Monday, June 30, 2008

Three things I might hate about you

I sometimes think about my principles. What are the ideas that I hold inviolate? What are my rules of living? Many times I found that the ideas I held dear, or thought I held dear, were ideas I let go off when they inconvenienced me. I remember seeing my father and his brother discuss and debate politics at home, and I remember being struck by how clear they seemed to be about their set of beliefs. I admired and envied that confidence in their guiding principles. I wished I too had well thought through opinions that stood the test of time and scrutiny.

But I changed, my worldview widened, and my opinions changed with me. I realized there are many facets to issues and the man who qualifies his opinions and admits not knowing all or being sure or that he may be wrong may not be the one who will fire a revolution but he might well be the one steadily getting closer to the solution. I also realized that at my age, I don’t yet have the maturity or the experience to build strong, inflexible opinions. I benefit the greatest from being open to discussion, from continuing to iterate on my set of beliefs.

I do believe, however, that the older you get, the greater your need for strong beliefs. One cannot continually keep oneself open to advice. It may not be ideal to stop iterating on your beliefs but it is something that it seems to me is closely tied with developing the confidence of an adult. A man with an opinion that leaves scope for mistake always leave himself room to crawl out, but his opinion will never have any weight. There will always be people who can beat him in debate and logic, but I believe it is important for someone sure of his place in the world to possess beliefs that he refuses to put to the test of logic. Some prejudices make us who we are. If we try to escape them all, we will be nothing, just perpetual fence sitters. I say this because I see empirical evidence of this. The people in my family and life that I will ever turn to for advice are those that are able to make decisions. Equivocators are never wrong, but neither are they ever right.

So I too wanted my own toolkit of rules of existence. I never realized when my beliefs started solidifying but there are a couple of things I now know I live by. It is not a sudden realization, though the trigger for this post is a debate I had with a friend yesterday night.
I thought about the values I hold dear, and that led me to categories of people I dislike:

1. IP thieves
I give credit where it is due. Simple. And I hate it when others do not pay the same attention to crediting the right person with an idea they communicate. The earliest I remember thinking about this is during my quizzing days at IIT Delhi. We had many inter-hostel quizzes spread though the year. Every hostel had its own team and typically had a few stars. In my first couple of years I was struck by how great some of these stars’ contribution was to their teams’ performance. They seemed to be the ones with all the answers.
As I grew in quizzing and took leadership of my hostel’s quizzing team, I observed a crucial difference in the way we worked versus the others. I made it a point to make the one in the team who came up with the answer tell it out aloud. The other teams usually had a round of consultation and the seniormost member, often unconsciously, told the answer. While I made sure every team member, even if junior, got the visibility he deserved, I couldn’t know for years which quizzer in another was the one cranking out all the answers. This became important in inviting people to join teams for inter-college quizzes because one had to go by other quizzers’ opinions instead of having the data to make an independent decision.
Intellectual dishonesty, deliberate or unconscious, is so widely prevalent we don’t even notice it. There are so many friends who never think twice about telling a joke I told them or a comment I made, to a third person without referencing. You know the time when you say something funny to someone and later that night, during a dinner with the boss or with a girl who’s a common friend, the conversation is building up to the point where you deliver the same punchline and this guy breathlessly blurts it out and flashes you a grateful smile? I am the funny guy, and I hate it when you do that. The joke is my IP, and you piss me off by appropriating it. The same holds for all kinds of CPs – opinions, factoids etc.

2. The Chorus
I hate this too. Far too many times, my friends or people I know have echoed others’ opinions on people who don’t deserve them. When you press them, they have no reasons, not even any personal experiences that can justify their easy declarations about the subject. Even more surprisingly, people choose to completely ignore their own good experiences with the person and add their voices to the chorus. It’s convenient to align yourself with what the majority or the alpha people in the environment believe, but it’s not correct.

3. Armchair critics
This too has its beginnings in IIT. There were always people who thought everything was shit because the guy organizing Rendezvous was incompetent, or because the SAC General Secretary was dumb and so on. Here too, I find people utterly wanting in their understanding of the limitations and complexity of the situation of someone with responsibility. Just because someone is in power and you’re not, you don’t acquire the right to blame all that goes wrong on him/her. One must examine one’s own ideas about what is right and honestly evaluate whether they are what one would push if one was in that person’s position, and indeed. People must also develop some respect for those colleagues who make things happen, because a lot of us would do a much worse job. It’s exactly like the debate where the Opposition is able to punch holes in the Proposition’s model and expects to win the House’s confidence without supplying a better viable alternative.


Today, I bought a pair of jeans and a shirt I like and attended a salsa workshop organized by batchmates with two right feet and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I avoid dancing and am usually painfully self-conscious when dancing, especially when sober. Today, however, I decided to go ahead and attend the WS, even if I ended up looking stupid.
Well, I didn't look stupid and feel great at having stepped out of my comfort zone and survived. Then I watched the Euro Cup final with dorm mates. And now, I have that rare thing - a post to upload. Tomorrow, I'll go to a mall and buy a camera, which is a long overdue purchase and has been necessitated by my impending trip to Cambodia (more on Cam and Angkor Wat later). Life's good :).

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Perception and The Superhero movie

My friends told me something today that friends in previous lives have told me - that I don't smile, or smile too little, that I look snobbish (because I don't smile), that I am too sarcastic (worse because I don't have an innocent smile to neutralize the effect), that people think I don't like them. I hate it that it's still true. Over time, I have actually made efforts to smile more, to show more teeth, to look more likable. And now, when my best friends claim they've never seen me laugh and have got used to interpreting my half-smiles as a normal Human Smile Equivalent, I feel a little disappointed.
There are many reasons why I smile sparingly. The main reason, I think, is that I am, through a combination of my upbringing and my essential nature, a rather un-spontaneous person. This bugs me sometimes, because I feel so many things would be easier if I was more impulsive, but I really don't see how I can change that about myself. The lack of spontaneity results in a lack of expressiveness and outward emotion. Though I feel just as much as anyone else, probably more, I express very little. Many years of having held back on expressing myself emotionally have made me forget the language of emotion. I have trouble expressing happiness, sadness, love, affection, anger, sympathy (sympathy is the really hard nut) with the result that I come across as apathetic and unemotional. Which may not be completely untrue.
On another note, I watched The Incredible Hulk yesterday. It's worth a watch but not a lot more. Superhero movies are fun to watch but almost all look like a patchwork of standard superhero movie elements - the pretty scientist/doctor, the hard nosed military General, the crazy scientist, the experiment gone wrong etc. For that reason too, I love the X-Men movies. They stand out for story, direction and quality of actors in a family of mediocre movies.
That apart, movie franchises are like TV series - they are addictive in spite of lapsing into mediocrity. A James Bond movie or a Spiderman n (though the third was exceptionally bad) is guaranteed to be fun, even if not memorable. The familiarity with characters and the universe and the promise of being shown some solid action translates almost always into a contribution from my side towards the movie's profits.

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