The problem with the C- Word

The problem with the C- Word

One of the things that I have been very fond of, is trekking, especially climbing mountains. I have done a good bit of that in the Western Ghats in Southern India, climbing on one occasion through thick forest straight up the side of the mountain, 4500 feet. I went up to Singampatti from Kanyakumari. 4500 feet may not sound like much in itself, but put it on an almost vertical hillside, no clear pathway, the opportunity to descend without brakes at any time, thorn-bush, razor grass, hot, humid weather, nettles, cicadas buzzing in the heat…….all ad infinitum……and you have an entirely different perspective.
However one thing that I always looked forward to was to cross the half way, no return mark. At that point, you have not achieved the goal, you are exhausted, sweaty, irritated with yourself for having started this stupid enterprise and no way to go back, because it is even more difficult to descend a steep path than it is to ascend it. Yet when you sit for a while and take a drink of the by now tepid water that you are carrying, your second wind kicks in. Then you start up the hillside once again, looking forward to scaling the last height in due course. And then comes the moment … not too soon…but after some more hours of effort, but by now the altitude has cooled the heat, the forest is getting less thick and anticipation of success gives you the energy that you need.
Finally you reach the top. And what do you see? You see the land spread out before you as far as the eye can see. You see the glint of the ocean on the horizon. You see blue lakes and irrigation tanks, punctuating the patchwork quilt of innumerable shades of green, each a neat square that grows rice. You see the serpent eagle and his mate floating effortlessly on motionless out-spread wings riding the thermals. You can’t see the minute adjustment of their pinion feathers which guide their direction.
And on one occasion, as I stood watching all this, I looked up at the hillside behind me and I saw a leopard sitting on his haunches and watching me. We looked at each other for a while and then he decided I looked decidedly unappetizing and turned up his nose and walked away. I agreed with him and walked the 14 kilometers to habitation in the tea gardens which straddle this tail end of the Western Ghat mountain range with Madurai on one side and KanyaKumari on the other. 
Why am I telling you this story?
I am telling you this story because as we work towards a great goal you will begin to become restless, irritated and impatient and inclined to take shortcuts and cut corners – all for the excellent reason that you want to see the project up and started as soon as possible. But in this urgency, there will be the tendency to accept compromises. I am writing this to warn you of the biggest danger to success. The C word. Compromise. For to compromise is to die a death without honor.
Those who have the courage to work for a great goal understand that ‘possible’ and ‘impossible’ are terms that define your own standpoint – how you see yourself – they point to who you are – not to the goal at all. Soaring at 30,000 feet is possible for an eagle or for a man with a flying machine. It is not possible or impossible in itself. All it needs is for you to ask, ‘How can I do it?’ Not, ‘Can it be done?’
Differentiation creates brand. Brand creates identity. Identity creates influence. Influence creates followers and loyalty and the opportunity to change society. Without differentiation you are a grain of rice in a sack.
Excellence is an expression of self-respect. So is mediocrity. We strive for excellence not because someone is watching or because we are playing to the gallery but because excellence is about us – how we see ourselves, what we think of ourselves, how we choose to define ourselves.
We define ourselves and the world accepts that definition and treats us accordingly. So think before you define yourself.
Excellence requires sustained heroic effort – often in the face of great discouragement. So only those excel, who revel in the effort. The adrenalin drives them. Paradoxically they are goal focused but take pleasure from the difficulty of reaching that goal. For them the journey is the destination; because the excitement is only in the chase and ends with the catch. Mount Everest is a worthy goal to strive for because its dimensions are measured in height. The same distance on level ground wouldn’t be worth talking about. It is the difficulty which adds value to the goal.
If you think success is difficult, try failure. To accept mediocrity is to accept failure at the start. Mediocrity ensures that your failure is permanent. That drug is called ‘compromise.’ I know that there are more mediocre people in the world than those who achieve excellence. But ask yourself who you would rather be – who would you like to emulate? Who do you choose as your role model? That is why Tipu Sultan said, ‘One day in the life of a tiger is worth more than a hundred years in the life of a jackal.’ Ask yourself which life you would like to live – for in the end, both die.
Compromise is to attitude what cancer is to the body. The body doesn’t fight cancer but accepts it because it doesn’t recognize the threat. It accepts cancer cells until they kill it. Only those who hate mediocrity can excel. Not dislike, not are irritated by it, not anything mild – but those who pathologically hate mediocrity. Those who can’t stomach it at any cost. Those who are repelled by it, find it disgusting, abhorrent and hateful and do anything to get out of it. Compromise, like cancer, destroys from within. But unlike cancer it is infectious.
Excellence takes effort. Few make it. Failure is painful. Nobody likes it. Mediocrity is a narcotic which makes destruction seem acceptable. So people settle for less than what they can be. They get distracted by others and their mediocre efforts – they make excuses as if they can change reality – they imagine that if they can find others who will agree with them, their mediocrity will be acceptable. It will be – to other mediocre people. But to those focused on excellence, who look not at others but at their own potential and beyond it, mediocrity is despicable, no matter what guise it comes in. And to tell you the truth, the mediocre ones also recognize this in the dead of the night, when they are alone with themselves, that their efforts don’t even begin to approach the boundaries of what could have been if only they had not compromised. Failure is not the enemy of excellence. Mediocrity is. Failure is painful and drives effort. Nobody willingly fails or remains in failure. But mediocrity is anesthetized failure. It is fatal because the victim does nothing to counter it because he can’t feel the pain.
I remind myself about a basic principle that I have always followed in my own life – It is better to fail trying to achieve an extraordinary goal, than to settle for a compromise.  Why Extraordinary? Because good enough, never is.
The important thing for us to remember is never to compromise. No matter how frustrating it seems. As I always say, when weighing things in a balance, it is only the last few grains which tip the balance. Until then you don’t see any difference. And that is why in my view there are two fundamental laws:
  1. That the balance will not tip until the last few grains fall it.
  2. That the last few grains will always tip the balance.
 Both laws are equally true.
Remember that if we compromise for anything less than what we dreamed of, then in the evening of our days we too will be forced to look back on our lives and say, “If only we had not sold our dream so cheaply!!”

Self-assessment is your commitment to yourself

Self-assessment is your commitment to yourself


The mirror can only reflect what is in front of it.
It is for me to decide what to do about it


Performance Appraisals are things that are done in organizations and most people don’t like them. Except the winners, that is. Winners like to ‘show off.’ I mean that in a positive sense. They like to show what they have done. They like to beat previous records. They like to set their own records and take pride in them. Performance Appraisals are the flags that show their record. So write your own performance appraisal.

I recall my first appraisal which my boss, Nick Adams, wrote for me in Guyana in 1980. I still have it, thirty years later. He gave me the blank form and said, ‘Yawar, you know what you did better than I do. So write this appraisal and bring it to me and we’ll talk about it.’ I spent a couple of sleepless nights over it trying to be fair with myself. When I took it to him, we spent a couple of hours going meticulously over it, point by point.

He agreed with most of what I had written. In three cases, he upgraded what I wrote – ‘You should give yourself the credit that you deserve,’ he said to me.  He reminded me of two incidents that I had forgotten which showed me that he had not given me the form to fill because he couldn’t remember what I had done. That was his way of teaching me as well as of letting me take credit for my work. Then he signed it. The five years that I worked for him, I would look forward to appraisal time.

I have my own three-sixty-degree appraisal done by Potentia which specializes in it and see it as my greatest testimonial – faults and all – because it demonstrates commitment to quality and my own development.
Structure and Focus

Structure and Focus

Balance passion and system – Passion without system burns out.
System without passion creates bureaucracy. 
But together they can change the world

All the passion in the world will get you nowhere if you don’t create a step by step strategy to achieve your goals and then focus on each step, one by one. Work smart. Not everything is equally important. Sometimes what we don’t like to do is more important than what we like to do. For example, rigorous number crunching in a business plan is more important than inspirational prose regarding the aims and objectives of the project. But most creative people hate numbers. So, hate them, but do them. You don’t have to like them. But you must do them if you want to achieve what you like. So also in a marriage. There will be things that you don’t like about your spouse, but you must accept them because the good outweighs the bad. Someone asked Arthur Hailey (I think it was him) the secret of writing. He answered, ‘Writing.’ I say the same when they ask me, ‘How did you write so many books?’ I say, ‘By writing.’ Structure is the key to success no matter how tired in you may feel. So, channel the passion into the structure of a time-bound roadmap and then focus on following it faithfully.

Structure is the proof that you have faith in your goal. The farmer digs irrigation channels (structure) before the coming of the monsoon rain so that the water will be led to the right place – to the roots of his plants. His digging is proof that he believes that the rain will come and that he is serious about success, because without the irrigation channels the rain will simply run off the land and do him no good. In that case his crop would have failed not because it did not rain but because he did not dig the irrigation channels.
I decided in 1983 that I wanted to be a specialist in Leadership Development. I spent the next eleven years studying leadership and practicing how to teach. I did not take a single day’s vacation from 1983 to 1994. I negotiated with my employer to give me fifteen days of unpaid leave in addition to my 35 days of annual vacation. These fifty days I would spend going from place to place, traveling third class by train (wooden plank for a seat), learning how to teach, from the different friends who agreed to allow me into their classes. In the class, I would quietly sit in a corner and take notes and then discuss with the trainer what he/she did and why. Sometimes they would allow me to teach a module and would critique what I did. I asked them to let me accompany them to client meetings so that I could observe and learn to negotiate. I learnt what to do and what not to do. I did not simply copy my mentors. I asked myself, ‘How can I do this better than they are doing?’ And guess what? Sometimes I managed to do it better. For all this work, I made less than Rs. 2000 collectively as an income over eleven years. But I acquired an education that has served me ever since.
I also decided that I needed a formal education in business management with a degree, but I had neither the money nor the time for it, as I was married and had to support myself and my wife. So, I did an Executive MBA at the IIM-A (Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad) which gave me a saleable qualification at a lower price and time in the premier business school in India. I learnt that in some things the name is very important because most people can’t get past a name to let you show them what you can do. So, having a name that opens doors is very useful. This applies to schools, employers, clients, addresses, and teachers. However even for that, I was so poor that I had to sell my car and borrow the rest of the money for the fees from a friend. My employer agreed to loan me 50% of the fee at 8.3% interest and to give me leave without pay for the duration of the course, provided I signed a three-year bond to return to them and work. I agreed and kept my word even though I wondered at the justice of this agreement. But as soon as my bonded period was over, I exercised my freedom and left. Two years later, I set up my practice as an independent consultant. While I was with them, I applied everything I learnt; not only to benefit them but also to get enough practice. I kept records of what I did and in 2008 it became a book.
Create a structure and focus on following that structure, step by step. Don’t get distracted along the way. Don’t give in to what you like but do what must be done whether you like it or not because you realize the value of it in the long run. Keep your word even if you don’t like doing it because keeping your word is about you, not about them. Focus on what you will gain and everything else will become easy. That is the ticket. The key is to take pleasure in the journey. For the journey is the destination.

Uniform Civil Code and the Law Commission Questionnaire



An alternate perspective
The ongoing debate on the questionnaire circulated by the Law Commission on the proposed implementation of a Uniform Civil Code and the predictable knee-jerk reaction of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), is a very good opportunity to learn the basics of conflict resolution. With over thirty years’ experience in negotiation, conflict resolution and arbitration on three continents working with people of different genders, races, politics, religions and nationalities, I want to share my observations and an alternative perspective of what the course of action could be, instead of the boycott of the questionnaire that the AIMPLB has announced. 
While negotiating and resolving conflicts, one of the most essential skills is to be able to separate the facts from inferences. To separate facts from the emotions that those facts or actions may excite. That is not because inference, conjecture and hypothesis are not important. They are. But unless you begin with the basic facts, you will not be able to take objective decisions about them. Only then will the course of action become clear and not one but often more than one alternatives appear. If not, then one is only reacting which means that one is thinking only in a yes-no way and that is the most difficult and limiting way to think.
It appears to me that the call to boycott the questionnaire is an emotional reaction to the fact that the questionnaire comes from the Law Commission which is an arm of the government. Given that this government in particular has been responsible for vitiating the peaceful climate of the country by remaining silent despite all kinds of violence against Muslims and Dalits in the name of so-called ‘Cow Vigilantism’, it is only natural that it is not viewed as being Muslim/Dalit friendly. Its agenda to get the UCC implemented and the Muslim Personal Law removed, is well known. But strangely what few have stopped to ask is, ‘Why has the government not tabled the Uniform Civil Code for discussion by all concerned?’ The reality is that only that which exists can be implemented. After all the government is not saying, ‘We need to create a Uniform Civil Code and then implement it.’ It is saying that it wants to implement the UCC. So table it. Let the country see what it is that the government wants to implement.
 
Laws are not made in the Supreme Court. They are made in the Legislature. So let the UCC be brought before the entire nation. Let the people of India debate it and then let it pass into law in the Legislature. That is the democratic process and let us follow it. What is the need to attempt apparently clandestine moves using the Law Commission? The Law Commission is not the Legislature. Let responsibility be shouldered by those to whom it belongs; the people of India and their elected representatives in Parliament. I am sure nobody can object to following the process.
Having said that, in the famous case of ‘Shamim Ara versus state of UP (2002)’, the Supreme Court declared triple Talaq invalid and banned. So how can you ban a banned thing? And so therefore why is one of the questions in the Law Commission’s questionnaire about triple Talaq? Does the Law Commission seek to do what the AIMPLB didn’t do for fourteen years (as of this writing in 2016), i.e. raise the matter of the ban on triple Talaq again? In view of the strident calls to boycott the questionnaire and the claims that the AIMPLB (which interestingly uses the term, ‘Muslims of India’ unilaterally and without any endorsement from the alleged ‘Muslims of India’) will not tolerate any ‘interference’ in the Muslim Personal Law, it is pertinent to ask why this call was not given in 2002? After all the responsibility to fight for our laws didn’t suddenly become reality today. So what was the AIMPLB doing for 14 years? Why no protests screaming interference in Personal Law and Shariah?
The questionnaire of the Law Commission is couched in very persuasive language.
I quote from the covering letter of the questionnaire which is titled, ‘APPEAL’ and which you can read on the link above, “The Law Commission of India welcomes all concerned to engage with us on the comprehensive exercise of the revision and reform of family laws as the Article 44 of the Indian Constitution provides that ‘the state shall endeavour to provide for its citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.’ (Italics are mine)
It is clear from this august beginning that while the Indian Constitution’s Article 44 provides that the ‘State shall endeavour to provide for its citizens a uniform civil code’, it didn’t specify how this is to be done. There could be several ways to arrive at a uniform civil code ranging from creating a civil code from scratch to borrowing all or parts of it from elsewhere, to using parts of the existing Personal Laws of different religions to arrive at one which is acceptable to everyone. Imagine a Civil Code that takes from everyone to give us all the equivalent of the HUF/Karta/IT concessions, freedom to bear arms, marry four times, and wear turbans and beards (men only please). The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence. But jokes apart, the questionnaire definitely looks like it is covering some other, not-so-noble intentions.

I began with the plea that we need to look at facts. So here are some for us to consider.

Laws can’t change social behavior. Let us ask how existing laws have changed the reality for women. If they haven’t, and they haven’t, then how will news laws do otherwise?

1.  Protection of Women from Domestic        Violence Act (2005)

2. Indecent Representation of Women     (Prohibition) Act (1986)

3.     Dowry Prohibition Act (1961)

4.     Nirbhaya Act (2013)
The problem is not Talaq but of men honoring the rights of women. For the record let me say what I have said many times before that triple Talaq is not in keeping with the Qur’an and Sunnah. It is not the prescribed way to give Talaq in the Shariah. Triple Talaq is itself a violation of the Shariah and so it is declared Haraam and Bidat by all the jurists and schools of jurisprudence in Islam. How someone can declare something Haraam and Bidat and in the same breath call it valid is something only the brain of a Mufti can understand. Mercifully I am not blessed with a brain that can think around corners and so I go by what the Book of Allahsays and what His Messenger did. Neither allowed triple Talaq.
It is strange and indeed laughable that all these emotional declarations by both parties, ‘Triple Talaq should be banned’ and ‘We will not stand for interference in the Shariah’, are both apparently ignorant of two cardinal facts:
1. That triple Talaq has already been banned in 2002 (wake up)

2. That banning it will not change the reality of Muslim women at all
However, the difficulties that Muslim women are facing are not a result of Talaq (triple or not) but of the unislamic customs and practices that we have not only allowed into our marriages but have made them mandatory. Islam prohibits dowry. We demand it and it is paid. Islam puts the entire responsibility of incurring all expenses for the marriage on the man but we insist on dumping them on the woman and she and her family accept this. Islam mandates that marriages must be simple and inexpensive but we insist on expensive, ostentatious weddings. Islam prohibits any kind of harassment at the time of divorce if that becomes necessary but our men do the opposite. All these and more are the real reasons why Muslim women are left high and dry and are the victims of the oppression of their men. How is banning triple Talaq going to solve these problems?
The fact that triple Talaq was banned in 2002 but the problems continue, including the fact that people are still giving triple Talaq, should give the Law Commission (and us) cause enough to pause and reflect if laws alone are enough to bring about social change or whether we have to work together, supporting and helping each other to bring about gender justice. We need to work with sincerity and genuineness and reject all guile, hidden agendas, deception and political jugglery. It is only the truth which will prevail.
So what should the AIMPLB do?
1.  Accept that juristic law doesn’t have precedence over Divine Writ. Talaq as mentioned in the Qur’an is Divine Writ. Triple Talaq, at best, is juristic law. So declare triple Talaq to be invalid and that it will be counted as one.

2.     Declare Halala to be Haraam, which it clearly is. The juristic arguments in its favor are such that I choose not to mention them here for making those jurists and by inference, Islamic Law, the laughing stock of the world. The AIMPLB knows what those arguments are. They know they are wrong. And so they should declare that Halala is Haraama.

3.      Give women a meaningful role in the functioning of the AIMPLB with the power to play a decisive role, especially in matters that concern women. Why should men rule on such matters when we have many highly qualified women scholars and theologians? AIMPLB needs to invite them on them on the Board and give them positions of authority and real power.

4.     Invite prominent Muslim members of civil society (male and female); politicians, academicians, lawyers, businesspeople, journalists, educators, youth leaders, social activists and administrators to become members of the Board. I am happy to provide the Board with an organization structure for this, if they are interested.

5.       Move to English as its language of communication because its current language, Urdu, is not the language even of all Indian Muslims, let alone others and is a serious impediment in thought share as well as in communicating with the rest of the nation.

 

6.       Set a specific term of office and a retirement age for all Members irrespective of who they may be. Lifetime employment is detrimental to organizational health.
It is essential that in the world of today and tomorrow the Board evolves to become more representative of all Indian Muslims, if it intends to retain its position as the self-proclaimed leader of Muslims. It must move from being self-proclaimed to acclaimed representative to be truly effective and powerful. To represent, you must be representative. That means more participation, more transparency, more empowerment and more equality. That means that the nature of the Board must change from being an exclusive boys club of elites to becoming a truly democratic, body of equals, all working for the benefit of the nation and the pleasure of our Creator.

For the time will surely come when we will meet Him. And at that time we will not be asked, ‘What happened?’ We will be asked, ‘What did you do?’
DIFFERENTIATE!!

DIFFERENTIATE!!

There’s no such thing as too much when it comes to setting life goals. 
Nobody knows the best that he can do. Limits are only in the mind.

Differentiate on the basis of the only thing which counts – Quality. Be the best in the world at what you do. Forget everything else – just focus on being the best at whatever it is that you do and the rest will follow. And remember, being the best in the world is easy; it is a matter only of one degree. What do I mean?

In 2012, in the Men’s 100 meter race, the difference between the Olympic Gold medal and no medal was 0.25 seconds. (Usain Bolt: Jamaica: 9.63 sec. Ryan Bailey: USA: 9.88 sec.)
In the Indy 500, 2015 the difference between the 1st and 2nd was 0.10 seconds. The difference in prize money was $ 1,656,500 (One million six hundred thousand++).

Only one degree because until 99 they are cents – one more and it is not cents any more – it is a dollar. We never talk about cent value. We talk about dollar value.

Wisdom is the ability to discern difference. The difference between good and evil, benefit and harm between people, circumstances etc.

Life’s assignments are from Allah. We don’t decide. We discover. When we are in the right assignment, we have no rivals. A fish out of water, can’t walk, can’t talk, can’t breathe, is clumsy and flops on the earth. But put it in the water and it darts away like a flash, the epitome of speed and grace. Right place, right time. If you are in the right assignment, you have no rivals. So instead of trying to overcome weaknesses, stop and ask if you are in the right assignment. In the right assignment, your ‘weaknesses’ will instantly turn into what they really are, your strengths.

Weakness less about what you have, but more about where you are.

Plant seeds for whatever you want to harvest. So ask yourselves what you want to harvest. Then plant those seeds. Remember that the seed that leaves my hand does not leave my life. It goes into my future ad multiplies. And unless it leaves my hand it can do nothing. So anything that leaves my hand and gets planted in my life is my seed. That will come back to me as my harvest. But anything that I retain in my hand is what I hoarded and didn’t plant. The reality is that even the worst harvest is more than the seed. Give up what you have to get what you have been promised. Nothing leaves the heavens until something leaves the earth. When you give what you see, you get what you can’t see.

Only ‘Overcomers’ are rewarded in life. So every time you ask for a blessing you get an enemy. Enemies don’t come to harm you. They come to open the doors of blessings for you. If there was no Goliath, David would have remained a shepherd boy.

The only way to differentiate is to show how you can be of service to others. People don’t care what you have until they see how they can benefit from it. People don’t care what you know until they know that you care. So show them. We always introduce ourselves in terms of what we have, who we are and where we came from (country, tribe, school, university or organization). While the other person is interested in one things only, ‘What can s/he do for me?’ They don’t care about any of the stuff you told them. Until they hear something that touches their life.

Let me illustrate. Let’s say, my laptop showed me the dreaded ‘Blue Screen.’ I am horrified because like most people I didn’t back up my data and I am now looking at disappearing from the face of the planet because all my data is probably gone down the drain. Then I meet a guy on the train and we get chatting. He tells me that he is an ‘IT Professional’ (that’s how all Indians introduce themselves) from Bengaluru (they imagine that others also like what was done to a perfectly innocent, easy to pronounce name to suit some political urge). He also tells me (and remember his accent it not the easiest for me to understand while my Californian drawl goes clean over his head) that he is in America to study and he was sponsored by his brother in law’s sister. While he is plying me with all this (to him) very interesting detail, I am telling myself, ‘NEVER START A CONVERSATION WITH AN INDIAN EVER AGAIN. I SWEAR I WILL NEVER DO IT. HOW DO I GET OUT OF THIS NOW WITHOUT BEING RUDE?’ Then suddenly I hear in the incessant one-sided chatter that he considers his introduction, ‘I specialize in data recovery after computers crash. You know when you see a blue screen? That means your computer crashed and if you didn’t back up your data, you are finished. That’s my expertise. I can recover all that data and you are back on track.’

Suddenly I forget that he is Indian. I forget what I just swore. I forget that I made the biggest mistake in my life starting a conversation with an Indian. Instead the same guy is manna from heaven (don’t take that literally. Indians are not good to eat), gift of god, the best thing that happened to me. I don’t care about his accent or that he smells of curry or comes from Bengaluru. I love him. I can kiss him (won’t of course). I thank god, my good fortune, the train, the conductor, the seating sequence, you-name-it, that I met this guy.

So what changed? He is a still a lousy Indian geek who doesn’t know how to introduce himself. What changed is that I suddenly realized how he can help me. So who am I seeing in this conversation? Him or me? After my computer regains consciousness I will probably forget this guy. But if I am a hiring manager then this guy just talked himself (even if accidentally) into a job. He delivered an ‘Elevator Speech’ par excellence though obviously he’s never heard the term. That is the meaning of differentiating on the basis of speaking to people’s hearts. They don’t care what you say, until they see how it can help them. So differentiating is about doing this deliberately, not waiting for lucky accidents.

Differentiation creates Brand. Brand creates loyalty. Loyalty gives you influence. Without differentiating you are one grain of rice in a sack. You are still rice, but one grain in a sack.