Which way to go?

Which way to go?

There is a beautiful teaching story from Korea of a Zen master and his disciple. The master took him to the bank of a stream that flowed between rocks. There he made a small paper boat and floated it on the water. He told his disciple to follow the boat and report back to him about its journey. The disciple trotted along the bank of the stream and watched the little boat riding the current, dodging between the rocks until it finally vanished around a bend. When he returned, the master asked him, ‘What did you see?’

‘I saw the boat as it raced on the current, riding the waves. It was so exciting.’

‘What else did you see?’

‘Nothing else,’ said the disciple, perplexed about what he may have missed seeing.

‘What did the boat do when it came to a rock in the stream?’

‘It went around the rock,’ said the disciple.

‘What would have happened if it had tried to break the rock?’

‘It would have failed.’

‘And its journey would have ended. But the rock would still have been there. Think, what was the purpose of the boat? To ride the current and see the world or get involved with a rock that is going nowhere?’

Today, we Muslims, worldwide are like the boat, trying to break the rocks which seem to block our passage instead of seeking a way around them. The way around the rock is always there, but sometimes needs a little seeking.

In another article I have described what I believe is happening with Islam and Muslims, globally. I would suggest you take a break here and read that article.

We must remember that the history of nations is like the wave of the ocean. It rises and falls and rises again, only to fall again. Permanence is not a phenomenon of this world, though mankind has eternally wasted its time in trying to find it. Be that freedom from death personally or a legacy that will be everlasting. What we Muslims are going through now is neither new nor the last time we will see this. This happened before and it will happen again. What happened before and what will happen again is also the height of civilization, power, influence and the opportunity to benefit the world. How we use that will dictate how long we will have that opportunity. History taught me two lessons:

1.      Only those who benefit others remain while those who take for themselves from others, will be removed.

2.     When we don’t learn from history we are condemned to repeat it.

I am mentioning this more as a caveat about what we must do, going forward, to get our boat out of the trough in the ocean and back on the peak of the wave. In the trough, all that you can see are the massive deep blue seas around you, each enough to swamp and sink you a thousand times. Terrifying, depressing, despair.

On the peak you ride the massive blue and see the horizon, the shoreline and safety, while racing towards it with the wind in your hair and the ocean foam flecking your brow. Exhilarating, exciting, hope. In one situation, the power of the ocean seems to be your enemy, bent on destroying you. In the other it is taking you to your goal, supporting you and using its massive force to drive you forward.

In reality, nothing changed in the ocean. It is the same ocean, the same waves with the same power. What changed is the position of your boat. In one situation, the power of the waves is a lethal danger. In another it is an asset, support and your motive power. We don’t control the ocean. But the boat is ours. The one who tries to control the ocean and despairs at his own insignificance is bound to perish. While the one who focuses on his boat and tries to use the force of the ocean to his advantage always succeeds. That is why they say, ‘There are no favorable winds; only good sailors.’ The choice is ours, for the boat is ours and we are in it. So, let us learn how to sail and enjoy the ride.

This article is in the nature of a heart to heart – Ghar ki baat, apno say. We are the boat and are in the boat. It is for us to chart our own course and use the challenges that face us to become stronger, more positive and more beneficial for all those around us.

I base my contention about the possibility of success of what I am going to propose also on some research based data which we know as the ‘Butterfly Effect in Chaos Theory’. The Butterfly Effect of Chaos Theory is not restricted to weather. It affects us in all aspects of life. It talks about the significance of the smallest action and its ability to have a profound global impact, though this may not be apparent at first.  It is the flapping of the wings of the butterfly in New Mexico which creates the tornado in China; both figuratively and actually. 

You can read more about that here:  

Islam is the name of a practice. Not a philosophy or theology. Like Judo only the one who practices it can benefit from it. Islam is not related to any particular race, nationality or country; anyone who practices Islam will benefit from it. I begin with this statement to define what being Muslim means. It means you practice what you profess to believe and face the music that goes with it. Some of that music is very pleasant, especially from those you touch and interact with. Those who know you by name and face. But from the rest who don’t know you and for whom the words ‘Muslim’ and ‘Islam’ have been demonized, the music you face is not very nice, to put it politely. There is an old adage, ‘Give a dog a bad name and hang him.’ It means that the poor dog didn’t do anything to be hanged but was the victim of a media campaign against him. Dogophobia got him and he was hanged. That is what those who spend their time and money behind demonizing Islam seem to want to do. Islamophobia is a multibillion dollar industry which like the pre-World War II, anti-Semitism of Germany and Europe is run by those who are trying to make hay while the sun shines.   

The good thing about bad times is that they strengthen you. The blow that doesn’t break your back only makes you stronger. In that context, I thought it would perhaps be useful to share some thoughts. None of this is easy. But nothing worth having is easy. Today we are fast reaching a stage where our choices are sought to be limited more and more. All the more reason to act with wisdom and after serious thought to ensure that we remain safe and effective. Here’s what I believe we Muslims need to do.

1.      Never react. Always respond. Reacting means that you are the puppet and your strings are in someone else’s hand. They have your remote control and press the buttons and you dance to their tune. A puppet can never be his own master unless he cuts the strings. So, never react.

2.     Always respond. But respond after serious thought to the consequences of responding. Ask, ‘Does this need a response? If so, how?’ Remaining silent is also a response and many times, the most powerful one. There are many examples of Gandhiji’s responses in the face of great provocation. Once someone wrote a very long and very abusive letter to him. When the letter was delivered to him, Gandhiji read it and removed the paper clip that held the pages together and threw the pages into the garbage bin. The person who gave him the letter asked, ‘Aren’t you going to reply?’ Gandhiji showed him the paper clip that he was holding and said, ‘I have taken what was valuable in the letter. Thank you.’

3.     Remember that restraint takes more strength of character to exercise than reacting. The strongest person is one who can remain calm in the face of provocation. However, this won’t happen automatically and must be cultivated. Like body building, it is very painful at first, but once you get the hang of it, you realize that there are few pleasures more enjoyable than to see the frustration of your opponent when you refuse to rise to his bait.

4.     Restraint comes from confidence. Confidence in yourself and what you believe in. Confidence that you don’t need anyone’s approval to believe what you do and to live by that belief. Confidence comes from knowledge, so it is essential for Muslims to learn about their religion. As I said, Islam is the name of a practice. Practice without understanding can also give you some benefit, but if you practice with understanding, the benefits are multiplied, one of which is gaining confidence. The other is the ability to respond appropriately when the need arises. Apologetic Muslims are no good to man or beast. They live in fear and contaminate others with it. As Jesus is reported to have said, ‘The truth shall set you free.’ (John 8:32). Learn the truth about Islam so that you can practice it with confidence.

5.     Understand that strangeness enables stereotyping and having a face to a name is the best defence against it. It is not possible to hate or malign someone you know personally and have had good experiences with. I learnt this lesson very early in life and used it with great success in some of the most hostile and adversarial situations in management union agitations in Guyana and India. I was in the middle of several very tense situations, surrounded by armed union members, but was never in the slightest danger personally because for me, every one of them had a name and a history with me. They knew it and I knew it. I was not a stranger.

6.     This is not a tactic. It is something you do out of your own belief and value system. You are good to people because that is who you are and how you have been raised. Not to get something out of them. It is not a manipulative technique. Let me warn you in advance that if you try to manipulate, you will fail. People see through it and the reaction is much worse. Values, not PR strategies, must drive behavior. Be good to people because that is what Islam teaches us. Help people because that is what Islam teaches us. Stand up for the oppressed because that is what Islam teaches us. Give more than what is due and focus on excellence in everything you do, because that is what Islam teaches us. You do it because Islam teaches you to do it. Others will react to it because you did it. Eliminate strangers by eliminating strangeness; make friends. It takes very little, a smile, remembering a name, listening with empathy, walking a little way with them to help them in their time of need. The results are profound. The best compliment I received from one of my many Hindu friends when talking about the effects of Islamophobia was when she said to me, ‘Yawar bhai, when anyone says the word ‘Muslim’, I see your face.’

7.     Sad to say that despite all this, Islamophobia has taken its toll and there are some relationships which seem to have gone sour for no reason other than that people chose to believe false propaganda instead of asking themselves a simple question, ‘Which Muslim do I know, who is like this?’ Strangely people who have lived with us, literally in our homes, who have eaten and traveled with us, whose children are like our own, shared good and bad times with us and have never had a single negative experience have still chosen to turn a cold shoulder to decades old friendship. Why they did that is a mystery to me but one that I have chosen to leave in its place. There is too much to do, to spend time and energy wondering why someone chose to walk away, when I know with total certainty that there is nothing that I did to instigate that reaction. Sadly, the political propaganda that seems to have engulfed us globally has taken its toll. To accept loss is a part of growing up.

So, here’s my solution.

If I was asked to define in one word, the problem of Muslims and Islam, I would say it is ‘image’. It is because of this that the ‘Opposition’ has been able to project us into the space of the ‘Other’, to be hated, maligned, demonized and destroyed. Not that they can do it, but they can try and that is painful enough. This is possible because we are relatively unknown, not understood and a mystery to most people. Add to this the selective and often distorted projection of negative things from the culture of some Muslim countries as being aspects of Islam and we end up with the mess that we are in. The reaction of many of us, thanks to our own ignorance about Islam as well as about different cultures and societies, is to feel ‘guilty’ and ‘ashamed’ of our own religion and to try to answer the accusations either by becoming apologetic or by reacting aggressively. 

Both, especially the latter, are detrimental to our own cause and play into the hands of those whose aim is to bait us into saying or doing things to ‘hang’ ourselves. The fact that we don’t read, have no understanding about critical thinking and analysis, have no tolerance for the opposite view and have no effective media or means of communication, makes the job easy for those who target us.

Therefore, our principle challenge is really quite simple; change the image.

It is a common cop-out strategy to ‘globalize’ issues which apparently legitimizes our inaction in trying to solve them. ‘How can I solve such a massive problem? After all I am one person.’ But as Mother Teresa said, ‘If you can’t feed a hundred people, feed one.’ Localizing the problem suddenly makes it possible for each one of us to contribute and by that contribution, we can have a global impact. Action and only action produces results. So, we need to act.

My philosophy in consulting as well as life is to try to seek solutions that are simple, easy to understand and teach, doable by everyone and needing little or no external resources or training. These are the best solutions for they have the ability to proliferate fastest. 

Another thing that encourages me endlessly is the ‘Lily pad problem’; A lily pad grows so that each day it doubles its size (area). On the 20th day of its life, it completely covers the pond. On what day of its life was the pond half covered? I am sure you can guess the answer. There is a complicated way to solve this problem but the simplest is to note the phrase – doubles in size each day. We are talking about small changes that together can change the world. On the 19th day, the pond is only half covered with lily pads and that doesn’t look like much. But on the 20th day you wake up to the fact that the pond is completely covered and all you can see are the lily pads.

To change our image, which is necessary for us to get out of the position of the ‘Global Other’ we must use the old adage: ‘Think global, act local.’

I think I have explained the global issue in enough detail. Let us see what the local action must be.

Muslims are supposed to be 20% of the global population. This means that for every Muslim, there are four people who are not Muslim. This means that the global image problem, at a local level, can be defined as the opinions of four people. That means that all that I need to do is to convince four people, that I am the best thing that happened in their lives. Win the hearts of four people. Just four people. Not more. Just four. Convince by my behavior, because people listen with their eyes. They don’t care what you say, until they see what you do. It is our personal experience of each other that we use to form our opinions, including our stereotypes and prejudices. When these stereotypes and prejudices come face to face with personal concrete experience, they melt away in the light of experienced truth.

A lamp doesn’t light up a room by doing anything to the room. It lights it up simply by living its purpose and lighting itself up. If the room needs more light, the lamp just burns brighter until all darkness is driven from the room. Darkness has no existence of its own. It is the name given to the absence of light. Lamenting about darkness won’t drive it away. Lighting a single lamp will.

That is my contention and that is my solution.

As you read this, I am sure there will be many who will say, ‘This is not simple. It is simplistic. It is too simple to work. How can the solution to such a massive problem be so simple? How is it possible that we can solve our problem of being in the position of the ‘Global Other’, without a Muslim UN, owning global media channels, bringing all Muslims of every type together on one platform, creating a powerful global leadership which every Muslim will obey…I can list all the so-called grand strategies that we hear all the time but won’t waste your time here. All I have to say is, ‘How many of those grand strategies worked?’ That needs no answer. That is the problem with grand strategies; in their conception is their demise. They are all still born because they are too complex, need too many resources and are too open to opposition.

A simple strategy like what I have suggested has the following strengths:

1.      Needs no resources
2.     Can be done by anyone
3.     Needs no training or specialized knowledge or special time out of your day
4.     Will show immediate results – instant feedback
5.     Nobody can object to it because nobody will object to good coming their way

So, what are you waiting for? At worst, even if the strategy fails to bring about global change, you will still have four people who believe that you are the best thing that happened to them in their lives. Now what’s so bad about that?

I want to end with the beautiful word of Barbara Winters who said, ‘When you come to the end of the light of all that you know and are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is to know that one of two things will happen; there will be something firm to stand on or you will be taught how to fly.’

Now that you have come to the end of this article, go and be nice to someone. Go on! What are you waiting for? Just do it.

There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who try to succeed and those who tell you why they never tried. It is our choice who we want to be.
Take tough decisions

Take tough decisions

Problems need solutions, not complaints or endless analyses.
We need solutions, not tedious explanations.
In all the years that I have been advising companies about achieving remarkable results, especially family businesses, one thing is very clear. Top management’s unwillingness or inability to take tough calls is the single, most destructive factor that blocks their success. When leaders are weak, the whole enterprise suffers. The kindest cut is with a sharp knife. When surgery becomes necessary, it must be done to save the life. Not permitting a child to enter a business because he or she is not capable of running it, is a tough decision. Often it is not taken and everyone suffers as a result.

The same logic applies to self-development. The hardest thing is to accept that you are the one who needs to change. The maxim, ‘We have met the enemy and he is us’, applies to all situations of personal development. Development starts with accepting the need for it. And that means accepting that one has been wrong all along.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (1926-2004) named the 5 stages that the dying (and those who receive news of terminal illness) go through. “Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance”. Many others have taken the same stages and compared them to people’s reactions to traumatic news of any kind, like divorce, bereavement, loss of employment, catastrophic loss of any kind and so on. 
A convenient acronym is ‘SARAH’: which stands for:
S         Shock: at hearing or realizing the loss in the first instance
A         Anger: that this is happening to me
R         Resistance: refusal to believe that this is happening/happened
A         Acceptance: coming to terms with the loss or situation
H        Hope/help: hope in a future after the loss and seeking help in it

Let us discuss this in a little more detail and look at two other concurrent processes that happen while SARAH is manifesting which are not covered in this model.

Research tells us that when people are going through times of disruptive change they feel:

n  Disorientation: Drifting at sea, buffeted by waves of hatred and disapproval.
n  Depression: Intimidated, attacked, lost, wanting to hide but nowhere to do it.
n  Loss of purpose: Lack of leadership, looking everywhere for direction.
n  Fear of elimination: Fearful about personal safety, looking over the shoulder.
There are two keys to survival in such times of disastrous and disruptive change:

  1.    Face the brutal facts without losing hope
  2.    Make sense of what is happening and create a roadmap out of the mess
Extensive research with inmates of concentration camps shows that those who eventually survived and escaped were those who faced the brutal facts of their situation without any attempt at painting them in a ‘rosy’ hue or indulging in hope bordering on fantasy. They did not tell themselves that rescue was around the corner nor did they wait for a messiah to come to save them. They did not imagine that their captors would suddenly see the error of their ways or would become inclined towards them. In short, the survivors did not fool themselves. They said to themselves in so many words, “We are in deep shit and it stinks. These are the reasons we are here. These are the things that can happen to us including our elimination.” They did not spend time complaining or blaming their captors or in abusing themselves or wallowing in self-pity. They objectively took stock of their situation and had the courage to look it full in the face and to recognize it for what it was; very grave and potentially lethal.
Yet these people also did not lose hope in their eventual success. They had faith and took the help of their ideology and belief and strongly believed that eventually they would survive and would outlast their captors. They believed that they had the capability to resist and absorb any punishment that was dished out to them; as in the Arabic saying: The blow that does not break your back only strengthens you.
Two apparently paradoxical attitudes: looking at the brutal facts yet not losing hope in eventual success, no matter how impossible it may seem at that moment.  This was the key to the success of people interned in some of the most brutal concentration camps in the world. And history tells us that they did survive.
That is the open secret about all change; personal or collective. It is the ability to stop fooling yourself and to take tough decisions that enables you to survive and win. 
Focus on contribution – not entitlement

Focus on contribution – not entitlement

Add value first. 
Entitlement will follow. 
Entitlement goes with the territory. 
Contribution defines the territory
Because entitlement is directly proportional to contribution. Entitlement is the result of contribution. If you want more ‘entitlement’, contribute more. Only those who contribute greatly are entitled to great rewards. What do I mean?
We live in a world of cause and effect. If you want to change an effect, you must address its cause. For example, obesity is an effect. Its cause is sugar intake which we do by means of the sugar-laced drinks, fizzy or otherwise, that most of us are addicted to. So, if you want to lose weight and start exercising but do nothing about your addiction to Coke or Pepsi, exercise will only make you thirstier and increase your problem instead of curing it. 

The same thing is true of every effect we see in our lives. You want to change it, address the cause. Peace is an effect. Justice is its cause. But today those who have no concern for justice want peace. Those selling weapons and have their economies based on them, want peace. That is like a drug lord who wants an addiction free society. 

Until justice is established, peace can never be established. There will always be those who fight injustice. And to them others who do nothing but talk of the need for peace, owe a debt of gratitude. If they didn’t stand up to fight injustice, corruption would spread in the land. 
In the world of cause and effect:

If you want to be loved, be compassionate to others

If you want to be respected, show courage and stand up to defend the truth
If you want to empower others, share knowledge and build trust

If you want to help others, share your wealth, knowledge and influence

If you want to promote growth and development, promote entrepreneurship

If you want peace, establish.

Until then every peace is only a recess between wars.
Ideals are important because a life that is lived without seeking to achieve an ideal is the life of an animal. To eat, drink, sleep, procreate and die. Cows do that, sheep do that, cockroaches and mice do that. It is not worthy of human endeavor. Be idealistic. 

We all start in the same place as idealists. But some of us allow life to dampen our idealism, to suppress it in the name of being ‘realistic’. Gradually we move down the slide all the way to being cynical and indifferent. But guess what? The original flame of idealism that we started out with can be dampened but it can never be extinguished. A spark always remains. 

That is why when we are idealistic people discourage us and some even get angry. It is because in our eyes they see the picture of what they used to be. But if we refuse to give up our ideals then they slowly come around and the small glowing ember that is in their hearts, leaps into flame and lights the way ahead for them and us. 

So never lose your idealism. I call myself a ‘shameless idealist’. I am not apologetic about this. I am proud of it. No matter that some of my ideals may not be realized in totality. I know of no other way to live than to live idealistically because in this way of living is deep satisfaction irrespective of the results. 

It is ideals that make us human and it is striving towards them that makes life worthwhile. 
The Hope Forum

The Hope Forum

Welcome to The Hope Forum
Imagine a desert. That is our world. A desert of hatred, suspicion, violence and despair. Imagine wandering in this desert, throat parched, fearing enemies all around, nearing the end of your strength and just as you think you can’t go any further, you see an oasis. That is The Hope Forum. It is an oasis in the desert.
What does an oasis have that the desert doesn’t? Life giving water, shade giving trees, fruit to eat, grass to lie down on and gaze at the sky through the fronds of the trees, listening to the birds singing in the trees, the croaking of frogs on lily pads and the occasional plop of the Kingfisher when he dives for the unwary fish. The scorching life sucking wind of the desert, cools down and becomes the cool breeze that’s now wafting over your face. That is what breaking its force in the wind breaks and passing over water and does to it. It cools it down.
What else do oases do? They attract rain clouds. What’s the good of that in a desert? Have you ever seen a desert after the rain? For a brief span the desert blooms. The bleak, parched landscape turns overnight into a carpet of green and flowers. That’s not because flower seeds rain out of the sky. It is because every desert has in it, seeds of flowers. All it takes is some rain to make them grow. So eventually if oases grow and multiply – lo and behold – no more desert.
That is what we hope The Hope Forum will do. Give sustenance and life to those exhausted of traveling in the desert. Let them drink crystal clear, clean, cold water; eat sweet fruits, listen to birdsong and rest on the grass. Let them meet. Listen to each other. And think of how to create more oases.
If we can do this together and if we can do this enough, then a day will come, when people of the world will take charge of their destiny and wrench it back from those who control it today. The people of the world will put more value on life than on death, on virtue than on vice, on compassion than on cruelty, on justice than on greed. Then and only then can the wars end. Refugees will go back home. People will smile once again. TSA guys will have to look for gainful employment and our children will read about how the world was saved, because their elders broke the cycle. The cycle of hatred. The cycle of suspicion. The cycle of violence.
The Hope Forum is a place that the injured from Twitter, Facebook and other social media can come, to detox and cure themselves from the negativity of the world. There’s much good happening in the world that gets no lift. Bad news sells. So we’ll give each other good news for free. And you’ll be automatically chucked out if you post anything negative. The rule for this forum will be that only productive and positive things can be shared. Nothing negative. No criticism of anyone or anything. No praising yourself. Praise others and let others praise you. No pontificating, no proselytizing. No promoting of any particular religion, ideology, politics, shop, product, service or yourself. Only appreciating what others are doing. Let others speak about your work while you do it quietly and sincerely because you believe in it and in yourself. The Hope Forum is something that seeks to change the whole culture of social networking which is simply another name for self-promotion and one-upmanship. We have nothing against any religion, ideology, politics, shop, product, service or yourself. Just that if you want to promote any of this go somewhere else. This is not the place for it.
The Hope Forum is about promoting others. Showing the world how many good people there are, in every country, every nationality, every race, who are working quietly to make this world a better place. Your job as a Hope Forum member is to find them and tell the world about them through The Hope Forum. That is if you want to join.
Share a good song, story, picture, thought, dream, idea. But only good, only positive, only thankful, only appreciation. Tell all of us who are with you on The Hope Forum, what you liked, appreciated and recall with pleasure.

This is my first post. It is about this young man I saw in Pune – Samir Key Maker. Samir is a very Indian name and can belong to someone from any religion. Mohammed Samir (my nephew), Samir Joshi (a very good friend), Samir Singh, Samir Joseph. So Samir represents Indian youth to me. The best in Indian youth. A symbol of courage and confidence. He doesn’t just sit there on the pavement. He announces who he is. He has his phone number on the sign so that people can call him if they don’t have the time to stop by. He has a white sheet on which the tools of his trade are set out. What does a white sheet signify? To me it signifies quality. He is saying, “Look at my sheet and see if it is clean to decide what the quality of my work is going to be.” Now that is a statement of great confidence. His sheet is spotless. If you meet him, tell him I remember him. He doesn’t know me. But I know him. I remember him. I honor him. And I tell the world about him.  Samir is the symbol of hope. 

If you want to share a problem, a pain, a complaint; then reflect on it and think of a solution. Then share it with the solution. So the only problems we will allow are problem definitions of solutions. As someone said, ‘Every problem has at least two possible solutions. Do not enter this room until you have thought of both of them.’
The Hope Forum is open to everyone; any age, gender, religion or not, nationality, race, ethnicity, waist measurement, height, weight, strength; whether you can sing or croak, whether you can dance of shuffle, whether you can run or toddle, whether you are tall in your imagination or in people’s eyes, whether you can eat your cooking or others also can, whether anyone else loves you or not – we do. So join us. But read the condition below and stick to it.
The Hope Forum is open to everyone who accepts and agrees with our conditions of being a member i.e. good only, positive only, appreciation only, smiles only, solutions only.
No other conditions for joining.

October 20, 2016 is the day The Hope Forum was born. Long may it survive. Fast may it grow. And great may be the goodness it brings to all the world.

I will not allow what is not in my control, to prevent me from doing what is in my control.