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Wake up XXXXV - Choices can be terrible!

Life is all about choices they say. Some choices lead to glory while some to destruction.

There are a couple of interesting scenes in Homer's Iliad (an ancient Greek poem that was the basis for the movie Troy); in one, Achilles (the hero) warns his charioteer to return back once the opposition has retreated and not to attempt conquering the city of Troy on his own. But in the midst of battle, buoyed by his victorious encounters, the charioteer attempts to conquer Troy and as a result loses his life.

In another scene the leader of the opposition army, Hector, flees from facing Achilles in one-on-one battle (since Achilles was mightier than him). Suddenly Hector's comrade appears beside him and says that both of them will face Achilles together. Heartened and confident that his friend was by his side Hector stops fleeing and faces Achilles. Just as the fight is about to begin, the friend disappears (it never was his friend in the first place – it was someone in disguise who wanted Hector to be defeated by Achilles) and Achilles slays Hector.

In one choice the person didn't believe and in the other the person believed – but both led to death! And choices in life many a times are just as tough, though they might not lead to death. We face choices everywhere – multiple choice answers, selecting a college, selecting a company for career, selecting a business partner and even in selecting a life partner. And the more choices we have the more befuddled we are and many a times we wish we never had to make a choice because once we select an option we end up regretting it later (and wonder 'what if I had taken the other path?')!

The only place where I feel you won't regret is in the stock market – yes, the place where people make their lives and where they unfortunately lose their lives. You might rue today that you didn't make a quick buck last week but don't worry – there is a good likelihood that you will find a similar opportunity again in the future!

"Life is a sum of all choices" – Albert Campus (French novelist)

Wake up XXXXVI - It is all about trust

We have trust in banks and so we place our money witth banks rather than keeping cash under our mattress. The banks have trust when they lend money and they also have trust that not all of us will want to take out our money on the same day. That is how banks make their living - they lend our money to make more money and the entire financial system is based on trust. We trust that Rs. 100 note has some value which can be used to buy things. You might have seen the statement on currency notes, "I promise to pay the bearer a sum of ...." guaranteed by the central government.

In ancient times, the currency coins were actually made using metals like gold and silver - so in that case no one needed to provide an assurance saying that your coin is worth so much. Then came currency notes which were backed by gold. This was the gold system but the system was done away with after the second world war. The gold system failed because at one point all currencies were pegged to the US dollar and there was assurance that every dollar is backed by gold which the US government was supposed to have. The flaw in the system is quite evident - gold is a finite element; you can go on printing dollar notes but you can't keep creating gold!

And so today it is all based on trust - there is actually no real backing nowadays in terms of gold or any physical material; it is all trust and inflation eats away at the purchasing power of each Rupee every day. If you look at the fallout of the financial crisis - it is again all about trust - the trust has eroded; even banks are not willing to lend to one another now because they fear they won't get back the money they lend to other banks. With no one lending to the banks, the banks won't lend to businesses that need money to develop and the chain of broken trust runs all through the system.

Now you might understand why banks and governments recently have been assuring the general public that their savings and deposits are safe - if we all pull out our money to keep it under the mattress the entire system will collapse!

Do trust!

Wake up XXXXVII - Share what you know...

I heard about this incident where due to lack of proper information an injured person was moved incorrectly leading to aggravation of the injury and loss of mobility for life. The correct call to be taken in that situation was to phone for an ambulance and let the medics take over. It was sad to hear because the people involved didn't know that back injuries can get severe. A life could have been different if only…

There are few people in school, in college and even in office who actually know a lot but will refuse to teach or help those who are ignorant. Sometimes you classify it as humility; they don't want to boast that they know a lot and sometimes you would think they do so because they want to retain an edge over others; as long as someone else doesn't know what they know, people are going to be dependent on them and when people are dependent on them, they become a critical person and they want to feel important. If they fall in the second category then it is really irritating because even on asking you wouldn't get an answer.

I'm not sure whether medical complications can be prevented but I'm sure that it would at least make a difference in the case of night-outs and exam scores; how many times have you seen someone struggle on a piece of code or break their head understanding a topic when there is someone else nearby who knows the answer. An ideal situation would be one where everyone's knowledge is available on Google. But that probably wouldn't happen though Google might be researching into how to search within the human brain!

So the next time you learn something, do share it with others irrespective of whether it is something simple or something as complex as understanding how a submarine words – you might help prevent a night-out or maybe even save a life. Knowledge is for sharing. Share it and you will gain even more.

Note: I'm not asking you to send those forwards about preventing a heart attack (which is actually incorrect info) to everyone on your list – share what you have learnt or experienced or know is true.

"If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it" – Margaret Fuller

Wake up XXXXVIII - Smile please :-)

One of the most beautiful things in this world is a baby's smile – I don't think many would argue with that. Unfortunately many of us seem to have lost that smile somewhere along the way in the short life that we have lived so far. We probably started losing it in school when we would shy from smiling at our teachers whenever we crossed them in the corridors and then that habit carried on to college as well. And from college we carried the habit into the corporate world as well!

If we are about to walk past a person who we have seen but don't know much about, just when they are within eye contact we would look the other side as if someone had called us even though there is only a dumb wall on that side! I have seen it happen many a times and I wonder how many times I've done exactly the same thing – we somehow seem to have forgotten that baby smile of ours which we used to sport whenever we saw a face. We shy from smiling.

Many people argue that we shouldn't ape Western culture but there was one very nice practice I noticed while in the USA. Strangers who came together at the bus stop would smile and wish each other; and passengers who travelled in a bus would thank the driver, wish him a good day and sport a smile. In our part of the world for most times we would be cursing the bus driver and he would in turn be cursing some other driver on the road! A friend of mine who has been in the US for quite a while, found it very hard when he was in India for a vacation. He had got into the habit of smiling at people but when he did the same here, people eyed him suspiciously!

"Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing" – Mother Teresa

"One who smiles rather than rages is always the stronger" - Japanese proverb

Smile - brighten yours and someone else's day.

Wake up XXXXIX - The ironies of life...

Picture this: There is a beautiful melodious Tamil movie song sung by one of the sweetest voices in the country whose picturization is done with the backdrop of visually challenged musicians and audience. The song has won a lot of awards, including national awards, and many people love it. But guess what; the other day I was talking to the warden of a school for the visually challenged and he remarked that that is one of the songs that the school children do not like. The school orchestra team performs that song for outsiders but they actually dislike it - perhaps it is because that songs brings about a feeling of sympathy among listeners and viewers; and sympathy is something that challenged people generally don't look for - they want to compete as equals.

Another scene: There is this lean guy with spectacles who, on first meeting, will appear like one who is famished because of a lack of interest in food and who seems like one who would sacrifice his lunch for books - you'd think he eats very little, doesn't have an appetite and doesn't enjoy food. Yeah - you guessed it; the guy is just the opposite - his appetite much better that an average person's; he even has two rounds of breakfast with each round being sufficient breakfast easily for one person; and he simply loves food. Rumours say that he has a nuclear reactor running in his tummy - want to have a nuclear deal with him? :-) So the next time you form notions of a person on first encounter, just bear in mind that things may turn out to be the exact opposite of what you had in mind!