An Ode to Supportive Strangers

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As a kid, you’re told not to talk to strangers. But with experience, I have come to the realization that talking to strangers is not such a bad thing after all. In fact, I would say, out with the old “don’t talk to strangers” and in with the new “reach out to more strangers.”

It all started with my first blog. I received the most support from strangers.

Then came my business (now defunct). Again, I received incredible support from strangers.

At each phase of my life, I was indebted to the fact that strangers have always been more kind to me than the ones I personally know. With some observation, I realized this is the story for a lot of people. Strangers often tend to support more.

Is this because strangers are more kind? Or because more strangers than friends/relatives are on the lookout for what you have to offer? Maybe distance makes the heart go fonder, and up-close we are full of blunder? Or perhaps, it’s because strangers know how it is to feel unseen, to be treated like a stranger.

The world is vast, and people are boundless with distinct personalities and mental models. If our content does not cater to the needs of a small group of friends/relatives, instead of sticking to the archaic scripture of not talking to strangers, we should, maybe just maybe, reach out to more. The ones who would eventually become your tribe. The ones who understand your thought process and techniques.

I often feel intensely grateful to the strangers who have taken the time out to support me, often juxtaposed with an uncomfortable question, “Why are the people I know less supportive?

Some of these kind strangers have moved on, but in that short span of time, they have offered me more love and encouragement than any person I know. I am armed with the knowledge that strangers can be beautiful, and probably this is why I am more open to newcomers joining any close-knit community that I am in, whereas others appear to be wary or hostile.

I am convinced that this is why the universe sends us strangers—to play an important but short role in our life. So we don’t lose hope in our core beliefs, the ones we would love to passionately share with the world.

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

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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 11 Thought-Provoking Life Quotes from Julian Barnes’ The Sense of An Ending

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The Sense of An Ending by Julian Barnes is a slow burner. It is the first time I took to a Booker Prize winner, enjoying it thoroughly from start to finish without my interest wavering or feeling unnecessarily overwhelmed. It was not grim at all, and that took me by surprise, for I was expecting a story as gloomy as the title. I was hooked to the mystifying story arc and character sketches. Even more amusing was how the characters spoke – sometimes comical, sometimes pessimistic, sometimes a bit aggravating (as intended).

Several instances and dialogues in the book offer a different perspective on life and its various eccentricities. I have listed some of my favorite lines below.

“History is the certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”

“He was too clever. If you’re that clever, you can argue yourself into anything. You just leave common sense behind.”

“He thought logically and then acted on the conclusion of logical thought. Whereas most of us, I suspect, do the opposite: we make an instinctive decision, then build up an infrastructure of reasoning to justify it. And call the result common sense.”

“Some Englishman once said that marriage is a long, dull meal with the pudding served first.”

“History isn’t the lies of the victors, as I once glibly assured Old Joe Hunt; I know that now. It’s more the memories of the survivors, most of whom are neither victorious nor defeated.”

“There were some women who aren’t at all mysterious but are only made so by men’s inability to understand them.”

“It strikes me that this may be one of the differences between youth and age: when we are young, we invent different futures for ourselves, when we are old, we invent different pasts for others.”

“But time … how time first grounds us and then confounds us. We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe. We imagined we were being responsible but were only being cowardly. What we called realism turned out to be a way of avoiding things rather than facing them. Time … give us enough time and our best-supported decisions will seem wobbly, our certainties whimsical.”

“The question of accumulation – you put money on a horse, it wins, and your winnings go one to the next horse in the next race, and so on. Your winnings accumulate. But do your losses? Not at the racetrack – there, you just lose your original stake. But in life? Perhaps here, different rules apply. You bet on a relationship, it fails; you go on to the next relationship, it fails too: and maybe what you lose is not two simple minus sums but the multiple of what you staked. That’s what it feels like, anyway. Life isn’t just addition and subtraction. There’s also the accumulation, the multiplication, of loss, of failure.”

“Because just as all political and historical change sooner or later disappoints, so does adulthood. So does life. Sometimes I think the purpose of life is to reconcile us to its eventual loss by wearing us down, by proving, however long it takes, that life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”

“I had a friend who trained as a lawyer, then became disenchanted and never practised. He told me that the one benefit of those wasted years was that he no longer feared either the law or lawyers. And something like that happens more generally, doesn’t it? The more you learn, the less you fear. ‘Learn’ not in the sense of academic study, but in the practical understanding of life.”

An Ode to Self Driving Cars – Because, Let’s Face It, Some Of Us Hate Driving

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I can’t wait for driverless cars.

I know it might not happen while I am still alive, but that doesn’t stop me from dreaming.

I hate driving, especially in traffic. I have given up on driving altogether in the city I live in – because the place is not exactly a driver’s paradise with its bumper-to-bumper traffic and the lack of parking space.

My location is equipped with good public transportation – I am able to catch an Uber or an autorickshaw the moment I step out of my house. So at the most, I take my car out maybe once every month.

I would like a driverless car for the following reasons though:

  • I can let my car take all the headache (or should I say bumperache?) of finding a parking slot. Or I can order it to go right back home, if there are no parking slots available anywhere.
  • Heck, I wouldn’t even need to own a car if there are driverless robocabs hovering nearby. This is what Zoox has in mind – not to sell robo cars but to offer them as taxis.
  • My elderly mom could go on a solo trip without depending on anyone.
  • People with disabilities would be able to travel on their own.
  • People who hate driving can avoid driving! Whaaaat? You thought everyone liked driving? Tsk tsk.

Change is difficult, I know. And scary. History is a key witness to such skepticism and cynicism evoked by changing circumstances. Every new discovery or invention is met with stubborn resistance. For example, the automatic elevator. Did you know elevators used to be manually lifted before? When the automatic elevators were invented, many were adamant about not using those strange machines. Too dangerous, they said. Sounds familiar? Now we know how that story ended. 

It is the story of many automated machines. Some still face flak even if they are widely in use.

Let’s take the case of automatic transmission cars. They are everywhere now. Many prefer to drive an automatic instead of a manual – it makes life easier. No stress of shifting gears, you just need to concentrate on the road. Yet, there was, and still is, a lot of resistance towards teaching new drivers how to drive using an automatic car. I know many new drivers who would prefer to learn in an automatic because they have no intention of driving a manual transmission car in the future. Once you start driving an automatic, there’s no going back. For two reasons – 1) You become accustomed to driving an automatic. 2) You end up forgetting how to drive a manual. So what was the need of teaching such drivers how to drive a manual, anyway? Many learn driving with only one intention – that of traveling from Point A to Point B; not to learn the intricacies and technicalities involved with changing gears. But as mentioned before, change is difficult. When there are alternative automated solutions, we still tend to prefer the conventional methods.

Human beings in general are terrible drivers, even if most believe otherwise. It is impossible to get a 360-degree view of our surroundings, something a machine can do effortlessly, so we cannot really blame ourselves for our mishaps. We end up speeding when we are not supposed to, we drink and drive when we are not supposed to, we get distracted easily by the smallest of things, we make clumsy mistakes that can cost lives, and yet… we have trouble trusting machines.

Self driving cars have a long way to go before they become available to the public. Preparations are in full swing – like in the case of Waymo (Google’s self driving car), which was recently tested on urban terrains.

If driverless cars are approved, I would be first in line – provided it is affordable. Did I say affordable? If only wishes were horses. Till then, I will make do with ogling small, cute cars.