The famous writer and philanthropist Sudha Murthy in the ‘Introduction’ of her novel ‘Something happened on the way to heaven’ writes:
‘I was filled with awe as I realised that the books I’ve been able to write are really not about me at all – they are about the people I’ve met, the places I’ve been to and the lives I’ve had the privilege of being part of. I felt blessed – so fortunate to be in a position to help people, even as they found it in their hearts to let me inside their world and share their most private thoughts and problems with me. They’ve given me their stories and I’ve had a chance to be a character in their tales. Sometimes, I’ve been lucky enough to be the lead actor, but at most other times, I’ve been an incidental character or simply unbiased storyteller.’
When I read this I found so much of my thoughts mirrored in what she had to say. Of course, I am not a writer of her calibre or repute. I am a simple blogger but I have come to realise that I too have mostly written about the people I have come across in my life. The problems or triumphs or simple anecdotes from their life really adds colour to my articles. Being connected to people has really enhanced my writings.
Not just in writing, focusing on people around me has helped me be a better person. I have come to realise there are phases in my life. There have been times I have been so bogged down by my own problems that I have withdrawn into a shell and lost touch with my own extended family and friends. During this phase I feel very miserable and I am not able to come out of my melancholy. Its only when I remove the focus from myself and actually focus on others that I am back to my normal self. Delving into our problems brings only more sadness but helping others with their problems or just interacting with them makes our problems go away too. This works for me, maybe because I am an extrovert. And I love to be around people and hate being alone. I feel connecting with others just enriches me as a person and makes me more interesting.
Connecting with others is a sense of being open and available to another person, even as you feel they are open and available to you. Try connecting and it makes life much easier and lighter because we also receive the empathy and love that we give.
I am too busy with daily chores.
These kids keep me so occupied.
I am unable to find time.
There’s so much to do.
These have been some of my reasons which were keeping me from talking to my family members. Talking on phone really has become a great deal for me, especially after kids. Even with my friends, I prefer chatting over phone call. With so many things to do, I seriously couldn’t take out time, which I have been regretting ever since I lost some of my close family members. I kept on thinking to talk to them in free time, but before that could happen, the ‘time’ came and took them away. Its very normal that we often take our loved ones for granted, without realising that life is short and our little gestures can make them happy.
“If you love someone, show it”, said one of my aunts once, which made me realise that we need to show our admiration and respect to our elders in some way or the other. When my mom used to ask me to call someone in the family, I used to feel weird, as I didn’t know what to talk to them. However, I gradually realised that one phone call gives immense happiness to the elders. Just a normal question- ‘how are you’ starts the conversation.
Ever since we moved to a different city from joint family, my mother-in-law makes a video call daily to watch her grandsons. And if she gets late, I ask my kids to video chat with their grandparents. They have now started talking to their little cousin too, by making silly faces and making him laugh over the screen. Because distance shouldn’t keep the feelings apart, this way of communication holds us together.
I am very fond of capturing cute, sometimes silly, moments of my sons, either by taking a picture or making a video. Rather than just restricting these media files to my phone, I have now started sharing to my family members and trust me, they, especially elders, feel so happy to see them. Even if I don’t get time to call them up often, I keep them updated by sending photos and videos regularly. I even send them pictures whenever I cook something special. It’s a delight for my family members, who have known me since childhood, to know the varied food that I can cook now, as I hardly entered the kitchen before my marriage!
Family is a prized possession and nothing is better than being with your loved ones and spend time with each other. So, even if you don’t stay with them, utilise the technology optimally to be ‘together’.
A lone sojourner on his way from one city to the other was brutally attacked by hooligans. They beat him up mercilessly, looted his valuables and left him by the roadside to breathe his last. It was a scarcely treaded stretch of road and not many people passed that way. In a while, a priest came along that way. He saw the injured man. Not wanting to get himself into any mess, he took a detour and went the other way. The maimed man continued to battle for his life. In some more time, there came by another traveller who belonged to a respectable class in the society. He too saw the man and changed tracks. After yet some more time, another man who was not held with much regard in that part of the country, passed by. He saw the injured man and stopped on his tracks. He rushed towards him, bandaged his wounds, administered first aid, took him to the nearest inn and stayed with him the whole day to take care of him. The next day, he gave some money to the innkeeper urging him to take care of the injured man and that he would bear all the extra expenses on his way back from the errand for which he had to leave.
The third man in the above parable who helped the injured man has been nicknamed as the Good Samaritan (‘Good’ because of his good act, and ‘Samaritan’ because he hailed from a place called Samaria). And thus, the expression ‘Good Samaritan’ finds its way into common parlance in the English language.
How we all wish for the helping hand of a Good Samaritan in times of need! How we all yearn during rough patches that somebody would stop on his/her tracks to attend to us! Even if you are a very independent person, there would’ve been hours where you would’ve silently longed for assistance.
Being ‘people-centric’ comes with spontaneity to many, but not to most. Why don’t we focus on people more than what we do for ourselves? What holds us back?
- Individual personality traits – Altruism doesn’t come naturally to all. Some are simply less altruistic and so paying attention to the needs of others is not a dish on their menu. However, altruism is an attribute which if cultivated results in a lot of good to society. Then there are some who are timid, shy and docile to intervene in the lives of people around them. There are others who are too self-centered to shift their attention from ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘myself’ to ‘them’ and ‘others’. Certain others are apathetic – they just fail to perceive the needs of others and make any sense of them.
- Bystander phenomenon – How many times have you passed by a scene of accident telling yourself that some others would step in to help the victim? This is called the bystander phenomenon in psychological terms and is present in most of us. We stand by and watch events unfold without stepping in to make a constructive difference, by convincing ourselves that there sure would be someone else who would offer assistance to the needy person. Most of us refrain from philanthropy for this very same reason, harbouring the notion that others are contributing towards that end.
- To avoid getting into trouble – The Whistle Blowers Protection Act, 2014 aims to provide protection to those who expose wrongdoing in government offices (in India). With such an Act in place, may people would have come forward to help the government machinery to function better. Sadly, this doesn’t happen! Rather, those who open their mouths find themselves embroiled in endless controversies causing them and their families untold miseries. People who help roadside accident victims, or the victims of mob violence or communal riots or eye-witnesses who volunteer to testify in courts of law end up being harassed and surrounded by endless controversies. Moreover, most people do not wish to get entangled with the seemingly unending and cumbersome legal procedures. The first person who offered assistance to the victims in the infamous Nirbhaya case and willingly volunteered to testify in the court of law has lost his private job because he had to make numerous appearances in the court leading to long periods of absence from work. So it is not simply a lack of will or motivation to help that prevents some from being people-centric, but the price that they end coughing up that makes them decide to keep away from the mess.
- ‘I am not affected’ – Many people turn away from helping others because they are not affected. ‘As long as I and my family are not affected, I need not bother’ is the latent thought process of many people. There are a few personal life experiences which open our minds to shed age-old notions and dogmas and be more helping towards certain sections of people. Some people whose houses get submerged under flood waters or shattered by earthquake are quicker to empathize towards similar others on later occasions. But till they go through a personal experience, they do not bother to budge.
- Mental schemas and societal stereotypes – In the parable mentioned in the beginning of this article, may be the priest who hesitated to help the injured man was afraid of defiling himself with blood or with a dead body in case of death of the man (there were strong rules of purity and defilement among the priestly clan in that culture). Taking an example from the caste system in Indian society (which is still quite vivid in rural India, though it is dissipating in most urban settings), people belonging to upper castes do not give access to water to those belonging to lower castes even in the scorching summer conditions. Though the Constitution makers incorporated Article 17 to abolish the practice of untouchability, it continues to raise its ugly head in various forms. Caste barriers, racial prejudices, religious and ethnic discrimination accompanied by the fear of excommunication stop people from focussing on certain others.
Most of us would find ourselves in one or more of the above mentioned categories (or even in some others) as to why we are less focussed on others. For some, it may even be simply a busy life schedule with hardly any time for self, leave alone for others. No matter what be the causal factors, all of us would definitely agree that we are not always ready to attend to people at all times. Mothers would agree that it causes them immense discomfort when guests pop in just the evening before their children’s exam. With all traits of efficient hospitability, it still becomes a grave dilemma to choose guests over helping the children with their lessons.
While ‘choice’ would continue to be a deciding factor, there are two golden principles that arch over all.
- Do unto others as you would have others do unto you – You expect others to attend to you in times of need, do your bit to attend to theirs when they need you. Identify the needs of at least those in your immediate periphery and reach out to them. Remember, needs of people are not always material, physical or external. Also, those in need may not always call out for help (just as you don’t, on many occasions). Just put yourself in each ones position in your immediate circle of loved ones and have a grip over some area in which they would desire you.
- Value others above yourselves – The moment you value someone above yourself, that person becomes the focus of your attention. And, you would definitely not shift your focus from those others who fall within the range of your radar. The Bible teaches – “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
Let’s start small. No matter what be the reasons – personal, societal or systemic that prevent us from focussing on people around us and their interests, it is wise to make a conscious attempt to turn the floodlights outwards and then gradually increase their intensity for greater coverage.
Over the years, things in my life changed, even though I was dwelling in my own problems I always found an escape by dealing with other’s problems and understanding them.
It always came to me that, the more I indulge myself in solving others problems, I could find my own way out. It is a human tendency, that when problems arrive, to the individual, they lose the thought process and they become completely blank on what needs to be done. But when they are the other end of the problem they become expert problem solvers.
In my course of life, I have to be the victim, the problem solver or even the problem creator, which actually led me to a problem-centric person rather than I would say people-centered.
I do not know, whether to call it my speciality or a defect, but yes I always had some or other to deal with.
Even amidst the crisis, I have to deal with, I never stepped away from inspiring others or even be the torchlight in the darkness, even though at times I have shied away from it due to the darkness I was engaged in.
Even if I say, I have missed being the “good soul”, I do ensure that a piece of me does something for the people around me. Being an empath, it was quite easy for me to just swim into the pool of other people’s issues and problems they face, in a much more understandable way. I could say, the things I have been brought up around or things like i keep doing like the ones mentioned below, helped me to be what I am today.
Hence these were my shell-breaking things, which made me much stronger and focused on people around me.
Sharing is Caring
From childhood, we all learn the basics of sharing. We encourage our kids to share when the one near you does not have anything. I recollect as a child, I used to be around people who were financially not so great and the other way round too. Since being a child we do not know where do they come from or what do they do to make a living. all I knew was that, if the person next to me was starving I should be sharing what I have, at least that used to keep me happier.
Ever since then, this was something I never stopped doing. It always came as a positive approach to be friendly with people around me.
A gentle soft gesture doesn’t harm anyone.
Give what you own more, than you need
Since my childhood, my parents taught me to share if I actually had more stuff than I required. Nowadays, if you see, the kids are given or gifted things , that are actually already available in abundance with them, or they do not need them. Even though being a responsible mom (as far as I think), I ensure, they do not waste whatever excessively they receive. I channelize such stuff to the needy. Like if they get lots of color pencils or crayons, which are already available in abundance at home, I ensure, I give to the children, who are not in a position to buy them.
There smile is more than a treasure box for me.
Never treat others as beggars- as they are not begging
Most of the people who come to work in our apartment, earn through hard work. Treating them as individuals and not like beggars are important. Feelings are also important when you consider being people-centered. When you offer something to someone, they should never feel that we are offering them out of their financial state or something else. Make an offer as a gift, a token of love, they feel much more valued for what they are doing.
It is a simple fact, but at times we need to be careful not to hurt their emotions.
We waste a lot, why not be for the good
On numerous occasions we put up parties, there is so much food wastage, and money being wasted unwantedly. What can we do about it?
It was hard to decide upon, as one part of the mind you want the people you love to be happy and pleased, at the same time, the other part wants to do something good for the needy especially when items are wasted. This is when you have to take a serious step.
Big parties, big weddings, etc just please the ones, who already have enough. Why not try giving the ones, who do not have anything, they will value every single piece being offered.
All these were my thought process to keep my focus on other people intact – at least to help them. In spite of all these, I struggle a lot in keeping relations close, or even keep everyone around happy, as my decisions are quite decisive at times. But as I say, the more I tend to be a problem-solver than a problem-centered person, I tend to forget what I am going through.
Being people-centered is always my life goal. Being a mother, I have to be much more selfless and be dedicated to my home. Everyone has a roller coaster ride, fighting their own wars every day, hence it is important that we value each individual be it a small baby or even an elderly person, they all are important like us.
Give a fraction of your second, you get peace for a lifetime.
Getting bogged down by life’s problems and situations and remaining inattentive towards the people around us is not a new thing for us. I won’t shy away to confess that I was too bogged down with my own problems last year and was finding it very difficult to think out of the box, trying to get out of the mess with many silly attempts.
I see a very self-centered and self-submerged ME, when I looked back into 2019, trying to introspect about myself. It is not at all a great state or condition for a human to stay within his or her shell after being created to have a multi-dimensional relationships with the people around him or her and with the God, Almighty.
Eventually, I lost skills in many things. I became monotonous. My messages and encouragements didn’t have much sparks as I usually have. My motivations seem ordinary and were not well conveyed ones. My decisions were not very concrete and shaky. I struggled with my time and deadlines. I failed to keep in touch with my own relatives and friends. Even I struggled to write meaningful articles and manage Candles Online.
In Cuttack, during my last vacation when I was reflecting on everything that I went through the year, I found where I went wrong.
I DWELT IN THE MESS!
Dwelling in the mess or negative situations around us instead of getting over it becomes a problem when we don’t handle it wisely and that tend to make us depressed, sad…letting us be blind towards the people around us and their needs.
We will come back to this part later… Let me divert your focus to something else…
Have a look at this image below:
This is how we were created by God – to have relationship with our fellow human beings as well as with our creator God.
I find it funny when some try to live all by themselves. I know, there are some who were the victims in the hands of situations and life. That’s a different matter. I have seen such people who keep a better connection with their fellow human beings than those who are crowded by people around them, strangely!
The best way to connect with the people and understand their needs is to get out of our shell first and the best way to get out of our shell is to focus on the needs of others. These two actions are interlinked and have to be carried out together.
I have experienced a fact about my mind. When I look into the problems of others I tend to forget my own for a moment. And the more, I make a habit of looking into the problems of people around me, the more it becomes a habit of thinking about others than dwelling in my own mess.
If I have to list out a few ways how I can be a help for others then I would list what I really do and want to do more often considering my physical limitations:
- I do pray but I will pray more strategically by listing down the names of people and their needs.
- I will ping people more often instead of expecting them to ping me first. Who knows, someone might need a warm ping from me desperately.
- I will visit people more often those who need a little company, especially old people. They are the most neglected and most loneliest people on this globe.
- I will try to listen more than talk. That way I might be helping more people. 🙂
- I will be more funny and humorous to bring that smile which people crave to display on their faces.
There are many other things that I really want to do though I am still unable to fulfill them in my life. I can only list them when I really make them happen in my life. And I pray to let it happen by His grace so that I don’t dwell in my mess but walk out of it.
I will tell you one thing, all these actions can be easily and genuinely executed only when we are well connected vertically – human to God. This is the base, if you are forgetting it. And it is tried and tested, if you think I am just blabbering weird theories in front of you.
Friends! The Bible says, “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” This is a fresh year. We still are in a very festive and celebration mood, let’s try out and give it kick-start and divert our minds from our own selves to the people who are in desperate need of our care and support.
The knowledge we gather becomes the barrier between us and our Creator. It is only a childlike simple heart can accept anything and everything. When we are childlike, it becomes easier for us to accept and acknowledge God but when we keep a complicated and complex mind then we struggle to accept Him and suffer ultimately.
Don’t we run to Him when we are in trouble? Don’t we scream and cry out to Him when we suffer? Don’t we jump around here and there seeking some divine help when we are sick? Then why is it so difficult for us to accept Him in our day to day life, when we are happy and kicking?
I have heard from even my own family members that, “Let’s be practical“, when I ask them to pray, wait and seek His guidance. I give my example even… Yet, they get stuck to their practicality leaving a God, who is also the creator of this, what we call – ‘A Practical Life‘.
Friends! Be assured, “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
Don’t hesitate to acknowledge His presence in your life today…