Here cometh 2021

This is in continuation to a previous post, which you can read here. In that post, I try to lay out all the facets of my personality that I am unhappy with and I would like to vanish along with the year 2020. This post will be more hopeful and will lay out how I could change what I was and what lies on the path ahead. These will be the answer to the grievances, my jawab-e-shikwa. While the previous post was just full of problems, this one will hopefully present an outlook, some hope and wisdom.

I would take inspiration from a Disney film called Lilo & Stitch that I was fascinated with as a boy (trailer below). In this film, Stitch is an intergalactic monster that pretends to be a pet of a cute little Hawaiian girl called Lilo, through the course of which he starts to become actually quite lovable.

How could I change things?

  1. Negativity bias

The first thing is reduce the amount of current affairs content consumed. I have stopped constantly checking news aggregators and instead rely on news that I pay for, i.e. Newslaundry. I have subscribed to their organization and only follow the news content they make. The fact that they don’t overload with quantity and try to focus on the quality of the limited articles/podcasts/videos they create makes things easier.

Secondly, I now no longer try to follow things as they are happening. Instead, I wait for the weekly Newslaundry podcasts like NL Hafta and NL Charcha for a balanced in-depth discussion after all the smoke has cleared away. This way, I actually save a lot of time to focus on other more useful things.

I also started to listen to other nice podcasts like The seen and the unseen, Today in Focus (The Guardian), among others. This way, the getting to know experience is less engaging. Also, the general expansion of interests beyond what is going on right now in the world is leading me to several interesting books. I just started reading a scientifically oriented cooking book called Masala Lab, which was recommended on The seen and the unseen podcast. Following this other content takes my head away from the current affairs.

Also, another important step there was to stop using Twitter and spend more time on Mastodon instead. Seriously, Twitter is just vicious.

Most importantly, I started some positive initiations myself to counteract the feeling of dread and helplessness. I take math lessons for some underprivileged Indian kids online, and I also started the Wikipariksha project. I donate my money to trustworthy organizations, buy carbon offsets and support independent media by subscribing to Newslaundry.

  1. Being needlessly argumentative

Here, I need to teach myself to be accepting and tolerant of others' opinions. It’s not easy, but what I have tried to do is just be a man of fewer words in person. I will make myself just agreeable and appreciate the interests and opinions of other people.

This may sound really cheesy, but I started out by rereading some parts of the book How to win friends and influence people. This book is quite out-dated and has been criticized a lot, but the book features an entire chapter on arguments with the headline The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.

Instead of expressing myself through arguments, I have decided to write blogs. I have begun writing this blog recently and it is now going to contain a lot my ramblings that I would like to get out of my system without exposing someone to it. They’re free to read my blog and talk to me about it.

  1. Inconsideration towards loved ones

Again How to win friends and influence people has some hints in this matter, in the chapter titled How to make people like you instantly. In the book, Dale Carnegie says that

You want the approval of those with whom you come in contact. You want recognition of your true worth. You want a feeling that you are important in your little world. You don’t want to listen to cheap, insincere flattery, but you do crave sincere appreciation. All of us want that!

Honestly, I’m embarrassed at having to read this book that is teaching me basic social practices. But at this point, it does seem like a useful activity to be reading this book that lays out everything that I should have been. If it helps drive down the point in me, what’s the harm?

  1. Not being a good listener

This is perhaps a psychological problem. I don’t know how I can solve it. I’ve started to practice some mindfulness techniques, but I don’t see it changing much.

When I lose my focus, it is mostly because my mind runs off in a tangential thought sparked off from the conversation. This is just how I think, in a breadth first search search manner. Sometimes, this makes for interesting conversations, but often it leads to the speaker getting frustrated when I hijack the conversation. I do require thinking in depth in my mathematical work and it is a skill that I must develop, but this is somehow not the sort of way my brain reacts to conversations.

I think the first thing I must do is to make everyone whom I am afraid to be affected by be aware of this flaw. With that, I must try to repeat what they are saying in short summaries to train myself to follow larger conversations. I don’t have to sound like an answering machine, I just need to say stuff like “Oh! So you’re saying that …” or “Ah, so you mean…”. Cross-questioning on details is also important, or asking for clarifications about certain things.

Nonetheless, I think that this is going to be a life-long struggle and I am definitely in it for the long run.

  1. Not remembering promises, losing special items, being disorganized

I have a very good antidote for this. I have started to recently use vimwiki for knowledge management. It makes me write all my notes in markdown and acts as a second brain. I write down everything important people say to me, even personal stuff, in these notes and also note down birthdays and locations of key items. I use tags to sort tasks, dates, appointments, meetings, etc. I can access this wiki on any of my devices on the go.

I have started to create digital copies, scans, photos of things that I am afraid of losing and sync it up on some cloud storage. This is also a big step in making my life more organized.

I have been recently drooling at what emacs org-mode can do, and I am also tempted to get into that someday. We’ll see.

  1. Being loud, arrogant, too talkative, disrespectful

Reading the book How to win friends and influence people is just not enough. I have to read more books about self-help and growth.

Another thing that is also working for me is watching and taking inspiration from romantic dramas. Watching ultra-polite men, like Hyun Bin from Crash landing on you, Ryan Gosling from Drive serve as inspirations. Recently, I saw a deeply moving romantic drama called In the mood for love, in which the character played by Tony Leung really made me wish for myself to be more like him.

  1. Forgetting to credit someone

This just needs sensitization. I have experienced a few incidents where I made grave errors with a closed one, and I don’t think the trauma of having done that will go away so easily.

Much like ice-skating, personality development is also where falling could be a very good reinforcement for learning and improving. I have fallen enough and won’t let this happen again. If it does happen again, please show me this blog post that I have written to change myself.

  1. The toxic IIT culture left within me

This will not be easy. One answer to this is to educate myself better on gender issues. I have started reading feminist books to change myself.

I recently read Men explain things to me for learning about gender-politics (this book kinda brought us the word mansplaining). This book taught me a lot about the angsts and frustrations of women. Citing the book,

“Women worldwide ages 15 through 44 are more likely to die or be maimed because of male violence than because of cancer, malaria, war and traffic accidents combined” writes Nicholas D. Kristof, one of the few prominent figures to address the issue regularly

Let that sink in! This makes a man quite the most dangerous thing that is around a woman. From this point of view, a woman just be letting a man in the room with her is giving him a position of responsibility and the least a man can do is not be a jerk around her.

The next book on my read-list is Caste: The origins of our discontent. I’ll write more about it when I have read it!

Other than that, I also want to step away from the social culture around me. I currently live in a shared apartment, where there is a random gathering like every other day, many of those gathering are from some kind of an IIT background. Starting from February 2021, I will have shifted to my own studio where I can live in a separate peaceful existence on my own and read books, play music, write blogs and do everything that makes me a calmer and more peaceful individual. Societal problems permeate in an individual through the exposure of those who carry it, and by partially isolating myself from those that I think still carry remnants of the toxic IIT culture, I think I would be leading a better life. I don’t think that I have a lot of such people around me, it’s just that somehow it starts resonating when we’re all in a group.

Conclusion

It is not easy to bring change. Hopefully, by educating myself and learning, I will become a person that if not for others, is more at ease with himself. I do not know if I will be successful in my task of making these improvements, but I do think that being able to acknowledge them is in itself a tremendous first step that will take me to my goal!

EDIT:

Self-analysis is a very tricky thing to do. It’s always incomplete and there’s always a tendency to pull one’s punches while hitting oneself. I’ve taken all care to avoid doing these two things in my self-analysis in the two articles that I have written about myself. But not everything about me is a flaw, of course. I must certainly have some good traits. But it would be too flattering for myself to write about those, and I’ll prefer if someone else writes a blog about it. Nonetheless, my friend SS suggested that it might not be a bad idea to remind myself that I’m not at the rock bottom. So I’ll write some words about what I think is an asset and might take me forward.

I think I am honest to people around me. I don’t like to lie, instead I have been on the completely opposite end where I have been blunt and brash (it’s possible to be honest and not brash, of course). I also think that I have a capacity to sincerely emote under all my veils that I wear around people, and it often comes out when people dig in me. It’s just that I try to suppress my emotional self somewhere inside me and not let it out.

Lastly, what I consider my greatest asset is that I can reason with myself, analyse situations and try to put context into my thoughts. This pensive personality has been able to help me find hope and patience in very difficult times, and I value it a lot. I hope that this same personality will guide me towards a better version of Breakfastisready in the year 2021!