The “no kids” decision

5 09 2016

It never occurred to me that parenting could be a choice (like many other conventions of course). When I first heard about it from an acquaintance , the idea of choosing not be a parent was truly shocking toĀ me, to say the least. I couldn’t comprehend the reasons behind the sentiment. But that was 8 years ago. My perception, view, and understanding of world and people has widened to a non-trivial extent since then.šŸ˜› And now besides being curious about the phenomenon, I can totally understand the decision.

I, like most, have been led to believe that raising offspring is the most meaningful aspect of one’s life. What about happiness? Of course, having and raising kids is the source of unsurpassed happiness. Isn’t it? But academic research had not been so conclusive about it. In fact, several research studies suggest that young parents are far unhappier compared to non-parents. The happiness benefits rather seem to roll in much later for the parents – when the kids are grown up. Hmm! Such a dismal outcome!šŸ˜¦

That parenting is an ordeal is undeniable. It is exhausting physically and emotionally. And the expectations of “modern parenting” only add to the anxiety. According to Jennifer Senior, the concept of parenting and childhood as exists today is only about 70 years old. In the past, kids used to work and were treated as economic assets. Now, kids are economically worthless but emotionally priceless, as sociologist Viviana Zelizer puts it . Jennifer, the author of All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, says that the happiness of our kids is an unfair burden both for parents and kids. We should instead focus on creating circumstances in which they become productive and confident. Happiness can only be a by-product (Listen). Despite the parenting crisis, parents usually vouch for the contentment it brings along the way. Nevertheless, when someone decides not to have kids due to the above or any other reason, they need and should not be judged.

I would think this particular phenomenon has been on an increasing trend in recent times. But maybe not universally. It is mostly seen in advanced/developed societies. This observation brings up many interesting questions.Ā  Where is it most prevalent? It is in individualisticĀ  societies or collectivist societies? What other cultural and social factors are correlated to this trend? (Adding to my to-read list: Japan: The Childless Society?: The Crisis of Motherhood.) Is it because people have become selfish, shallow and self-absorbed?

SelfishMeghan Daum tried to probe the question through “Selfish, Shallow and Self-absorbed” a collection of essays from 16 writers who “chose” not to have kids (a few decades ago). I don’t know what I hoped for, but the reasons they cited for their decision are not very dramatic. The simplest and most straight-forward reason is that they never liked kids, never felt any emotional attachment to any kids, and hence did not envision themselves raising any. Other reasons included: not ready or up to take on the huge responsibility; didn’t think they could do a good job; to focus on career passion etc. Whatever the reason, the decision was not always an easy one,Ā  given the social expectations and personal dilemma. But this may be changing recently and the practiceĀ is gaining wider acceptance. A 2012 statistic states that 22 percent of women in 40-44 age bracket are childless by choice. (Source).

To choose to be childless, especially for a woman, is largely perceived as very unnatural. This is due to the pervasive notion that women are mothers first and people second. But as Laura Kipnis explores in her piece in the above book, the mother-child bond is highly overrated and has evolved only more recently. She questions and explores the so called “maternal instincts”.

Another interesting observation made in the book was the possible implications of this decision. If a significant proportion of a particular segment of people, say for example, highly educated white people, decide not to have kids, will it not result in an imbalance in the genetic mix of the next generation? Well, maybe that’s ok. Maybe that’s part of the grand scheme called the “human evolution”!šŸ™‚ Also, of course there could be economic implications – lesser workforce, greater social security costs, school enrollments, vaccine demand etc. (See here).





Judging

27 08 2016

We all judge people. To some extent or the other. Almost compulsively. We tend to compare behavior and/or traits of others with our own understanding or standards of excellence as a quick way to approve or disapprove a person with regards to that behavior or trait.Ā  The urban dictionary defines judging as quickly forming a bias and/or personal opinion about someone or something.

I like to think that judging is related to stereotyping. Stereotypes typically guide our judgments, to the extent that we believe in those stereotypes, that is. “Stereotype”Ā  as a phenomenon has its own place and serves distinct purpose in our lived. It provides mental shortcuts to form quick decisions in the absence of any discernible information. Of course, like many of our other instincts, stereotypes will not serve us well in all circumstances and have to be exercised with caution, and taken with more than a pinchĀ of salt.

Stereotypes are like statistics. Just like a statistic such as “70% of population favor x”, will not tell you for sureĀ  whether the one person you encounter in the middle of the road favors x or not, stereotype may not be applicable to each individual or instance. Of course, it is always possible that a stereotype could have become obsolete or in the process of becoming obsolete what with the ever changing cultural and social picture and hence shouldn’t have been relied upon.Ā Of course judging goes beyond stereotypes. It’s based on our own perception of things.

So, stereotypes can be good or bad.Ā  Following this, it can be argued that judging can also be good or bad. But I would typically associate judgingĀ  with a negative feeling, even in the case of a positive judgment.Ā Ā  As per negative judgments, even as you try to feel superior to others in the process, in the end it won’t result in any positive feeling/emotion.

This brings up the question as to why we judge in the first place.My theories:

  • When you seek validation for your own behavior, you judge others who deviate from your own behavior as inferior.
  • When you are insecure about your own behavior
  • When you are unable to appreciate and accept different perspectives. Not open to new or different standards or ways of life.
  • You want to quickly determine whether you like or dislike a person and so you judge them as good, bad, or not good enough as a proxy based on your likes, dislikes , and expectations.
  • People like to be custodians of their positive traits/behavior

It’s amazing how much prevalent judging is, despite our best efforts. Some of the common things that are judged widely:

  • Parenting: I feel that this one trumps all others. Almost everyone have at least a few things that they do absolutely right and look down on others who fail to do so or do them differently.
  • Significant other: You got to be perfect spouse, BF/GF. How can you not be this or not do that?
  • Weight: If your BMI is perfect, you may judge overweight, obese , or underweight people.
  • Fitness: if you have got it right, you may not able to empathize with those who lack the self-control or will power to eat right and/or hit the gym.
  • Homemaking: If you are an efficient and skillful homemaker, you may judge others’ homemaking skills which don’t measure up to yours
  • Efficiency: If you are super-efficient, you may judge others who are less efficient.

Whatever your strengths are (or what you think your strengths are), you may judge people based on them.

Will non-judging help? Will the world be a better place if no one judges others? I like to think so.Ā  Even without delving into the root cause of this phenomenon and its ultimate purpose, the simplest reason why I work on curbing this is to avoid the negativity it breeds.

But how to go about it? The first step is always awareness. Once you are self-aware and catch yourself being judgmental, it’s just matter of letting go. It takes a little self-discipline and management. But once you let go, there is freedom. You got to experience it to understand the uplifting feeling that non-judging results in. Here are someĀ helpful tips on becoming less judgmental: 10 Reasons to Stop Judging People.

When you do not judge, you accept. Acceptance is the key to peace and harmony.





Team psychology

26 06 2016

Every now and then you come across a concept or idea that strikes you unawares, opens up a new train of thought, enlightens you, or makes you look at things differently.

When I started listening to the chapter on Teams in Charles Duhigg’s latest book – Smarter, Harder, Better I was only expecting to hear more on the age-old wisdom on groups and teams, and all that I learnt as part of my Organization Behavior course in business school. But then I heard about Psychological Safety. It kind of blew my mind off. When he explained what psychological safety means and how it can be a key differentiator between the more productive, efficient teams and the rest, it made perfect sense.

Apparently Google, in its attempt to figure out the recipe for a perfect team, has researched teams and their effectiveness through a project named Aristotle over several years and discovered this. It is such a beautiful concept, which may simply be dubbed as “be nice”.šŸ˜› Ā As per Wikipedia, “Psychological safety is a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking. In psychologically safe teams, team members feel accepted and respected. ”

Psychological Safety has found to be a statistically significant factor associated with high-performing teams. However, it does not mean that it alone can make a team perfect.Ā  As per the scientific research, other things like number and quality of social interactions between team members,Ā  the existence of Shared Mental Models within the team, shared expectations regarding behavioral norms, as well as organizational issues such as the leadership and management culture all contribute to team effectiveness. Moreover, as Chris Alexander of Aglx Consulting points out, this insight is not actionable by itself as Psychological Safety is not a team skill. Read this enlightening article offering practical advice on how to build psychological safety in teams:Ā Psychological Safety is just one piece of the larger puzzle

Another concept relevant to workplace that I happened to hear about in a recent event as part of a meetup is “Imposter Syndrome”. It’s such an eye opener.Ā  The talkĀ  couldn’t have been more timely for me personally. It was a very rewarding experience and the speaker, LaurenĀ Jackman of Medallia, who is a PHD from Stanford, was very engaging.

According to Wikipedia, Imposter Syndrome refers toĀ  high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. Despite ample external evidence to their success, people succumbed to this syndrome have a tendency to think that they are not smart/talented etc. as others think they are.

One prominent internal cause for imposter syndrome could be complete access to our own fears and knowledge gaps.

As per the speaker, among the many factors contributing to the Imposter Syndrome phenomenon, is the “Duck Syndrome”. The Duck Syndrome is Stanfordā€™s take on stress ā€“ be stressed out, but donā€™t show it! This relates to the culture of brilliance/performance, which underplays the hard work behind any success. In fact it may involve hiding all the work that went into something and projecting only the result.Ā  It creates a misguided perception that success comes from being smart or a genius, and working hard to achieve it is a sign of weakness or failure. In fact, it’s rarely true that any success can be achieved without hard work. This can result in a fixed mindset which puts undue emphasis on “what is” rather than “what can be”.

This leads us to the concept called “growth mindset”, which refers to the belief that success is based on hard work, learning, training and doggedness. Carol Dweck in her 2006 book “Mindset” has elaborated on the fixed mindset – growth mindset continuum as part of her key contributions to social psychology on implicit theories of intelligence.

When we think about other team settings that can contribute to this imposter syndrome, the following emerge:

  • Under-representation
  • Stereotypes based on culture, age, race, gender etc.
  • Lack of belongingness
  • When others are watching

Leadership should make sure to watch out for the above pitfalls that can adversely impact team’s performance and effectiveness. Normalizing failure can be a powerful strategy to help combat imposter syndrome, instill growth mindset, and even develop psychological safety and bring out the best in teams.

I like my current team and I think it has reasonable levels of psychological safety.šŸ™‚





Sense of humor

26 05 2016

I know many people in my circle believe that my “sense of humor” is mythical in nature at best and non-existent at worst. Well, I can’t truly say they are entirely wrong about that. In fact I myself am dubious about its existence sometimes.šŸ˜› Do you know that Panchatantra tale in which a Brahmin carrying a goat is fooled by four thieves who, intent to rob him off the goat trick him into believing that he is carrying a dog instead of a goat (You can read it atĀ Brahmin and the Crooks or watch it here.) ? The moral of the story is -“Untruth spoken repeatedly appears to be truth.”Ā  I kind of feel like that Brahmin sometimes (many times??)šŸ˜›

I know it’s not much, andĀ alsoĀ it can be little weird sometimes. Nevertheless, it exists – a tiny speck in the deep recess of my personality which springs up occasionally, mostly when I’m among those few people with whom I feel comfortable with. And what’s more, people do resonate with it too. Believe it or not! (Melody, please vouch for this! :))

I just finished listening to Mindy Kaling’s Why Not Me?. And I loved it. I don’t know who she is and I never watch any shows on TV. Despite my ignorance and indifference, her memoir-like book engaged me. Her narration was absolutely delightful and I’m find myself repeating her phrases to myself long after I finished that book. I liked it right from the beginning, when she declared that it’s a feminine book. I like her humor. I like her style. I’m chuckling at some of her anecdotes even as I’m writing this. This doesn’t happen to me often but when it does, I totally appreciate the experience and the opportunity. I think her book is honest. And to the piece at the end on “confidence”, I say –Ā  Mindy, you nailed it!





My first infographic

9 05 2016

Being a bit technical this timešŸ˜› . My all-timeĀ favorite topic – Business Intelligence.šŸ™‚

SELF-SERVICE BI

 

 

Created using Canva.com





Donga Tallidandruluntaru Jagratta

10 03 2016

DongaTallidandruluntaruJagratta600This latest book by Ranganayakamma is about abusive, selfish, and unloving parents. As I read the first few pages, I was so shocked and disturbed by the way the protagonist is treated by her parents. It took me some time to recover and compose myself. Even though such parents do exist and may not be rare, it’s harder to accept the fact at the outset. Male chauvinism, the author’s primary forte, on the other hand, is not so shocking. I think it’s because the former is less prevalent than the latter. It is common knowledge that many fathers can be abusive, but abusive mothers are far uncommon. This novel portrays two such mothers and how they damaged their children.

This is the story of “Parvathi”, who has the misfortune to be born to cruel parents, who consistently abused her physically, and emotionally. The only saving grace is her grandmother, who is the epitome of love. She grew up under her influence to be a matured, loving, and righteous person. However, the same cannot be said about her sister. She became as self-centered, cunning, and hateful as her parents. Parvathi’s mentally unstable husband also suffered a lot by his mother. In fact, she was the one who caused his illness and led him to pitiful death. All for money.

In the preface, the author claimed that the ultimate takeaway from this book should be that children should beware of such abusive parents and try to protect themselves from being exploited. In many cases it so happens that people who were abused in turn abuse others. A daughter-in-law abused by her tyrant mother-in-law in turn becomes a tyrant when she becomes a mother-in-law. Likewise, people who were abused by their parents in turn abuse their children. It doesn’t make logical sense, but that’s how psychology works in many cases. In this book, the author calls for people to break that vicious cycle, and become better parents instead.

Like in many of her other novels, the author adds some communist stuff in this book towards the end for good measure. She is a great believer of the communist philosophy and I always wonder. For me capitalism makes sense. I agree that it’s not perfect and lends itself to misuse resulting in an unbalanced society. But I’m skeptical about communism being the solution. Maybe I should read the books suggested by her -Srama Dopidi andĀ  Capital – and then decide which one I prefer – communism or capitalism.

One thing I want to point out is that the novel depicts almost all characters as white or black; they are either good or bad. The bad – abusive parents in this case, can be always counted on behaving like the most disgusting people. And the good – the protagonist and her friends – always act in the most virtuous manner. I understand such people do exist and also that it is important to depict the characters as such in order to drive the point home. However, I believe that most people fall in between the white-black spectrum. The goodness/badness may vary with time, circumstances, or situations. How should one deal with such people, who are bad in only a few aspects? I know that technically speaking, even a minuscule of bad makes someone bad. But all such people may not be beyond salvation. I hope the author writes about such people, which a large number of readers can relate to and thereby benefit from their stories.





Quiet

5 03 2016

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When I first came across Susan Cain’s TED talk on the power of introverts, it struck me as a little defensive. I’ve always been comfortable with my introversion and have never felt any qualms about it. Maybe because the culture I grew up in didn’t show any undue favoritism towards extroverts. Or so I think.šŸ˜›

Susan Cain’s thoroughly researched book “Quiet” addresses the prevalent notion that extraversion is superior to introversion.Ā  In many Western cultures Extroversion is highly valued and consequently Introversion is looked down upon. This is not quite true for Asian cultures, which perceive Introversion to be a more desirable trait.

The book discusses how today’s schools and workplaces are being built only for extrovertsĀ focusing moreĀ onĀ group work Ā and seamless interaction/communication, leaving the introverts baffled, uncomfortable, out of place, and thereby very unproductive. The author calls for more balanced design of classroom and office work spaces, given the fact that introverts often make up 30-50Ā percentĀ of the pool. The “extroversion ideal” also adverselyĀ affects the self-esteem of the introverts.

I never considered even the possibility of the opportunities lost because of my tendency to be reserved. Nor did I have any notion of how I could leverage my deep and quiet nature to the best in different aspects of my life. “Quiet” offered me a context to ponder over these thoughts. Introversion isĀ  characterized by both nature and nurture. Learning the physiological aspect of it not only helps introverts to understand and accept themselves better and also to adopt some tips/techniques to get over their natural inclinations and occasionally play an “extroverted” role, as demanded by circumstances.

Susan Cain emphasizes that introverts have quiet power in them and are invaluable part of the society, who contribute as much, and in many cases, much more than extroverts to the success and well-being of the world.

It’s well-written, enlightening, and deeply engaging.