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Wake up 89 - Catch the signs

If we observe closely we can see a lot of signs in people - signs that might help indicate the state of the person’s mind. They aren't obvious; sadness inside that is concealed by forced joy on the outside; pain that is buried in silence; worry within that is hidden by constant non-stop chattering; panic covered by attempts at humour. We tend to catch it easily when we see this subtle change in behaviour in someone who is personally close. But sometimes you can even sense it in a stranger - maybe it’s the sixth sense; that little whisper inside that says 'something is wrong' and many a times that whisper is right.

I’ve seen a boy who, even years after the incident, wonders whether he could have averted a tragedy if he had listened to that whisper. He got to know another student for a few days and felt that he should get closer with him; something didn’t seem right in the boy’s behaviour. He and his friends waited to catch up with this silent boy on the weekend but unfortunately the boy committed suicide before the weekend arrived. He wonders if he could have changed the script if he had made his move earlier; if he had got to know him earlier. People say it was fate and his time was up but the boy wonders that maybe it might not have ended as a suicide.

You can even sense the subtle signs in office - among your colleagues and juniors; it could be signs of quitting, signs of mental disturbance, signs of discontentment; signs that might increase the chances of a mistake being committed in the course of work. If only we would pay more attention to the subtle signs; if only we would try to be more observant, maybe we could influence another life.

And as we start yet another new year, look around for the signs; there are plenty out there!

"You see, but you do not observe" - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes)

Wake up 88 - Customer is King

There were a couple of contrasting scenarios I came across recently.

Scene 1: A family dining in a very famous restaurant. One person orders for coffee after everyone has finished dinner. The waiter brings the bill and the coffee and tells the family to move to another table. The reason is that there is a bigger group waiting outside who can be accommodated only in this table. The family is visibly upset because the waiter didn’t even ask; he almost ordered them to the other table. I’m quite sure that that family is never going to dine in that restaurant ever again; they aren’t going to care that it was a famous brand!

Scene 2: A jewellery shop where each customer who enters is guided to the appropriate section where another salesman takes over the job of ensuring that the customer has a good experience. They offer tea and coffee and never seem hurried to rush through a customer. And when a person steps inside and doesn’t buy anything, they get feedback from the customer on why they didn’t buy anything!

"Treat your customer, as you want to be treated as a customer." Catherine Pulsifer

We can learn a lot about handling customers from both scenarios but I was wondering about our day to day office work. A lot of us might never face the customer directly, but interact with some other group which in turn interacts with the end customer. But in a way, whoever we work for is our customer. Just think over it - if you were to send a report that wasn’t formatted, that didn’t have the headings highlighted do you think 'your' customer is going to be happy; would they be keen on giving you more interesting work; would they give a good feedback for your appraisal?

Wake up 87 - "No point of doing this"

I wonder if we tend to keep looking for the big things in life and forget the small things. Oh ya, you might believe in the saying that, "The small joys in life should be cherished - the flowers, the trees, children etc." Forget the joys part of it; when it comes to doing work do we really cherish doing the smaller tasks?

Do we really take the effort to be careful and meticulous about the small things we do in life? A student might worry a lot about exams and placements, but does the student worry over a minor assignment? Does the student take the effort to do the ground work for the assignment? I guess most of us don’t because we would say, "Ah, this assignment doesn’t matter; I’m not going to get any marks for it; I don’t have time to do this. I’ll just copy from somewhere and make up something for submission."

But the little things do matter - just as in joy they matter, they also matter in the work you do. The little code you deliver, the little bit of testing you do, the little design you create, the simple dish you cook, everything matters. Many a times the little things get ignored but sometimes they do make a difference; the little things help build an impression over time. A teacher might be impressed by a student who puts in effort to research an assignment. A team leader might be impressed by the team member who ensures completeness in the little tasks. And finally it comes to the question, "If you don’t do the little tasks well, how could someone expect you to do the bigger tasks properly?"

Just put yourself in the other person’s shoes and think over it. If a doctor doesn’t show interest in stitching an injury properly, how could the doctor perform a surgery? Would you trust the doctor?

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." - Aristotle Only when what we have is taken away do we realize its value.

Wake up 86 - Uh, why this day?

There are these times when you feel absolutely hopeless and miserable - it seems like everything is against you; work seems a place of horror, your colleagues might seem hostile to you, on the personal front you might be distraught over some other problem, none of your friends might be willing to even lend a ear; everything is bleak and dark and in the morning you wonder, "Uh, another day I have to go through all of this. I wish I never had to see this day." It happens to most of us at some point of time and for some of us it happens too often.

There is this college student who pulls me on to chat every night online through Skype. He wakes early in the morning at 5:30, reads the news online, writes emails to friends, searches for opportunities for studying abroad and then spends his day in college. He has even introduced me to a few interesting things online. He proudly says, "I can operate the computer on my own without any help." No big deal you might say; the boy is in Hyderabad with total blindness. Pretty bleak isn’t it? - waking up everyday in a world of darkness.

At a time when we have movies shot across many locales, I saw this movie which was shot almost entirely in one single room - 12 people put together in a small room, to decide the fate of an accused man - the jury sit down to debate the verdict. When the movie starts, it would seem a totally hopeless and lost cause for one side and yet amidst all that bleakness there would be hope. If you haven’t watched it then do check out "12 Angry Men"; it’s black and white but still a colourful movie in content. We have plenty of these communication skills classes but I think this movie would be better in than many of those lectures!

As I wind up chatting with the boy, I remember that I’ve written about him in an earlier edition in a different context. And now I write about him again because he amazes me each time. I hope he realizes his dream of a foreign education soon. Keep the light of hope burning.

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars" - Oscar Wilde

Wake up 85 - Ignorance is bliss

I heard a cardiologist remark about the new ElectroCardioGram (ECG) machines. "The new machines not only give the graph but they also interpret it. And this extra information is now read by patients and they get worried about it". ECGs are generally just a plain graph which cannot be decoded by a person without medical knowledge. With the machine now interpreting data, it is a little frightening for patients - imagine seeing a reading which claims you have 'escape beats', 'paroxysmal tachycardia' etc.! It turns out that some of these might be okay depending on past medical history but for a person reading it, it does appear frightening to see that the heart skipped a beat :-)

Being ignorant of something means being ignorant of the dangers involved and thus makes you seem fearless. As time goes by and we gain knowledge, we start muddling around with things in our mind, we think over "what if this went wrong", we develop fears that wouldn’t have occurred if we were still a child and on the whole we lose the joy within as the shroud of ignorance unveils. When we don’t have the knowledge about something, our mind would never linger or worry over that something and thus we will be happy - the current moment will be joyous; living life in the present because of ignorance!

But does it work everywhere, every time? Or is it just as long as the outcome is in your favour? Ignorance of basic first aid could cause you to treat a sprain wrongly, leading to worsening of it. Ignorance of what the stock market is all about could cause you to lose a lot of money - you might be ignorant of the risks and invest large sums fearlessly but if it went in loss, would you still be in bliss? When you see the effect and learn the truth, the bliss is lost.

What if we knew everything - if we knew exactly what is going to happen each day of our lives; what if we knew the date we will die? Would we be blissful? - Even if our death date is a few years away?...Or?... think over it!

I'll sign off, with a dialogue from the movie Matrix:
Cypher: You know, I know this steak doesn't exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize? (bites the steak) Cypher: Ignorance is bliss.