Eulogy Virtues Part II

Two years ago, I wrote about David Brook’s piece in the New York Times (https://thoughtsandtremors.wordpress.com/2015/04/13/eulogy-virtues/). It’s funny what can happen in 2 years. I feel I’m farther away from my goals than I ever imagined!

Austrian poet Ranier Maria Rilke’s words come to mind:  “Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

Although my questions did not lead to answers, they did lead to personal growth. And maybe this growth is more important than my goals which is exactly what David Brooks is trying to convey in his Ted Talk on eulogy virtues.

Let’s be clear here. David Brooks is not the most entertaining speaker. His style is the opposite of the current President’s. On a side note, I’m not sure how a yellow-haired loud-mouthed populist who lacks competency as a moral human being, or even a moral ape, can be an influential speaker. Yet Brooks puts together a great argument: find your weaknesses and turn them into a life of love.

In the Ted Talk, this quote by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr stands out:

“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history;therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone;therefore we must be saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as from our own standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by that final form of love, which is forgiveness.”

Forgiveness as a form of love. Such a great thought to ponder on. Ponder away folks! Let these concepts simmer within you like a pilot light in a 1940’s gas wall heater (one of the perks of living in a house built in the 1920’s…lead poisoning here I come!).

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Teaching Children Useful Emotional Skills

When I dabbled in the education field, I observed what kids were being taught. Math and science, critical thinking, reading comprehension. Yet the curriculum does not cover topics like perseverance, self-improvement, and community-building, which may be more useful than any other subject.

Kids are not taught how to deal with difficult future situations: academic struggles, unemployment, crime, bullying, death of a family member, health problems, domestic violence, divorce, poverty, and racism. Children who do encounter problems often work with school counselors on an individual basis. But there is no universal curriculum on resilience.

Why is resilience so important? Here is why (from my personal perspective):

For my entire life up until the age of 31, I had never encountered any severe problems. I failed one test in high school and I took a leave of absence during medical school (due to intense stress from the competitive environment). Other than those two things, my life was okay. I set goals and always reached them despite enduring daily stress and unhappiness in the medical field. I became a doctor and found a great job. No major struggles came my way. So when an unexpected death in the family shattered my heart and my optimism, I completely fell apart.

After leaving the practice of medicine to grieve and explore other careers, I felt bitter and hopeless. Honestly, I felt the entire world was against me despite being a high functioning physician one year earlier. Unemployment and confusion about my next career path turned me into a negative person, and I didn’t have the skills to fight off feelings of despair.

I had never failed before so I didn’t have practice using resilience. If I went through this ordeal as a physician with a supportive family, imagine what struggles kids from low-income neighborhoods encounter! I have seen all kinds of people become hopeless due to lack of resilience, which puts them at risk of depression, homelessness, drug abuse, and crime. The lesson I have learned is that resilience requires PRACTICE and needs to be taught in childhood or adolescence!

Here are useful tools to improve outcomes during difficult emotional times:

Deep breathing and meditation exercises

Networking skills

Patience

Simple cognitive-behavioral exercises (such as triaging problems and finding solutions)

Being able to share shame, anxiety, and fear with others

Communication skills to resolve interpersonal conflicts

Self-discipline

Maintaining a stable self-esteem

Eating healthy and exercising

Supporting an internal locus of control (you have control over your life instead of environmental factors having control)

Seeking out academic help

Learning from mentors and surrounding yourself with positive/motivated people

Transforming negative thinking into positive thinking (what positive lessons did you learn from a traumatic event?)

Seeking out appropriate social services (including help for mental health, housing, and employment issues)

Writing in a journal or diary

Celebrating every small step of improvement.

Finally, having the knowledge that things will get better as long as you keep trying. In the words of Galaxy Quest, “Never Give Up! Never Surrender!” These are all skills that can be taught in a classroom!

If we take time to teach high schoolers how to apply to college and study for the SAT, let’s also give them the emotional tools they’ll need to succeed in all aspects of life by making them resilient in the face of obstacles.

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If you have time, check out Angela Lee Duckworth’s Ted Talk on the effects of grit in the school system:

 

And here’s an inspiring clip from Galaxy Quest:

 

 

The Introvert’s Message

Susan Cain can give TED talks, write books, and provide interviews over and over again. Yet, the message will never truly be understood by a society run by extroverts. What message am I referring to? The one that every introvert wishes could be broadcasted on every billboard in the country.

The Introvert’s Message to an Extrovert:

Introverts are not anti-social hermits with autism. They are not cold-hearted, depressed, or rude. They are not intellectually inferior to extroverts.

Introverted people like quiet spaces to bring their work to fruition. They prefer having one-on-one conversations instead of interacting with large groups of people. Introverts need alone time to reenergize. They are always prepared! Due to their outstanding observational and listening skills, they excel at problem solving and showing empathy to others.

Introverts may not adjust to new environments as well as extroverts, but it doesn’t mean they are not capable of adapting. Sensitivity and unique creativity are common gifts introverts share. Finally, introverted people love to have fun (if fun is defined as activities in solitude or meaningful interactions with close friends). 

I’ve had many people give me the same unsolicited advice over the years. From childhood to early adulthood, people have told me to change my personality. These important people include my parents, teachers, medical school professors, and colleagues. According to them, I was “too quiet”, “without personality”, “somewhat cold”, “not social enough”, and “not vocal enough to assess my knowledge”.

What they failed to tell me is I am a thoughtful and gentle person who is extremely hard-working and detail-oriented. I always accept my mistakes and learn from them. I have empathy and emotional intelligence that others could never achieve. Once I become used to a new environment, I naturally become an effective behind-the-scenes leader. I never turn down a challenge and always improve my work environment by generating creative solutions. Similar to other introverts, sometimes people don’t notice my accomplishments because I don’t boast about them. And yes, I even have a few close friends who would do anything to help me at a moment’s notice.

Despite my introversion and other people’s doubts in my abilities, I became a board-certified physician specialized in pathology! So for all the disbelieving extroverts, the message is clear: introverts have and will continue to succeed in their own special ways. Get used to it!

By the way, Susan Cain created a wonderful resource to empower introverts at http://www.quietrev.com. Please take time to read personal challenges and successes shared by introverts in the Quiet Revolutionaries section (http://www.quietrev.com/quiet-revolutionaries/)

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Circus Indian Weddings

This is prime wedding season for Indian-American couples. The calendar from Memorial Day to Labor Day is packed with extravagant weddings, not to mention those scheduled for Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. As unlucky guests, we are asked to sacrifice three-day weekends to attend weddings of people we barely know, suffering through forgettable events we can barely tolerate.

Traditionally, Gujarati people in India had arranged marriages with people from neighboring villages and didn’t have to travel too far for weddings. Today, most Indian couples in America meet online or are introduced by friends/family. Through technology and increased air travel, geographic distance no longer limits a couple from having a courtship. In parallel with long-distance relationships, guests are asked to travel far distances to attend these weddings (Chicago, Los Angeles, Cancun, and South Africa). Yep, there go my life savings and all my reward miles!

Parents of the couple often invite hundreds of their friends and family to their children’s weddings. 1st cousins, 2nd cousins, great uncles, nieces, and more. The bride and groom (being gregarious, social butterflies of course) also invite a gaggle of friends. Everyone is pressured to attend the wedding, through an invisible yet powerful peer pressure system.  It doesn’t matter if you use up all your vacation and sick days at work, the wedding of your 3rd cousin (once removed) is paramount.

Indian weddings don’t last hours, they last days. On average three days! Multiple events, such as the “welcome dinner”, mehndi/sangeet night, garba night, puja/vidhi ceremony, wedding ceremony, and reception, are what uninterested guests have the pleasure of looking forward to. Yes ladies, get ready to pack five different Indian outfits into your carry-on suitcase! From Google Earth, an Indian wedding looks like hundreds and hundreds of brown ants being weighed down by gaudy Indian outfits.  Summer beach weddings are the worst. Why don’t you try being fried alive by the sun while wearing a blanket-like sari?

Tragically, Indian-Americans have come to see the wedding reception as a way to boast their status is society. The bride is covered with gold and diamonds; the decorations are elaborate; there is always a chocolate fountain.  The latest trend in California is to hire belly dancers and acrobats to entertain guests at the reception.  Along with the traditional elephant or horse at the wedding baraat, the entire wedding starts to resemble a circus show (sans the peanuts)!

Yes, the open bar and dancing are fun! But what else is? Guests don’t even get a chance to speak to the bride and groom (they are sitting on a plush sofa on a stage, for cryin’ out loud!) Most guests don’t understand the Sanskrit verses the pundit chants during the Hindu wedding ceremony. Heck, I can’t even understand the long, drawn-out speeches at the reception, which are in English!

Indian-American couples, it’s time for you to stop being selfish and make a drastic change.  Indian weddings are overly expensive, waste precious resources, and put a financial burden on guests who aren’t millionaires. The average price of a large Indian wedding weekend is $90,000 to $100,000. Imagine what you can do with that money! You can build a school in India; you can buy a house; you can donate the money to support any cause in the world. Causes like vaccinations for children, basic education for young girls, mosquito nets for malaria-stricken areas, and financial assistance after devastating earthquakes. The list goes on and on.

Wake up and smell the air pollution. This world is not being improved by a wasteful wedding. In 10 years, the guests will never remember the exact flowers, food, fireworks, or party favors from your wedding. They will remember if you made a difference.

Be the change.

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Eulogy Virtues

The following op-ed piece by David Brooks (The Moral Bucket List) brought me to tears.  He discusses the importance of morality and emotional intelligence, such as possessing eulogy virtues instead of résumé virtues.  He writes about people who radiate an inner light and make you feel valued, people who have generosity of spirit.  These words immediately reminded me of my brother, Neil, who had difficulty finding a job but was admired by his peers for qualities that are immeasurable, qualities that could never be transcribed on a job résumé.

Neil was an artistic and fun-loving genius who loved to help others but had trouble finding a career path.  I felt sad that I couldn’t help him through tough times because I knew he was hurting inside.  After he unexpectedly passed away, my family realized he was morally superior to most people we knew.  He struggled but never lost his heart of gold.

I used to be a résumé builder, living for the next structured accomplishment.  Now, I am unemployed and discovering new ways of thinking and new ways of coping with failure.  I am in the same shoes that Neil was when he passed away, penniless but surrounded by love.  Neil has inspired me to be more like him, to be humble and resilient with a shield of selflessness.

I am so happy David Brooks wrote this article, to finally commemorate those who really deserve it: the moral few.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/12/opinion/sunday/david-brooks-the-moral-bucket-list.html?smid=fb-share

In loving memory of Neil Patel.

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Dignity

“…dignity is something you must hold on to in life if any relationship is going to work at all.”

–  David Denby from The New Yorker

Maintaining dignity is difficult when human emotions are involved.  People can become nasty and revengeful, whether it be in romantic relationships or even relations amongst family members or friends. I tend to become angry and extremely distant when I hit rough patches in relationships.  It’s hard for me to keep calm around people who inherently disagree with my values.  Dignity seems elusive; yet, a little goes a long way!