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How to move Cape Disappointment

As an introvert, the last thing I like to do is express myself. I spend time finding ways to avoid stating things as they are. Eventually, they come out sugarcoated or sarcastic. My expressions end up indirect, far from the point and thus confusing to others.

So, after a day of introspection, I decided to write a post about myself. I opened a new document, typed ‘Dissappointing’ and instantly, the spell-check was disappointed. Apart from spell-checkers and compilers, I have been disappointing people from a long time. So, here’s a guided tour of [my] Cape Disappointment.


“I think if anyone can beat Nitesh, then it is you,” said a friend, sitting next to me, as we were returning from a school trip. Nitesh had recently joined our class and consistently topped the class. I thought he was amazing but boring. I wondered why my friend thought I can beat him and more importantly, why he thinks I want to.

Those days, I was learning origami and pottery. I practiced making the Lucky Swan, one of which was always in my bag. My hands were dry due to repeated washing after playing with clay. I’d take a locket’s impression in clay and then make a copy of it from plaster of Paris. Yes, the same plaster of Paris that gives a true home to spiders and false ceiling to humans. We had taught Caesar to fetch a newspaper without tearing it to pieces. I was reading Bashir Badr and Hemingway. Neither made much sense but I felt literary. Poetry made me want to be in love and war made me fear loss. I often sneaked French phrases, from War and Peace, in English essays but my teacher never pointed them out.

None of this appeared on my report cards. The fact that I did not make it to an IIT, then IIM and move to the US to work for a software firm is a disappointment to my schools. They must have been proud of Nitesh because he did all that and now works for an investment bank. Unfortunately, he is still in India. Perhaps, if he works harder, he might get a chance to move abroad. Hope his check-in at the international airport will bring peace and relief to the unrequited expectations bestowed upon him.

Assumptions, associations and learning to be a spectator obsessed with success.

Assumptions flaw our understanding of many ideas, three of which are particularly interesting: motivation, creativity, and intelligence. We are always curious about how they work. Attention grabbing articles strengthen assumptions as they often describe research in an overly simplified manner. We look for recipes to become creative and stay motivated.

Then, there are associations. We associate idea to one another, like fairness to beauty, wealth to happiness, flags to patriotism etc. Together they form an inter-connected web. Stimuli trigger a chain of thoughts that travel from idea to its association. This is how we learn and begin to restrict our thoughts. This makes our personality. This tendency to form associations is easy to test but difficult to get rid of them. In careers, intelligence is associated with engineering and creativity with art. The problem is not limited to associations but how rigid they become. Say, if you are considered intelligent, then it is assumed you would become an engineer.

Children learn about everything around them. That is all we do until we have to pay taxes, then we merely conform. The subject and pace of learning vary. Since computers can help in so many subjects, they fascinate us. I did not learn computers because I liked them. On the contrary, using a computer was frustrating. Getting something done was joyful. It was a triumph. It was the possibilities that kept me going. Imagining what a computer could do made me sit and try. I saw an opportunity to bring exciting ideas to life without asking people for help. Looking back, the problem was not people but asking. I was hesitant, not shy.

I used to spend a lot of time on a computer and thus, assumed that a career in software is best for me. Currently, everyone spends more time with a computer than anything else. This might be true if you use a computer at work and carry a smartphone. I started using a computer to make something as amazing as The Matrix. Computers were slower and being left handed didn’t help. I figured the code can ease a lot of work. Instead of painstakingly moving objects with the mouse, you can define their path in code. The computer will then fill in the details. It is called tweening. I made the bullet dodge scene with stick figures. The Matrix was my motivation.

Creativity is considered like an organ, an extra thumb that whether you have by birth or not at all. Intelligence is something that can be quantified. You can be an intelligent engineer, doctor or officer but not an artist. Art is from creativity, problem solving is intelligence. These are not accurate. They are not mutually exclusive.

Rarely are school kids encouraged to make stories, they’re taught grammar and made to write essays. You probably don’t know when an idea hits you or what will motivate you. We spend a lot more time and effort trying to transform something that we are not. We have an image of what we should be and we chase it relentlessly until we are in a groove. It is a groove of monotony. It limits our capacity to observe beyond the obvious.

This is why anything outside of our sphere of comfort appears creative and sadly, unreachable. We interview individuals about how they do it. We continuously consume information and rarely try to create something new. After I watched Ratatouille, I did not try to create a 3d animation. I did not try, I thought I’d fail. Instead, I longed for another movie that would make me feel the same. This is the cycle which goes from one experience to another. Each must outdo the last or else the monotony kicks in. This is an addiction. Intelligence is not about being able to repeat. It is about being able to see the patterns.


We are not let down by achievements but expectations. We want to be successful; like the outliers who kicked open the box that caged their dreams. Still, we chase it in the most mechanical fashion. If you aim to be at the top of the ‘Pyramid’ knowing that there isn’t enough place for everyone then disappointment is a friend that’ll serve you long.

You may also enjoy being a spectator and obsess about those that made to the top.  So, this didn’t turn out about how I let people down. However, I am happy to disappoint you by deviating from my shortcomings.

writing

Fear and Learning

Learning and teaching are difficult. When someone tries to teach, they expect results. To ensure results are acceptable, exams are taken. To force desired results, fear is alarmingly popular.

Driving

I get anxious in crowded places. For me it is a nightmare to drive on a road with bumper to bumper traffic with people looking for a chance to cross. Sadly, where I live, this is what the roads look like most part of the day. So I took driving classes. The instructor, a young guy, realized that I learn quick but failed to accept that I can have trouble driving.

But when I am anxious, I don’t act proper. When the traffic is heavy, I get concerned about everything around me. Sometimes, I’d stop to wait for a car to pass. The instructor wanted me to concentrate on driving. I’d skip changing gears or switch to the wrong one.

It appeared as if I was ignoring what he said. This irritated him. After all, he had taught me everything and I had demonstrated that. He could not fix my distractions. In turn, he triggered my anxiety by shouting. He told me that I must not make mistakes because it bother “him”. Well, I couldn’t care less, but I tried. His attempts to treat me like a school kid made me smile.

School teachers

The instructor acted similar to teachers who go from motivational to insulting without affecting a change. They get frustrated despite good intentions. Over the years, they come up with more techniques, trademark remarks, punishments or tricks to make kids learn. Some stick to fear in varied forms. Expertise in a subject is one thing, understanding learning is another.

Exams

It is not what a teacher thinks the kids know. It is what the kids know. This is where exams come, to establish learning has happened. Students do everything to pass exams. Under pressure, we tend to fake. Exam is not a guarantee of learning. We know that from friends who were bright yet failed or those who passed but didn’t grasp basics. Like a driver’s license gives permission to drive but doesn’t guarantee that you will be not be rash.

At school, homework is evaluated to ensure that you have practiced. But how should we practice? I have never been into a discussion which talks about how to practice. Although, countless times I have been asked my rank, grades and marks.

Learning

The assumptions related to why and how to learn go unchallenged.  Each one of us, carves an individual style. We figure out what works for us and what doesn’t. However, we continue to believe in techniques that work for all.

The problem is that common techniques do not help everyone. Attention to individuals is considered a burden. Do you know at least one person who paces up and down while preparing for exams? Or the one who switches off all the light except the table lamp?

It is convenient to make the whole group learn in the same way. No doubt, this fails quite so often. Then we resort to seeding fear. Fear of punishment, failure, shame, underachievement and ridicule. Fear may make kids practice and score marks. It does not foster curiosity and makes dangerous associates. Like school with punishment, failure with ridicule and exams with anxiety.

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The Ganges

The Ganges starts ferociously. Plunging and rushing through the narrow valleys and gorges, it lets nothing come in its way. It slowly and steadily erodes the rocks. Oblivious to what lies ahead, it moves unfazed about the destination. The vigor is fascinating to watch but intimidating to handle. It doesn’t fear obstacles. This is youth.

In its middle course, the river is slow, calm and muddy with the burden that came along with youth. It grows wider and deeper. At certain places, one bank cannot see the other. Growing in capacity, it is slower in changing directions. Through the meanders it continues to set a path. It is predictable and patient for those who rely on it.

Finally, in the lower course, the river loses its jest. It leaves all that it accumulated and dumps it in the delta. Water flows into the sea, carrying no hint of its source, losing identity.

writing

Inquiry and Religion

It will cease to be an inquiry if answers are accepted without a challenge. Learning is to see “what is” against perception. We build analogies to compare the unknown. We get restless upon seeing something new. With haste we put a name to it. A tag that helps us bring it within our realm of knowledge. When a person doesn’t behave as we expected, that behavior is outside that realm. We struggle to accept it without reason.

Then how do we proceed without naming things? We must know what is it that we are looking at. We are scared of the dark, afraid of walking ahead. At home, the most familiar place, we can move around with eyes closed. The same goes for other senses.

When we meet a new person, the same feeling creeps in. Unable to know about him/her, we make assumptions. What holds us back from knowing a person? Lack of interest, opinions, fear of an unpleasant experience. We assume that we can know a person by their appearance or opinions that others hold of them. This gets in our way. We look but do not see. We blur our vision with the prejudices to avoid making mistakes, emotional or otherwise. To avoid attachments that may not be mutual. Yet, all this is not part of the person. It is us.

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Perils of Inspiration

Inspiration comes in many forms, the degree of which varies. When a person inspires us, there is a want to become like that. Also, there is a doubt that we may not be as inspirational.

This sets a bar. We constantly compare. Out of those who try, few persist, fewer succeed. The focus is driven by wanting to do something. The result is means everything. People get restless with slow progress and seek instant accomplishment.

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