I have been having a holiday from writing for the last month and more. I have always written only when I felt the urge from deep within. One of the reasons I stopped writing my regular column was because if felt uncomfortable writing to meet a deadline. Most of my writings have been born out of my own inner reflections. In the last month i have had two unique experiences and I would like to share them in this blog piece.
One of the key lessons that I talk about in my leadership classes and workshops is about the need to take care of ourselves in four dimensions, and one of them is the physical one. We need to ensure that our bodies are fit and ready to exercise leadership and this needs to be done through regular and daily exercising. Whenever I am not traveling, I go to the local gym with Raghavan, a close friend who initiated me into this habit of working out. The gym is also the place where one gets the opportunity to meet and interact with a wide range of people from different backgrounds. One day, as I was furiously trying to shed the many extra pounds that I seem to accumulate with ease, the person exercising on the machine next to me struck a conversation. After the small talk about the gym and the benefits of exercise, he introduced himself to me and wanted to know what I do and where I work. I politely introduced myself as Balasubramaniam and that I worked at V-LEAD, the leadership institute at Mysore. Much to my surprise, he asked me if I knew of one Dr R Balasubramaniam at V-LEAD, whom he claimed to know well. He was a bit red-faced when I mentioned that I was the same person, but he did not seem convinced. He had a simple explanation to offer. He told me that I could not be that person as he had seen Dr Balasubramaniam always wearing a jubba (a loose Indian upper clothing) and here I was wearing a t-shirt!
As I sat thinking about this incident, I wonder how we easily we build and sustain images of others and ourselves in our mind. Over time, we soon start stereotyping them and expect them to behave as we expect them to be. Any variance – physically, emotionally or intellectually – always seems strange and we cannot come to terms with any movement away from the benchmarks that we set for them. The funny part is that we also feel nervous not living the images that others have of us. We seem to be living in this world of images so intensely that we even forget who we truly are. All our spontaneity and creativity gets buried under this pretense of trying to be somebody else. All our life is spent on deceiving ourselves and others and we do not even know about it. Knowing our true self is the only way for us to evolve and grow – not just internally but to function effectively in the outside world too.
Another very different kind of incident happened when I was visiting Bangalore. My brother had come visiting from Canada and we had been to Malleshwaram, the bustling middle-class suburb of Bangalore. I have many fond memories of my childhood days growing up here and things are so different now. Not being able to take the traffic and the jostling crowds, I decided to return home to what I considered was a well-deserved rest after driving around in the streets of Bangalore for most of the day.
As I was approaching the car, I noticed a young woman of around 25 years walking in the middle of the street. She suddenly looked up and asked if she could be helped to reach the nearby bus stand. It was then that I noticed the white cane in her hand. Holding her hand, I gently led her across the street. Politely, I asked her if I could help her on to the sidewalk instead of walking in the middle of the street. Her reply left me sad at the state of affairs today. She told me that she preferred to walk on the street as she found it easier to negotiate them than the uneven sidewalks. She recounted how she had fallen many times on the sidewalk and it was wiser and safer from her point of view to walk on the street. She was humming as we walked along and I found her happy face very fascinatingly different. Engaging her in a conversation, I learnt that she was planning on completing her graduation studies and was confident of doing so in the next few years. As I helped her along, a strange thought hit me. I wondered how she could trust a complete stranger to help her. I asked her about it and her reply left me dumbfounded. She mentioned that at least 3-4 people helped her each day. Her logic was simple. Despite all the evidence and news of women being abused and harassed, she had not come across a single instance when the trust she placed in complete strangers was ever misplaced. She said that she always received trust and goodness from people whom she trusted completely. She could not understand how else it could be. What a wonderful explanation it was for a person like me. We are all brought up not to trust people today. Children are told to be wary of strangers. We have come to believe that the meter in every auto or taxi that we hire will be doctored. We believe that every vendor selling fruits, vegetables or flowers by the street side is out to cheat us. Trust has indeed become such a rare commodity that it was wonderful to hear her simple disposition on the same. What a wonderful world it would be if we could all learn to trust each other and allow ourselves to be trusted. For only when we trust, will people regard us as trustworthy.