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The world is our classroom; Every human, our teacher !

Who do you learn from? Do you have criteria for someone to be your teacher? Do you have clauses that you will consider someone a teacher only if you feel they are more qualified than you in some way? I thought like that once upon a time. I thought the teacher has to be all perfect and really know what they are talking, should be humble, polite and all that. Only then would I consider them my teacher.

However, when I finally met my Guru, he dispelled all my myths. I realised that if we are nit picky about our teachers we’ll perhaps get to learn something. But we might not be able to see the value in the vast majority of people around us who definitely have something to offer. And if we are open to learning from anyone, the world is our classroom, every human, our teacher and our learning possibilities, limitless!

If we explore this thought a bit more, we realize that we unconsciously learn a lot more from trying or difficult experiences  than a formal teaching. Every time we come across a person being difficult, we learn how to navigate our way with them. We learn patience. Every time we come across a situation where there is no one to help, we begin to help ourselves. We learn being self reliant. Even if a teacher taught a concept wrong, if we seek to understand that better, we learn that concept in depth. When someone doesn’t teach well, we understand what not to do while teaching. When a business goes wrong we learn what to do and what not to do the next time. When someone doesn’t treat us right, we feel hurt and realize how important it is to treat people right. We learn to lead by example. The examples are a dime a dozen. We will find greater value in every person we meet when we drop our criteria to learn. To be a student then, there’s only one criterion – and that is ‘to be willing to learn’. If you can be a student, anyone can be your teacher!

On this teacher’s day, I thank my Guru for enabling me to see a teacher in every person and a learning opportunity in every situation.  I also thank all  the people in my life who have been teaching me something in their own, unique way. Thank you and happy teacher’s day!

The best of teachers and the not so great of experiences, both can be great teachers that we learn from. A teacher doesn’t need to know everything under the sun, for us to learn. Remember, a paper with our answers determines our degree at the end of a course more than all the lessons during the course.

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High Five!

I was sitting with a dear friend of mine at work and we were talking about what makes us happy and how does our work contribute to our happiness. She mentioned that although she had many accolades at work, none of them ever featured in her list of happiest moments of her life. She said that happy moments for her would be a time when she went for a walk in the nature or had a great conversation with someone or when she travelled by herself. Curious, I looked within to see if that was the case with me too. Did my work not contribute to my happiness in my larger scheme of life?I figured that for me I had moments from work, from creativity, from people and extraordinary situations that counted for my happiest moments. It was clear that what truly, deeply mattered to me was creativity, people and a sense of accomplishment and what truly, deeply mattered to my friend was a quiet, peaceful time with herself or someone she loved. This insight was so intriguing that I carried it further with another friend asking him what were his happiest moments. He, true to himself, had a balance of people and accomplishments in his list of five happiest moments so far.

It felt like one of those Eureka moments for me. Although when I spoke about it, it sounded so commonsensical. Nonetheless, I figured I’d like to write about this and explore more. The reason why I thought this is so important is because it very clearly gives me an understanding about what matters the most to a person. And for self too, it gives a perspective on one would or should rather spend their life’s energies on if they are in pursuit of happiness. There’s a theme that we find in these 5 happiest moments. Therein is the key or a guide for our future actions.

Think about your day today? How was it? How many moments count for happy ones today? Could that be a feed for your tomorrow? Else, what would you want to add on a daily basis, that can add up to your happiness factor in a day (could be based on something from your happiest moments in life). It doesn’t have to be that if my day of marriage was the happiest – I’d want to get married everyday! J It could just mean that there is something about the person who I married or about the marriage itself that makes it count for my happiest moment. So how can I add to that factor in my everyday existence is the thought.

Think about your colleague or loved one. If you know their five (or key) happiest moments – you’ll know that as a person they are happiest when they deal with challenges and emerge – or when they are with people – or when they are by themselves doing something or the like. That would give you a clue in terms of how you could engage with them in a way that makes them happy and productive too. We don’t have to necessarily ask. People keep talking about things that make them happy quite often. Are they activity based, people based, situation based, recognition based, place based etc? You can know the criteria for motivation for that particular person. What a powerful way would that be to influence someone positively? We can create experiences that would matter the most to a person. So, I know when my friend comes home the next time, all I need to do is take her for a walk and engage in great conversations as we usually do. 🙂

Helping without rescuing…

What I love the most about being a part of this world is that we each want to be useful to someone and help each other out most often.

However, helping without rescuing – what is this about and why is it important? Imagine this –

Scene 1: A person is drowning – You go and help them and rescue them from drowning.

Scene 2: A person is learning to swim – Here, you help them learn. If you rescue them from learning, the odds are that they may not learn the skill of swimming for themselves.

Drawing a parallel, when an individual is in a crisis, out of love and concern, we may want to not only help but also rescue the individual. This usually may either create a dependency or take away the learning for the individual; or if the individual is not looking for a solution, you could be rescuing them ahead of time. As a result, you could be held to task for rescuing without being asked. So, what do we do then? Just watch? No!

Firstly, it is good to understand where is the person in terms of the problem:

–          Do they see it as a challenge (at times, we might perceive it as a challenge but the person going through may not)

–          If yes, are they looking for a solution? (This is most important. We cannot help someone find something they are not looking for – else they can give you 100’s of reasons as to why any of your suggestions might not work for their problem)

–          If yes, do they want to find the solution ‘on their own’ or are they looking to ‘you’ for some guidance?

–          If they are looking to you, are they looking for moral support, information, listening and empathy or anything else?

If we are able to gauge the individual on the above, we’d be in a better place to play a role that is required for that situation rather than merely offering what we’d like to offer. Offering anything when it is not required loses its value and can also backfire.

Offering your solution to someone is a way of rescuing. Enabling a person to come to their solution is helping.
The trouble with rescuing is that it creates dependency. The advantage with helping is that it leaves the person feeling empowered and confident that they can find their own answers. So how do we do that? How can we help without rescuing?

One of the ways to do that is by asking open ended questions which facilitate a thought process within them. We could gently nudge them towards solution thinking by framing the questions with that kind of focus – For example – how would you like to go about this situation? What do you think might work? What would you want to do differently? What would you like to have happen? and the like.

It is usually observed that people respond well to these kinds of conversations. If you want to pick a needle in a haystack, all you need is a good magnet. Likewise, you can be that magnet by asking neutral, open ended questions (without having a personal agenda) that will facilitate a thought process in the individual. People usually find their own answers when given a positive space and unconditional acceptance. Such revelations are usually liberating because it is their own resource. It may not be as quick as you offering your solution right away, but this is more sustainable in the long run as they find their own solutions and own them too. This way, you are helping them help themselves. You are empowering them!

Why not WHY?

When I was a child, I used to wait for someone to ask me “Why” for anything – As soon as I heard “why”, the mickey in me would jump out and say, “Because the sky is so high”, “Because you don’t know how to multiply” or “Because my grandma is making fish fry” – and so on and so forth of irrelevant rhyming answers. I used to think that was so much fun. (In fact, I still think so) :).  I am sure some of you would have also said it or heard it.

Anyhow, when I started getting into studying more about the human psyche and stuff, I started realizing why ‘WHY’ was not the best way to ask a question sometimes. It also suddenly made sense as to why we had such ridiculous answers only to ‘WHY’ questions back then. 😉

‘Why’ can be like one of those never ending, never satisfying, trick questions. Ask me why? Well, because – the sky is so high. 😛 Kidding! Because sometimes, we can build resistance in the other’s mind with a ‘Why’ question.  One can always follow up a why question with another and another. It may come across as a ‘questioning question’ than a ‘seek to understand’ question. Let’s take a few examples:

–          Why do you do that? V/s  What’s important about doing that for you?

–          Why do you love me? (one can say there’s no answer to that, and still get away with it) V/s     What do you love about me? (But, if you hear someone say there’s no answer to this…then you know….;))

–          Why did that happen? V/s How did that happen? 

–          Why are you happy? V/s What are you happy about?

Ask yourself these questions in the same order and you can see, hear & feel difference. The difference is evident in these cases, isn’t it? We are more likely to get a detailed, open response with questions like ‘what’s important about that to you’ or ‘how is that important to you?’ rather than ‘Why’. It also escapes resistance. That said, ‘Why’ isn’t a forbidden question suddenly. There may be situations where a ‘Why’ might make sense too. However, in certain other situations, there are better ways to ask a question and elicit a deeper response than by asking a ‘Why’ question.

If my Mother asks me to do something, and if I ask her why, she is more likely to say, ‘What do you mean Why?’, ‘because I said so’, ‘because you have to’, ‘because it is common sense’ and the like. Whereas, if I ask her ‘Ma, what’s important about doing that’, she is more likely to tell me truly what is important about doing it. It’s one of those small things in life that makes a key difference. In the next conversation you have, try without the ‘Why’ where not needed, and see the difference.

So, Why only ‘WHY’?

When something else is also worth a try!

Being practical – in theory. :)

Quite an oxymoron there isn’t it! That’s what amused me too. I met a friend and that’s where this began.

We were having a serious conversation about one of those important things in life (you know what I mean ;)). This friend kept asking a lot of questions – ‘what if this…’ and ‘what if that…’After listening to a bunch of ‘what if’s’, I asked him what’s important about all of these what if’s. He replied , ‘it’s all about being practical after all isn’t it? And hence, these questions’. I was clearly amused by this response and immediately said, “That, somehow, seems to be the exact opposite of being practical.” That’s like being practical in theory – or being hypothetically practical.

The possibilities of ‘what if’s’ are almost endless. There can be a ‘what if’ after a ‘what if’ and we may not find a final answer or the right answer. I am not averse to asking the ‘what if’ question. In fact, I think it is good to think ahead at times and think holistic. However, it is also good to be aware if we are being controlled by the questions or if we are controlling the questions. There’s nothing right or wrong. It’s just that we may miss out on living life and being practical in reality because we are so caught up in the theory or philosophy of being practical. Knowing that hypothetical questions can only have hypothetical answers and that, reality may be different – can keep us from getting swept away in a barrage of ‘what if’ analysis. Also, attempting to find answers to all our ‘what if’ questions before we could arrive at our decision may lead to delay in decisions or ineffectiveness in decision making. One of the keys to fast and effective decisions is the ability to deal with a certain amount of ambiguity.

It’s not about having all the answers. It is more about asking the right questions, knowing what’s important and being able to embrace clarity and ambiguity equally. There’s a lot of fun in going with the flow as well. While daring to dream is good, caring to make it a reality is what matters at the end of a day. And what’s important is being able to weed out all things unnecessary and focus on what’s most important. There’s no dearth of information around us. But how much do we actually need to know to do what we want to do in the best way – it’s important to establish that. The reality of practicality is simple. The theory may be more complex. Let’s not think it over and instead, live it up!