Setting an example

We have often been told by our parents, relatives, bosses and numerous others that we have to set an example to others. Younger brothers, team members and children are watching and they’ll take after us. We’ve often told our teams and family members the same – “go set an example, make us proud.”

I got to thinking about this a little today. At first it seemed very self evident – set a standard of excellence and others will be inspired. Be the bar that others in the neighborhood look upto.

But what if you failed? What if you flunked your exams, threw tantrums (that you aren’t proud of – but what the heck?!). What if you were the poorest performer in your group? What indeed if you were the guys that people pointed to in the street and said – “do your homework and respect your elders – or you’ll end up like him?”.  Were we doomed to a life of guilt – after all, no matter what the score there will be as many losers as there are winners?

Everything in life has two tails – none better than the other – could this “example setting” alone be different?

And I had my “aha” moment – “setting an example” is for the benefit of those that follow. For the student who studies an example – who he should be is just as important as who he should not be. He can learn as much from the generous (what he should do) as from the miser (what he should not do). He can learn as much from the policeman (how to correct a wrong) as a thief (why he should not steal from others).

Indeed – there is no difference at all. So irrespective of whether you set an example toward greatness or are the epitome of slackness – the value to those who look to you will be the same. The difference is in what you enjoy, what your loved ones enjoy – the fame, adulation etc. alone.

This seemed such a powerful thought, that I thought some great minds would have already explored this one  – and what better tome to reach for than Kahlil Gibran’s Prophet. To my delight, he seemed to concur with this view. Indeed he states that we are but a microcosm of our society – hence we are equally responsible for the criminal as well. Indeed – he does not operate without our sanction, albeit an unconscious one.

Here’s the prophet talking about this:

Oftentimes have I heard you speak of one who commits a wrong as though he were not one of you, but a stranger unto you and an intruder upon your world.
But I say that even as the holy and the righteous cannot rise beyond the highest which is in each one of you,
So the wicked and the weak cannot fall lower than the lowest which is in you also.
And as a single leaf turns not yellow but with the silent knowledge of the whole tree,
So the wrong-doer cannot do wrong without the hidden will of you all.
Like a procession you walk together towards your god-self.
You are the way and the wayfarers.
And when one of you falls down he falls for those behind him, a caution against the stumbling stone.
Ay, and he falls for those ahead of him, who though faster and surer of foot, yet removed not the stumbling stone.

So, here’s some balm oil for all of you. By all means, try to be the best person you can be – that is your birth right and your duty. But don’t carry guilt about past failures and mis-deeds (yes, don’t do them again for god’s sake!) for they would have served as signposts too for those that are walking the same path. And that’s a comforting feeling isn’t it?

We have often been told by our parents, relatives, bosses and numerous others that we have to set an example to others. Younger brothers, team members and children are watching and they’ll take after us. We’ve often told our teams and family members the same – “go set an example, make us proud.”

I got to thinking about this a little today. At first it seemed very self evident – set a standard of excellence and others will be inspired. Be the bar that others in the neighborhood look upto.

But what if you failed? What if you flunked your exams, threw tantrums (that you aren’t proud of – but what the heck?!). What if you were the poorest performer in your group? What indeed if you were the guys that people pointed to in the street and said – “do your homework and respect your elders – or you’ll end up like him?”.  Were we doomed to a life of guilt – after all, no matter what the score there will be as many losers as there are winners?

Everything in life has two tails – none better than the other – could this “example setting” alone be different?

And I had my “aha” moment – “setting an example” is for the benefit of those that follow. For the student who studies an example – who he should be is just as important as who he should not be. He can learn as much from the generous (what he should do) as from the miser (what he should not do). He can learn as much from the policeman (how to correct a wrong) as a thief (why he should not steal from others).

Indeed – there is no difference at all. So irrespective of whether you set an example toward greatness or are the epitome of slackness – the value to those who look to you will be the same. The difference is in what you enjoy, what your loved ones enjoy – the fame, adulation etc. alone.

This seemed such a powerful thought, that I thought some great minds would have already explored this one  – and what better tome to reach for than Kahlil Gibran’s Prophet. To my delight, he seemed to concur with this view. Indeed he states that we are but a microcosm of our society – hence we are equally responsible for the criminal as well. Indeed – he does not operate without our sanction, albeit an unconscious one.

Here’s the prophet talking about this:

Oftentimes have I heard you speak of one who commits a wrong as though he were not one of you, but a stranger unto you and an intruder upon your world.
But I say that even as the holy and the righteous cannot rise beyond the highest which is in each one of you,
So the wicked and the weak cannot fall lower than the lowest which is in you also.
And as a single leaf turns not yellow but with the silent knowledge of the whole tree,
So the wrong-doer cannot do wrong without the hidden will of you all.
Like a procession you walk together towards your god-self.
You are the way and the wayfarers.

And when one of you falls down he falls for those behind him, a caution against the stumbling stone.
Ay, and he falls for those ahead of him, who though faster and surer of foot, yet removed not the stumbling stone.

So, here’s some balm oil for all of you. By all means, try to be the best person you can be – that is your birth right and your duty. But don’t carry guilt about past failures and mis-deeds (yes, don’t do them again for god’s sake!) for they would have served as signposts too for those that are walking the same path. And that’s a comforting feeling isn’t it?

Happy Independence day India!

Happy Independence day India. And Congo, Korea, and Liechtenstein – all of who celebrate their Independence day today.  And “happy independence celebrations” wishes to every other nation in the world. For independence celebrations not only have an aspect of “independence from something” but an aspect of providing “independence to something” – truly a world that is independent is interdependent – and happily so. We cannot have “independence in a box” – it has to be underpinned by inclusiveness.

Independence from external invaders is what our forefathers fought valiantly for and achieved bequeathing to us a country that has immense resources, culture and a grand people. Thank you – to a generation that lived and died for the concept of freedom – a fruit they earned not for themselves but for all of us. Indeed thank you doesn’t do justice – perhaps a salute is more appropriate. A reassuring “we will take care of India” is something that would bring even more of a smile to our illustrious brethren I’d think?

And we haven’t done too badly – honestly. For while corrupt Politicians, bureaucracy, illiteracy, social ills make headlines – they aren’t  really the only or even major truth. Green villages, the girl child outshining the boy at school, a successful journey to mars, Indian-CEOs leading the technology wave, spiritual leaders taking the message of peace and meditation globally, a bank account for everyone, an army that is the hallmark of grit and innovation to other super-powers, helping our neighbors when they go through calamity, our artists recognized as some of the finest in the world – these are things to be proud of – and shared. There’s no doubt India has its doubts and its challenges, but in spite of that she is walking a journey that is making the world a better place. It’s truly a privilege to be a citizen of this country.

Each one of us bequeaths a destiny for the generations to come. While our forefathers battled territorial freedom – we battle issues due to a strange mix of consumerism and poverty – at the same time. Carbon footprint, work-life balance, artificial ripening of fruits, unhealthy lifestyles, a large population devoid of basic benefits, literacy – are all aspects that demand our attention today than ever before.

The inspiring note really is that many of our fellow beings are doing something about it – and having fun while at it. Kahlil Gibran was right when he said “ work is love made visible” – and when we work in this spirit we include not just great output but also sincerity, compassion, a touch of irreverence and a dollop of fun

Isn’t it time we joined the movement – if we haven’t done so – of leaving the world a little better – and our succeeding generations a world that’s interdependent and happily so? And isn’t it time we shared the stories of success a little bit more – it may bring a spring to someone’s step, a tear of joy and provoke an act of courage. Let’s start with an act of kindness. Today. Jai hind!