Some Questions to Ask Next Time You See a Controversial Outburst in India

Photo by Navneet Shanu

India is increasingly getting polarized. We have a pro-government clan and an anti-government clan. Both are equally stubborn in their own thoughts and action, believing with all their heart that the other is up to no good.

It has become impossible to be objective without offending someone. I hesitate before sharing a piece of good news about the country because the anti-government clan will attack me. It’s the same when you criticize the country because the pro-government clan will get offended.

As Indians, we have sadly lost the ability to differentiate between politics and the well-being of the nation. We are unable to take an objective stance or take a step back to consider ourselves as “one” instead of separate entities and are instead getting into petty fights and finger-pointing. Our national anthem talks beautifully of unity but the truth is we are increasingly becoming divided as the years go by. For a free thinker who cares only for the well-being of the country and not any political party, for someone who wants to see her nation prosper and become a global powerhouse in all aspects, the manner in which India is behaving currently is a huge disappointment.

The riots, hate, and division hardly boost the growth of the country. These elements throw us back financially and emotionally if at all they do something. So why are poeple engaging in them? Where is this polarization coming from? There are a few culprits here:

  1. News Channels: No, I am not talking about only some channels. All are equally biased.
  2. Social Media: The Modi clan supports the leader loyally; the non-Modi clan trolls the leader loyally. There is no middle ground.
  3. Social Messengers: The WhatsApp University is relatively well-known. I need not elaborate on that.

When you subject yourself to a continuous flow of negative news from all three sources listed above, the frustration is imminent. The ground reality might be something else. Internet might be flooded with news of riots, outbursts, hysteria, and violence. However, in real life, you might be sitting in the comfort of your home, enjoying the peaceful surroundings, having a cordial relationship with your neighbors from all communities celebrating each other’s festivals with equal fervor. I have had people ask me if there’s an ongoing war in India, with people rioting 24×7. The fact is the media tends to highlight only the bad, not the good. So a person watching Indian news channels from abroad will end up thinking the country is a perpetual war zone with people getting beaten up or murdered every other second. This is quite extreme from reality. But it is an extreme that cannot be stopped. I happened to read this today in the Open magazine and I can’t agree more.

“The Noise Is Not The Conversation”

What can a citizen do in such situations? Each time you see a piece of polarizing news blasted across media, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Why do some incidents make it to the news, whereas others, like the Assam floods, do not get much coverage?
  • Why do we get only one-sided POVs from some social activists? They tend to hide the other side. What’s their agenda?  
  • Why do we have debates on sensitive topics? And why are panelists who are well-known for making polarizing comments invited to such debates?

Always search for the other side, and not blindly follow what the media shows you. This mantra should be mainly applied when they are highlighting hatred or negativity. When you ask “why” to everything that’s happening, you will realize it’s all a game. A game where we are being played around like puppets. A game to spread hatred and disharmony, to cause division. Why? There might be political and personal reasons behind it. The motivation can also be business-oriented – negative news sells. We can never be 100% sure of the intention behind something, but that shouldn’t stop us from doubting and questioning someone’s agenda behind highlighting hatred – even if it’s coming from our favorite social activist or news channel.

The next step a citizen can take is to stop sharing hatred-inducing posts. We get tempted to share such posts because of the shock factor. I know I certainly do. But I had to step back and think, “Am I improving the situation by sharing this?” When we share polarizing news akin to “look what this person said about Islam/Hinduism” we are not promoting peace. We unknowingly encourage agitation and unrest as no person reads such posts with compassionate eyes.

I picture hatred as this greedy monster kept alive by our own dedicated, unwavering attention. We keep feeding this monster and recharging it with our own infinite supply of hatred. It then turns into an uncontainable being beyond our control. Maybe the only way to tame this monster is by ignoring it. We have given the monster so much attention till now, and it hasn’t worked. So maybe it’s time to do the opposite – ignore when someone is trying to divide us with hateful news or posts. Ignore when someone is trying to agitate you with spiteful comments. It is a long stretch because, as Indians, we are sensitive to a lot of things. But ignorance, sometimes, indeed can be bliss. If we learn to ignore the hatred and don’t give it enough attention, who knows, the greedy monster, with its excessive anger and polarization, might eventually die a slow, painful death.

To Speak or Not To Speak? The Unexpected Side Effects of Speaking Out Online

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

It doesn’t seem that long ago when I used to be uncontrollably reactive. Being a hyper-sensitive soul, I would blurt out the moment I came across a social issue. I would write long posts on social media justifying why I felt the way I did. This behavior went on until realization hit – maybe, I was not helping by speaking out.

Maybe – worse – I was unintentionally fuelling hate.

Historically, a person speaking out against injustice with complete bravado has led to inspirational revolutions. The past is a witness to bold and courageous people who had kickstarted life-changing campaigns by speaking out (à la Rosa Parks). But I am beginning to think that similar changes emanating from collective online hysteria might be an exception in the modern era and not the norm.  

What am I on about? The whole point of speaking out is to bring awareness and extend our support. But the reality is that we end up attracting only those who already feel the way we do. It is akin to having yes-men around you. The people I should have influenced with my pitch retorted defensively instead of listening, much to my dismay. Real change only happens when people are open to change – when they are willing to listen, acknowledge, and evolve. Real change is when a person with a different ideology finally understands the seriousness of the issue – when a bulb goes off in their head, and they tell you, “Now I get it. I am sorry for thinking otherwise.

But how often do we hear that?

Instead, most refuse to listen. We talk again to explain further, and they get angrier, resulting in a never-ending cycle.

Bringing my personal experience into the picture, I will list down 3 sensitive topics I had often ranted about on social media and the outcome of each.

Spoiler Alert & Disclaimer: No one changed their viewpoint because of me. No one became any better because of my posts. I have only my personal experience to narrate. Your experience might be much better.

Topic #1 – Politics

I have strong political views. When my country is bleeding, I take it to heart. My loyalty lies with my nation and not any political party. I might prefer some over the others, maybe because they believe in some of the things that I deem important. But I have not pledged blind love to them – I can be rational and put them accountable if they fail.

Since I am not biased toward any political party, I tend to point out the pros and cons of each. Mostly, I like sharing the pros because India gets its fair share of negative publicity.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

Let’s assume there are two political parties – Political Party A (PPA) and Political Party B (PPB). The moment I laud PPA for implementing something noteworthy, the supporters of PPB get agitated. “But what about this other thing the PPA did? ” they ask me. When I applaud PPB, the supporters of PPA express their agitation. Of course, the opposite happens when I point out any cons of the party they support. No one wants to hear debauched stories about the political party they support either. There is no win-win situation here. This bias does not change even when you are armed with data and facts.

Did anyone change their political views because of me? Absolutely not.

Are they still blindly supporting the political party they love? Yes.

Did my energy get wasted in the process? A big YES.

Topic #2 – Women Empowerment

The #MeToo movement was a gamechanger for women across the world. It gave them the courage to speak out. But was it successful in powerfully conveying the message to the opposite sex that sexual molestation or abuse will not be tolerated? Not on the scale we wanted to.

Instead of supporting sexual abuse survivors, I have witnessed men (offline and online) explain haphazardly that women too can be abusive liars. Of course, without a doubt, women can be all of that. But when a man gets into a fight-or-flight mode citing #NotAllMen whenever you start talking about women’s issues, you know something has gone awry. When people are more invested in the #NotAllMen issue than the primary #MeToo issue, it means the whole purpose of the movement has been defeated.

Here too, we fell short of making a real change.

Topic #3 – Religion

Religion is a super-sensitive topic that should be handled with extreme caution. The “me” and “mine” mentality takes precedence over the collective well-being of a country when religion comes into the scene. Each one thinks other religions are inferior compared to theirs. Each one thinks their compatriots can never be wrong.

The more someone stresses the hate their religion gets, the more it seems to make the other communities angry. The responses become similar to what I had penned concerning women empowerment – the whataboutery starts.

When the minority communities talk about the harassment they face in the country, the religious majority gets offended, and vice versa. Religion is the trickiest of all the sensitive topics because it hits people right where it hurts the most. Each one thinks their religion is in danger. One community thinks, “What if our religion becomes a minority?” In contrast, the other one thinks, “What if they demolish our religion?” The main culprit is fear. The more we talk about our religion-based fears, the more it seems to be escalating the fear of our own and others.

Since there are more religious people than atheists globally, politicians worldwide undoubtedly know that the way to any country’s heart is through religion. And they take this to good advantage. Stories are planted, fake data is presented, and all types of hara-kiri happen, especially in corrupted nations. We fall for such antics. They string us around like puppets, and we dance to their tunes blissfully unaware.

The most sensible thing one can do is not give undue attention to toxic, hate-mongering politics. The more attention we give it, the bigger the hate-spitting snake seems to get. When attention wanes, the snake shrivels and dies. It does not know where to go, this attention-seeking monster.

In practicality, restraining oneself from polarizing topics is not easy. It definitely wasn’t for me.

Why is this happening?

I subconsciously knew that speaking out wasn’t panning out as intended. People seem to be getting more polarized. It was only after I read an article by Amit Verma that the truth stared right back at me. I am quoting the results from the 2005 Sunstein experiment from his page. It holds the answers for all this ruckus.

In almost every group, members ended up holding more extreme positions after they spoke with one another. […] Aside from increasing extremism, the experiment had an independent effect: it made both liberal and conservative groups significantly more homogeneous—and thus squelched diversity. […] Moreover, the rift between liberals and conservatives widened as a result of discussing.

Sunstein called this effect ‘Group Polarisation.’ Sunstein defined it thus: “When like-minded people deliberate, they typically end up adopting a more extreme position in line with their pre-deliberation inclinations.”

In other words, the more we discuss something, the more polarized we become. If we look around us and observe what’s happening from a distance, we might realize the truth of it all. With the advent of the internet, it has become easy to discuss things and become more polarized.

I have found that I, too, get agitated after discussing a sensitive topic. My rants do not make anyone better, nor do they enlighten anyone. The only adverse effect is on me – I feel agitated and unhappy. And wait for it – more polarized. I get angry when people with a different thought process don’t get what I’m saying. I get angry when people are quiet and not saying the right things. Of course, being right is subjective. My right might not be the next person’s right – this awareness can help calm our emotions in those moments of despair.  

Hypothetically speaking, if someone were to question my long-held beliefs constantly, it would be okay the first few times, but how long would I be okay? Everyone, unfortunately, has a listening threshold. It might explain why men get fed up with constant women empowerment and feminism stories, why religious people find it hard to constantly hear someone criticizing their religion, and why politically-inclined people find it hard to disown someone they blindly love. Beliefs and habits are difficult to break. You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink. You can lead a person to facts, but you cannot force them to think.

As an experiment, I decided to stop myself from sharing or discussing polarizing topics online. It has been a few months (I’ve stopped counting). I do express my discontent occasionally when someone is not being empathic, but only offline, in a more closed and restricted environment, not subject to foreign voices.

The outcome of this was that I immediately started feeling less agitated and secure. I stopped feeling angry over the slightest things. In short, I felt less polarized and more open to contrarian views. When the interaction is face-to-face, you get to express things more gracefully and compassionately – the things we often miss out on when we tweet or post on social media.

An Ode to Being Aware of the Two Most Unfair (But Less-Talked-About) Comparisons

Photo by Maksim Goncharenok on Pexels

His job profile is the pits. He is not earning much.” (Comparing the person’s job to someone else’s probably one’s own.)

I enjoy my work and my salary. But almost everyone I know is changing their jobs, and I am feeling restless.” (Comparing our job to someone else’s.)

The things we get in our country are far better than this.” (Comparing two countries that are poles apart socio-economically.)

My friend is visiting a lot of places. She’s so lucky!” (Comparing the friend’s “travel luck” to your own.)

Comparison is the ultimate joy stealer. And I do not mean just comparing yourself to someone. I also mean comparing others and their situations to our mental model of “the perfect life.” I have seen people comparing themselves to friends, relatives, acquaintances, some random person on social media and making their life miserable. I have also seen people feeling miserable right after hearing someone’s comparison. In the first instance, we are unkind to ourselves. In the second instance, others are being unkind to us. Either way, rest assured, comparisons bring no happiness.

Still, people just cannot seem to stay away from comparing, sometimes unintentionally. There are many types of comparisons, but some of them have been normalized beyond our conscious awareness, so much so that we don’t think twice before blurting them out.

The Most Notorious Comparison—”We Are Better Off Than You”

When we say something like, “The chocolate we get in our country is far superior in quality,” we are not exactly sharing any valuable information with the other person. We only sound like an elitist. It is akin to saying, “I have tasted something far better, and you, my dear, will have no easy access to it.” The info might be accurate. The chocolate might be of better quality. But the person we are talking to might have a reality that is different from ours. For them, this particular chocolate might be of the best quality—because they have no other options to compare it with! In my opinion, to destroy that sense of joy in someone is the most insensitive thing one can do.

Unfortunately, this type of comparison is notoriously common. I am sure we all have heard something of the sort. The listener can only nod in agreement when such comparisons are made. They do not want to be rude by disagreeing, or they genuinely have no idea if the information shared with them is valid.

People pass judging comments without thinking twice about the interlocutor’s feelings. “Would they benefit from this info?” “Would they feel better after knowing these details?” Of course not. Yet, this is a type of comparison that is notoriously common.

Recently, on a news channel covering the unfortunate Ukraine-Russia war, a woman said in a state of shock, “The unthinkable has happened. This is not even a developing third-world nation. This is Europe.” She compared Ukraine’s situation to that of war-torn developing nations. It was a privileged, unkind statement, making it seem acceptable if poor countries face violence and unrest. She might not have intended it as such, but for a person from a “third world nation,” listening to such statements can be a harrowing experience.

Similar types of comparisons include:

  • “{Insert Country Name} has a superior standard of living. This is why I chose to settle there instead of staying in {Home Country}.”
  • “Food tastes better in {Insert Country Name}. In {Home Country}, everything is of low quality.”
  • “The quality of education is poor. So are the wages. I left the country due to these reasons.”

Sometimes, the listener might have chosen a life that is different from ours (like staying back in their home country). For them, these comments may seem like an insult. While advocating for something we believe in, it is equally important to not sound disrespectful (unintentionally or otherwise) of the life choices made by another person.

“I Am Happy, But Should I Be Happy?”

Everyone seems to be in the midst of a job change nowadays. Pay packages are on the rise, especially in the IT industry. This is inspiring a lot of workers to make that much-needed career shift. And why not? Without an iota of doubt, people should chase their dreams—we have only one life after all.

But then there are people like me, who are happy with their jobs, doubting their happiness, because everyone seems to be in a rush to exit their current companies.

Are you still working for the same company?” asks an acquaintance. It almost sounds like I have sinned by staying loyal to the company that I’ve enjoyed working for so far. This made me doubt my happiness—another unfair comparison.

In all aspects of life, and not just work, the happy wayfarers eventually start comparing their life decisions with the next person’s ambiguity, wondering, “Am I truly happy? Is this really what I want?” The hysteria around can make you question your well-thought-out decisions.

This is a type of comparison we should be wary of. We are getting swayed by someone else’s dreams and ambitions—and forgetting our own goals in the process. Your dream may not be another person’s dream and vice versa. Sometimes, we make impulsive decisions based on external factors and end up regretting them. It helps to double-check yourself whenever you face such doubts. Outline your core requirements (necessities that can make you unhappy if absent) and ask yourself whether the new path fulfills each of these demands. This self-questioning helps to build more clarity and to confirm whether you are following your own dream or someone else’s.

Let’s Take a Step Back..

It helps to take a step back and introspect our opinions before dishing them out to the next person.

As Haresh Sippy said, “Comparison is the root cause of all evil. Why compare when no two people are alike?

An Ode to Surviving Performance Reviews by Demotivating Managers

Demotivating Manager

It is that demotivating season again.

I say demotivating because my last two performance reviews were negative. I might keep repeating “demotivating” throughout the article because that is how I feel right now.

So demotivated, dazed, confused, furious.

All because of one manager.

Somehow he has made up his mind to never encourage anyone. The only positive word I have ever seen come out of his mouth is “Good.” But he is ever ready to nullify that with 100 negatives.

The worrying part is many in my company feel that way.

2020 was the year I was most proud of myself. I learned things on my own. I built things from scratch. Got everything up and going with minimal errors after several hours of overtime. The least I expected was an “I appreciate your hard work.” An acknowledgement of what I have done.

But nothing came.

Don’t be that manager.

I am at my productive best when I am reporting to a good manager. I am at my worst when the manager is negative. This is true for many. We want to do our best, help the company reach the top when our work is valued.

Don’t get me wrong. I love constructive feedback. But not feedback that is laced only with negatives.

If you are a performance reviewer, here are some “How not to be a demotivating boss” tips:

  • Start the conversation in a light tone. A “Hi, how are you?” at the start never killed anyone. It gives the employee some time to breathe and relax. Remember, most employees get into a performance review with extreme anxiety. Help them out by being courteous and kind.
  • Start with the positives. And by positives, I do not mean just saying a single “Good.” Be descriptive. Tell them what you liked about their work. Use the same number of sentences that you would use while giving constructive criticism. 3 full sentences describing the negatives? Follow it up with 3 honest sentences about their positives. Balance it out.
  • Do not make the employee feel like they have done nothing for the company.
  • Ease into the negatives. Give some time for the employee to respond or tell you what’s on their mind. Don’t ramble non-stop. The moment you start the negatives is when you need to be the kindest. Frame negatives in a nice way, then stop and take a step back, wait for them to respond, ask if they have to anything to say. Be open-minded to listening to them.

You look around and you see many employees dissatisfied with their managers. Why is that? Because there is a huge communication gap. Any thoughts and reviews are left for the last moment i.e. during the performance review. Some companies like Microsoft, Accenture, Adobe and Deloitte have done away with annual performance reviews because of this reason alone.

The best way to give feedback is right after a task is completed. This helps them change their course if need be. Don’t wait till annual performance reviews – to throw unpleasant surprises.

I got a raise and a bonus. So it was not all bad. But all it takes is one person’s words to ruin the high you feel, right? Is that the price you pay for a salary?

By the end of it all, I told him “That was very demotivating.” Probably it was the first time he heard it from someone. Most employees prefer to ignore such bosses. My retort was followed by a one-minute silence. Of all the things I said this year, I am most proud of this one dialogue.

My manager then went on to give several excuses on how the intention was not to demotivate but to give feedback.

But feedback should be a mix of good and bad. Backed up with encouraging words on how you believe the employee can do what’s been suggested. If it is not, it is not feedback, it is being demotivational. As simple as that.

So I would like to say kudos to me for surviving yet another performance review with a demotivating manager. I expect more to come. And I plan to survive them all. By ranting here, and to my friends, and family, and anyone who would listen.

The day my boss says something nice, I will let you know. Stay tuned?

Leaving the company doesn’t make sense because as far as I know most of the people around have terrible bosses. I rather stick to one familiar demotivating one that becomes overbearing during performance review time rather than explore new ones.

If you are feeling demotivated too, rant! To someone.

That is what my colleagues and I do anyway.

One day, hopefully, all managers will learn how to give feedback constructively. Till then, the corporate servants will have to time and again, feel the extreme disappointment of not feeling valued by that one manager, who simply doesn’t know how to give a good performance review.

And I also hope one day we start earning enough passive income from our websites, investments and, other sources. So that we can run far away from everything that is, you guessed it, demotivational! Every corporate slave’s secret dream.