Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The pleasures of poverty

My childhood days were like any of those Bangaloreans living middleclass lives or lesser in the seventies. We did not have what we do have today: we did not have a telephone, gas stove, fridge, television, furniture such as a dining set, car, ‘own’ house and so many other things we own now. (We did have an electric and kerosine stove,  immersion heater for hot water for bath, a radio and an iron box)Today, my house is overflowing with books and clothes and electronic and electrical gadgets, and so many other things while the house of my childhood was almost bare.

That Spartan life however had countless happy hours which I remember to this day; I think I am missing that happiness now, because of the overeasy and abundant availability of things . The pleasure one finds in small acquisitions is great when one has very few things around. I still remember I had a small wooden box and I had filled it with chalk pieces, ‘balapa’ i.e. another type of a chalk piece, bits of candle, a matchbox and some broken and some intact marbles I had found on the road. I think I also had a stash of safety pins and hairpins. This collection was precious to me and I often opened the box to look and enjoy my store of things. I also remember feeling immensely proud and happy when the electricity failed and my grandmother asked me to give my store of small candles. Todays kids have tons of toys, games, books, electronic toys and what not. But I doubt that anyone of them experience the pride and joy I did when I gave those candles to my grandma !

I remember picking several objects on the road and bringing them home as I thought it would be useful to me or my family at some time. Usually the items were nails, bits of metal, hairpins and I cant remember what else. Even these items were a source of great pleasure to me (Was hoarding, a habit I developed early?)

I seem to remember having more happy times when I had less of worldly possessions ; I have gradually become richer and I did buy things I had wanted. However there has been no proportionate increase in the happiness or excitement when I acquire these things. I have also noticed that when I had less things,  I used them more.

There was a time when there were a mere handful of books(mostly Enid Blyton & Indrajal comics) at home. I spent so many happy hours reading them over and over, and each time of reading/rereading was a pleasure.
I would get storybooks for each birthday and I would read the books over and over again till my next birthday ! (There were’t any public or private circulating libraries near my house then;). There were a few favourites which I have read so often that the books practically fell apart.
Now I have tons of books at home and there are so many of them, I have not read at all and several half read and discarded books. The same goes for clothes, dvds, vessels in the kitchen, vases, footwear, ornaments, etc. The more I could afford and the more things, I got, the less I actually used them. These days, I seem to  have stuff, lying unopened for months after buying ! Now I seem to get more excitement in the search, hunt and chase for an object than in actually using it. The excitement seems to disappear once I have acquired it and there is only a little bit of pleasure when I use it. Which is really really sad!

The same applies for movies and television. (There was no television in Bangalore in the 70s and my house did not have a television till the mid 80s). I was taken to one film a month as a child and I remember running the movie in my head with various changes ( I am the heroine !) daily and getting a kick out of it. ( This type of daydreaming is the cause of my poor academic performance). I have spent countless hours in these fantastic daydreams. When my dad bought our first television, I did not miss any program, however boring it was ! If you remember, there was only one government run channel initially and the programs were beamed only for a few hours every evening. And the programs were boring documentary types.
Subsequently, movies were shown every week on television and I obsessively tried to see all but of them. However, I could no longer remember them all and even started getting the story lines mixed up ! Now I have become so picky, that very few movies hold my attention or interest. I wonder if I would have been different that is enjoyed the movies, however mediocre, if I had been deprived?
I am happy to say, I still derive a great deal of pleasure out of television serials even today ! This maybe because I deprive myself of cable ! I don’t have cable ( after getting into a major argument with my cable provider) and get only about 6 channels daily of which one is French and two of foreign languages and I end up watcfhing only three channels. I really enjoy seeing the serials available on these channels and I watch them in spite of the sometime-blurred and double images !

 I have also bought a few dvds of some shows and watch these same dvds  once in a while. I pray to God that I don’t ever lose the ability to enjoy shows!
I think the word I was looking for while writing all the above paragraphs was “jaded”. Now people are jaded with the surfeit of things they have... while in the past, due to scarcity, they could appreciate and enjoy the few things they had.
I can remember all the toys I had as a kid though I am in my 40s now. But my nieces cannot remember the toys they bought last year I think ! They have so much and therefore play less with each toy and do not care to remember them.
There is a lot to be said for poverty or deprivation. I definitely got more pleasure out of each book/movie/toy/thing when I had very few of them or had very limited access.
Now, however, trying to find things which interest me seems more fun than after I find them and  actually participating/enjoying the activity. For example, when I go to borrow a dvd movie, I scan several and can rarely find any movie which interests me enough to borrow. I go to a library and browse through many and often come out with nothing. But the browsing gives me more happiness than seeing or reading what I find!
I am wondering what could make me so indifferent to things I enjoyed so much in the past. Am I jaded? Am I depressed? Am I getting old and is it true that the older you get, the less you enjoy ? Am I becoming picky and so it is only a narrow range of things which I enjoy instead of the entire spectrum of books or movies or whatever? Is it a change only I experience or a lot of others do? Am I becoming tired or lazy? It’s difficult for me to pinpoint what reason is affecting me. It may be a combination of them or only one of them. Am I losing the ability to enjoy things?

For example, my home in Toronto is filled with tons of books  which I am yet to read ......I dont have the 'mood' to read. However, when I go to India and cant lay my hands on books to read, I read whatever I can lay my hands on without being picky ! 

When I am in a place with limited access to things I love, I revert to my childhood practice of  completely using up what little is accessible and enjoy it ! Does the easy availability to things lessen my ability to enjoy them???  Is it that I can enjoy only when I am deprived and given things in meagre quantities ?  Is it that I can enjoy only when I have suffered a bit like waiting for it or suffer in some other way? Does owning things make me feel comfortable/complacent about owning and make me postpone actually using or enjoying the item? The same goes for the dvds I have, clothes, accessories. Food too. When I have one sweet or snack item at home I relish it but when I have stocked up, I just don’t feel like eating anything ! (maybe I am lying about food. I think  food is something which I am never tired of or feel 'jaded' about !)
I had very few clothes (Wednesday was the day we wore coloured clothes instead of the uniform to school) in my early days and I remember all the clothes I had then and how much I loved those few clothes and the joy I got wearing them. Now, either because we (my family) are better off than before or because Indian society itself has changed, there seems to be an abundance of all things . Yet I do not see a proportionate increase in satisfaction with this abundance. Children today have more clothes than I ever had and yet them seem to want more and are critical of what they have. The same goes for the variety of games, toys, foods available for kids today. I can imagine adults feeling jaded but children jaded?? And bored with what they have and always wanting something bigger or better or more exciting ? I think unless, kids (and all of us) experience some deprivation, they will be headed towards a life of constant boredom and constantly seeking something “more” thrilling or exciting or whatever.
And this makes me think of another idea. Is it that today’s children’s attention span or interest span is getting shorter? I mean that , children or yester years would be happy with one game or toy for many months before losing interest in it but today’s kids, explore a toy for a few days and then their interest fades and they want something new to stimulate their interest. I am not saying all kids are like this or all toys hold all kids interest for a short span of time. I don’t think the constant craving for something new and exciting is so bad. But I am concerned that these days, objects hold one’s interest for such a short period of time and one wants a new item, even before fully trying out the item in hand.
I wonder to what extent this problem is fostered by the fact that rich and indulgent parents frequently buy toys for their kids . If you buy a new toy everyday, why should a child play with a toy you bought last month?
Below is an account of what I went through to reach this stage of ennui and short interest span ….my experiences of financial insecurity followed by security and the pattern of enjoyment during the financially insecure period followed by a sort of ennui during financial security.
As I have told elsewhere in this blog, I emigrated from India to Canada and we had to start from scratch. We had to find jobs, live on less so as to not run out of money before we find a job, manage on what we got in our 6 suitcases until we got jobs. Though we were tense and focussed on getting a job, we did have the time to enjoy lots of things. We had a blast reading books from the libraries, buying used books from the Goodwill stores, watching shows on a black and white tv (someone had thrown out a black and white tv set on the kerb and we got it home), taking long walks and exploring the city, chatting with our families on yahoo chat, watching people ( and their clothes, hairstyles, jewels and accessories, ), etc.
Over time, we got jobs and started buying the things we could only enjoy through shop windows. And slowly the pleasure and joy started decreasing and the same sense of ennui set in. Now I feel the pleasure seems to be more in the chase to acquire something and once the object is got, it is used briefly and lies forgotten in some corner of my home.
One of the chase related rushes I get is when I am bidding for something on ebay. Fortunately I have cured myself of this ebay bidding habit and saved myself a lot of time and money ! ( Or rather, my office cured me of it…I was bidding at work and now the ebay site is blocked at my office computer)
Sometimes I think, I would like to start again, from nothing, as the excitement of the struggle lets me experience a plethora of emotions: I could do with the sense of achievement, the pride, the thrills but I could definitely do without the fears and tensions one has while struggling. The boy who repaired his cycle without any help from the father enjoys the sense of achievement which the boy who was helped by his father cannot.
Enjoying life beats the jaded feeling and ennui which some of us have. If it takes financial insecurity or job insecurity or “not being” rich, to appreciate and enjoy and experience things, then so be it. Many parents ( my relatives and friends and so many good people out there) want to provide their kids with ‘everything” and especially those things they wanted when they were kids but dint have. Parents also want their kids to ‘enjoy’ and ‘not suffer’ or ‘struggle’. I think they need to rethink about the benefits of ‘letting their kids struggle to achieve. They need to rethink the benefits of providing ‘everything’ to their kids. I see this a lot in parents who have had major transitions in their lives…those who moved from villages to the city, from India to other countries, from a lesser socio-economic status to higher. Maybe all parents have this need to provide everything for their kids, I don’t know.
I don’t have kids so it is easy for me to comment and criticize parents ! But I do understand the joys they feel when they buy their kid something ( I am now becoming convinced that parents get a greater kick out of buying their kids things than the kids get in playing with them !) .
I really appreciate the super rich parents who have to exercise discipline when bringing up their kids ! Imagine Bill Gates kids demanding sweets or toys or rides daily . He can afford it and he may want to give it to them to show his love but he has to ‘not’ give in to their excess demands if he wants them to develop good discipline or whatever….. Infact, I think it is easier for a economically ill off parent than for a rich one to bring up kids with discipline ! The ill off one does not need to be disciplined to not buy his kid…there is no struggle as there is no money ! But the rich parent, has a huge struggle on his hands ! He can easily buy but should not . Boy ! I hate that kind of a struggle as I have no discipline at all !
I keep telling my sister, that adversity or deprivation can be a blessing than otherwise as it gives her a chance to struggle and this struggle gives her so many things which wealth (by wealth, I mean, whatever is the opposite of adversity and deprivation) cannot give…the joy of achievement, the struggle which keeps her on her feet and saves her from boredom, the pride of doing it on her own without help. More importantly, the knocks from a struggle harden her and she is better prepared for any new knocks life has for her in future. The failures during a struggle, the taxing of one’s mind and body, all go towards building up the resilience and strength of the person. To be ‘lucky’ and hence to be deprived of struggle is like the body being deprived of essential exercise :one may become weak without facing adversity.
Wealth or comfort or support (support from family for one) really can be an obstacle in itself in that one misses out on valuable experiences of learning, growing, acquiring maturity, and misses on the emotions which follow a struggle: relief, happiness, thrill, anger, sadness. Remember, even emotions like sadness or anger or sense of failure can have positive consequences and not experiencing them can be a loss.
Children growing in families where they lack nothing and children from families where there is some deprivation are equipped differently to face life. I am not saying that one is better than the other. But I think I really liked my “to some extent deprived” childhood.

Deprivation and poverty also has a few other fantastic benefits. Deprivation stokes so many good qualities in a person, most importantly,  empathy, compassion  and creativity. It helps develop a lot of other good qualities too but I admire compassion and creativity the most.
 People who are deprived, put themselves in others shoes and picture what they are experiencing. People who have never faced want, often dont seem to get the suffering of someone who is facing difficulties. (if they cant have bread, let them have cake). Having faced unemployment, low salary, difficult landlords, I can easily put myself in the shoes of people who have faced similar circumstances and help them or at least be empathetic. However, relatives of mine, who are basically decent people and who have never faced unemployment, etc lack the imagination to understand the difficulties of the unemployed and lack empathy. They blame the unemployed person and make terribly unsympathetic remarks. When I try to defend the unemployed person  or ask them to put themselves in the shoes of the unemployed person, they simply cannot or will not!

Necessity is the mother of invention sums up what I have to say, rather neatly. But I am going ot put in my two cents worth here! In the 70s and 80s when I was a child and teen, living a rather frugal life, we would use things in multiple ways. We would not rush to buy things but try to figure out how to manage with what we had at home. Today, in this world of surplus and availability of things for everything, there is no scope for our recycling & creativity. Even if I want to recycle or reuse something creativly, my husband prevents it...he wants the right thing for the right task. He does not want to for example, use the plastic box in which we bought the litter to be used as a garbage bin. He wants to buy an official garbage bin! We would tear up old pants and stitch them into bags to be used for grocery shopping. Now we simply throw out the pants and buy bags for grocery shopping or worse, get the groceries in plastic bags from the shops. I can give hundreds of such examples of creative use and recycling in the past when we had few things and how it has been replaced by abundence and wastefulness today.
This which follows is vaguely related to the stuff I wrote above. I am throwing it in anyway for what it’s worth…….Another odd quirk I have noticed in me---I enjoy some songs (Like Kid Rock’s sweet home Alabama and Duffy’s Mercy). But I lose interest completely if I own the cd. I however get a great deal of joy if I hear it by chance on the radio or someone else’s system. Is it that the moment I own some things, I no longer care for it? Go figure.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

What causes Poor Judgement?

I have been thinking about this issue since several years ; My thoughts about this issue were triggered by the copious evidence of poor judgement displayed by  my friends, relatives and others whom I know(and me too at times!)

Why are poor judgements and poor choices 'repeatedly' made by  people with (a)at least average level of  intelligence, (b)education(at least a Bachelor's degree) and inspite of (c) being surrounded by well meaning and sensible advisors/friends? 
 Why do these  people refuse to learn or change when they fail? Why  do they continue to show the same poor judgement and poor choices which leads them  to further failure?
Is Judgement a cognitive function like intelligence or is it a personality trait or is it something affected by emotions and intelligence & your current harmone level? Is poor judgement something you learn or  is it something you are born with? 
Is it  poor judgement or is it just sheer bad luck? (It cant be bad luck if it happens again and again)

The reason poor judgement bothers me so much is that I have seen heads of Indian families (as heads, they control the money, decision making power and power over the lives of all other family members) with poor judgement shattering the lives of everyone in the family... not once or twice but for decades !  Sometimes even the  'as-yet unborn' generation is affected by the poor judgment skills of these tyranical heads of families !

Just looking around half a dozen families I know intimately, I can come up with several examples of poor judgement! Extrapolating from this, the extent of poor judgement in the Indian middle class population seems to be about 50%  or more!

While I am not going to write about the details of poor judgements I have observed, I am going to guess at the factors driving their poor judgement decisions. These are just my guesses. I hope this list will help me to get insight into my own behaviour and help me recognize if I am falling into a pattern of making poor choices or showing poor judgement.

(1)Greed and the intense desire to get rich quick seems to be the motivation behind the poor judgements and decisions of a couple I know.They might have also been driven by the (2)desire to out-do their relatives and friends. The sad part is that they are now in a severe financial mess which in turn has lead to health, emotional and social problems.

(3)Poor planning and (4) poor knowledge of the matter they are getting into is another factor. India is one place where 'informed decision making' is conspicious by it's absence! People make major decisons involving lakhs of rupees with little or no knowledge of what they are investing in. Why dont people  try to get as much information as possible before they get involved in something? I can think of a few reasons why. (5)Impulsivity,(6) Impatience, (7)inability to think things through are behaviours observed in some of the people with poor judgement. They do not have the patience to research something fully before diving into it. It may be a business venture; it may be selection of a course which determines your career for your life; it may be selection of your spouse. People have bought expensive new cars with little or no research done before buying! (8)Absence of available and accessible information also prevents people from being fully informed before they make a decision. This is really sad as these people are really not responsible if they make a poor choice and face  failure...they could not access information to make wiser decisions. There are people in rural areas, people in poor sections of society in India who have no access to English, no access to sensible or educated advisors, no access to the internet, no access to information through the mass media. At least 50% of people in India or more fall into this category.
 Many people in villages have been misguided  either deliberately by malicious and evil persons or by well-meaning but unwise people. The money lenders who loan huge sums of money to farmers knowing that they will default are the malicious ones for example. The aged farmer who tells the younger one that it will "definitely rain" and to go ahead with the seed sowing during a drought year would probably be the well-intentioned one who misguides people unintentionally.
 People have become victims of poor judgement displayed by others who control their lives. Forced Arranged Marriages which fail is a perfect example. The bride or groom have no say about whom they can marry and have to marry the person chosen for them by their parents or other elders. If the marriage does not work, then, they become victims. While some brides and grooms can be assertive and  can successfully have a say in their marriages, many brides from rural areas, from repressive and autocratic families do not really have a chance. A student who has no aptitude for medicine but forced to study medicine by his father and who fails in his studies and ends up as a drop out is another example of becoming a victim of someone else's poor judgement.
(9)Lack of common sense is another cause of poor judgement. I am sure dear reader, you can come up with several examples of your own for this.
I have seen several people in India who will(10) not go to professionals or professionals with a good reputation to get their work done. They try to do it with the help of amateurs or unskilled people and have huge losses and failures. Yet they never learn! I remember a couple with no business experience start a business of exports. They went to a professional consultant who warned them to avoid expanding the business too rapidly. Yet this couple thought the professional was a fool and did not listen to them. They went ahead, made all the mistakes the consultant had warned them about and crashed really badly. Not trusting professionals is a major type of poor judgement displayed by majority of the people I know.(Including me!) I have seen people take the advise of a nurse over a doctor's; Patients and their families prefer to take the advise of the janitor  in the hospital than consult a doctor!
(11)Belief in superstitions, belief in God to the extent that one jumps off a plane without a parachute, belief in astrology, black magic,Maya and Mantras are all the basis of several people's poor judgements in India. Praying at the temple daily instead of studying to pass in an exam; donating to a temple or spending time and money on religious rituals instead of making sensible and  reliable plans for a venture are some common  examples of poor judgement. One example is of a friend of mine whose business started failing and instead of analyzing why the business is failing and doing something to repair that, he went to a Vaastu consultant. The Vastu guy told my friend that the garage was bringing them bad luck and their luck would improve after they demolished the garage. He went ahead and demolished the garage! But no luck with the business! I can give hundreds of examples of people who have made major decisions based on such superstitious beliefs and brought on tremendous ruin upon themselves.(I am no exception! )
A sad example of poor judgement which I have seen repeated in at least 3 different households is an astrologer telling one of the daughters in the family that she will marry a rich person. The girl believes this to the extent that she refuses to marry though she gets several 'decent' proposals by arguing  that they are not rich enough. As these families  were only into arranged marriages and the girls did not have a chance to meet and choose their own husband, ( in the 1970s and 1980s) they remained unmarried for life. Not only that, their younger sisters too could not marry....in most families the younger one cannot marry until the older one is married off;( if the younger one gets married before the older one, then it is impossible for the older one to get married as people would suspect "something" is wrong with the older one!) There are these women, now in their fifties, who remain single, due to the poor judgement and sutbborness shown by one elder sister!
What is the cause of this poor judgement i.e. this irrational (or least a belief leading to failure) and strong belief in superstition? I really do not know....It does not amount to a delusional disorder or schizophrenia as they are doing well in all other areas. I think it is an immature or childish magical belief one has...that a miracle is going to happen and I dont have to work hard and plan sensibly...God will take care of it sort of thing; Or the astrologer has predicted such a wonderful irresistable thing (you will marry a rich guy) that you WANT & WISH it to be true and will reject all guys you perceive as not rich as 'not the one for me'. Analyzing myself in these superstitious situations(praying desperately to God and offering up bribes so that I get something I badly want such as a visa to go to USA!) I see myself, at that point in time, experiencing a great deal of anxiety and these prayers and belief that God will help, reduces my anxiety a lot. Once the anxiety reduces, I am able to function. If all people beleive in superstitions for this reason, then anxiety reduction is a major cause of  superstitious beliefs...leading to poor judgement. Ergo, are beliefs in superstitions, Vaastu, Black Magic, Poojas and Rituals, Maya and Mantras, nothing but a type of a ineffective or neurotic-psychotic Ego defence mechanism?

(12)Poor assessment of one's own abilities...usually overestimation of one's capacities coupled with (13)unrealistic optimism is a major cause of poor judgement and consequent failure. My favorite example for this is the millions of PUC/12th grade students in India who opt for engineering, medical, courses, though their scores in PUC/Grade 12 indicate they have little or no hope of success in studying these tough technical courses. I have seen scores of students who could barely get 50% in mathematics of grade 12 level opting to study engineering where the level of mathematics would be tougher. While counselling a few of these students I wondered why they are so stubborn about their 'wrong' choice and not ready to change to a course, more suitable for thier capacities. The driving force for their apparent poor judgement or inappropriate choice of course were : the need to tell that they  got into 'an engineering college' was a tremendous need. Whether they get through engineereing or not at the end of 4 years does not immediatly  matter .....Their 'self-esteem  now' is what mattered. Many students self-esteem was tied to the fact that they are studying engineering or medicine. They do not want to feel like a 'loser' which they will if they do not get into these courses. Hopefully, things have changed in the current century. Now I find more students opting for other courses and their self-esteem does not seem to be tied up to this issue.
I am not saying that one should not try something unless one is sure one wins. But if one has good judgement, one will definitely not go overboard, investing in something where the chances of failing are high.
Poor assessment of the abilities of the people you love, bias, blind trust are also factors leading to poor judgements and decision making, especially where loved ones are involved. Repeatedly believing your alcoholic husband will stop drinking though he has never attempted(but merely keeps promising) is one  example of poor judgement caused by  blind love or blind trust.

I asked my husband what factors cause poor judgement in people and he added two more to this list. (14) Inability to learn from past failures. He said that some people fail to learn from a mistake and keep taking similar decisions, making the same choices over and over again , hoping that the next time, they will miraculoulsy succeed...that their failure was not because of something they did wrong. The second cause of poor judgements according to him is (15)lack of experiencing appropriate emotions when they fail. He called it a mood disorder but I am not sure that I agree with mood disorder. He thinks that these people do not go through the grief, sense of loss and failure when they face the consequenses of their poor decisions but appear to be untouched. Normal people feel distressed when they fail but these people do not seem to be affected by the enormity of the consequences of their failure . I have also seen some of them  recover pretty quickly after a major failure compared to those with good judgement. Are they shallow?  Dont they feel any pain ?I simply cannot understand this.

(16) Many people with poor judgement   do not take responsibility for their failure but blame bad luck, others, etc. They  lack insight about their poor judgement, they are arrogant and free from any qualms! They simply want "another chance". Give them another chance, they mess up again and still want another chance. This goes on till they die... if they are supported by soft-hearted (& soft-headed) families and friends  they never ever learn. I have seen families financially bailing out a family member repeatedly and getting themselves into a financial mess. The guy they are bailing out simply asks to be bailed out one last time and he goes ahead and makes the same stupid things and loses money again! When you ask the guy with poor judgement to review why he failed the last time, to analyze, etc, he does not want to "dwell on the past" but move on to the next venture! This once again shows their impatience,  their superficial approach and their refusla or inability to analyze throughly the  cause of thier failure and inability to make revised plans next time. I have seen this behaviour  in so called "professors" of universities, doctors, etc and so I can imagine how the rest of the world can be. 

Addicts and gamblers seem to show the same  behaviour shown by people with poor judgement:
(17)(a) There is no learning,(b) they make the same mistakes,(c) they cannot change.
 One frequently seen behaviour among people with poor judgement is the fact that they argue and defend their poor decisons and judgements by resorting to the theoritical profits or theoritical successes they would have made if things did not go wrong. I am so sick of hearing these arguments that I want to slap the person ...but usually these statements come from elders whom I cant slap!
"If the orders were not cancelled, I would have made 50 lakh profit"; "If it had rained this year, I would have grown 20 quintals of ragi"; "If that guy hadn't cheated me, I would have finished the construction". The number of  ifs, poor decision makers come up is infinite! 
 Could (18) lack of touch with reality or ìnadequate touch with reality be another cause of poor judgement? I am not saying that these people with poor judgement are schizophrenic or psychotic but they are not as aware of the ground reality as they should be and so they make poor decisions. Lack of touch with the ground reality is one issue which I see very often and which really really perplexes me....When one tries to make some of these people aware of the ground realities and improve their choices or judgement, they continue to be blind or adamant and refuse to acknowledge ground reality...Why? Some  refuse to acknowledge ground realities inspite of warnings because they are so "confident they know better'; some are probably aware but will not admit it to you and make changes for whatever reason(yes men & sycophants dont dare argue with a boss but pretend that his plans are wonderful) Denial,a defence mechanism spoken about by Freud is a major culprit responsible for poor judgement.
 (19) Optimism is one blinker which prevents one from being in touch with ground realities.
(20)Wishful thinking and(21) refusal to even consider things may not go as planned are other factors. Refusal to give a margin for error is one behaviour I have seen in my dad which drives me crazy and leads to such failures.
Patriotic NRIs arriving at India and opening NGOs to help the needy in India and running back to where they came from because they were not aware of the Indian ground reality when they decided to open the NGO is one example I can think of.
(22)Rigid thinking and refusal to change , inflexibility and refusal to change inspite of obvious evidence is another cause of poor judgement. I have seen people repeatedly trust someone who has failed them; stick to an idea inspite of the idea not working out and so on.

There are situations where people have seemingly shown poor judgement. But these are the type of people I love! They are people who have good judgement and know something will fail...yet they go ahead with it because of noble reasons which are really touching. A moving story of poor judgement I read (maybe in the readers digest) was about  a soldier who went back to bring his dying friend during a war. While bringing his friend back, he himself was mortally wounded; he returned to the Base with  his now dead friend . His seargent sorrowfully asked him what was the point in returning to bring back his friend; he surely knew, he would be shot if he went back? The dying man replied, "Going back to bring him was not a waste Sir. My friend's last words to me were"  I knew you would come back for me".
There are people who make certain choices even though they know that it will fail; they make this apparently poor decision or  show poor judgement because "it is the right thing to do". What do you say of such people? That they are showing poor judgement or what?

 Right now in India, corruption is so rampant, that anyone ethical is bound to fail in whatever they try  i.e. he who is ethical  is showing poor judgement! Unethical people, who are morally bankrupt are succeeding in life.

In this wretched India, I feel totally torn....doing what is right is wrong i.e you will fail if you do the right thing.  Doing the wrong thing will help you succeed! What do you do in this situation!!! For example, you will get your site registered only if you pay a bribe; if you dont, you will running to that government registration office for years to come! So do you want to show 'good judgement' and pay the bribe and get on with it or do you do the right thing, refuse to bribe, and be left running pillar to post to simply get your site registered!(By the time you get your plan for your house construction approved, get the water, electricity, sewage, phone connections, etc...you will have bribed a dozen or more times!)

 Given the rampant corruption, what is Good Judgement in the Indian setting? The operational definition for Good Judgement in countries and cultures like India would be the statement, "To succeed by hook or crook is evidence of Good Judgement in India".

With the above paragraph, I am trying to tell you dear reader, good judgement is context-based!   Judgement is sensitive to place, time, context, people concerned, etc. What is considered a good judgement in one place, at a certain time, in a certain context, may be considered poor in a different context.

I am adding more to this list of causes of poor judgement when I recall some more. I am stopping for now
One more thing......Could (23)Hope be a cause for poor judgement? Hope is such a tricky, emotion laden thing, that one cannot lightly decide if a certain  decision made because of hope, was a good or  poor decision. One example is of a friend of mine whose son was dying of cancer. While the Canadian hospitals told he has no hope and only a few days to live, the American doctors promised them a "new cure". My friend borrowed a considerable sum of money, took his son to USA for treatment and lost his son inspite of the 'new cure'. He was furious and bitter. He did not want to take the loan as he did not believe in this new cure he said but that he did it to please his wife, the mother of the dying son. Now they had lost thier son and were saddled with a huge loan. They are retired and have to work again to clear this loan. But, how does one, try to 'instil good judgement in them' and  prevent them from taking the loan, when it was to save their son's life?
It's not really easy to decide some people's judgements as bad or foolish. Their bad judgements are based on emotions such as love, hope, kindness, trust, happiness, sadness and I find it so difficult to fault these people!

(24)Stress is another factor leading to poor judgement and poor decisions being made. People seem to loose all reason and make  terribly foolish decisons when under stress.
(25)Any form of emotional disorder, psychological or psychiatric disorders also lead to a person making flawed judgements. One may not be mentally ill but go through emotional problems like anxiety, depression, anger, stress, jealousy, hatred at some point in time...and any judgement made during the experience of these emotions can lead to the judgement being flawed: An anxious motorist will make mistakes  due to wrong judgements when driving; a depressed person will not be able to judge or assess a business plan as well as a calm, undepressed person of equal calibre; a person's jealousy will blind him to the goodness in his rival's personality;
In the context of psychological disorders, I would like to add obsessions as a cause of poor judgement. Let me explain by an actual example......I have a relative who is obsessed with his agricultural land..........he is so obsessed by this land that he neglects all other issues in his life, even priorities such as his daughter's marriage! He has completely lost all sense of what is a priority and what is not...he is unable to put his agriculture work on the back-burner and focus on his daughter's marriage which is in 8 weeks time. (It's not agriculture that he is focussed on...he's focussed on a fool's errand of building a fence round his land..land which is arid and has yielded nothing all these years...everyone has dissuaded him from this task but he is borrowing money, forcing his daughters to lend him money to build this fence....He is not bothered that he has no money for a wedding coming up in 8 weeks time but he is raging about not having money to build this worthless fence!!! I am sure he is mentally ill, considering his age(late 70s, his utter lack of judgement in all that he has done over the past 20-30 years; but as he is the head of his family and extremely autocratic;  it is impossible to question(he does more of these foolish things if anyone questions him and so people have stopped questioning him, except when they can no longer bear it)him and it is almost impossible to live with him; he has spent his entire life, wasting lakhs of rupees in one foolish venture after another; hhe refuses to give up!.......What I am trying ot say here is that mental illnesses can lead to poor judgements; even slight distortions of thinking can lead to poor judgements; one should as often as possible, sit back, observe one's own acts and decisions wiht detachment and check for poor judgement calls; one can also ask others to give an unbiased opinion of what they think of our decisions........take care not to ask this of a sychophant however!
 Even 'positive' emotions such as love can lead to poor judgement. When one is in love or infatuated, one can lose one's objectvity and make poor judgement calls about the person one is in love with! How many 'bright','smart','shrewd' people have been taken for a ride by the person they were infatuated with as they lost their head and their judgement?
 Psychologists have proved through experiments that people make errors when under stress; people make errors when doing multiple tasks simultaneously.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Beauty at what cost?

An Australian immigrant to Canada told that he found the sight of Rajasthani women walking the sandy desert in their colourful skirts and jewellery, with pots of water on their heads a beautiful sight. I told him, it may look beautiful to you but believe me, those women are certainly not happy carrying water pots on their heads, walking the long distance, in the blazing sun, from the well to their houses and then continue with their household chores of cooking! He disagreed and wished that, that aspect of Rajasthan would not change due to modernization.
I found his wish both cruel and thoughtless. Here is a guy, who has 24 hour water & electricity supply, a fan if he is hot and a heater if he is cold, a car to drive even to the nearest store instead of walking and all the thousand comforts which one takes for granted and  not even notice in Canada. He wants the women in Rajasthan to live in such suffering for "aesthetic" reasons!

This is what irks me about the modern people. They assume that "simple" is beautiful or "simple is good" and want "others" to follow that life style while they have their modern comforts and luxuries. City folks moan about the changes happening and the loss of the tribal culture and rural lifestyles; yet they want for themselves,  the latest and best gadgets in the market!
 This train of thought reminds me of what I heard when I visited Udaipur in Rajasthan.

 A lorry driver in Udaipur commented to me that his brother was a camel driver and was unable to get a bride;   all the girls in the village wanted to marry  lorry drivers who earn more and can keep them in greater comfort than a camel driver. None of the girls wanted anything to do with a camel driver! To get his brother married, he had to first  get his brother a lorry and a driver's licence!

Below is a news item from Bangaloremirror.com which shows the hardships faced by women in Gujarat and how they refuse to marry so as to avoid a lifetime of physical labour and hardship.

Due to an acute water crisis in two villages of Gujarat’s Vadodara district, would-be brides are fighting shy of marrying into families in Jetpur and Devaliya villages. The reason is that they have to trudge distances to fetch water in the scorching summer heat.

The two villages, with a total population of about 3,000 people, are situated about 30 km from the Sardar Sarovar dam project on Narmada river.
Member of Narmada district panchayat, Harish Vasava, said that this has been the situation over the past few years. “Parents refuse to marry off their daughters here due to non-availability of permanent drinking water,” said Vasava.
Sahida Banu who lives in Devaliya village says they are in no position to offer drinking water to guests. “Instead, we prefer to offer a bottle of cold drink,” said Sahida. “Water is very precious for us. We have to walk kilometres a day with buckets of water.”
Nafisa Banu from Jetpur village said that finding a bride for young men is a problem. “The underground water is undrinkable due to the salinity.”
“The water problem has led to health hazards for villagers,” said sarpanch of Devaliya, Neeta Bhil.
Vasava said that though water from Narmada is supplied to north Gujarat, Saurashtra, Kutch and Rajasthan after the construction of the dam on the river, people in these villages still face water crisis.
Likewise, there are people who choose a hard life, not for the sake of 'aesthetics' but under a misguided belief that a physically hard life is "more honest" or "keeps one healthy and fit". My father is one of these annoying persons who believe in physical work instead of using technology to make life comfortable and he is also autocratic enough to impose this on my poor mother and other hapless members in my family. For example he prefers to draw water from the well by pulling the bucket up with a rope than using the motor pumpset to draw the water. He prefers to buy the milk by walking to the milk booth daily morning than having it delivered at home. He wants my mother to ground the chutney by hand, in the granite stone pestle and mortar instead of using the electric mixer. The list goes on.
Why the hell do these people (like my dad) not realize that the time spent on physical labour could be better used to do cognitive activities such as learning a new skill or reading; could be used to relax, to socialize with friends, to contemplate, day dream, think, play, etc? Why this insistence on torturing oneself and others by doing things manually for hours together instead of with technology in seconds?

The resistence to use of anything new is seen often in many third world countries and there are many reasons for this. Unshakeble belief that the old customs are good and new are bad; that the 'ancients knew better than us new-fangled people'; that anything modern or western is evil or at least suspect. On the other hand what is also a mystery to me, is the speed at which some new stuff is accepted such as television, cinema, cell phones and computers! The co-existence of 1st century technology such as the bullock carts and 21st century technology such as space craft, cell phones and computers can be seen in countries like India and one wonders, how long  we will continue to use the logics, beliefs, technologies of 20 different centuries simultaneously ! Use of computer software to arrive at one's horoscope is a perfect example of the mix of ancient logic and modern technology!

Friday, May 4, 2012

It is better to be a dog in America than a doctor in India

While working in an Indian hospital,  I spent endless happy hours chatting with  doctors from different disciplines in the hospital canteen.  The beauty of these coffee-time chats was that it was not only full of gossip and hospital politics but the gossipers  were people with great wit and biting sarcasm.
One of these was a  middle-aged doctor who, like the rest of us, was poorly paid  but unlike others, he   did not have a private practice to supplement his salary. Once, when his financial and other problems were more worrying than usual, he commented "It is better to be born as a dog in America, than as a doctor in India".  We had all laughed  and joked about it . At that time, none of us had ever been to USA or any country outside India for that matter. (For the record, his comment, sounded so much better in Kannada, with his sarcastic inflections!)

Having moved to  Canada  and having a cat at home,  I am now able to appreciate the truth of his comment ! My cat, unlike us humans,  has no worries. It  spends all it's time doing what it likes. It does not  work, does not worry about paying off mortgage or getting the kids educated and married.  There is someone to fill it's bowls with food and water daily; there's someone to clean it's litter and  when the poop sticks, there are willing slaves to wipe it off  it's backside!  It has four places to choose to sleep ...our bed and the guest bed, a sofa and a chair. It has someone or the other to pet it  and carry it several times a day. It whines and we are immediately at it's beck and call. I take it for walks in the backyard mornings and evenings; if I dont, it mews at me till I yield. I play with this cat  probably more often than some mothers play with their children. We have cut short our trips so that it is not left alone at home. It sleeps the entire day, sprawled on the bed, with it's legs stretched out in all directions. In fact, it was it's sleep posture, which reminded me of the comment of the doctor and the reason for me writing this!  I guess my cat's biggest worry is whether I will take it out to the backyard as soon as I wake or after I had my coffee. I cant imagine, this cat having any other worry on it's mind.

It is a bliss to be born as a pet in a rich country...in a pet lover's home than as a human being in a struggling poor country!

 "The gardener's cat" by Patrick Chalmers  reminds me of my cat.