with the environment outside of me.

The list of intrinsic factors along with the method to gauge how far I can predict and control these factors are as follows:
1. Factor: Knowledge.
Method to gauge: This would be easiest if we were assessing the knowledge of structured course subjects such as those taught in University programs and measure our expertise in it by giving tests designed by subject experts.
2. Factor: Skill - clear thinking + clear communication
Method to gauge: To measure this we can use the 1-page, 5-page, 10-page and 15-page test where these are the number of pages that one should be able to write on any topic clearly
3. Factor: Skill - social skills
Method to gauge:
a. “Degree” to which I can predict and control the outcome of a meeting with people I have interacted with over 30 hours (Not sure if it should be 30 hours, more or less).
b. “Number of hours” spent with another person to be able to predict and control the outcome of the meeting with him/her.
c. “Range of people” with whom I can predict and control the outcome of the interaction, given that a certain minimum number of hours have been spent with that person.
4. Factor: Skill – stop watch time at self-discipline i.e. the time it takes to get myself to do an act which requires the exercise of will power for the next five minutes. This degree of will power required however will wary with the following three factors:
a. Difficulty of the initial conditions. For the purposes of the stop watch test these conditions should be normal, i.e. not harder or easier than usual.
b. Difficultly of the act to perform. For the purposes of the stop watch test the act should be of average difficulty.
c. How harsh are the consequences. This factor can be eliminated. Example: Shooting myself in the foot without anesthetics does not count because the impact of that on my will power will be exerted even after I have shot myself.

The list of extrinsic factors along with the method to gauge how far I can predict and control these factors are as follows:

1. Factor: Nature of job
Method to gauge: Of all the jobs that I have heard of am I doing the one that I enjoy most?
2. Factor: Salary
Method to gauge: Statistically how am I doing compared to other people in society?
3. Factor: Circle of friends
Method to gauge: Do I have a close-knit circle of friends who I can relate to well.
4. Factor: Health of relationships within family
Method to gauge: Is anyone in my immediate family in any trouble that I can help out with and am I helping out. Secondly the degree to which I am happily married.

There are a number of things that are beyond my ability to predict and control such as an event in which I meet a serious accident or let’s say the chances that I develop cancer. In these and other similar matters my place is that of a Fakir (beggar) in relation to God and nature.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The ultimate formula to success

The first part of the ultimate formula to success in achieving happiness requires one to first decide on what to do. For me the answer lies in the five categories I have identified. These categories are learning, focusing myself to think about a problem to get to a solution, socializing, completing chores and finally exercising.

Having identified the categories I had to decide how to tackle each category. For the learning category it required determining what to learn, prioritizing the subjects to learn – the most immediate subjects at any time would be sufficient for this purpose- and finally deciding a time I would dedicate for learning. For the next category which was to focus myself to think about a problem and get to a solution, I used my job as the pivot and practiced it on the work I had to achieve. To be able to handle the third category i.e. socializing I developed rules to socialize, decided time I would dedicate for this task and then practiced the art. The fourth category which was to complete chores I had to do, whatever their nature might be, as long as they were necessary I dedicated a certain time for these chores as well. The final category was to exercise and thus keep myself fit, an activity for which I had to similarly dedicate a specific time.

Having so far decided what to do and having explored a concrete framework for each category the next and most important task to do was to break the barrier to achieve self-discipline. This was a task that had become easier since I now knew where to focus myself. To see how I was progressing in this area I use a technique called the “stop watch” technique. This technique measures the time it takes to get myself to do what I have to do and don’t enjoy doing i.e. the time it takes to achieve a task requiring the exercise of will power. Now to reduce the “stop-watch” time I had three rules. The first rule was the “right here right now rule” which pinned down for me what I had to do in the next five minutes. Having identified the task at hand I would then only think about the problem at hand without exception to any other kind of thought irrespective of how interesting the thought might be. The final step was simply to practice the above two rules and keep getting better at the “stop-watch”.

I think this is the ultimate formula for success and I must say that by far the most thrilling thing to do is to get yourself to do what you know has to be done.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Breaking Barriers

Acts are things we do. Some acts are doable i.e. acts that a person can do. These can be complex or simple acts and are doable owing to the training through cultural upbringing, family upbringing, schooling or socializing. Some acts are not doable i.e. acts that a person cannot do. These too can be complex or simple acts and are similarly not doable owing to the training through cultural upbringing, family upbringing, schooling or socializing. A barrier is some act that is not doable because it is an act one finds difficult to do. An example can be of a person who finds getting into a physical fight doable and talking to a girl not doable. Another person can find it doable to talk to a girl and getting into a physical fight not doable.

Barriers are good because they are opportunities to grow. I will now give an example of a person for whom talking to girls was a barrier and also show how he got over it. This person was raised in Pakistan and went to UK to work. There he worked in a fast food restaurant. He was sent on a workshop and towards the end of his workshop his female instructor talked to him one-on-one and asked him why he never addressed her directly and instead would communicate through his colleagues. After the workshop the instructor called up his manager and asked the manager to send him for another workshop. The second workshop had 92 people: 1 the instructor from the previous workshop, 2 the person himself and 90 women. The instructor from the previous workshop asked him to conduct this workshop which was about dating. He had two options to conduct this workshop: the first was he could teach the material to all of them collectively and the second option was to teach each of them separately. He choose to have a one-on-one conversation with each of the 90 girls teaching them the material directly. After the second workshop the manager of the person promoted him to the counter because of the feedback he received of him. The second result was that there was a constant flock of girls at that counter owing to his social skills and his newly acquired confidence.

It took only 1 week to break a very strong barrier.

A person who can think can educate himself and thus will be able to do anything he wants. The only thing that will stop a person from achieving any success he imagines is the barriers that he has.

This reminds me of a dialogue from a movie I saw and quoted earlier.

Person A: "Embrace the pain Mr. Green"
Person B: "If you change the rules on what controls you, you change the rules on what you can control"
Person A: "Just how radical are you prepared to be?"

Concretizing my growth

There are three areas in which I have directed my growth. This effort will make my growth focused. These three areas are: Learning, Job and Extras.

The first area is learning which I will do on weekdays after office hours and on Sundays. This is based on two principles. The first principle is not to study abstract subjects such as philosophy. This is because studying a philosophy essay by Aristotle is very exciting owing to its potential implications and solutions but one can’t completely relate to it. The second principle is to study concrete subjects. The reasons for this are because it is easy to study, I can immediately apply this to my life, and there is a pre-defined syllabus I can follow. The course work that I plan to study is as follows: The first course is in learning how to think well. This I will do by studying Logic following the course taught at IBA in the BBA Program. The second course is aimed at learning how to communicate well. For this I will follow the composition course taught at LUMS. The remaining sets of subjects are aimed at internalizing the courses from my MBA degree that are relevant to my career as a business analyst. These include two courses on marketing which are Principles of marketing and Marketing Management, one course on finance, another on management/organizational structure, another on strategic management and the final two courses covering the basics of economics: microeconomics and macroeconomics.

The second area that I will focus on is my job. This I will do during office hours from 8:30 to 5:30 during weekdays. There are two approaches to my job. The first is to understand the big picture of my job. The big picture would include understanding the different departments in my company and their relationship, the culture of the organization, the vision, mission, objectives and strategy of the company, where I fit into this strategy and finally how my current job is in line with my career. The second approach is to understand the small picture and the way to do this is to firstly prioritize the list of outstanding tasks I have and secondly to create time-boundaries for tasks. Tasks should be time bounded in three ways: firstly as tasks I have to do in the next five minutes, tasks I have to do in the day and tasks I have to do in the next three days.

The third area I call the extras for which I have dedicated Saturday. These include tasks such as buying trousers, getting the car fixed and socializing with family and friends.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

How I am going to move forward

There are two essential ingredients to moving ahead:
1.Progress in thought
2.Progress in actualization

I will explain these two “ingredients” below and also explain their relationship.

Progress in thought: Education emanates from “well thought out and processed” material that explains important ideas that can help us predict our environment to a better degree. Each educational experience thus being a “chain of ideas” that have a complementary relationship with each other can help us. However this is only possible if we can “internalize” these ideas, i.e. we understand these ideas and bring them to a level of awareness where we can use these ideas as easily as we can use the ideas of “why we need to open the door to cross it” or “what is left and what is right” (in terms of direction). However there are many books out there and many subjects that vary in degree of complexity.

So the question is how do we decide what to choose to help us progress our thought or “knowledge base”?

What I am doing is analyzing my own blog at the moment. I am doing this by writing a one line description of each of my posts i.e. the central idea of each post and finding the relationships between these statements. What this will result in is the discovery of a few fundamental “concepts” on which my entire blog stands as a table top stands on its four legs.

Having done this exercise I will then look towards Wikipedia to shed more light on these concepts which I can do for a concept such as “justice” by "breaking it down" into its smallest components by removing the clutter of vocabulary in the article to discover the “ideas” embedded in the article. These ideas I will then outline and add to my “knowledge base”. After understanding the concepts related to my blog I will move on to related concepts.

Progress in actualization: The process of “internalization” is not complete till we “|act|ualize” our ideas. This is only possible if you “act” the ideas out. This process of course requires discipline which is simply doing activities in “time-bound” ways. For example we dedicate a certain time to our “job” and actualize the ideas related to our job in that period of time. We then allocation a certain time to “socializing” and actualize our ideas related to socializing in that time period.

Relationship of “progress in thought” and “progress in actualization”: The relationship is that we need to think, then understand and finally actualize thus updating our selves/"our software"/our mind. The process of updating our software continuously and in ideas that we think are most relevant to our lives we can “grow" to "control our environment” in the most “optimum” way.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Model Based Learning

Reality in the strictest sense is described as reality “as it is” or in the most absolute sense is “how something exists”. Human kind has been making models of things or a reflection of reality from the day it began to reason. In each era the assumptions on which the whole of civilization choose to see things changed. For example at the time of Galileo it was believed by people that the Sun revolved around the Earth. In fact there were giants of human kind like Socrates and Aristotle whose contributions date a long time before the period of Galileo who must have believed on the same assumption.

Now as each era evolved human kind was able to control nature to a better degree and it did this by revisiting the models that it had made of nature. I say models here because they were not reality in the strictest sense. But by revisiting these models and bringing them closer to reality "as is" their ability to predict and thus control improved.

Even today we have millions of models through whose lens we view the world and many of these models might become obsolete in the next era of human kind.

When a student goes to Harvard or MIT they study many models and know them better then most other institutions could have taught them and so they can predict and control things that are in the purview of their expertise better than most other people. They do this by working hard to learn the right models and in the process “empty their mind” of wrong models that they had carried. That said they can still only go as far as has been discovered by any man who has ever lived to date. As I said in the next era even these models would change and enable experts in those eras to have “greater control” than experts in the present one.

Note that one has to sometimes remove wrong models to be able to get to the right models i.e. you have to “undo” before you can “rebuild”. It is said that the way the intellect of man works is that it mixes some element of fallacy with truth i.e. a person may have an understanding of truth to some degree, and this is what allows him to have any influence in the matter, but the set of fallacies that is mixed with it limits that person from reaching an even more powerful model. These set of fallacies or untruth have been described by somebody as “a donkey carrying a burden of books on its back” which goes to show that this untruth becomes more of a “liability” then an “asset”.

I understand that in order to avoid untruth it is best to have as few assumptions as possible.

I would go as far as to say to that maybe one should not even trust one’s own empirical perception at all times. Let’s say for example that one is feeling depressed or scared about something. Why should we not question ourselves: “Why am I feeling depressed? Is the reason that I understand enough for me to feel depressed? Should I continue to feel depressed? Why should I accept that I am depressed just because I am feeling depressed!”

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Benefits of discipline

Ommar Khayyam a muslim sufi once said that one must aim to come to a point where the answer to every question is a “yes”. This of course is only possible if you keep growing by learning. Now as one learns and is able to influence his/her environment more the positive feedback you get is tremendous and it works in two complementary ways:

1) You enjoy the learning process
2) Things around you start to make sense and you start to get “yes” answers to things that previously might have seemed insurmountable

In fact the process is quite addictive, but since you are able to achieve what you set out to achieve there is nothing stopping you from continuing to grow.

There is one important angle to it though. The process of learning is not only through thinking but more importantly by doing and they are both complementary.

Of course there are many things that a person has to do that he might not have “yes” answers to but still has to do them. For example you might want to spend less time socializing and use more of that time learning. The catch-22 however is that if you don’t spend time socializing you limit yourself from a certain kind of learning that you cannot achieve by thinking.

In other words to reach the highest limit that you can get to you have to do both.

Now doing comes in different flavors. You have to do among many other things the following also: spending time with family, invest time at work, exercise, spend time on your wardrobe, etc. Now all of these might not seem interesting though each one is important in its own place.

Where discipline steps in is this: The various areas of work that you have to do, discipline allows you to draw a time boundary around them so that when you are doing each one, you can give it time and not worry about the other areas. This is just like time is broken down in school where the whole day is broken down into classes. In each particular class you dedicate time to just that class and so you are able to focus and achieve “a local optimum” but doing so you achieve a “global maximum”.

This last statement deserves some more attention – “achieving a local optimum for a global maximum”. The only way you can achieve a global maximum i.e. get to the best is to do each task as best as you can given the resources you have and move on to the next task thus the term a “local optimum”.

Nature of Science, Art and Religion and putting them in perspective

Science works on the following principle: it discovers ontological reality i.e. “things as they are” by being objective. The phenomenon of which the objective/ontological reality is revealed is then “predictable” and therefore “controllable”. This is all true because nature works according to “unchangeable laws”, also called the “laws of nature”. These laws of nature owing to being laws always repeat themselves and so if you discover them you can control the environment around you on the basis of these “discovered laws”.

For science to be able to do this it needs to follow two rules:

1) It has to be empirical, i.e. everything it discovers has to be validated by the senses
2) Material i.e. it is impersonal

Science has been instrumental in the phenomenal boom of the standard of living of the human race. However science has certain limitations which are these:

1) Science reveals efficient causes but not final causes. An efficient cause explains how something is caused, the process of it whereas the final cause explains the purpose of it. For example science will tell us how nuclear energy can be unleashed, however it cannot tell us what the purpose of that nuclear energy is. In other words what are we to do with this nuclear energy now that we have discovered it?
2) It is descriptive not normative/prescriptive. For example political science will describe to us how the different systems of government operate; it will also tell us of the pros and cons of the different systems but it will not tell us is the ideal form of government.
3) It is not symbolic in nature, i.e. it cannot define love for us. It cannot give us the “meaning” of love.

I therefore think that science works on the horizontal plane i.e. the plane of the empirical. Art and religion on the other hand work on the vertical plane.

What I mean about art and religion above is that both try to give meanings to words in language that are symbolic, words such as “love” for example. Religion also tries to answers certain questions such as what is the purpose of life while art expresses the purpose that different people have discovered and expresses it in the form of paintings or poetry or music.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

How I can beat somebody older than me and How I can live to be a 1000 years old

Some people are more experienced than others their own age. In fact some people are more experienced than people older than them. Examples could include young people in top management positions with subordinates who are many times older to them. This is one example. Another one is of students who have a double promotion in class. Yet another is of people who finish their Bachelors degree or PhD degrees faster than others.

All these seem to be instances of people who are beating the learning curve and so move ahead of their peers.

Let’s analyze this a little bit. What are these people doing when they ‘beat the curve’?

Answer: They are working harder and in turn understanding what is to be understood. So by putting in more effort they understand the subject matter in lesser time. This learning can be of things very structured such as mathematics or unstructured such as leading a group.

In either case the one’s ahead know things that we haven’t figured out yet.

And so, by working hard ourselves, lets say by motivating ourselves of the goal ahead and thus focusing our effort, interest and attention to the matter we can ‘move up the curve’. In fact we can probably move ahead on the curve so fast that we can out-run those people who have inspired us!

It is by the same logic that one is more of an expert at something than another, whether that be ‘becoming a CEO’ or ‘coming first in class’.

By the same token if we work very hard then by the time we are 30 we could get to where others older than us have not as yet reached. It is also by the same line of reasoning that you can grow to be a 1000 years old! And that’s probably where the Nobel laureates get to if not farther.

I wonder at times, how old must Einstein be?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

About the philosophy of art and how to take a photograph

I would like to relate this post to my earlier post about “left brained thinking vs. right brained thinking”. I have started to associate left-brained thinking with the sciences and right-brained thinking with the arts.

Right brained thinking as I have already mentioned is the set of mental faculty that are as follows: “Creativity, Imagination and Intuition”. I find that these map perfectly onto the arts such as poetry, literature, photography, painting, music, etc.

All of these then give ideas that can be developed by the sciences and brought into the practical world.

I will elaborate this concept a little further by walking you through the process of taking a photograph.

So how do you take a good photograph?
One of the ways is this:
1. You develop an idea
2. ‘Look’ for a physical manifestation of that idea
3. Use the rules of photography to capture that manifestation as you want it

Let’s take an example. Suppose you want to take a photograph that documents ‘the way back from work’. You would have to develop an idea around this i.e. what you feel about ‘the way back from work’. Once developed there would be a number of ‘physical manifestations’ that you would come across on your way home. The one that clicks (you can use your intuition and wait for the right feeling to ‘find’ the right ‘physical manifestation’) you can record with your instrument, such as a mobile phone or a digital camera.

Let’s take another example and develop this: I recently wanted to photograph a mother and her daughter. To do this one of the ideas I developed was this: “A mother looking at her daughter and wondering what a gift from God the daughter was! Also the mother seems to be in anticipation of the journey the two will have together for the next many years”. After developing this idea the ‘physical manifestation’ of this idea I created was as follows: The baby daughter resting on a table on a thick blanket looking from one corner of a diagonal to the opposite diagonal where her eyes meet those of her mother who has her head tilted to one side resting it with her hand in a posture where she seems to be in thought wearing an expression of delight and anticipation. Click!

Left Brained thinking vs. Right Brained thinking

I have been made aware of two different sets of mental faculties that humans are capable of:

1. Analysis – Left side of the brain
2. Creativity, Imagination, Intuition – Right side of the brain

These two attributes are completely different from each other though each set facilitates the other set.

A man or woman can deliberately move from one spectrum to the other through meditation. At the most conscious level we are thinking in a left brained way i.e. we are analyzing. If we are able to sedate ourselves through specific exercises while being awake and go to the level just below the first level –alpha state, into the second level – the beta state, we can stimulate the right side of the brain.

If you are following my post about decompartmentalization or were already aware that the goal of maturity is to be able to view the world as a singular reality you would know that the most abstract thoughts that you carry with you could be translated into the most practical through a process of detailed analysis. By this process you are able to bring the most abstract ideas into existence and into the realm of the practical world.

It is said however that right brained thinking is many times more powerful then left brained thinking and the simple reason for this is that by working at the higher level of thinking – i.e. right brained, you are able to brain storm and come across the most important ideas any one of which could be developed and completed by left brained analysis.

Also the concept of Latafat that I have also talked about earlier essentially lends a person to think in a right brained fashion I would think.

How do we know we know and what is the attitude required to know?

When I was a kid and I wanted to get a burger I thought it was a simple process. I just needed to ask my parents, they would get it somehow and an hour or two later I was eating my burger. So what do my parents do…send the driver, he goes to the shop buys the burger and brings it back.

However when I grew older and had to get the burger on my own (while living in a different city) the process was a little more complicated.

One of the basic things I had to do for example was to get to the burger shop. This in itself would be a big challenge for a kid.

So I thought I knew, almost had a gut feeling, but did I know really?

Other examples are starker. Running a family seems a simple job too when you are a kid. When you run your own house you realize the number of things that have to be managed. It is quite a task to master and takes sometimes quite a bit of education and then some experience at work to be able to start a family.

So at some point in time we ‘thought we knew how to get the burger or run a family’, but we didn’t quite know!

So how do you know that you know, let’s say to get a burger or run a family?

The answer is that if you really know then you can articulate it completely. The more you know the more comprehensive the articulation.

And herein is the big lesson: No matter how old you are you might have a strong gut feeling about something but that feeling might just be an illusion just like it was for the kid. If you cannot articulate the thing you think you know then you are just like that little kid as to the matter at hand and this illusion can be a most dangerous thing.

To be careful that we are not a victim of such illusions the only thing we can do is this: “make sure we are not careless!”

Once this is clear the path to enlightenment is most clear: Anything you ever wanted to do, you can do, the only effort required is to get the knowledge of how it is to be done; and test it by articulating it.

Two brilliant examples of articulation of things most common:
1. The Prince by Machiavelli about how a prince running a kingdom should secure his kingdom. It could very well be applied to running a political party or in the corporate environment.

2. The Art of Love by Ovid about how a man should win the love of a woman and more.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

How to make use of imagination – taking decompartmentalization to the next level

I have talked about decompartmentalization in one of my earlier posts – read it here. I want to talk about it a little more here and take the concept to the next level.

However I will start with a brief review of decompartmentalization:

Decompartmentalization is viewing the world or reality as a singularity i.e. instead of viewing life in the various compartments in which we are generally accustomed to seeing such as:

1.My life at work
2.My life with family
3.My life with friends
4.My life with children
5.My life in my trip to England/Iran/etc
6.My life in my previous job;

Decompartmentalization then is to view reality not in terms of these many compartments each of which helps us live in our comfort zones but to in fact to view it all as a singularity – a single reality.

The way to do that is to analyze experiences and those compartments, find the similarities and interpret the differences and try to move experiences from one compartment to the other until one’s understanding reaches a point where these compartments become one.

If you have not understood what I mean, pause here and think it might make all the difference in your lives.

Taking it to the next level

To take decompartmentalization to the next level is to increase the limit of the compartment that is your singular reality and this is possible as I understand it in two ways:

1.Through new knowledge
2.Through imagination

Knowledge: New knowledge in books and on the internet or some experience that is completely new and brings with it new knowledge – all of this can increase the limit of the compartment that is your singular reality.

Imagination: The other way to increase the limit of your compartment that is your singular reality is to use your imagination. Now somebody dreams of having a big house one day, somebody else dreamt of putting personal computers in every household in the world, another dreamt of reaching the moon and yet somebody else dreamt of creating one of the most powerful levels of energy from something as small as an atom.

The higher you imagine is as high as you can go! Of course you have to follow up that dream with a lot of hard work, but even if you do that hard work you can only go as high as you imagine.

Taking decompartmentalization to the next level then is to use ‘new knowledge’ and ‘imagination’ to increase the limits of your singular reality.

Moral virtue vs. Intellectual virtue and the Victim turned Victimizer debate

Some parents work very hard to develop the sense of right in their children others don’t work that hard. Some times are more turbulent then other times, some societies more developed then others and some families more righteous then others.

In each case a person grows up with a different training and therefore a different degree to which he feels strongly about certain values.

Virtue developed from habit from upbringing is what I call moral virtue.

Another kind of virtue is intellectual virtue and this is the reason that a person no matter how a dire circumstance in which he is raised, once is able to decide for himself, is held accountable by law. This is because when he reaches a certain age and maturity he knows that a certain habit however ‘familiar’ it maybe, is wrong – he knows that out of an intellectual process – and therefore is in a position where he can choose to change.

Thus the virtue that develops out of the mental process is what I call intellectual virtue.

Therefore there is no justification for a victim turned victimizer. I’ll demonstrate this now through an example: Many people grow up and develop the habit of smoking while in school or later i.e. at a point in their lives when the pressure/motivation to pick up the habit is high. As they grow older they realize that smoking is a serious health hazard. Some start to debate with themselves and try various means to drop the habit. It is possible to drop the habit of smoking that was once developed.

I therefore argue that it is possible to drop any habit that one wants. Similarly if one developed a certain habit because he was victimized he can always choose to not victimize others.

How to remember the dead

People we are with who have been good to us and/or have taught us something should be held in respect and high esteem at least in proportion to their contribution to us. We are not always in the presence of such people in fact we may meet some of them only once in our lives but we remember them, not necessarily for their person but also for the ideas or the good that they represent. We therefore remember them so that we can do good or apply the lesson they have taught us.

Some people have contributed to us, like they have contributed to the whole of humanity, without us ever having met them. These would include people such as the prophets, the saints, scientists such as Einstein, war heroes, etc.

I feel there is merit in remembering them, at least remembering them as the person that represents the ideas that they have given to us.

There are different ways of remembering such people, for example by making monuments or naming streets after them, by making the homes of such people into a museum and simply visiting them at their graves.

Some people who have touched us deeply like our parents and grandparents are also worthy of remembering whether we are with them or not.

I was going with my cousin to his house and while crossing a graveyard he asked us to stop by on his grandfather’s grave to pay our respects. When we got off into the graveyard in an Iranian city I saw beautiful black marble tablets with engravings on them decorated at times with flowers and some even with beautiful stones to go along with the flowers and the black marble. I found that most interesting. We kept on moving further till we came to the grave of my cousin’s grandfather who had written a piece of poetry that he had asked to be put as an epitaph on his grave. Seeing the grave had some dirt on it he took a pipe and washed the black marble. A few people came by on a grave a little further. While my cousin was cleaning the grave some drops of water fell over on the people who were a further away. They simply moved over a little bit. Once done my cousin asked if they wanted the pipe. They took it washed their grave and washed the next two graves on the side.

Coming to such a grave and remembering the person and what he represents I think is beautiful. The event that I have described shows the amount of respect with which the ones who have passed away are remembered in Iran.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Abusive relationships and the Mile high club

It is amazing how taken for granted people take their own actions at times.

Principles are principles, but it is supremely important to understand them in order to be stead-fast to them and thus not take one’s own actions for granted.

Children are raised to believe, innocent and dependent as they are to believe their parents always mean good for them…but remember the two sentences I’ve just written, its not always that simple.

But what can children do?

I think at times these children grow up with mixed values and perpetuate these to their next generation.

And then there are those who understand the principles and break the cycle.

And it is thus that I feel knowledge is so close to divinity.

The post How to beat Girls and Women by an author who tells us from experience of how abuse of women is institutionalized:

It started with a lecture which you listened to in a search of the spots you might massage to prevent an escalation to beating - was he tired? Could you make a long explanation and bore him off? Create a distraction? Be sick? Or was he dead set on his entertainment? You knew the final judgment leaned towards beating when he said 'Fetch the belt.' This might mean walking all across the compound and round the house to the corner of the sitting room; or it might just mean turning round and unhooking it from the nail. But whatever the journey, nobody ever saw you do it. Even if they were sitting right there trying to work out how to melt away into the floor.

“Please don’t beat me. I’m having my period,” and he turned abruptly away from me, dropping the belt to his side, and marched away to the end of the path to stand staring at the fence for a few dangerous moments. Then he turned and marched back to me and handed me the belt. My heart leapt.

“What you just mentioned to me,” his voice had gone low. “Never mention it to me again. Never. That’s between you and your mother. Go!”

I was never beaten again. Nor as far as I recall was my little sister. Psychological torture became the punishment of choice…

… It's just a question of mind over matter. It 'doesn't matter' if Daddy beats you, it's important as a good daughter to let him, to swallow the pain, to let yourself down into your seat for days afterwards with a gasp and dismiss that pain as just your womanly due.

But you might pause here and think. Are these events however repetitive sufficient to institutionalize abuse of women. And the answer is probably no. What is required the last most important pillar to set up the institution is what follows below:

A few days later I was walking home with my mum, down a steep rutted path, when out of a silence she suddenly asked, “Why did you ask Daddy not to beat you because of your period?”


“The other day, when you asked Daddy not to beat you because of your period. Did you think it would make you bleed more heavily or something? Why did you - ? What did you think would happen?”

I was puzzled. I decided to stick with pure fact.

“I wasn’t having my period,” I said.
“What? You weren’t?”
“No. I wasn’t,” I waited for her to burst out laughing and congratulate me.
“You mean you lied?” she was shocked.
“Of course!” so was I.
“But why?” she asked.

Abuse is thus institutionalized in culture, only to wreak havoc in her adult life:

Nine years later, my boyfriend picked me up and threw me at a wall. He then kept me up the whole of the rest of the night with various torments. In the morning he sat heavily down as I dragged myself about getting ready for work (he didn't work) and said, "But you know I would never hurt you!"

That statement, and my mother's question, come from the same league of thinking.

And to articulate that league of thinking as best I can is: “But this is the norm, why make such a big deal out of it…like blowing it out of proportion. It happens in every household, so one day 'I' lost control, it isn’t happening everyday! If it were happening everyday we would have taken it seriously. But then again that’s just how fathers and husbands are. They have a certain right, for protecting you and being with you, providing the support they can. Be patient, patience is always a good thing!”

But the author…unlike her mother understands the flaw in this argument. I congratulate her.

If I were to let this sink in deep, I don’t know how deep that would be.

In whatever role one assumes in their lives, if you feel you are abusive (however subtly), be it psychological, with your friends or younger siblings, wives or husbands,children or parents, subordinates or colleagues, students… don’t take it for granted. I am sure it won’t be all that difficult to change. It will be worth your evolution to the next stage of enlightenment, to your joining the club of those people who have already made that journey and are eagerly awaiting you to join them.

If you move to the next stage you will find from people around you, those that have made that journey and whom you never noticed before.

I definitely want to join the mile high club!

But in what ever proportion I have managed to do this, it has only been possible after I thought things through and broke the cycle of victim turned victimizer (however subtle the damage inflicted). I had to figure it out!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Batman - The Dark Knight - Lessons for us

The latest Batman movie – The Dark Knight is a heavy roller coaster ride, a pretty heavy movie I would think. It has a number of characters playing their distinctive roles. But the two principle roles are played by the Joker – an agent of Chaos, an ideal bad; and Batman – an agent of Good , a proposed ideal of good.

Joker is evil because he thinks it is fun. There is no other rationale to it other then to keep himself from getting bored. He thus not only murders people in the most ruthless ways but steals the money of all the mafia bosses from the city of Gotham and sets them on fire, simply because having outsmarted everybody and gotten all the money he couldn’t enjoy anything more then to set it all on fire. Sounds a bit like the concept of fun some teenagers have and I am sure some adults too.

But this is not Joker’s achievement. In order to win the game with Batman in the battle between good and evil he does two other things:

1) He does a social experiment in which he loads two ferries with bombs. One ferry has all the criminals of the city (except joker) and their guards and the second has civilians. The trigger to each of these bombs is in the hands of the opposite ferry. So the experiment is that Joker will blow up both ferries unless one of them blows the other up and saves itself. This experiment fails as both the civilians and the criminals decide not to blow the other up, no one man on the ship can take all the responsibility for pulling the trigger. In this battle the joker losses and Batman wins. Batman also manages to disarm the Joker of the master trigger he has and so all three triggers are not detonated.

2)The other attempt of Joker is to turn Gotham’s hero into a villain. It is to take the district attorney of the city who manages to pull off all the criminals off the street with a little stunt, push him to the point of paranoia and turn him into a villain. In this the Joker wins and Harvey Dent the DA turns into two-face a criminal who is another agent of chaos and decides to kill people based on a flip of a coin, a decision based on pure chance.

The first experiment shows that people can choose good over evil while the second lesson shows that even a hero pushed to the limit can choose evil over good.

A little confusing if I do say so myself!

The final lesson of the movie to which I disagree is this: The people killed by Harvey Dent when he becomes two-face are associated with Batman so that Gotham can continue to believe in their hero while Batman who “can run” and therefore “can afford to take the blame” does so. (Harvey Dent after becoming two-face and going on a mission to kill the people in order to get revenge is finally killed by Batman).

This I think is the most misplaced lesson of all! People don’t need heroes they need to understand and believe in good so that they themselves can become heroes! And if anybody was to be made into heroes it should have been the civilians and the criminals on their ferries who did not decide to blow each other up.

It is said that Muslims of old used to believe in Allah while the Muslims of new believe in Islam. This sounds so similar to the lesson being taught above. We believe not in what is ‘good in itself’ but in ‘ideals of good that we make up’, at least some of us do.

My best description of Reality/Haqiqat

One of the classic questions out there I think is: “What is reality? Or What is Haqiqat? (urdu)”

I don’t think I can define it but I will try to describe it as best I am able.

One description of Haqiqat:
I was being taught a course by an accomplished teacher where I landed with bad grades for the first few exams only to do better in the finals. The sense I made of things that enabled me to get a grip on the course eventually was the fact that the answer written in the exam, that the teacher checked, was only as smart as the understanding that I carried with me. In a sense 'cracking the paper' or thinking smart while working the hours that I put in would get me the grade I wanted.

So if I were to study the subject just a few times, slowly, one chapter at a time, make notes and finally make an “abstract” model of the chapter in my mind which I would carry with me, I would then be able to use that chapter best to my benefit. This is what I understand by the Haqiqat of the chapter.

The Haqiqat of the chapter would dawn on me even more if I related that chapter to everything else I had previously studied or knew, discussed it with my friends and family and looked up related material on the internet.

The more I could relate to the chapter the more the Haqiqat of that chapter would be known to me!

Extension of first description of Haqiqat:
If you notice there are people who make bricks and then there are those that design software for satellites. Having studied computer science I know I can do the latter. All it required was studying a few text books - making of a model in my mind; knowing what to do - and viola there I am. In a sense it will be harder for me to make bricks (till I learn how to) then to make this software.

Similarly somebody born in a Memon family (business community in Pakistan) with a business background would find it a lot easier to do business than I would.

And by a similar token Mao ran China in a way unimaginable to most of us. He “knew” (and kept learning each day) how to do it better.

So at each stage from brick maker, to satellite programmer, to Mao one needs a certain body of knowledge which will enable him to do what he wants to do.

Second description of Haqiqat: (What I learnt from the Zahir)
My mother always tells me that there are people who are shallow and then there are those who have a strong character. I now know what that means. In the book The Zahir by Paulo Coelho, there is a show within the story, a show which has an audience as we read. This audience is told to discuss the most pressing issues that are bothering them in their present lives. When they do discuss it, it becomes apparent that the issues are not very serious rather, what this proverb says applies well: “making a mountain out of a mow hill”.

And here is where having a strong character helps tremendously. You are able to look above the conflict and see clearly that the conflict is too small a matter to worry about.

You therefore (in the sense of the second description) see Haqiqat for what it is.

Third description of Haqiqat:
So if you carry with you an:
1. Abstract model – which is knowledge of reality
2. A strong character which enables you to see beyond conflicts – to see clearly things as they are;

The better you can do this, the more powerful you get: you are more in control of yourself and are able to use your mental faculties better in more difficult situations.

In a religious context Satan has less control over you, other people have less control over you and you have more control over yourself.

In the sense of the ideal of philosophy and psychology you are a happier person.

In terms of philanthropy you are able to help others because you are now in a position to help yourself.

In terms of our third description of Haqiqat you come closer to it.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Conversation with a friend from Poland

Faraz: is this correct?
Friend-AB: meanings of what?
Friend-AB: linguistics?
Faraz: english philology
Faraz: *philology
Friend-AB: so that must be it ;)
Friend-AB: but it sounds damn complitated ;)
Friend-AB: complicated lol
Faraz: haha
Faraz: but i am very curious AB...
Friend-AB: about what?
Faraz: how does one manage to get doen with their MA in E.P. and not be analytical?
Faraz: b/c i have this notion...
Faraz: that the study of any subject leads you to be analytical
Friend-AB: well I guess you've got to be a very unusual person you know ;)
Faraz: why's that though ? :)
Friend-AB: because I had to be unusual to be in the top of the class and WITHOUT being analytical ;OD
Faraz: that is most amazing AB, most amazing indeed
Friend-AB: hehe ;)
Friend-AB: I know
Faraz: i am obviously missing something from the equation :)
Friend-AB: well you are
Friend-AB: you're missing me as you can't see me
Faraz: it'll take some more time to see you...time and effort are all that are needed to see anything
Faraz: and to solve any equation
Friend-AB: probably
Friend-AB: you sound to be pretty philosophical yourself ;oD
Faraz: well i suppose this must be how the philosophers think then
Faraz: but to be honest this is the only way i know how to think
Faraz: which makes me supremely curious about you :)
Friend-AB: really?
Friend-AB: what do you want to know?
Friend-AB: just ask I might answer ;oD
Faraz: well...hwo you went about your study of the E.P. without analysising the techniques required....
Faraz: b/c without the process of analysiing hwo can one learn?
Friend-AB: yes
Friend-AB: you can do anything you want
Friend-AB: if you really put ur heart to it
Faraz: and by one definition it is teh process of breaking somethign into its parts , understanding the linkages...and so understanding the thing...and thus to be able you use that thing or technique
Faraz: this is how...i would learn even to drive a car
Friend-AB: yes
Friend-AB: lol
Faraz: so what then is it that you are putting your heart to?
Faraz: if not analysis?
Friend-AB: into my friends
Friend-AB: family
Friend-AB: hobbies
Friend-AB: work
Friend-AB: many stuff
Faraz: i do the same....
Faraz: even music, movies....people , you , and everything else that i come across
Faraz: only i analyse it all...
Faraz: try to find the linkages in them all
Faraz: breaking it down till i can see the linkages
Friend-AB: yep
Faraz: this is what i mean by analysising
Faraz: you do the same?
Friend-AB: sometimes
Friend-AB: but I don't think that much
Friend-AB: about things
Friend-AB: I just go with the flow ;)
Faraz: cool....interesting i don't even remember how to do that anymore :)
Faraz: *interestingly
Friend-AB: why?
Faraz: but i suppose i do it just like you analyse
Faraz: me predominantlys spending my time analysing adn you going with the flow
Faraz: *predominantly
Friend-AB: yes
Friend-AB: well I do think at times you know lol
Faraz: well i think to complete myself the kind of a person i need to marry would have to be somebody like you
Faraz: but that is somethign only experience can confirm
Friend-AB: well I do appreciate
Friend-AB: thanks
Faraz: its a pleasure
*Friend-AB smiles
Faraz: *Faraz: feels good....over meeting a cool virtual friend :)
Faraz: i wish i was in school with you btw
Friend-AB: why?
Faraz: i would have gotten to know you better
Friend-AB: ahh
Friend-AB: yeah I guess
Friend-AB: but we're in totally different parts of the world
Faraz: yeah there is that little situation :)
Faraz: well you never know , on one of my trips abroad i might meet somebody like you
Faraz: i'll know where they're coming from (thinking)
Friend-AB: well I hope you will one day
Friend-AB: athough I am not an angel you know
Friend-AB: I have my shady sides ;oD
Faraz: what possible shady side could an enlightened woman like you have...would be worth discovring in itself :)
Friend-AB: I don't know anyone who is perfect
Friend-AB: neither am I
Faraz: well that is true ... but
Faraz: the higher you go up the ladder of enlightnement ....the less shady you keep getting
Faraz: thankgod for that
Friend-AB: we shall see
Friend-AB: once I hit 90 years old ;oD
Faraz: by that time you'd probably be an angel :)

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

One of my efforts to become Lateef

The book I am currently reading “The Zahir” by Paulo Cohelo is teaching me some more of what I have a little idea about. It is adding - of knowledge, some more about Ishq e Haqiqi and Latafat.

Latafat to me as I have described in my earlier post is “being light spirited” in a way that allows you to think freely/creatively/with an open mind.

To pursue latafat I have decided to start another blog called “chasing after wit” and so to develop this “light spirited-ness”.

Writing a blog makes one very focused. You have to rewrite the draft so that it have to think along the pattern of the blog and you are always on the lookout for ideas that can go on the blog. So naturally writing a blog dedicated to wit is the best way I think of developing my wit and to improve to some degree my state of latafat.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Lust for life or Passion for life?

Everybody is teaching you how to be happy in one way or another...that seems to be the lesson most people care about, whether it be Reader's Digest or the religious mystics. The editorial team, the researchers, the scholars, some are happy themselves some are not...

I keep trying to learn rules and principles which will keep me happy; rules that can always be replaced for better ones...another such rule that I think will help in my journey to ITHACA to fight the Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,the angry Poseidonis (click on here to read about my post on ITHACA), this, a lesson I have picked up: the realisation that people who want to grow like me can go about it in two ways. These I describe as:
1) a traveller with the lust for life; and
2) a traveller with the passion for life.

These two I have described below:

In the lust for life you push yourself headlong into anything that will make you grow and move up at the high cost of hurting yourself and hurting others. You may hurt yourself in a way you can't completely justify to yourself. The main character in the book Zahir by Paulo Coelho starts off like this. A man who is a rebel and does many things such as fall in love with women while being married because i would assume each love teaches him something new/is another high. Another set of examples is that of people in the corporate world who stand on somebody else to move up - using politics negatively, to grow.

In the passion for life you keep pushing yourself to grow, keep pushing yourself as far as you can but this growth requires that you negate yourself. You still feel pain, but this pain you can "completely justify" to yourself and you therefore don't feel the hurt despite the pain. You grow stronger, wakeup more empowered the next day, the next moment. And in all this you definitely don't hurt others, you improve them along the way! Ghandi sounds like such a character. An easier example for us to relate to is probably of that student who works hard in his studies - staying up nights when required; a teacher who goes the extra mile to make sure he communicates what he knows to his students; an investigator who follows up on all possible leads until by process of elimination he finds what he is looking for or a citizen who stands up for his rights against many difficult odds.

How many of us are in fact obsessed with this journey? I know many are content. And among those obsessed with the journey how few are those that don't lust after it?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

About a Sufi

While there is no precise definition of a ‘Sufi’ the description of one is of a person who is ‘pure’. By being pure it is meant that the sufi rids from himself his impurities that have been a part of him owing to his being human.

This is a journey to perfection. God has gifted humankind with a very powerful gift: “knowledge” and using this gift you rid yourself of impurities. I have written about this in my post: “Why Ego is bad” and also in my post: “How to achieve the ultimate goal”.

While on this journey your “shaoor” (urdu) improves, i.e. you come closer to enlightenment. By this I mean you understand reality better and you come closer to the “ultimate reality”.

The Quran it is said is a book of wisdom – a book that has said many things in parables. And by wisdom is meant “truth of the ultimate reality”. Wisdom it is because knowledge is derived from it. All knowledge is derived from wisdom which I have already described. And this knowledge is the key to becoming ‘pure’ or closer to the ultimate reality i.e. closer to God.

A sufi while on his journey tries to develop “Ishq e Haqiqi”. I will give you a better description of this then that I have given in my earlier post: Ishq e Haqiqi has two components (breaking it down linguistically): “Ishq” and “Haqiqat”.

Ishq is the highest point that you have felt with somebody or something. For example the highest point that you have felt with your mother is Ishq. The highest point you have felt with a friend, or even with God that is Ishq. Laila and Majnu/ Romeo and Juliet, the highest point of their love was Ishq.

Haqiqi comes from Haqiqat which means reality and it is one of the most radical concepts in Islam.

And so Ishq e Haqiqi is “Ishq of haqiqat” and that is what a sufi develops as he uses knowledge to free himself of the troubles in his everyday life, by working on himself and improving himself, thus empowering himself.

By doing this he also experiences freedom. A very good quote about freedom by Daniel J. Boorstin is: “Freedom means the opportunity to be what we never thought we would be.”

Now so people say that to get to Ishq e Haqiqi (the superior kind of love) you have to have Ishq e Mijazi (which you would have with your partner for example). They say this figuratively but the point they want to communicate is very important: You have to be “Lateef” in order to develop Ishq e Haqiqi.

“Lateef” , the best description I have for this is: “being light spirited”. A person with the “soul of a woman” is lateef. That’s why I think women generally are more Lateef, although they can be very crass too if they don’t have the security that comes from knowledge.

And to me “latafat” is the spirit of/one of the sources within man of knowledge. If you are lateef you will be able to think freely!

An excellent poem by CONSTANTINE CAVAFY (1863–1933) translated by Rae Dalven tells us about this journey:


When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon—do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your heart does not set them up before you.

Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would never have set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

How love works

In an excellent lecture on the MIT Open course ware site I learnt about how love works. This helped remove some of the misconceptions I had and explains the process in an intuitively appealing manner.

Lesson 1: There is no psychopathalogical method to fall in love

By a psychopathalogical method I mean: we do not fall in love because we are mad as is commonly proposed in literature and by poets such as (it would appear) Ghalib. There is an infatuation which is possible along those lines but love cannot derive solely from this experience. The reason why is answered in the last lesson.

Lesson 2: People don’t fall in love because of a certain ‘chemistry’

Indiana Jones is an excellent example of what would be proposed by the proponents of the chemical theory of love. They would say: two people work together and suddenly realize they are in love; it’s the chemistry that is actually at work that brings this about. This is also not true.

Lesson 3: How it works

There is a theory called the social exchange theory. It works on the following three rules:
1)One is attracted to those individuals with whom you have a positive social balance upon interaction.
2)You choose among a wide variety of individuals having positive balance those that give you the “most” positive balance “within” the time/opportunity you have available
3)A relationship is based on reciprocacity.

To elaborate on “positive social balance, upon interaction” would be to say that when one interacts with somebody there are some positives that you get out of the interaction and some negatives. These positives/negatives can be quite complex, but at the end of the day the ‘net balance’ is what counts.

So you meet those people, across any gender and walk of life who give you a positive balance on meeting them. Further with limited time you ‘economize’ and meet those people with whom you have the best time with.

Finally all relationships that are long term have to be reciprocal. So it’s not only person A pursing person B, but for it to work out person B has to want to pursue person A as well.

And on the basis of these three simple rules you make friends, decide who you want to meet and even fall in love.

That said one is always improving and getting better. That would mean you can keep making better friends and even up your chances of meeting a better partner.

So suppose you want to find a very good potential partner, what do you have to do to get that person to love you?

The answer is that if that person really is better then he/she will fall in love with you and you with her. What you would have to do is to ‘improve yourself' in all dimensions, whether that be in terms of financial security, social skills, social influence, charisma, self-control, physical health, or a number of other factors. So you work on yourself and you get the target.

This reminds me of a few beautiful rules explained by the movie revolver that I have written about earlier:
1)The smarter the opponent;
2)The smarter the game;
3)The smarter you get.

In fact Ghalib has also talked about this when he criticizes ‘Farhad’. Farhad fell in love with a Persian princesses ‘Shireen’ and to win her love he went forth to dig a stream of water through the mountains. Ghalib says to Farhad: “Love is not won by hitting your head against a stone”! But by working on yourself.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

How to achieve the ultimate goal

The measure of value of a person is directly proportional to the measure in which he holds the following qualities:
1.Pre-disposition to think critically
3.Self control

With these qualities every man can achieve his goal weather he be a philosopher, businessman, Sufi or even a school going student.

Critical thinking has the following components:
1.Rules of logic
2.Socratic Method: adoption and comfort level with it – the heart of critical thinking
3.Values: accepting every idea after putting it through an: “intellectual due process”, however difficult that may be either socially or against one’s preferences
4.An upside-down worldview: awareness that many things in the real world work differently from how they first appear

It develops by acquiring knowledge of science and thus understanding the body of knowledge experimentally proved by scientists ,whether this be natural sciences or the social sciences. It also requires lateral thinking in order re-pattern, previously held beliefs and notions about how the world works, and align it with how it really works.

The method required is that of “deep thinking through asking questions i.e. the Socratic Method”.

A beautiful way to develop self-control: an "abstract" exercise is given by the following pillars of Islam:
1. Praying five times a day with regularity and conviction
2. Fasting in the month of Ramzan for a period of approximatly 30 days
3. Hajj pilgrimage
4. Giving of Zakat, which is money given to the deserving out of one's earnings

Note that the reason lust is bad is because it requires one's emotional capital and time and takes away from one his "self-control". Ego, melodrama and a number of other things are bad for the same reason.

With the above three qualities present one can achieve any goal and so one must try to develop these three qualities.

The ultimate goal as i understand it is happiness.

While improving these qualities the freedom one is gifted with is beautifully captured by the following shair of Amjad Siraj:

Bohot din aseeree mein bhee reh liya mein
Hua chahta hoon bass ab khud sae bahar

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Why Ego is bad

I met a person some time back to whom I had gone to advice regarding a career in a bank, he worked in a bank and was about to join the CSS service – the bureaucracy in Pakistan. In the conversation I had with him he mentioned I should take advice from my parents in the matter to which I told him that such an effort would be pointless because banking was an alien domain for my parents.

In the course of events I said that he wasn’t getting it and that we should move on. On his persistence I finally told him: “what the hell is the issue here…my parents won’t be able to help!”.

At this he said: “You don’t know what I can do to you, you should not talk that way to me.” In an intellectual explanation of his statement: his rationale, he said: “You don’t know how much ego I have, you can’t even imagine. It is much more than you can ever have”.

Now that statement caught me and I thought to myself: “how in the hell can ego be a good thing. It is the one thing I have always known is bad, strange guy indeed!”

A couple of years later I heard of a book, one that is so common that some of the people you know will have heard of it too. The name of the book is: “Fountainhead” and the motto of it is: “Man’s ego is the fountainhead of human progress”.

Now this was a bigger shocker. Not only was that guy thinking on these lines but a very large part of the reading human world since 1943 –when the book was published – has been reading it. In fact on further reflection I realized that I was thinking on these lines as well, when for example in school in the spirit of competition I wanted to come first and the reason was simply that it was Me we were talking about. How could I not come first?

Now there is a counter argument that many religions including Islam produce. This is of “understanding reality as it is” and doing this by doing things like praying and fasting and other exercises that help you negate yourself with the goal being of bringing yourself in control.

How polar these two ideas are and what I present below is the conclusion in favour of the latter:

Ego while having utility in that it helps motivate a person also in the process “burns” him and is actually not necessary at all and is as unnecessary as melodrama is in our everyday lives. We don’t need that melodrama and we don’t need the ego all that we need to do is to think things through and execute them.

A very powerful example given in the Quran is of God giving two big lessons to man kind at the creation of human kind:
Lesson 1: Adam was the supreme of all creation because of his “knowledge”
Lesson 2: The devil was made the most inferior of all creation because of his “ego”

Knowledge is not dependent on ego but you might be dependent on it if you do not use knowledge to free yourself.

Is he liyae "unparh" log har waqt phadae mein par-ae rehtae hein because un kae liyae har cheez anaa ka masla ban jatee hae.

And herein is the shair of Iqbal when he said: “khud he ko kar buland itna kae har taqdeer sae pehlae khuda tujh sae khud poochae kae teree raza kya hae”. The boland that he was talking about is through knowledge and control of the will not through ego and the fuelling of it.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Lessons on happiness

According to an essay I read a happy life comes from two things: tranquility and excitement. In a happy person the two have to be balanced. If for example you have spent time in repose at the end of it you would like to do something exciting. At the same time somebody who is excited all the time would be suffering from what the essay said is the ‘excitement disease’ such that the tranquility that would follow the excitement and as enjoyable as the excitement would be avoided by that person.

Now having addressed the feeling of happiness or the mode of it, the question is ‘what’ brings happiness? And the answer is that pleasure brings happiness.

I would like to elaborate a little on pleasure.

When there are two experiences both of which bring pleasure, how do we judge which of the two is qualitatively better than the other? Answer: If everybody who has experienced both pleasures chooses always the first over the other then the first is better than the other.

And herein is the mighty idea that I would like to share: a higher mental faculty is more pleasurable then a bodily one or even from a lower mental faculty. As a simple demonstration of this is the fact that no human would like to be an animal, no one would rather have the pleasure that an animal would have than the pleasure one has owing to being human. Also a person who has wisdom, such as Socrates would not like to be a fool. So while the fool might be indifferent the man with a higher faculty would not simply because he is aware of both the options.

Having shown that a higher mental faculty is more pleasurable why doesn’t everybody indulge in it? There are two reasons to this. One is: the person may have not reached and thus has not realized this higher faculty. Two: circumstance does not permit him and it is thus not in his ability to enjoy it anymore.

How does one reach the higher mental faculty though? The answer lies here: a person who has gone through a good education and has absorbed from it as a sponge absorbs water, not only the knowledge but also an awareness of the kind of knowledge one can learn, will always want to learn more.

The conclusion: To be happy one should attempt to unlock a higher mental faculty and that state once reached is most pleasurable.

Monday, August 11, 2008

What of our murderers?

“In Cold Blood” is a 1966 book by American author Truman Capote. A movie was made on it in Hollywood called ‘Capote’. (What I write of this is based on what I have seen from the movie)

Truman Capote became the most famous author in America when he wrote this book. While he had completed many works before this novel, this was his last work. This book took a massive toll on Capote who died later because of alcoholism. He wrote an epigraph in his last uncompleted work: “More tears are shed on answered prayers then on unanswered ones”. (He said this, about his experience writing “In cold blood”)

“In cold blood” was about two people who had murdered a family in Kansas.

When Capote went to Kansas after the news to write an article about it he was taken in by one of the murderers: Perry Smith, and so he decided to write a book on the event. He says in the movie: “when I think how good this book is going to be I can hardly breathe”.

He said: “There are two elements in society, the conservative and the criminals that are the underbelly, the evil men. On that night those two converged”.

Capote could deeply relate to Perry who also had a very tough childhood, was poor, and had gone to that house that night not to murder but to steal money. He said of Perry: “Its like we were both born in the same house, I went out the front door and he went out the back door”.

What I realized after I saw this, what made the whole of America focus on this book and honor the author for it, was that the author had managed to show to the people that there was a story behind Perry. He related that story and the pain and grief that it eventually caused to society.

I say: What of our people? What of our society? What of the people in Pakistan? Crimes have gone up and for a number of complicating factors our people live in a lot of stress, some live in hell. The kind of lives many live here, the level of poverty is the misfortune of thousands of people.

There is a story behind each crime that takes place in Karachi, many are not insane. What is it? Who is writing it?

How can we fall in love and not end up like Dracula

I have written a post about Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Read it here. The point I mentioned there was that while lust is always destructive, love is also capable of being destructive. In fact Dracula was a victim of this destruction when he lost his beloved. He damned himself and hurt countless other people because he was not capable of handling his loss.

While this is fiction, a parallel of this can be found in the real world as well. People who grieve after their loss or are compelled to do bad because of the one’s they love while the one's they love are still alive.

So the question then is: “Isn’t love possible in its purest form, in a form in which it is not capable of being destructive?”

And the answer to that question is that such a love is possible. Sufis call it (in urdu) “Ishq e Haqiqi” which I think translates into “real love”.

Now as an example when a mother loves her child, she loves him because it is “her” child. In a certain sense she may be called selfish in this.

On the other hand God loves people and among men Gandhi loved his people. Gandhi out of his love for the people gave immense sacrifices for them. While he was a lawyer by profession he chose to fight for the people of India giving up his worldly comforts. As one example he chose to wear only the simplest clothes that he stitched himself. He often went on a hunger strike for a number of days to symbollicaly convey to the people who loved him how serious he was about his protest. Gandhi is known today for his method of 'peaceful protest' and his highly respected in India and the world over. He chose to live simply, like the (poor) people, and spent a life time fighting for them.

Such a love is also possible.

Now the difference between a mother who may only love her child and Gandhi is I think “enlightenment” or what in urdu is “Shaoor”.

So the more you make sense of the world and adopt values that enable you to understand good and be good the more you evolve and the more you understand what the Sufis call “Ishq e Haqiqi”.

If a mother is able to do that then the love she has for her child is going to be part of the “Ishq e Haqiqi” that she has and she will love others too with the due that they have.

So if a person learns this and then falls into a romantic relationship with a woman he will love her passionately and not be consumed by it.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The world is flat by Thomas L. Friedman

I learnt in a course I took that the traditional manner of managing an organization through a rigid “command and control” structure is something companies cannot afford to do now. Now companies need to allow their “knowledge workers” or employees who have knowledge to come forward and create value for the company, in fact to encourage them to come forward. To do this you need to create an environment through which they can do this.

I just heard a video lecture on MIT World by Thomas L. Friedman who wrote the book “The world is flat” and the point he makes is that the world is now so flat that individuals across the globe are empowered. People in a certain country are importing machines from South Korea, hiring others from their local Arabic school and exporting their merchandise labeled in Arabic to Kuwait. Another very common example of empowerment at the individual level is when anybody with access to the internet and programming skills can go online bid for making a software and get the money for it. Another example is a blog: if I want to find out how people feel about the war in Iraq I can go find their blogs and read them.

An important point the author makes is that this move from vertical silos of countries and companies interoperating with each other to people interoperating with each other, a move from vertical to horizontal has taken place on the basis of a platform. This is the “flat world platform”.

The author has mentioned 10 flatners in his book and three of them in his lecture.

Here they are:

1) The PC enabled people to author their own content in digital form. This could be articles, music, images, in short anything that you can make with a PC.
2) The Netscape browser…leading to the dotcom boom…leading to massive, unplanned fiber optic cabling worldwide, thus connecting the entire world through the internet.
3) Alphabet soup: http, html, xml, tcp/ip, etc. A whole range of protocols that connected people’s software’s with each other. The author refers to this as the “workflow revolution” i.e. connecting peoples work flows.

An important phenomenon this “flat world platform” led to is “offshoring”. Another important phenomenon it led to is “uploading” (not downloading).

Uploading was the process of people uploading whatever content they wanted online. Examples include: Open source software, university education (eg. Lectures at MIT that are now online), blogging, Wikipedia (an online encyclopedia that is often updated as often as yesterday and about topics that are most recent), YouTube (a place where people can post their videos).

An important rule of the flat world that the author makes is: “Golden rule of business: Whatever can be done will be done”.

If you come up with an idea and you don’t materialize it somebody else will.

The point the author thus makes is that in this hypercompetitive enviornment you are actually competing with your own imagination.

At the individual level the author notes people who can connect two specializations example: enginnering and MBA, or caligraphy and computers (The author said that the font face that came in the mac and was very innovative was because of a person who had taken a calligraphy course at his university and was inspired by it).

The point i'd like to make here in line with my posts about decompartmentalization is: "the level at which you can decompartmentalize is based on how far you can stretch your imagination"

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Evolution of the growth process

There are only two ways you can reason:
1) Through deduction
2) Through induction

Anybody who reasons or who learns from his environment does so by reasoning in the above two ways.

Now the more you reason the more you’ll know, so if you give yourself a lot of work to do example by putting yourself in a tough company or in a good university you’ll have a lot to think about and to learn from. Somebody who does this ‘grows’ very fast.

The above method is one of the ways people grow, i.e. exposing themselves to work and learning from it.

To grow however one does not need to confine himself to his work. He can meet experienced people and talk to them, read Ghalib and try to make some sense of it, listen carefully at the lyrics of music that he listens to, and pick something up from a movie that he watches. If he gets an opportunity to read an article from a magazine he adds that to whatever else he knows. In other words he uses everything around him as an input to the induction and deduction process and uses it to build his body of knowledge.

(Another treatment of this argument can be found in my post: decompartmentalization)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

On initiative, passion and man's ego

Some time ago I asked the question: “Is initiative the key to growth?” I think that if you put a stick in the river it will get to the end of the river. If you put yourself in any situation such as a job, you will grow because you will be carried forward or made to grow by your environment. At the same time if you take control of the process, i.e. take “initiative” you will grow faster, better, stronger than you would otherwise.

If you are interested in a particular domain lets say football you will take the initiative time and again to learn about it while enjoying your hobby of following football.

So one’s interest and a much stronger word: one’s passion helps one take initiative.

What drives one’s passion?

According to a behavioral model by Freud the mind is divided into a horizontal cross-section and vertical cross-section. The horizontal cross section is as follows:
1) Subconscious mind: those things you cannot make sense of, but you do. For example one’s preference for the color grey.
2) Preconscious mind: those things that can come to your awareness easily or with some difficulty. Example: Why you think person X is the right person to marry.
3) Conscious mind: Those things that are available to you without any effort. Eg: I like person X because he has done some thing good Y.

A vertical cross section is:
1) Id: It works on the pleasure principle. You want to do something because it gives you utility in the form of giving you pleasure. Children act on this all the time when they insist that they want chocolate, water, that they want to sleep, etc. Eros and Aggression come from this area of the mind.
2) Super-ego: This works on the idealistic principle. You want to do something because it pertains to an ideal. An example for some is doing banking only through Islamic banking.
3) Ego: (Not “anna” -urdu): This works on the realistic principle. Helps you reconcile the Id and Super-ego with the real world. You see a beggar and want to give him money but can not do so because you need money to take the bus home.

So coming back to the question: what drives one’s passion?
I think the answer is: the id or the super-ego.

What if a person is not passionate about something and still has to get the job done? What does he do?
The answer is that you jump in the field and “just do it” even if you are going to do it poorly. For example I have always found it difficult to say my prayers because I have felt that for one to pray five times a day you have to not only be very disciplined but you also have to say your prayers with utmost concentration as if you were meditating. Today it was made clear to me that to go ahead and say your prayers even if you have a thousand thoughts about the most meaningless things going in your head is better than to not pray. The reason being that you intend to talk to God, dedicate that time for HIM and this intention alone makes it worth something.

On a last note:
From your school days till today you must have heard the following phrases: “you should excel” or that “I want to out compete others” or “win a game of chess/cricket/football”, “be the first in class”, “become the CEO”. If these phrases are familiar to you did you ever think what they point towards?

I think it is this: “Because I am number 1 and innately AM better than anybody I want to out compete.”

According to Ayn Rand: “Man’s ego is the fountainhead of human progress”. (This is a different use of the word ego than that used by Freud.)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Of War, Love and Marketing

War, Love and Marketing is how I have summarized the concept that I will elaborate shortly. Ghalib has done the same through a shair.


TAGAFUL comes from GAFLAT and GAFIL and it means ’to ignore’. So the shair goes on to say that

I know you will not ignore me and my presence but before you ever find out how much I love you I will have turned to dust.

Now a marketer faces the same problem when he wants to market his product to his customers. He has something to sell and the customers might not really know how good the product is. There is value in it for both parties. But the marketer doesn’t have the luxury of turning to dust – neither does a serious romantic I would think. So what does a marketer do?

A marketer has to launch his product in the midst of other big players and if he does so in a half baked way he won’t survive.

It is very much like a war for the marketer.

When Rexona launched their deodorant product earlier in Pakistan it was not successful. A market research they did later revealed that a lot of people don’t use deodorant. In fact among the group of people who use a product for the purpose 80% or so use powder and only about 5% use deodorants.

So they made an add campaign in which a person suggests using the Rexona deodorant to the other. The other says ‘but I bathe why do I need to use the deodorant?’ And the first responds by saying: “you need to use a deodorant nevertheless because you still sweat and that brings in germs so using this deodorant is very important for your hygiene.’

To re-enforce this concept and to target the early adopters of the product-teenagers, the marketers coined a slogan “Cool ya fazool”.

So not only is it like a war but you have to fight this war very strategically. This is also true of communicating your feelings across to the ones you love.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

On Bram Stoker's Dracula

One can be happy and be in love or be sad and be in love. When there are tragedies in love can one end up harming him/her-self? Lust ofcourse has always been destructive but can love also be destructive?

I think Bram Stoker's Dracula was a victim of this destructive form of love. Below a small treatise of the book and its message.

Dracula is an 1897 novel by Irish author Bram Stoker on which a movie was later made called "Bram Stoker's Dracula" in 1992 a horror-romance story.

The book while not having created the vampire myth has singularly had the greatest influence on movies and books on vampires in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Dracula according to the myth is an undead, a mystical creature who could hypnotise people by simply looking at them, vanish into thin air by turning into smoke. He had super human strength and could turn others into vampires by drinking their blood.

Dracula was actually a real person. His real name Vlad the Impaler a person respected in Romania even today for his justice. His title comes from the fact that he used to impale his enemies to the ground and according to some as a symbolic measure drink their blood.

According to the story Vlad went to fight in the crusades and when he returned he found his wife had been damned as a suicide, who had committed suicide because she thought Vlad had died. Enraged by the fact that the religion he had just fought for had damned the person most beloved to him he struck the sword in the cross and became at that moment the undead with the power of darkness.

He spread misery and evil throughout the land until four centuries later when he was put to death in the arms of his beloved.

The movie talks about tragedy in love and shows how love can be destructive.

We see some of this when we hear of people, or see those around us, driven to do something bad as a result of the one's they love (something that would not happen if people were Just and Enlightened).

Love of course can also be very constructive an example of which we see in the saints who are according to a study I read have neural activity similar to those who have had a nervous breakdown, yet this neural activity leads them to be most coherent and stronger and better than others.

The concept of the vampires had great influence on art. It has also lead to the creation of "Vampire Cults" i.e. people who are very passionate about vampires and take it up as a hobby. They form groups that are then cults. Very few of them actually drink blood but as I read some who cross the line even do that.

The earliest mention of Vampires is found in Greek mythology and Hebrew folklore. According to the latter the first wife of Adam took to becoming a vampire when she rejected him.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Three major threats facing Pakistan

These are:
1) Impact of inflation
2) Terrorism
3) Political instability in the country

Impact of inflation
Oil is becoming expensive globally and Pakistan being a non-oil producing country is bearing the brunt of it. Food inflation is also taking place. Prices of good quality rice (not the highest grade) have gone up from Rs.2000/50Kg three months ago to Rs.3000/50Kg a rise of 50%. Prices of wheat have sky rocketed over the last six months – and have stopped rising now. Daal has also become very expensive – channae kee daal has become Rs.80/Kg, but there is good news: Chicken is around Rs.80/Kg as well. In fact Pervaiz Musharraf mentioned in his speech that the poor should now start eating chicken instead of daal.

Many suicide attacks have taken place over the past few years. I would think this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Political Instability
With rising inflation the political situation in the country is not helping. Politicians have all taken to the band wagon insisting that Pervaiz Musharraf should 'resign'. The media too seems to have avowed vengence. Mr. Itezad Ahsan said during the long march yesterday that the protest of the judicary is now not against Musharraf it is against the parliment. The present government before coming to power had leveraged the judicial protest against the President and are now an opponent of the protest. Infact according to some senior party memebers in the PPP there is a split in the party on this issue. All this effort is dragging away the attention of the parliment from the issues of economic recession and inflation, and the problem of terrorism.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

On improving social skills...

To improve your social skills you must continue to ‘decompartmentalize’ (from my previous post) the social interaction process.

People we meet are different from each other, many things influencing each person’s behavioral disposition to others around them, owing to a unique range of environmental experiences and a unique genetic code.

Some people will like you more than others and others will find you boring.

Other than people who have always been charmers, always had charisma, the child prodigies all others I feel have to figure out the charisma.

Their charisma depends on how well they relate to the world around them, ie to how well they have decompartmentalized the real world.

To improve your social skills and to begin decompartmentalizing you need to do two things:
1) You need to invest in being yourself
2) You need to do at each moment what you feel is right

So for example people very close to you will sometimes offer you polar opinions about the same thing. One must listen to each person’s opinion carefully, decide for himself and do what he feels is best. If you keep doing this you will develop a sense of judgment which is priceless. Ofcourse people are one of the sources to learn from the others include: reading, reflecting, television, movies and even music.

When your sense of judgment develops in breadth and depth you will develop charisma.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

On Elusive Answers

It has happened quite often with me that I seem to be on top of a problem, one that seems simple and very ‘familiar’. So familiar in fact that we seem to have the answer at the tip of our tongue but just can’t seem to put our finger on it only to find out later that the simple question that we had asked was actually quite a complex one. I have mentioned two such question I am trying to answer at the end of this post.

But to illustrate this problem i'll give you an example:

I always thought as a kid: organizations are simple, people get together decide on what work to do, make great teams together and get the work done.

My MBA has given me a broader perspective. In order to make organizations run a few other things you need to do are:

1) Come up with the money
2) Research and design the right product
3) Decide who they are going to sell it to
4) How much they are going to sell it for such that with the price that is set the company makes the most money while not scaring away the customers
5) Reach out and tell those people about the product
6) Decide the best cost effective channel they can find to reach as many of their customers as they can
7) Keep pace with their target customer to make sure if his requirements for the product change you can get them the new product before other people can
8) Come up with some way to address customer queries
9) Find out if the product and the company is complying with all the laws
10) Make sure that you always have the raw materials you need to make the products and you have them in time
11) Make sure you hire the right people
12) Give them challenging work so they enjoy their jobs while contributing to the company
13) Reward the right person for the job well done at the right time

To give you a broader perspective there has been over a century’s research into these topics and many more. A few of the areas of study related to running businesses are: Human Resource Management, Finance, Marketing, Strategic Management, Business Research, Corporate Law, Information Systems for Management and Accounting among others.

In fact I am sure that if we take any other domain say Psychology for example, such a subject would give us very interesting answers too, to many of the ‘familiar’ questions that elude us and that we think we know such as "what should we do to stay happy?"

Two questions I am working on these days are:
1) How can I improve my social interaction with people?
2) How can I make the most of my job?