Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Why am I 'speakophobic'?

I was in a meeting few days back, which was held for new PhD students at EPFL. Roughly, 30 students of my batch were present. Everybody was asked to introduce himself and briefly tell about his motivation for PhD. It was not a big deal. I thought about my introduction and 1-2 sentences of motivaiton. I was feeling confident. But, slowly as the turn was coming closer to me, confidence started decaying at an exponential rate, construction of sentences started in my mind, revising every sentence again and again. Introduction part was easier, but motivation was causing some trouble. When, I was 2 turns away, words ceased to popup in my mind, mind was blocked, heartbeats went up, actually I could hear them clearly and was praying that the girl sitting next to me could not. Finally, I could manage speaking a few lines while fumbling in the pronunciation of some long difficult words. This was not my first experience of this kind of meeting and the situation was not better before either. So, I decided to analyse the situation and look for the possible causes of my horrible experiences like this.

I thought the possible situations when I face this problem. First, I noticed that as soon as I am concerned about being distinct (special) from others by what I am speaking, there is a problem. I become extra conscious by this thought which hinders my thinking process and affects my concentration. Actually, in the case mentioned above, I was not able to think anything else at the last moment just before speaking. Second possible source of problem is the thought that people sitting in front of me are not concerned about what I am speaking. It creates an inferiority complex. This situation normally arises when I am speaking in front of a crowd of my peers or superiors. Another very common problem is the lack of confidence in what I am speaking, i.e., the doubt that what I am speaking makes sense or not. That might be a problem both in speaking in front of a crowd or in a group discussion.

Talking in a group of friends or talking with relatives is generally not a problem. That makes one thing very clear that as long as I am assured about my relationship with other person(s), evrything is fine. Normally, the presenations of your own work also is not very difficult, possibly because the knowledge and confidence in the topic of the discussion does help in improving the situation. Sometimes people feel more comfortable in personal interviews rather than group discussions. It is a bit strange , but I could not figure out exactly the reason behind it. One possible advantage of personal interview, which comes to my mind ,is the surity that one will have a chance to explain himself properly in an interview which is not guranteed in a group discussion.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Freedom: Looking from a different perspective

Freedom is defined as the manifestation of one’s right to act freely according to what he thinks is right. Is this definition complete? What about the result of the action, which I do. Does that not come into the periphery of my freedom? Actually, what this definition tells is just one perspective of freedom. The definition can’t be complete if we don’t take into account the result of my action. According to me, I can call myself free if I am free to act according to what I feel is right and its result is such that everybody is willing to get benefited by it. Natural acceptance of the result of my action to everyone is what I call freedom of result. Freedom of action and result, both comprise my freedom. For example, if I produce a chemical which is earning a lot of profit to me, but polluting the environment, I can’t call it my freedom. On the other hand, if I cultivate a farm, I and everybody else as well, is benefited by it, therefore, it is my freedom. For long, we have seen only one perspective of the freedom, which has been the freedom to act. Due to this freedom of act, we have gathered the destruction material which can destroy the whole earth 23 times, polluted our earth to the extent of global warming; we have reached to a condition, where even the existence of human being is a question mark? All this is result of incomplete understanding of freedom.

Freedom is the most fundamental human right, which is an argument I very frequently hear from the people who are seeking a change in the prevalent system, be it the issue of westernization of culture, materialistic approach to life and many others. I am not talking about right and wrong here and that does not mean that changes are not desired, but they should be seen with full perspective of freedom in mind. Freedom of action as well as the freedom of result both should be taken into account. There is a very thin line between freedom and manmaani, which should be carefully observed.

Freedom is desired in each and every form and aspect of human being´s life. I want freedom to take any decision related to my life. It is a fundamental right; although with its own limits, which are in a way my responsibilities. This limit is often very abstract and ambiguous and its understanding comes with thorough study of my natural acceptance and its realization.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Ballenberg Trip: New Problems, Old solutions

EPFL organized a welcome trip for new doctoral students this weekend (3rd October) to Ballenberg Museum. Ballenberg is a small village at about 120 Kms from Lausanne. The museum was about old Swiss houses, ranging from 17th century to the modern 19th century houses. Thanks to EPFL for organizing a guided tour, otherwise it becomes sometimes pretty boring. I have been to a few museum trips before, but could not enjoy due to this problem. It was a big open air museum. The beauty was that these houses were not some small models of the old houses, they were real houses. They are disassemble piece by piece and then reassemble it again in the same way in the museum to keep it closest to the original. They have collected many such houses, which are going to be destroyed for some new construction. It takes a lot of efforts and investment. But, it is worth, for it gives an idea of the old culture and tradition and ways of living. I noticed some very beautiful facts and information which I am sharing below:

Superstition: Superstitions have been domniating the human life for the time ancient. The examples of that can be found in these housed as well. The people in the olden days used to sleep half seated because they thought that if they lie while sleeping, lightening God may fall on their chest and they will be dead in the morning. Therefore, the length of their beds were really small, almost half of their body height. Many of us might be laughing but still we beleive in many such superstitions.

Festivals: May be they used to enjoy present day festival, like Christmas, but they were not the biggest and most enjoyed ones. One of the biggest festival for them was laundry or washing the cloths. They used to collect their cloths round the year and wash them once in a year. It was not a 1-2 hours job as of now, rather it used to be a long process of 2-3 weeks. This was the time for all the neighbours to get together and the time for the children to have better food compared to rest of the year. So they enjoyed their work as festivals.

Insurance: There was no house insurance or personal insurance in the olden days, as we have in the modern age. It was very difficult to recover from a natural disaster or some accident. But they have other kind of insurances sources. E.g. if somebody's house got destroyed due to fire or some other accident, the people in the neighbouring villages used to come and donate some wood so that he can reconstruct it as soon as possible. Therefore, human relationship was one of the biggest insurance company of that age, which is bankrupted now :).

Technical development: Due to cold weather of the Europe, they used to have indoor kitchens. Chimneys in the kitchen came around 19th century. Due to no outlet of smoke, the house was full of smoke all the time. Therefore, they had lung problems and average life expectancy of that time was around 40-45 years. But, they did not have any complaint for this because life was like that only. There is one more important fact related to chimney construction. When the chimneys came into existence, the problem was the material for constructing it. The guide told that there used to be a special tree which was cut on 31st March after sunset and this wood, cut on this special time, did not burn in the fire. I did not believe it as many of you may not be able to, but it is true.

Tradition: Unlike today's inheritance tradition, the youngest son used to inherit all the property and poor ones had to find a new place for their living. There has always been a difference between old and poor which was clearly visible in their houses as well. While poor used to make their houses of mud using wooden frames to save the wood, the rich houses were fully made of wood and had facilities like toilet, store room etc.

Intelligence: They used to make low height roofs (less than their average height) so that the volume of the room is less, which can save the fuel to keep the room warm. Nothing coming from the farm was wasted. E.g. the animal flesh was used as food. Remaining, bones were dried in open and used as fertilizer in the fields.

If you are interested to have a look of the museum in pictures, you can visit this link.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Right and Wrong

There has always been a debate on the issue of basis for deciding right and wrong. Many times it is said what is right for one person may be wrong for somebody else. Discussion on many prevalent and controversial issues like; modernization, homosexuality, non vegetarian culture of food, notion of development and many such, boils down to the question of right and wrong. One's notion of right and wrong plays a vital role in deciding his goals of life. Therefore, this subject needs a greater attention and insight because it can be a key to answer and resolve many present day issues like mentioned above.

Prevalent social norms, tradition, scriptures, sayings of some great people and legal constitution etc. are observed to be the basis for differentiating between right and wrong mostly in the present scenario. Since every society, religion and country differ in these aspects, it appears that there does not exist an absolute criteria for defining right and wrong; it is relative and dependent on one's situation, perspective of seeing the things etc. It is this conflict in the basis of differentiation between right and wrong which causes many problems in the society and in the whole world in general.

It should be very clear that one always convinces himself that what he is doing is right before doing anything. Even a terrorist who kills innocent people, justifies that killing other people is right for the welfare of his own people (of his religion) or may be some other reason. But everyone has to justify whatever he is doing. Otherwise he can not do it.

In this world of growing terrorism, personal conflicts, global warming, there is a greater need to look into this issue than ever before. We need to look for a possibility of the existence of a basis for deciding right and wrong which might be same for all and can be verified on one's own right irrespective of one's cultural, traditional or social background. It should not be understood that importance of our scriptures, great people or tradition is being undermined by saying this. The only point which is being focused that we need a basis for verifying the things on our own right rather than based on some external source.

I would like to put forward a process to verify a proposal on one's own right whether it is right or wrong . It is a two stage process. First check is to verify whether the proposal is naturally acceptable to me or not. If the proposal is naturally acceptable to me then it goes to the next stage. I live accordingly. We live at two levels: dealing with human being and working with nature. I am using word 'behavior' for whatever dealing we do with a human being and the word 'work' for whatever we do with the rest of the nature. If living according to my natural acceptance results in mutual happiness in behavior with other human beings and mutual prosperity in work with rest of the nature, it passes the second level as well. If a proposal passes both these stages, then only it is right for me, otherwise it is not. If it does not passes both of them, I can say that it is not right, at least for me.

E.g. What is naturally acceptable to me: To nurture or to exploit? Everybody can ask that question to himself and get an answer for his own. If nurturing is naturally acceptable to me, I live accordingly in my behavior as well as in work with rest of the nature. The feeling of nurturing towards a child results in happiness for me as well as for the child. Similarly, if I have a sense of nurturing the nature, it enriches me as well as the nature. Therefore, sense of nurturing is naturally acceptable to me and hence, is right for me.

Sometimes, there might be a confusion that I might be getting the answer from myself regarding my natural acceptance due to my preconditioning or some other social assumption that I have accumulated so far in my life, rather than from my self. That is where, the second check comes into play. If living accordingly results in mutual happiness and mutual prosperity, it experimentally validates my natural acceptance. This point also brings out one important fact that whatever one has accumulated so far from tradition, society or some other source is not always wrong. One just needs to check it on his own right so that one can himself be the authority for his right or wrong. One more thing which needs to be noticed that natural acceptance gives my answers for 'what' and 'why'. How a thing should be done can not be answered by it. We need to experiment and find the ways. Here science and technology plays the role.

The beauty of this method is that I can decide whether a proposal is right or wrong on my own right without relying on any external source. Natural acceptance is the things which already exists in everybody. Whether it is same for everybody or varies, is a subject of investigation for every individual. I feel that it is innate and same for everybody. This feeling gives me the confidence that this can be an absolute basis for differentiating between right and wrong.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Trust: Based on Intention or Competence?

Trust is the fundamental value of any relationship. It is the foundation brick of the building of relationship. Many times we hear, read or are instructed not to trust everybody. It is considered a weakness to trust anybody blindly. It brings us to some basic questions, which we need ask ourselves:

  • What is naturally acceptable to me in any relationship: trust or distrust?
  • Is it always desired or sometimes we want to have a feeling of distrust in a relationship?
  • As soon as I answer the two questions in affirmative, a situation flashes in my mind. Sometimes I know that the person in front of me is telling a lie. Even though he is my relative, how can I trust him? This is very general situation in everyone’s life. Therefore the third question arises that what is the feeling of trust and how can I always fulfill it in a relationship?

Before, I move on to discuss the feeling of trust, once again I put forward two sets of questions:

1a. Do I want to be happy? 1b. Do I make myself always happy?

2a. Do I want to make others happy? 2b. Do I make others always happy?

3a. Does other want to make himself happy? 3b. Does other make himself always happy?

4a. Does other want to make me happy? 4b. Does other make me always happy?

The first set of questions is related to mine as well as others intention. While, the second set belongs to the competence. What is naturally acceptable to me in relationship is my intention. Whether I am able to work according to my natural acceptance or not, is my competence. Everybody’s intention is always to make himself as well as others happy. If I am assured about one’s intention, I have a feeling of trust in relationship with him. But usually situation of doubt arises while answering 4a: ‘Does other want to make me happy?’ Why does this doubt arise? If I am assured about my intention, why do I not have faith in others intention? My subconscious mind is quick enough to answer that it is because I am a good person while everybody else is not. Is it really true or we are doing some mistake while evaluating others intention? In fact, most of the times we evaluate ourselves on the basis of our intention while others on the basis of their competence. Hence, we conclude that I am a good person, everybody else is not.

If I am able to differentiate between intention and competence, I find out that although my intention is to make me as well as others happy, I am not competent enough to always fulfill that. Similar is the case with others also. Once I understand this difference, I am assured about others intention and hence, have a feeling of trust.

Intentions wise everybody is same, but there is a difference in competence. Therefore, the next task is the right evaluation of mine as well as others competence and. Having done that, I can fix my program of action with him. If I am more competent, I take the responsibility to raise his level of competence by drawing his attention towards this and facilitating his understanding process. In case other is more competent, I have a feeling of gratitude towards him.

Lack of this feeling leads to irritation, misbehavior and ultimately, to the separation. On the contrary, feeling of trust leads to responsible behavior.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Excellence Vs. Distinction

The day man takes charge of his senses, he starts dreaming, and having desires at every stage of his life. The quest for realizing those dreams starts. Suddenly, everybody in the peer becomes his competitor. What is this competition for; a race for recognition, a race for distinction? Everybody is trying to come up with an innovative way to be distinct from others, or in other words, to be recognized by others. Somebody is climbing Mount Everest; somebody is trying to write maximum number of words on a grain of rice. I could never figure out the relevance of any of these efforts for the welfare of anybody on this earth or for themselves as well except, a fame or recognition all over the world. Why do we want to be famous or to be recognized?
There is a deep down desire in every body to be related to everybody on this earth. Everybody wants to be known by everybody on this earth. In fact, to be able to recognize this relationship with every human being and to be able to fulfill it is the feeling of Excellence, which everybody wants to achieve. Due to lack of understanding of relationship with human being, the quest for excellence turns into a race for distinction. It leads to innumerable such kind of irrelevant activities.
There are always some winners in a competition, but majority of the competitors are bound to end up on the losing end. This is the design of any competition. Similarly, very few succeed in their lives to achieve a level of distinction and those who cannot, get depressed and lose their level of confidence. In contrast, excellence is a state where everybody can reach through his own efforts. This is a state for which, verybody has the potential. Once, a man realizes the feeling of excellence, others are no more a competitor to him. Rather, he feels his responsibility to help others in achieving that level of excellence.
Let us take one small example. Everybody in a class wants to stand first. Therefore, everybody competes with everybody else in that class for that single position. But, only one can stand on that position. Others are automatically destined to be deprived of their desire to stand first. Therefore, everybody becomes a competitor for everybody else. This is the kind of practice we are indulged in our desire for distinction. On the other hand, if I am striving for excellence, I will prepare my course to the best of my capacity and then help others to achieve that level of knowledge or seek help from others to get benefitted from their knowledge. Therefore, desire for excellence leads to peaceful coexistence, while desire for distinction leads to competition.