The serendipity of the last book of 2015

December 31, 2015 at 10:05 am (Opinions)

I work in a quiet (most times anyway) part of Dadar, and at the time that I walk down to office, not many shops are open. The raddi wala does open routinely at 8 though. Just like any other day, I was walking down to office from my bus stop, and glancing at the second-hand books for sale. I spotted Edward De Bono’s name and I have always wanted to read him. The book was titles ‘Future Positive: A Guide for the Energetic Eighties’. I wondered if it would be largely out of contect in 2015 (almost 2016), but on browsing, it seemed relevant, so I bought it. It cost me 30 bucks.

The last owner of the book and/or all the moths that had attacked it did not leave it in a great shape. Fixing the pages and designing the cover made it look more friendly, but I managed to spill some water on the felt-pen drawing:

The first few pages itself informed me that this book would answer a lot of my questions. It is a book about changing social structures by changing our thinking styles. A quote from the book:

Intelligence and thinking skills are different. The power of a car is different from the way it is driven.

Therefore, the author says that we have made great advances in our mass of knowledge and crystalized aspects like intelligence, but not so much in thinking skills.

As a psychologist and a mental health professional, I do feel that our socio-political reality impacts us greatly in our emotional lives, and there is no point in just treating the symptoms as that would be half measure.

What is it that we can do to change our thinking styles, leave out archaic ways of thought that had a different social context, and develop newer systems that solve our social and political problems?

I think this book will help me answer these questions, and I found it just in time!

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2015 in review

December 30, 2015 at 4:56 am (Random, Review) (, , , , )

Wow, this was both insightful and pleasant! :)

 

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,400 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 23 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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The costliest thing in India that inflation can’t explain: Having an opinion

November 29, 2015 at 6:18 am (Opinions, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

Outrage is the new Indian hobby. Initially, social media would outrage over issues that required outraging, like rapes and brutal statements by politicians and what not, but now a days, we seem to outrage without thinking. Or worse, we outrage to drown out minority voices. Minority here stands not for muslims, but any person or group of people who want something different than what the mainstream does, something that is not an illegal or immoral thing to ask for.

maxresdefault (2).jpg

When Aamir Khan said his wife suggested moving out of India, he voiced the feelings of not just Muslims, but all sorts of groups who have felt targeted and the Government has done nothing to tell them they will be looked after. These groups include, but are not limited to: women, queer population, Sikhs, SC and ST population, tribals, people in high-distress areas, people affected by man-made and natural disasters, people under the poverty line, people with mental and physical disability, people affected by crimes, people stuck in human trafficking and child labour, children and young adults stuck in observation homes, and so on.

There were some Muslims who came out and said that they have had nothing but love and respect in India, so how could Aamir Khan say what he did. First of all, it’s good that their experience was nice, but because he expressed a different opinion, that does not mean that he is wrong. He has all right to say what he feels, and it is not irresponsible, because he just expressed a sentiment, that many people have been feeling, and not flung mud at anyone blaming them for it.

The outrage he harnessed proved his point that we are inching towards intolerance and bursting at our seems. But it also proved the convenient duality we had: We are happy to garner NRI investments, but loathe when someone talks of leaving the country. We want to champion minority rights, but we don’t care when Muslim women say that they want changes in the Muslim personal law. Perhaps he poked us where it hurts: our denial blind spot.

This divided attention and lack of peace-making efforts from central authorities (but harrowing communal comments from politicians, instead), speak of a psychological divide that was only at the fringes before but now is seeping in everywhere. There are some who are not divided but they simply do not care, and I can’t decide which is worse.

In light of the recent incidents, having an opinion is perhaps the costliest in India. It is much easier if you want to be a mule, absorb consumer products and mindlessly churn our revenue and tax.

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“How Indian is counseling anyway?”

November 22, 2015 at 8:31 am (Uncategorized)

blog therapy.jpg

I work for a start-up that’s trying to make counseling available online, therefore addressing the accessibility, affordability and stigma question, all at once. In the background research for this facility, in roping in experts, and in general as a training counselor, this question has often plagued me, “Isn’t therapy or counseling a western concept? How can we expect people to take to it?”

Sometimes, the question originated within me, as I saw the reluctance of people to come for counseling or pay for it, even when they could afford it. Most of the times, it was by concerned (and some mocking) friends and family.

To answer this question, for all of of us, I did some digging and here are a few pointers:

  • We have adopted a lot of seemingly western concepts with great ease, allopathic medicine, the current governing systems and computers are a few good examples. Do you ask about a discount when you buy a laptop, because it’s a western concept?
  • Indians have always been known for stories, and the need to tell about life’s dilemmas in eloquent ways in order to find solutions. The Jataka tales, Pancharatnas, and our epics are good examples of lengthy discussions done in order to understand and deal with the shades of grey in our lives.
  • India is where Buddhism was born, and Buddha was known for his calm demeanor and talking to people in a logical, reflective way, which helped them change for the better. Counselors are not Buddha or Buddhists, but if conversing reflectively can help, then why would you use chemicals with side-effects instead?
  • Counseling or therapy don’t have to be dull or pathological. There are strength-based approaches, group approaches, community psychology approaches (which use local rituals and indigenous patterns for healing) and therapy using art and creative forms.

 

In essence, we could do a lot if we would combine our knack and need for talking, story-telling and metaphors, with an organized system of healing like counseling, and by dropping the elite-western air.

We would have an approach which could address India’s alarming mental health situation without heavily relying on drugs. It would reduce crime rates, increase productivity. A preventive and curative approach, given we think of counseling as important to have reliable professionals and spaces for it, from the public health and government hospital space to the private sector.

The question is, do we want to? Will we?

 

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Why Books Should Never Go Out of Fashion

October 6, 2015 at 6:32 pm (Opinions) (, , , , , , , )

So this post is slightly biased, coming from a reader. I don’t like the term ‘voracious’ because it indicated I already may be reading as much as I can and it leaves me without any future goals. So yes, this post is slightly biased because there are some minor things lik vision problems with too much reading (only if you don’t observe book-distance hygeine for the most part) and the whole ebook discussion and how reading off a screen may not be healthy.

There’s of course this whole question of trashy books, but I’ve made my peace with it. They may be a good starting point for non-readers and there need to be many ordinary books for the extraordinary ones to really shine out. In this post I am going to outline some benefits of reading that I have read (!) about in various sites like research journals, newspapers, novels, interviews etc. All in all I make a compelling case, except that citation is missing because I feel a little lazy for all that.

Educational benefits: Well, this is a no-brainer. Although multimedia and other forms of teaching are coming up, we still rely heavily on the written word to communicate educational information. In fact, it would be really hard to study subjects like Physics or English without the backing of written text. Since words are the symbols of human existence and communication, they may be replaced every now and then by multimedia, emoticons and icons, but they will never go away completely.

Cognitive Benefits: Reading expands the mind. Reading helps foster easy symbol recognition and processing. It also helps retention and memory capacity which can be very useful for academic activities and life after that. Reading encourages linkages across disciplines, and that is where innovation takes birth.

Emotional Benefits: Reading makes you more attuned to personal struggles and better able to understand that there is a range of emotions and one shouldn’t judge others quickly. Readers have the patience to let the story unfold.

Social Benefits: Reading gives you something to talk about, and may even make you a good storyteller. Even it that doesn’t happen, having exposure to reading helps you realize individual differences in people and are more likely to acknowledge and appreciate them and not being put in pigeon holes gives people the freedom to be, when they are with you.

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Brown Skin: The role of abuse of power in Law Enforcement

September 27, 2015 at 5:44 pm (Opinions, social commentary) (, , , , , , , , , , )

The case of 14-year old school-boy Ahmed is all over the social media recently. He constructed an alarm clock at home and bought it to school, but instead of getting recognition, he was arrested. It was suspected that having brown skin and being a Muslim made it more likely that he would have constructed a bomb and not an alarm clock. If this racial profiling it itself was not provoking enough, there were parallel and subsequent news reports which added fuel to fire.

Ahmed Mohammed

Ahmed Mohammed

( http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/sep/22/ahmed-mohamed-withdraws-from-texas-school-that-suspended-him-over-clock)

In an alternative case scenario, a Caucasian school boy of thirteen years of age was applauded for building a nuclear fission reactor with the help of his school. More and more people are asking how this is justified considering a nuclear reactor is much more lethal than an alarm clock. Reports also stated that Ahmed or the alarm clock were not isolated which would be the case if he were really with a bomb. None of the usual bomb safety protocol was followed. It is being suggested that it is very likely that everyone knew this was not a bomb. It seemed like an avenue for harassment.

Which raises a puzzling question: why does law enforcement fall prey to confirming and acting by societal stereotypes? Is it the fact that there isn’t enough training to sensitize them to the effects of their unchecked beliefs and social biases that they may not only be carrying but also reinforcing? That is true, but there is more to the story. According to Feminist Theory, Law, Marriage, Religion and Police are some of the many institutions that work to maintain the status quo. Their language, hierarchy and functioning in structured in such a way that they are given power to replicate what they grew up learning, and use policing and justice systems to reinforce it.

Further, the role of power itself may add to the whole problem. In the iconic Stanford Prison Experiment, a team of researchers found that when everyday people were arbitrarily put in the role of prisoner and guard, those in the role of the guards enforced authoritarian measures and ultimately subjected some of the prisoners to psychological torture. Many of the prisoners passively accepted psychological abuse and, at the request of the guards, readily harassed other prisoners who attempted to prevent it. The experiment even affected head of the study Dr, Zimbardo himself, who, in his role as the superintendent, permitted the abuse to continue.

Stanford Prison Experiment

(http://www.prisonexp.org/)

In the highlights of these findings, we really have to question the incomplete training of our law enforcement officials as well as the absolute power we invest in them. Cases of misuse of power are rampant in India too, with high rates of communal crime, non-minority criminals, celebrities getting softer sentences and less punishment, crimes on women and corruption.

Two measures that must take place are intensive training to sensitize officers to the biases they carry and the effect it can have, and the other is that there should be stringent punishment if an officer uses his post for satisfying bias-led harassment and torture.

Law_Enforcement

(http://www.crunchwear.com/law-enforcement-tech-top-5/)

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Thank God I’m Not a Doctor

September 21, 2015 at 4:03 pm (Opinions) (, , , , , , , )

Before I say what I want to, let me just say that I know many good doctors who are both proficient in practice and good-natured people. I know them as colleagues and friends. However, this article is about the increasingly vast majority who are not like that.

You would think that a professional who signs up to be in a profession of health care and may directly contribute to quality and quantity of life of people may want to care about being the crudest level of polite to people who provide for his/her income. Yet, the typical scene at a doctor’s office goes such:

Doctor comes fifteen minutes late

Doctor is visited by Medical Representative (Shiny Pharma guys)

Only half an hour of consult time is left

People rush in, seeing the doctor for 2 to 15 minutes and are lighter in the pocket by one grand in consult fees and then another couple grand in medication and follow-ups.

(Contrast this with the fact that people are hesitant to pay even 500 for one whole hour of intensive psychotherapy. Sometimes you wonder if people don’t bring shit onto themselves on purpose)

Apart from the logistics of it, many doctors are downright rude. No explanation of diagnoses, no explanation of what the medication is for, how long the treatment would run, possible side-effects of medication, and yes, cheaper alternatives. Some doctors also have a delightful habit of sending you for needless diagnostic testing thanks to the cut from the testing industry.

They should really stop calling it a noble profession. Apart from a few doctors, none act noble or do noble.

In a country where the government hospital situation is bad, and the private one so elitist, the large swarming middle-class that we are so proud of is left hanging at tail-end of the auspicious white coat.

Silence please, Doctor?

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India Rising: But to what end?

September 2, 2015 at 8:41 am (Opinions) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Ever since the BJP Government came into power, with its development agenda, we hear news of growth and development everyday. From the news that our GDP is more than China’s (but what that may mean is still debated, as stated in this article), or whether it’s about newer investments in India, our Prime Minister’s efforts at bettering foreign relations, to newer roads, flyovers and more money put into development infrastructure, it’s all to the slogan of ‘India Rising’.

But can you eat money?

Last I checked, you could not.

We always forget the human development indicators in all this. What’s the point of high rises and big roads if your people are unhappy and unwell? We are losing more and more merit to nations like the US because our policies of education and employment are forcing Indians to leave for greener pastures.

Our basics of poverty alleviation, education, health and mental health – have a long way to go. According to a WHO report, we are one of the most depressed countries, with suicide as second leading cause of death. That way, the only thing that seems to be rising, is unhappiness. Farmer suicides are a constant problem. It looks like materialism and vote bank politics are not a permanent solution.

Does this mean we give up infrastructure development? Of course not. But that will only improve our structures. What about the functionality of these structures? What about the users of these structures?

The expenditure on mental health is 0.6% of the health budget, not even of the GDP. Clearly, our allocation to human development and quality of life indicators need to improve, which of course includes gender ratio as well.

Sports (apart from cricket) are suffering, with football clubs like Pune FC and Bharat FC are shutting down. Our LGBTQ population have little or no legal protection from harassment. Moral policing is on an all time high with police raiding hotel rooms used by two consenting adults. We are becoming more and more intolerant about diversity, which used to be our strong point, and more and more leaning towards safeguarding ‘our kind’ and our thinking with imposed bans and bandhs for reservation, or against helpful laws.

We need a people-friendly government. A policy and police system we can approach and don’t have to be scared of.

It’s good to have good structures to live in, and travel by. But it’s even better if these structures are complemented by basic needs, of which, it’s high time that education, sanitation, livelihood, health and mental health were made an important part. It’s imperative to have human conditions of happiness and satisfaction. Concrete can only do so much.

Are we rising where we need to?

Are we rising where we need to?

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In Sickness and Health

August 2, 2015 at 6:05 pm (Opinions, Random) (, , , , , , , )

I’m down with a bit of flu, some bit of fever triggered by throat infection. I have noticed that I am snapping a lot and not being my usual collected self with family, may be even friends.

I am irritable because of fever and body pain and a few complaints. This – after getting access to medication the day i fell ill. Also, the day after was the weekend so I did not have to go to work. And i do not have to for a while now. This, after I am getting all the rest I need, am at the liberty to eat and sleep as I see fit, and am gradually getting better.

Compare my situation to someone who has had an illness – chronic or acute, mental or physical, without privilege.

If a flu can make me snarky, what can constant pain do?

Yet, we want all patients to be nice, sweet, obedient, playing the victim. If they are angry, hostile, rude or in anyway not how we expect them to be – rosy – we do not treat them well, consciously or unconsciously.

If a flu can trigger hostility and bring down inhibition, stronger stuff definitely can?

Why do we want cute little victims?

couples480-blog480

Has being a savior become more important than being a humane health professional?

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The Overrun Tenure of Hierarchy

July 7, 2015 at 7:07 am (Opinions, social commentary) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

If you are in a collectivistic culture, like Asia (India) lines of command are a way of life, even if you are not part of the military and armed services. In India, hierarchy is multifold – caste hierarchy, class hierarchy, age hierarchy, gender hierarchy, seniority hierarchy and even piousness hierarchy.

I am sure that there was a time when hierarchies were important to establish order and get work done. However, these hierarchies are oppressive now, from the school to the workplace, from the police station to the hospital, and from the family to the religious institution.

For example, under the District and National Mental Health Programs in India, the psychiatrist is to lead the team, and is also paid better. Why? There could be stringent qualifications for all the professionals and all of them could be paid well. Surely, knowing what medication to give is not enough and mental health requires holistic treatment. But it is driven with the assumption that the psychiatrist is some holy figure – male (no surprises) and with sound knowledge of medicine which no one understands anyway. But medicine has an 80 % relapse rate. Is it wise to trust just that? And it is proven now that much of mental illness is psycho-social and popping pills won’t help.

Another example, take any school or traditional corporate office. The feedback system is so flawed that anyone at the lowest wrung of the chain will always be crushed – in these cases, students and fresh employees. Much of the motivation to climb the career ladder comes from wanting to move to the position of the crusher from the crushed : the only way to make your situation better is to stamp the others and make theirs worse. Ditto for bullying.

Are we then surprised that we are growing herd of people and children who are spewing toxic hatred wherever they go, who themselves feel alone, and the whole point of human connection is lost. We have become mindless chewers of technology and materialism.

the cruel climb

Work is important. Order is important.

But what is more important is to realize that humans have evolved, and our systems from before may simply be redundant. We don’t need to stand over our employees with a stick in our hands to get work done. People have work motivation and achievement needs of their own. Appreciation and reinforcement are concepts that actually work.

Sounds too fuzzy?

Check out this organization that is taking these brilliant concepts to heart, and also making money!

http://www.theatlantic.com/video/index/396527/case-32-hour-workweek/

This really is a dream organization: adequate offs, good pay, no hierarchy, and mutual respect. And works get done all the time – and people enjoy doing it!

As Ryan Carson says, ‘We should be thankful that we live in a time where we don’t need to work so much’. And we should be using that to achieve a balanced and holistic life.

Meanwhile, in India we continue to slog in 6 and 7 day weeks.

The tenure of hierarchy has really overrun – from the pot to the parliament.

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