Monday, August 23, 2010

Your Well-being Is Your Responsibility

Concern with well-being has been with man kind for as long as we remember. However, the definition of well-being and how we generate it and who is responsible, however, has changed over time.

There was a time when people left the responsibility of one’s well being to their clan, their community and believed that if all was well with the community or clan, their well-being was taken care of as also the reverse; i.e. if they had a sense of well-being with themselves, then the community as a collective also had a sense of well-being with itself. Often in such diffused state, individual’s sense of well being had to be sacrificed at the alter of the collective well being.

Then came a time when we were told that a sense of well being came with who you are in your roles that your establish with the world at large – be it in the family, at work, in the world and wherever else. If we maintained the balance in the relationship well, well-being would be guaranteed was the assurance. This created the misbalance that we did not know how to relate to ourselves and to others without the given roles and found a sense of identity only within the given roles. Any sense of well being that came outside the scope of roles were discarded and generated stress.

Today, I believe we are going through a phase in the world, where the basic message that is being passed on to us is that “Your well-being is your responsibility alone”. We are going through a phase when we are individuals first and collective later but unlike the clan or the role era, the collective tells us who we should be and how we should be without taking any responsibility for it.

We are told, nobody else can or will take responsibility of your well -being and hence the individual is to maintain and generate her or his sense of well-being irrespective of the context. So, for instance we keep getting message through ads of chocolate, cars or even bottled water, which generates instant sense of well being even when the situation surrounding the protagonist is potentially fearful, disconnected or stressful. We are also given lessons on positive thinking which would generate well-being but often times some of these messages do not take into account the contextual reality.

However, there is an associated message as well, which is while you are solely responsible for your well being, you must not disturb other people’s well being. This effectively means that not only you have to be continuously aware, competent and rational, you must also remain vigilant that you do not become a source of disturbance for others. On the surface of it, this sounds quite alright; if everyone took responsibility of their well-being, this world will be a happy and peaceful place. The problem occurs when remaining vigilant and aware at all points of time itself becomes difficult and when such things are simplified to such an extent that they become absolute, like a dogma.

Before I proceed any further, let me clarify that the kind of individuals and context that I am talking about here are largely urban, middle class, above school level and are mostly into employment or business or are professionals. I must also clarify that as a concept I am a great fan of positivity and positive thinking but I do take offence when they are passed on as an absolute reality without taking their context into account.

Let me state a couple of small stories.

Story number one in which a woman who is feeling quite direction less in her life. She is in her mid thirties, holds a responsible job and is intelligent, caring, perceptive and competent. The sense of confusion and directionlessness comes partly from her past history of stressful relationships and partly from her work context where she is new and is trying to find her feet. Despite her best efforts, she often finds herself on the verge of losing control over her emotions, falls sick quite often without any associated disease and ends up taking decisions that she regrets later on. In this situation, more often than not, she receives advice from her near and dear ones both at work as also from her personal context that she needs to sort herself out and only if she could do that, i.e. go to a therapist, practice yoga, take care of herself, has better routine, all such problems will be taken care of and things will come back to normal. This woman, despite doing all of the above, finds herself at the same crossroad and then starts doubting her sense of worth.

And what does the context do, while she stands on her head trying to “sort herself out?” Her mother who is critical, gets hyper critical about this woman’s problems out of her own anxiety, her boyfriend stays away from her because he was unable to handle her emotional upheavals, her work context demands the same amount of attention, care, concern and competence from her irrespective of her situation and they all pass on this message to her that “please stay away from us, take care of your situation and come back to us as a “functional” person as we are unable to take care of your dysfunctionality. We however, wish you well and are willing to bear the cost of your medical bills, will hire a counselor for your or even help you find a yoga teacher, offer you gymming facility, etc, etc. This in turn increases this woman’s low sense of self worth and pushes her to the brink further and further.

The context in this case, would hardly ever look at reducing some of the stress causing factors that may contribute to her lack of well being, e.g. her mother becoming less critical, her boyfriend’s hyper sensitivity to her emotional outbursts, her work context not demanding her to be always sensible, rational and fair, etc, etc.

Story number two is a multinational organisation where higher and higher responsibility, ownership and performance are demanded from the employees. The employees don’t mind, they see this as a rightful demand on the part of the organisation in return of the money, status, position, learning and value that are being provided to them by the organisation.

So far, so good- Right? Wrong. In a situation like this most of the time the employees would not know what to do with the stress and tension that they carry for a context that is ever changing, highly competitive and very demanding. One can of course argue that this is the way of the world and that people who come for this kind of work have made a choice. However my point here is not about the choice but whether just by making a choice, the responsibility of the generating well being becomes an individual responsibility or is it both? After all, if the context learns to take care of its inhabitants, the context generates its own well being as well. However, most of the time, organisations such as these would term such stresses as symptoms of lack of work life balance problem and would organize training programs to take care of such anomalies without making the slightest difference to the internal environment which is tipping off the balance continuously. Alternately the context usually not question the value frames from where such stressors are originating and whether they are an absolute must for the “development” and “progress” of the context.

Therefore it is not surprising that often who we are and who we should be are defined and dictated by the popular media and even when we hear a heart breaking story of a model taking her own life, it often comes in the garb of how her professional life created this stress and how does one stay away from the stress through individual effort while the context goes away scot free in the name of being a “high stress” industry.

The opposite is also true, i.e. there are individuals and groups who would never look at how they are contributing to the stress of the context and would demand that the context makes all the changes while they retain all their dysfunctional habits and patterns in relation to the context.

Till such time both the individuals and context look at each other as integral part of each other and that this relationship is not just contractual (work context), or societal (family, relationships), but are complimentary to each other and one will not survive without the other, but at the same time one can not subsume the other, this confusion and stress will continue to haunt us.

On a different take, why is a constant state of well being so important? What is wrong with unhappiness, struggle, sadness, confusion, anger, grief and lack of well being? Aren’t some of these great mobilisers for new path, new directions and new action choices? May be this calls for another post, later!

What do you think and feel about your well being?

Thursday, August 12, 2010


I will be out for the weekend and I realised how much am I going to miss my blog and my blogger friends.

If I look back at the last couple of months, I can see how many wonderful  and talented people I have met in the blogosphere.  People who write about varied subjects, people who are as different from me as cheese and chalk, people who have very similar interests in life as me, people who have known me differently and now also are my blog buddies and are co bloggers.  The experience has been extremely rich and rewarding.

There are so many blogs that I love reading and keep going back to get my fill every day;  some of which are: - for lovely and soulful poems - for great animation and humour - a wonderfully written blog for tips and tricks hosted by warm and friendly Jean Sarauer. - for touching and inspiring posts hosted by a very compassionate Corinne. - again a very well written helpful and friendly blog hosted by wonderful Barbara - for a humorous yet vibrant landscaping of a woman's life - posts on varied subjects coming straight from the heart of a passionate person.

Many many other such ones are part of my blog roll that I visit every day to laugh, to think, to feel inspired, to feel touched, to act, to respond .... and everyday is a new experience.

I have received responses to my posting in many different ways, some helpful tips, some friendly pats,  some kind comments, some helpful critiques, silent but regular visitors ...  All these make me want to write more.

I have learnt from my friends about blog etiquette, about various techniques and tools that I can use, about what it means to be a blogger and why do we write and about passion, rigour, commitment and focus.  I am so grateful and appreciative of all my friends who comment, who visit and who teach me to be a better person and a blogger every day.

What about you?  how's your experience of connecting in the blogosphere?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Wordless Wednesday - Monsoon!

Lazy afternoon
monsoon in Kolkata, India
Right after a heavy shower!

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Where do we go from here?

Have you ever felt like not doing anything at all and just let the world pass you by?  I do, quite often, and at those times it feels like being in a haze.  I know I have these three hundred thousand chores to do, many other ambitious plans of writing, singing, going places, connecting with people, taking care of my well being, blah, blah!   And, those voices seem to come calling for me from a distant land … I can hear but can’t respond, as I am dazed; like being in a limbo with no movement.  Have you ever experienced this?

I do, quite often in fact, and I often wonder whether this is what getting old mean?  On one hand you “know” you have these dreams, wishes, desires and on the other hand, you “feel” so content with what there is … well, may be not “content” in the exact sense of the word but a sense of being “ok” and feeling no tearing sense of urgency.

I wonder whether it has anything to do with ageing at all?  My discussions with people usually bring up comments like “Oh, age is only in the mind”, “you can do whatever you wish to do; age has nothing to do with it” and yet I wonder, doesn’t it?

Ageing is such a less talked about phenomena in my known world – the few contexts in which it is talked about is either religiosity or health related.  Of course there would be counter arguments about the average age of our politicians, but in my opinion that is about our collective clannish orientation where “the elderly knows the best”. 

My question is are we really afraid to age and become old?  I know I am; I often tell my friends that my emotional age has stopped somewhere in my thirties although chronologically I am in my fifties!   

My fears of getting old is leaving a known world – a world where I could achieve anything, dream of future so bright and shiny, relationships seemed romantic and passionate and where anything was possible! 

As I am writing this post, I am also in touch with the fact that most of my dread around ageing is shaped by the way society responds to it; how we have collectively made this into a dreary, grey and slightly hopeless land where people can look back at their past glory, hand over their future to their children and/or desperately want to stay at the same place and claim that “50” is the “new 30” …. and how it has become our consensual truth, i.e. everyone says so, hence it must be so.  That old age is lonely, not very stable, dependent and diseased.  I am of course over generalizing here to make a point.

The other depiction of old age that I have seen is in movies where romance, grit and passion are also part of the ageing process.  Where people find each other and start afresh, and of course in Indian context that if often depicted with its share of shame and guilt.  As though romance is a big no no for people over a certain age.  But even this little bit of difference is scarce.   How much of this is real in our day-to-day living process in our upper middle class, middle class and other sections of the society in India today?

 Without aping the “youthfulness frenzy” and without falling into a “hopeless abyss”, are there different ways of enjoying our life space when we are stepping into the older part of our lives, be it after 40 or 50 or 60?  This is a phase of life for most people where togetherness with partners has been lived for a while, children if any, are either in their teens or in early youth, career has taken a certain shape and we are standing at the peak from where we can both sides of the slope.  We can hurtle down, we can slowly walk, we can stride, but we can neither stop nor go back.

What choices do we make?  Are there any models available?  What new models do we wish to create? Traditionally in India there is a concept of "Vanprastha" where people can make new choices after their basic commitment and duties of being a householder is over.  However, in popular parlance, this is often viewed at from a particularised point of view, i.e. people are expected to  get into spirituality, into social work and philanthropy, etc, as though after a certain age, making other choices for oneself is a matter of shame. 

While I certainly do not run down social work, spirituality, philanthropy etc, the point I am trying to make here is what other choices are possible for us to look at?  How would we look at contentment that comes from having finished a phase of our lives to the best or worst of our abilities?  

However, I believe making choices is a second step.  Perhaps the first step is to articulate how we feel about getting older.  Perhaps only then, can we envision our future and not resign to the way we are supposed to be!! 

Looking forward to hearing from you.  What do you think?