SMALL ACTS GO A LONG WAY …

Act of courage need not be something monumental that you did. It also means the small but meaningful acts that we do every day. Like owning up our mistakes and saying sorry, standing up to someone who is bullying you or just saying a firm no.

Recently I came across the story of my colleague’s daughter who is in grade 5 and is being bullied by her so-called best friend in school.

Yes, even I was surprised to hear that. In today’s day of online classes, even when they don’t physically meet, she is able to bully her.

Let’s call her Annie and her friend Rachel. Rachel was a topper in the class and a favourite of her teachers. When Annie joins the same school and becomes her classmate, she becomes direct competition to her. Annie starts bagging the prizes which Rachel used to get. Annie is at the top of her class now.

Rachel is so consumed with jealously. She uses technology as her tool. Whenever Annie replies to any question in the class Rachel writes snide remarks in the chat box. Wonder how her teacher misses it. Then in the evening Rachel has set up a zoom meeting everyday to do homework. The rule of the meeting is that Annie will finish all her homework before that zoom call and share it with her friends in the zoom meeting.

Poor Annie thinks she is doing it for her friend. Her innocent brain does not comprehend that she is being used. Another instance of bullying is that Rachel tells Annie ‘You are an only child because your parents got so fed-up taking care of you that they decided they didn’t want any more children.’ ‘Look at me I have two other siblings to love me.’ With both parents working and she staying with her grand parents for almost the whole day Annie didn’t tell anyone about all this and was on the verge of a breakdown.

Constant messaging on WhatsApp that you are good for nothing. Your mother does all work for you. Really brought Annie’s self-worth down and she really started believing it herself. All along Rachel kept telling her that I am your only friend and no one else wants to be your friend. Friends do get angry with each other but then its OK to be angry.

Annie got so traumatized with the whole thing. On one hand she kept getting critiqued by her ‘Best Friend’ on the other hand she was scared to lose her only friend. Annie got fever and finally she broke down in front of her mom and told her the whole story.

My colleague was so worried about her daughter. Both the parents counseled her a lot. After a few days of explaining and counseling, my friend told me today that finally Annie got the courage to call that girl and tell her that she is blocking her on WhatsApp and she does not want to talk to her anymore whatever the consequences. A formal complain was also lodged with the Principal. Now that is an act of courage! Specially from a 10-year-old girl. She must have gone through a lot of emotional stress. May God give her more strength! She will bounce back I am sure, as children always do.

Standing up for oneself and being able to say no to things we don’t want to do, whatever the circumstances, not letting someone take advantage of you these are our day to day acts of courage.

THE DAY I DIALLED 100, FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER

It was a normal routine trip to the nearby market in Dwarka, Delhi. I was on my Scooterette and was going back home. As soon as I turned on the ignition and accelerated, a bike rapidly came from behind and the guy on it gave a little jolt near me and said something. We both were wearing helmets and so, I could not hear what he actually said, but I actually was shocked and it took me some time to gather myself. It felt as if he tried to scare me or rather teased me. Eve-teasing during those times was very common. With a flick, he raced his bike and sped away. My heartbeat was racing too, in anger. I didn’t know what to do.

In all this commotion, I forgot to look at the number plate of the bike. I was so shaken and angry that I took out my mobile phone and dialled 100. My call was responded to immediately, but due to lack of details, I was told that they won’t be able to help me. I asked if they could let me know if there’s any PCR van nearby. They refused. I guess GPS tracking wasn’t popular then! Anyways, I wanted to teach the guy a lesson, so I decided to chase him. I saw him taking a turn, so I also followed him. But the distance between us was so much that I lost his track. I kept on going further until I realized that won’t be of any help and I was wasting my time.

A moment later, when I returned back home, I thought it was stupid of me for not noticing the number plate of that bike. However, I felt good that I had the courage to follow him! Courage, that was fuelled by anger. From that day, I have started being more observant and now I do glance at the number plates of the vehicles around me.

COURAGE TO LEAVE THE SAFE HAVEN AND BE INDEPENDENT

“Courage is not always a roar. Sometimes, it is just that tiny little voice in your head that says – I can do it and I will try again tomorrow.”

Just today I was listening to the Amazon music station “Best of Bollywood in 2006” and Alexa played songs like – Mitwaa and kya mujhe pyar hai. And I got transported to that year of my life that was one of the major transitions for me.

I passed out of Engineering College in 2006 and was without any campus placement as our small little government college in the middle of the Himalayas had no such opportunities. All of my batchmates were moving to Bangalore to look for a job but my dad didn’t believe in living in PG’s and searching for a job. He wasn’t ready to send me to a city that had none of our relatives who could help me. So, the farthest I could go to was Mumbai at my sister’s place. 

I spent a month in Mumbai only to realize there were no opportunities that could suit me there. And I was also aware that my friends in Bangalore were writing entrances all over Bangalore. I spent hours at the internet café applying for jobs on the job portals. I had no laptop, no internet and a basic Nokia 1100 phone.

Finally, I got an interview call from Bangalore and I jumped at the opportunity. I told my parents and my sis that I have to take this and I went. I stayed with my friends in a PG for 3 days and did everything possible to participate in as many fresher’s job fairs as possible. During those 3 days, I got rejected at least twice in the interviews. I came back to Mumbai to stay for some more time but not a single call in that city came my way. Fortunately for me, I got an interview call from GE which I managed to postpone by a week and arrange for the tickets. This time I was sure that I wasn’t coming back to Mumbai. 

I packed my bags and told my family that I have to do this. I cannot keep travelling between the two cities and it wasn’t helping. That was when my dad decided to support me. He arranged for me to stay in one of CSIR guest houses. While on the train (Udyan Express) that took 24 hours from Mumbai to Bangalore – I was a nervous wreck. I was too anxious and spent most of my time crying and getting panicky. It had been 3-4 months since I was on a job hunt and nothing was working out. I had been rejected a few times already. I had been the topper in my college and I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t making it through. 

The CSIR guest house was an amazing place, a huge room just for me. I stayed in that guest house for 2 days and literally didn’t step out of the room even once because I was busy preparing for the interviews. Manipal Hospital on Old Airport Road was right opposite to the guest house and I just went there twice a day to eat food in the hospital canteen. 3rd day was my interview at GE which went inconclusive. 

After that, the challenge began as I had to find a place to live. I couldn’t stay in the Guest House for longer. None of my friend’s PG had a vacant place, so I just found a Working Women’s Hostel near my friend’s PG. The room had to be shared with 4 other girls and the first day I entered and saw my bed – there was a lizard on the mattress. But I had no choice now. I just drove the lizard away (it was a big deal because at home I wouldn’t sleep in the room that had a lizard) and slept on the mattress. I mostly ate at Shiv Sagar nearby which sold the North Indian meal Rs. 35/- then. It was more than enough for me. 

A few days later GE called me in again and the next round of interviews bore results finally. In those few days, I and my friends would travel all across Bangalore with copies of our resumes, dressed in formal clothes, travelling in local BMTC (non-AC) buses – we always bought the daily pass of Rs. 25/- and continued to hop from one job fair to another. 

Every night the uncertainty was killing. The next day was the same struggle. Even though we were going through a tough time, we found ways to keep ourselves elated. We sang to each other, danced at weird times in the night and did a lot to keep ourselves going. Life was tough, one night we had a theft in the hostel. Some random thief entered our room and took away all the cash and phones. That was the first time in my life that I felt terribly scared and felt like giving up. I didn’t care much about the lost cash and phone but felt worried about my own safety. All the stories of struggling girls getting raped were circling in my head. 

Finally, when the job came my way, it all got settled. I finally left that hostel and moved into a flat with one of my friends and life looked nicer and in control again. 

This is the story of 2006 and sometimes I just wonder – where did I get all that courage from to deal with this struggle? My parents were more than happy to just let me stay at home with them and arrange a groom for me. That would have been a convenient option, but that wasn’t acceptable to me. I craved to earn my own money and earn my independence. I didn’t want to live with family, I wanted to live that struggle because I really needed to know then – How much courage can I really muster? And I did surprise myself. 

IT TAKES COURAGE TO GROW UP AND BECOME WHO YOU REALLY ARE

Courage is a necessity to overcome fears and achieve the desired goal. Fear is something that exists in all of us. There is no hero or any particular courageous figure that is without fear. Being fearless is not required to be courageous, one simply has to look past or overcome their fears. Courage does not mean merely physical bravery, it means, also, the moral strength which enables a man to do the right thing. Physical courage is good and useful, as it helps man to overcome difficulties, bear hardships, and do laborious work, but moral courage is a higher form of courage and is much nobler. A moral coward will not do the right thing, because he is afraid to be ridiculed by others. It is easy to say ‘yes’ to everything, but it requires a very strong mind to say ‘no,’ when one is really convinced that the thing is wrong.

For example, many great reformers would not have achieved the success they achieved if they had yielded to the threats of their opponents who were perhaps even more powerful than themselves.

Sacrificing one’s interests for the sake of others requires great courage. A man who risks his own life to save that of another, who rescues another from fire, or saves a drowning man, defines courage. Someone who stands up for what he firmly believes in when thousands follow the wrong path defines courage.

Someone who puts on a smiling facade while they may be crippling defines courage.

To everyone who fights every day mentally or physically, to everyone who fights every day in this pandemic as a doctor or a survivor, to everyone who pretends to be stronger than ever were, YOU are courage.

We start demonstrating courage since childhood itself but the form of courage gets deeper and more intense as we grow up. The situations and circumstances that we face in life also define how courageous one needs to be.

One courageous act that I have done is putting my foot down in the matter of career that I wanted to make. I will tell you a little story about it.

I was pursuing chartered accountancy and had set goals for myself. Unfortunately, I couldn’t clear the 2nd level of the exam in 3 attempts. Then I made up my mind to go for MBA. My mom was strictly against it…! According to her, it didn’t make sense to give up on efforts made for 4 years (3 yrs for the 2nd level and 1 yr for the first level). She was right in a way. Chartered accountancy is a tough exam to clear and it is common to take those number of attempts. But the hidden fear that she had was “log kya kahenge”… she thought our friends and relatives and acquaintances may call me a failure. The result was that she strongly opposed my decision of giving up on chartered accountancy.

However, my mind was clear and I knew what I had to do. I managed to convince her to believe in me. I explained to her why I wanted to make that shift. I told her that I wanted to get married at a decent age, earn x amount by that time and I was in no way going to meet these goals if I continued with my chartered accountancy stint. It wasn’t easy to convince her. There were arguments, emotional blackmailing and tears on both sides but I stayed put. Not sure where I gathered that courage from but I did. It’s never easy to go against your parents, especially if you want them to be with you on your journey.

By God’s grace, everything worked as per my plan. I was able to achieve both goals. Later in life, I was proposed to consider an alternative job versus my corporate job so that I don’t have much tension in life and I could give more time to the household. Someone has rightly said history repeats. But this time it demanded even more courage because it was not my mother but my mother in law against whom I had to put my foot down. Eventually, it worked. But I can’t tell you how much courage a newlywed needs to establish her dreams, aspirations and personal or career goals in a set of new family members. For me, that was the courage I showed, because I had a lot to achieve yet had a limitation on my behaviour and the methods I would use to explain, convince or persuade for that matter because once it was my mom and the second time it was my mother in law. There is always a line that you cannot cross when you are standing against adults.

Like I said above, we all show courage in different forms and magnitude right since we are born but some incidents leave a mark on your heart. What’s your memory of courage?


HONEST LAPSES OF COURAGE DEMAND HONEST CONFESSIONS

The courage to be fully honest – tough one!

Much of what we do or refrain from doing is determined by the consequences involved. Having the courage to be fully honest comes in either of the two circumstances – when the consequence is so much your sole objective that you don’t mind the costs of being honest or when you don’t bother about the consequences at all.

In the year 2012, I got sick with dengue while my stay in Delhi. It had just been a couple of months since I had started working there along with pursuing other academic interests. Colleagues were worried since I didn’t have my family near me to take care of the sudden fluctuations in platelet counts. I was advised to have someone from home come over to be with me. “Platelet counts dip suddenly and people die. Don’t take the risk”, I was repeatedly told. However, I did not have the courage to break the news to my family members that I was sick. The daily phone conversations went pretty normal with me telling them that I was well and good. Why did I lack the courage to be honest with my family members regarding my health? I didn’t want them to be anxious for me from over the miles! “Families are meant to be anxious for their loved ones”, I was told. Eventually, I shared the piece of information with them after I got a little better with the assurance that I was completely out of danger.

There was a similar repeat of the above episode when I got infected with COVID-19 last year. My family members kept thinking for a week that I was probably getting too tired from work and hence was sounding exhausted, till I shared with them about having tested positive for COVID. Yet another instance of lacking the courage to be fully honest!

I would neither recommend anyone to do as I have done (since it involves immense risk to one’s life accompanied by the deep anxiety and regret of loved ones lest anything untoward happens), nor would I attempt to justify my lack of courage in being fully honest in the above situations. Rather, I would agree with the fact that there are instances in each of our lives in which we fail to muster the courage to be honest.

Does that make us cowards?

No. It simply defines us as having lacked courage to be honest in such and such situations.

Does that make us liars?

Yes. Anything other than the truth is a lie. There are no colours to lies!

Should there be a phase of owning up?

Definitely yes!

Yet another instance . . .

A granduncle of mine, grandaunt and their son were hospitalised in three different hospitals with COVID around two months back. Grandaunt passed away after a brief battle. With the granduncle and his son still in hospital requiring immense post-COVID care, the news of their loss hasn’t been shared with them yet. A lack of courage to be fully honest fearing the consequences! The news would be shared once they recover and reach back home. Till then, they would continue to think that she is alive.

I wouldn’t outrightly put such and other similar instances into a box with the label ‘lack of courage to be fully honest’. Rather, I would include situations such as these as ‘wisdom in decision-making to manage circumstances and get the best out of them for good’.

However, these do not in any way incorporate deliberate dishonesty or suppression of facts with malafide intentions.  

Honest confessions after sincere lapses of courage are must dos! Yes, God knows the heart. But, He hates deceptions!

HONESTLY, HONESTY CAN TAKE A BACK SEAT, SOMETIMES

Honestly speaking, when I decided on the title for my article, before reading other articles, I didn’t realize that it will be similar to what my fellow writer Prabhjot wrote. Yes, honesty is the best policy, but not always.

A couple of days back, my little son was studying online about the five senses. His teacher drew the picture on her board and my son was copying her. Trust me, his drawings were hilarious and the nose he drew was nowhere near to the actual nose. My elder son reprimanded him, “What have you made? Is it supposed to be like this?” Obviously, my younger one started crying and I had to intervene.

“You should not have said like that to your younger brother” I said.

“But Mumma, look at his drawings.”

“Wow Abir, you made these?” I asked my younger one.

“Mumma, what’s wow in this?” My elder son asked in dismay. “Why are you lying?”

“I am not lying.” I replied. “These are good because this is his first attempt in making these. He drew them all by himself. Besides, no one is a born artist. We practice and get better. You also used to make such drawings and now look at you, you are doing great.”

My elder son immediately understood that some things aren’t to be said bluntly. He said, “Ok Abir, let’s try to make this nose more beautiful.”

It’s good to be honest, but some things, which we know might hurt the feelings of others, can be twisted a bit and told in a better way.

When it comes to a food preparation, my husband is always honest. If a dish tastes delicious, he will go on relishing it and will be full of praises. But, if its not, then he will tell 5-6 times that the preparation was awful. Obviously, I get angry, to which he says, “I can’t give false praises.” To which, I tell him, “No one asks for a false praise, but saying just once that ‘something went wrong with the preparation this time’, is a better way to say that you didn’t like the food.

Being honest is a good virtue and it should be followed but, on certain times, this virtue can take a back seat.

TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT

Is being honest difficult?

Ask that question to anyone who appeared in the court of law to be a witness or were fighting a case. (If we lie under oath, that is considered misleading the court and is a punishable offense.)

Ask that question to a kid who ate the ice- cream stored in the refrigerator without seeking permission.

Ask that question to someone who cheated at work or cheated on their partner.

The answer really depends, mostly on two things. One, Is being honest the right thing to do in this situation? Second, Is the person who I am going to talk to can take it? But, there is one more question we always consider before being honest. That is, Am I ready to take the consequences of being honest. If we think we are not ready, we resort to not being honest. Most people choose dishonesty for themselves more than others. This is my take. Whenever I feel someone is not being honest, the very first doubt that comes to my mind is, what is the fear that is binding them?

Few months ago I organized a virtual team event. One of the activities in the event was – “My friend at work”. Everyone in the team were to talk about a friend at work, what qualities in that friend they like the most and what is that one quality in that friend they would want to cultivate/learn as well. There were around 15 people in the call that day and 5 of them took my name as a good friend. All of them expressed the quality they wish they could learn is my ability to say whatever I feel is right, no matter who I am talking to. “The facts are x and y. Whether we like it or not there is nothing we can do about those facts than accepting them. This is what is doable and this is the impact.. When you say it Aastha, you are assertive asking them to take it or leave it. You are completely honest irrespective of how it might make all of us feel. Showing the mirror is not something everyone can do and you do it with ease. That honesty is not what we get to see often. It is rear and you really deliver the truth well. It is not easy to learn, but I would love to be that courageous“, said one of my very good friend.  After that discussion, I kept wondering if the team was trying to tell me that it hurts them. I started to be watchful about my communications.

Few days later to this, we were discussing some concept for our product which would make users life simple. From a user perspective it made complete sense to me. But, technically there is no such technology that is readily available. We spent few days dwelling all over the internet scouting for some answers. My concerns turned out to be true.  We weighed the pros and cons. The cons out numbered the pros by a large amount. Yet, there are some moments when data is not enough to convince the higher management. There are many who fear that being in good books is more important than being honest. Cannot blame them.

There is a regular meeting in which all core members of the team including business leadership meet once a week. This particular user ask came for discussion. By then, we have presented this in various forums hoping someone would understand why we cannot do it. There are specific standards that cannot be met with existing technology. My inner self could not bear wasting any more time on a feature that we know is practically impossible to build using the existing technology. We don’t have the luxury to do some research given our tight schedule. I was the youngest – both in age and rank in that meeting, yet I could not resist saying it out loud that we are wasting precious time hunting for the two birds in the bush, while letting go of the one we have in hand. I exactly used that phrase. The rest of what I said in the meeting is confidential. Two days later to this meeting, that particular feature was called off, which literally changed the direction in which the program was heading. A sigh of relief it was for me, yet, I was concerned if I overstepped. After this announcement, few people from leadership appreciated me for the candid feedback and being brutally honest, including the leader who made this proposal in the first place and strongly believed having that feature is extremely important. I scheduled a 1-1 with that leader seeking feedback. He explained it to me beautifully about how I was not thinking about likeability and solely my interest was in the products’ future. That conversation erased a lot of my worries.

I am definitely a take or leave it kind of person. It is so in both professional and personal life. Does that hurt others? Yes, in some instances. Does it help me? Of course.

I prefer to be honest with my articles as well and if someone asks me to write what I don’t really believe in, no matter how much I try I cannot write such article. Does honesty have repercussions? Oh yes. Honest trees are cut first. Yet, it is only better to be honest sooner or later. It is extremely difficult to explain dishonest choices than to face the aftermath of being honest. It takes lot of courage to be honest. 

“When you give yourself permission to communicate what matters to you in every situation you will have peace despite rejection or disapproval. Putting a voice to your soul helps you to let go of the negative energy of fear and regret.”
― Shannon L. Alder