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What Would Help Us, Individually, Do Better?

Dr. Gayatri Saberwal

An older person has a perspective acquired over several decades. From watching the world around me, I have come up with a small list of how Indians – in India – could do better.

1. Overcome an inferiorty complex, if it exists

I think that one of the reasons we grow up with an inferiority complex is the intense competition for scarce positions. Many of you would have read about journalist Megha Rajagopalan, who just received a Pulitzer Prize for reporting on atrocities against the Uigher community in China. She reported on the ‘typical under-stated reaction’ from her father ("Congratulation Megha. Mom just forwarded me.”.), and her comment went viral, with many comments agreeing with her about Asian dads, in particular, who never praise their children much. The under-lying rationale may go something like this: “Praise will go to her head, and we all know that unless she strives endlessly, she will never succeed.” So, if a student has not gotten into an IIT or a medical college, he or she may acquire an inferiority complex that never goes away. The student may be hugely talented in some way, and yet may be saddled with this inferiority complex. The system has no way to address this widespread problem, and as a consequence, much talent is unrealized. Be aware of it. Try to overcome it.

2. Opportunity to identify and develop interests

Many will recall the divers who rescued the Thai boys who were stuck in a cave when flooding hit it. Some of those expert cave divers came from the UK, where this was their hobby. They were known around the world for skills they had developed as a hobby. We almost never hear of such a phenomenon in India.

Many educationists have commented on the need for a radical change in our educational system, from the early years. If we get more time to tinker, more time to explore interests and there is greater emphasis on asking questions, and then receive positive feedback for such activities, we may develop in a more rounded way. We will learn how to identify interests and nurture them, and that can be a source of great joy, and possibly be of use to the world. If our educational system does not foster this, we need to do it ourselves.

3. Identify role models

I know several prominent scientists who get less than 7 hours of sleep at night on a regular basis. They work almost all the time, though it may not appear so. Prof. Balaram has written an editorial in Current Science, in which he mentions 'writing in the still of the night'. I have heard that another very prominent scientist goes to sleep at 930 pm and wakes up at 430 am, to get some work done 'before the phone starts ringing'. And the Nobel Laureate, Prof. Venki Ramakrishnan, has said that he 'hardly slept for a year' when he did some of the ribosome work. Sometimes we don’t really know what it took for a very successful person to succeed. Hard work, very hard work! Even if good luck was part of it, hard work would definitely have been another. If one wishes to be a very high achiever, one needs to identify more people who are role models. More people whom we encounter in our day-to-day life to see ‘what it takes’.

4. Don’t just think. Do.

Everyone always has lots of good ideas that other people are supposed to implement. It is not enough to come up with good ideas – many people can do that. It is a hierarchical notion, and something we would do well to jettison. Unless one is willing to shed the perception that ‘I think, and others will implement’, I believe we will limit our individual achievements. We need to be willing to roll up our sleeves and get to the task, no matter how trivial it may seem.

5. Have a sense of perspective

Big problems, little problems – we all complain. Some of these are just ‘in the moment’ complaints, soon forgotten. In other situations, complaining is turned into an art form. Elaborate, endless and perhaps exaggerated. I have sometimes thought that instead of complaining so much, if one were to volunteer on a suicide-prevention helpline, one might get a sense of the real problems that people face.

On a concluding note, try to be a happy person. There is an amusing short piece available on the internet, called a ‘Seventeenth Century Nun’s Prayer’, in which a line reads “a sour old person is one of the crowning works of the devil.” If each of us is able to identify and nurture our interests to the extent that we are never bored or jealous, not only will our own happiness increase, but the people around us are also likely to be happier.

Go for it!


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