My roommate and colleague Shobhit is like my pop up video for India; he adds a layer of information to the things I experience with him that makes me want to tune in.
On Tuesday night in honor of Republic Day, the day India officially adopted their constitution, we watched Gandhi. While I had not seen it, apparently he’s seen this movie a couple dozen times because it plays on TV each of the 3 national holidays, one of which is Gandhi’s birthday. Shobhit grew up in India until he was 15 and moved to Long Island, so is the perfect blend of both countries in terms of cultural awareness. He can add things like “…during the partition [of India and Pakistan], Hindus like my parents had to leave the Pakistan region but those who were Muslim had a choice about whether to leave India…” I had no idea that some estimate that nearly 1 million people died in the religious battles that ensued following Gandhi’s over three decades of preaching non-violence.
While some of the movie was new to me, two prominent themes have emerged for me in more than a handful of places recently, even before I came here. This is very likely because I’m living in the birthplace of Buddhism and carrying around a Moleskine notebook consciously looking for opportunities of enlightenment (yes, I admit it with mild discomfort). Is it just me who is hearing these messages?
- What defines “happiness” doesn’t seem to change across time or culture. Consistently, a sense of purpose, or acting on behalf of something bigger than oneself, seems to be the key to sustained happiness. I’ve heard this in a number of places recently including from Martin Seligman’s TED talk in which he shares that the meaningful life is using one’s strengths in service of something larger. Research shows that volunteers live longer, healthier and more satisfied lives, perhaps explaining why so many celebrities - like Madonna (Raising Malawi) and George Clooney (Not on Our Watch) - turn to social change work. We can also see evidence in the rapid growth of the social enterprise sector and the existence of sites like TakePart, Change.org, Changents, and Social Actions (a culmination of some of these) providing outlets for those seeking to give time or money. Gandi, while arguably not totally “happy” from his accomplishments, is but one example of a life’s pursuit devoted to something outside himself. (This is, of course, not dissimilar to arguments in favor of religion and can be seen in Rick Warren’s success.) I’m curious if others ponder their sense of “greater purpose”?
- To act for a cause and make a real impact, one has to understand the issue, the people impacted and the source (irrespective of whether you can effectively address the source). To paraphrase Nicholas Kristof, to care is to understand, not just oppose, or as an astute blog commenter, Alex Thompson-Bocek put it, “it is ineffective to apply a business solution to social injustices without understanding the root cause.” Gandhi, as I’m sure you know, lived as the people among the people (hence the minimalist garb) after traveling the country to learn as much as he could. Personally, I’ve been pleasantly surprised how much communications with my coworkers is non-verbal, however there are serious limitations to my understanding and making an impact simply because I can’t speak to our primary customers – the vendors that mainly speak Telugu. There are lots of examples of well meaning social change efforts that fail largely because they don’t quite have the whole picture. Which brings me to my Indian business idea #6: an implantable language chip for the brain, or I suppose I could just go everywhere with Shobhit.