Know Thyself

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Let him that would move the world first move himself.

~Socrates

The message of self-discovery is everywhere. It is as if, even without intending to, anything that portrays or promotes “doing the right thing” is ultimately rooted in self-discovery. On the flight home, I saw the movie “Rise of the Guardians“. The movie tells the story of Jack Frost and his quest to discover his true purpose. The plot is that, there is a group of guardians comprised of Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy and Sandman who fight against the evil of the Boogieman. Jack Frost is chosen as the newest guardian and the rest is what the movie is about. This post, however, is about the underlying message that seemed to jump out at me – once you know who you really are, you can see the world differently and gain the power to change it for the good. The post contains spoilers, so, if you want to watch the movie, read it after you have done so.

What rankles Jack Frost most of all is that no one realizes he is there and no one believes in him. Maybe, that is why he gets into mischief everywhere he goes. The problem though, seems to be that, he doesn’t know who he really is. I draw it as a direct parallel to the life of an average person today. See if you can you honestly answer the questions that troubled Jack?

Q. What one thing do you want that, you are willing to spend your life to achieve and then die happy when you do?
Q: If you were to pick one word to describe yourself, what would it be? Is it the same as what other people would say about you?

The kids could see Santa when he appeared before them but, Jack was invisible to them even if he did something to directly influence them. Yet, he didn’t believe in himself. Jack wanted all the kids to believe in him, like they did in Santa and Tooth Fairy. It is like believing that water always flows downhill when you don’t know what water is. Or, like believing that the sky is blue when you don’t know what the sky is. These are the questions you should ask yourself.

Q: What do you believe is your life’s mission/vision statement?
Q: Do you believe that you are living the best life you possibly can?

The Boogieman dangled a clue to Jack’s past as bait, and he walked into it in spite. He got trapped and let down the others who were relying on him. The good side lost a battle because Jack had been tempted by his long lost past. There are always people in life who depend on you for one thing or the other. Sometimes, you can not afford to let them down.

Q: Do you have people in your life that you love and care about?
Q: Does your past have such a strong hold on you that, you have a list of the things you wish you could have done differently?

When Jack was down and out, looking into his past helped him to see the silver lining and overcome his fears. He was looking for the affirmation of the good inside him. He just needed proof that his life was worth it. He became Jack Frost because of who he was not what powers he had. The questions here may or may not be related.

Q: Can you see into your past, ignore the suffering, and look for the moments when you were truly happy?
Q: What fears have you overcome in the past and what gave you the strength to do so?

The moment when a kid started believing was when Jack helped the kid to believe in the Easter Bunny. Jack did it because it was the last bit of faith that the kid had to hang on to. He wanted the kid to be happy. He used the kid’s faith in Easter Bunny to bring joy. He wanted no credit for it, and he got it just because of that. It is a true and clear message. Help others selflessly. Your self worth will be realized only when you are able to give without the expectation of any return.

Q: Does living your life the way you are currently, make any person other than yourself truly happy? Does it make you truly happy?
Q: How does the work that you do benefit the world? Would you help people if your efforts were to be kept anonymous or you weren’t paid for it?

The movie ends with Jack bringing together the other Guardians and the kids to defeat the evil Boogieman. I envision a similar end. All the people coming together for the greater good, building an inter-dependent, collaborative society for the benefit of all. But, just like Jack, this change has to start from within you. And, you can’t begin the process of change until you know who you really are. This is the journey of self discovery. Take your time and answer the questions honestly. The more you know about yourself, the more you will believe in yourself. You will see that the good in you becomes stronger and the bad wilts away. You will be a step closer to know who you really are, and will find your purpose in life.

To help you give self discovery a try, I’ve compiled all the questions together in a form to get you started. Please do share your opinions in the comments. If you find this post/form helpful, I hope you will share it.

Effective Communication for Happiness

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The problem with communication, is the illusion that it has been accomplished

~George Bernard Shaw

“Communication skill” is now an important buzzword. Your resume is incomplete without it. Improving it is the most common feedback employees receive during appraisals. Almost all professional colleges have courses for it. The problem is that, they are treated as most of the things in this world, in terms of measurable output. You may have the capability to deliver flawless presentations; you may improve your language skills to become a better writer; you may work on your non-verbal skills to become a better speaker; you may even get top grades in “communication skill” courses. But, none of that implies that you are an effective communicator. All these skills are part of being able to communicate well, but, the essence of communication is understanding.

Most of the books, courses and seminars focus on the output aspect – public speaking, creative or technical writing, slide design and lay-outing etc. A few even deal with the input aspect – listening. I have been noticing an increasing awareness about listening skills. But, the human element of understanding and empathy in communication is hardly explored. Stephen Covey’s ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ covers it quite well.

I believe that effective communication is a cyclic process. There are four basic steps involved in it. The list is not in order of priority.

  1. Perceive
    You must have active focus on the person/people you are communicating with. Take input from all of your senses. Listen to the spoken word, observe the emotions and reactions, use your sense of smell/taste/touch to discern discomfort in the environment (for e.g., high level of humidity in the room) and, try to exercise your sixth sense (if you believe in such a thing) to get a feel for the mood and surroundings. This act can also be passive, like finding out the interests and expectation of your audience before you address them, researching the person or company you are going to have a meeting with. Store these inputs, just like you download files into your hard disk storage. No processing, just download.
  2. Empathize
    Set aside your ego, opinion and assumptions. Try to see the situation from the other’s point of view. Acknowledge that there can be opinions other than your own. Even if you disagree with them, they are still valid opinions. Now, use the stored inputs from Step 1 to process the information. Try to understand the reason behind the response. This will require an open mind, selfless nature and strength of character on your part. It is very easy to see the world with your coloured glasses. The hard part is taking it off and seeing that others have their own coloured glasses.
  3. Speak to be understood
    Tell the the other person that, you see the world in the colour they do. Present your understanding of their point of view. A hollow “Yes, I see” will not cut it; nor will simple repetition of their words. Explain each step that helped you to understand their point of view. You did the hard work in Step 2, so show it to them. Go back to Step 1 and repeat till you understand and align yourself to their point of view. Now, you say what you have to. Speak, but, with their point of view as reference.
  4. Cooperate
    After all that hard work, when the person in the communication process with you sees, that you have made an effort to understand them, they will be more open to your point of view. They might or might not agree with it, but they will accept it as valid, just as you did with them. This is the objective of effective communication. To have both sides open up to the idea that there are no right or wrong opinions, just different points of view. Now, you can work together for mutual benefit.

Back in school, I used to consider myself an excellent communicator. At an important debate competition, I decided to step it up a notch by asking a question, using some of the most impressive words from my vocabulary. It was the first time I had ever framed a question by writing it down. I didn’t win, and was indignant. I thought I deserved that prize. Later, when I asked the judge he said that, my question was good, but he had seen me write it down. I was inflamed. Everyone else wrote down their question, all the time! The first time I did so, I lost a sure shot prize! It antagonized me for a very long time. Now, I realize that, I lost because I didn’t communicate effectively. I focused on framing the question so much that, I didn’t listen to or try to understand the rest of the debate. The emphasis on using impressive words made the question devoid of meaning – my focus was not on being understood. If I had applied these four steps, I might have won. More importantly, the purpose of the debate would have been accomplished.

The process can be applied, for instance, when you want to take a day off. Try to approach your boss when he is in a relatively good mood. Listen to his reasons for refusal and try to understand why he is reacting in this way. Don’t tell your boss about the significance of your friends’s marriage  Tell him about the extra effort you have put in to complete the current assignment and the overtime you will do after you come back. Then, he may open to hear more about your reason.  Most of the times, you will get the approval for the leave.

The point is, you can put these four steps into practice every time you have an interaction. It doesn’t matter whether it is just bar talk with a stranger or a conflict at home. If your intention is grounded in the principle of authenticity, this method of communication will work. You will find solutions you didn’t believe existed. Your connection with your friends and loved ones will improve. The quality of your interaction with other people has a direct effect on happiness. Approach human interactions with the mindset of effective communication. More fulfilling the social aspect of your being is, happier you will be. To conclude, as Tony Robbins said, “To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.”