The solution to fundamentalism, wastage and mediocrity is the same.

Why are we wasting water despite the draught in Maharashtra?

Why do we continue to live in outdated ways that are eating up our environment?

Why do we keep becoming fundamentalists, and keep funding fundamentalism?

The answer is that because we are using our mind, our thinking capacities all wrong. Those aspects of us, like belief and the ability to ignore when needed, as well as to conform to social rules to help avoid crimes and chaos – we are using all of these qualities to turn a blind eye to prevalent problems, and to not change our ways. We grew up this way – don’t question, just cover your own interests, you are too small to matter in any way.

When you socialize the child in this way, and beat out all sorts of divergent thinking patterns in schools and other institutions as he or she grows, are you surprised that so many people take to fundamentalism, because it finally allows them to feel passion again? Or many become mediocre products of society just buying the mass products created by it’s markets? Or has such a hard time imagining anything without a video in front of it, that it can’t imagine the shambles that the world is coming to?

To save the pitfalls of the mind, which were twisted for various reasons to shut out voices of dissent, we have to develop two basic skills, and we totally have to cultivate in our children with urgen fervour – these are two skills more important than teaching language, math or science.

These two skills are: Critical Thinking and Empathy.

Recently, there was a mention of ‘a case against empathy’ because it marrs clear thinking. That’s more than a little stupid because humans are complex and so they can surely think critcally, and be empathetic, both together. We are not so droll as to be able to do only one at a time.

Critical thinking would help us question the logic of strange statements thrown at us, so that belief does not get the better of us and perpetuate a faulty decision. And empathy is required for basic human connection, which would be the motivating factor for any good change, for a person going out of the way to change a convenient habit, because it harms someone.

For example, if I child was taught critical thinking and empathy right from birth and it was just more enhanced in school, he would not buy it if someone told him, that his religion asks him to kill people of another religion. His empathy would help him understand the plight of those who are facing a draught, so he would change his ways to save whatever water he can. These two qualities would ensure that he makes people accountable for environmental damage. Imagination, an offshoot of empathy, would help him visualise an uninhabiltable world, socially and environmentally, and that would help him take all the steps needed to address these situations, without feeling robbed of ‘comforts’.

While some of us do manage to see things a different way, and develop these skills, even our efforts at convincing others will fizzle out if we socially reinforce all the wrong traits. We just need to correct what we are teaching and okaying. The real things need to matter now.

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Statistics, Stories and Storytelling

So, at the end of my two year course of clinical psychology at TISS, I had to intern somewhere. In the absence of the full-time maid, Jyothi, I sourced a work-from-home internship with the Bapu Trust, Pune. I would analyze their community mental health data from home and submit reports.

I had to use SPSS and excel and basically a whole lot of descriptive statistics. Now, I have a sort of love-hate relationship with math and statistics. Such that, I do know these branches of science and measurement are vitally important to know how well we are doing a particular venture or project, but at the same time, feeling I might not be great at it. Now, I was marginally better at statistics than other math, but it was still rather elusive.

However, my internship turned out to be fun, because the actual calculating was done by the software. I had to call the shots. THAT is an empowering feeling. I had to say what units of measurement what would be used, what would be compared against what – and then I had to make a simple yet impressive report of it.

Because of being at TISS for two years, I have learned and engrained something – it is good to do good work, but it is as important to evaluate it. In our curious little world, we have more money for wax statues than real people. In the shortage of funds reeled towards social betterment, we in the field have to be thorough about producing results. And even if money were not a constraint, knowing how well you’re doing with an initiative is just good and honest practice – and you’d rather have that as a quality if you want to work for social upliftment.

Slowly, I started to not get befuddled by the humongous amounts of data, but actually find parallels between my internship work and reading a story. It was as if, a type of analysis I choose, is a plot twist I am choosing and it will eventually lead to an ending. Then I play with the numbers the other way around, and an even clearer picture emerges.

Working with raw data and making sense of it is also like story-telling. A whole lot of times, we are fascinated by one aspect of the story we want to tell – maybe the beginning, maybe the ending, maybe the protagonist. But we fill in the other details along the way and try to make the whole story appealing. Similarly, I know where my data comes from and what is expected of the results. Then I fill in with different analysis and voila – I see that in a particular community women with depression benefit better from group interventions than adolescent boys.

I have always pondered and advocated that psychology and therapy be bought down from its elite status to a tool of mental health available to everyone. Bapu Trust and the work they do is a dream come true in that sense. I see hope in wanting to freeing psychology from its elite status, because they are doing it day in and day out. And they are creating a mentally healthy community by doing so. You could claim I am saying that because I am just impressed, but I have statistical proof for it.

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The ‘Pliss to Tell’ generation


Warning, or Spoiler Alert – This may turn out to be a rant post. Sure you can bear it? All right then.

If you are anything like me, you do not ask for help from people as long as you can do things yourself. I mean, yes you depend on other people for services, but at least your own work you do, even if you’re not high on being as willing to do other people’s work. But, I’ve come to notice over the years, that what would shame me, is just a trifle for others. For example, if I needed information about an institute or a course, I’m much more likely to visit the relevant website, and talk to people of that institute only as a second opinion and not make them my primary source of information.

I would do so for two reasons. One – they are people, so their view maybe biased or wrong, or, at any rate, not as impartial as the official information. Two – because I have internet, brains and surfing skills and its absurd to bug others or depend on them for information I could easily obtain. And yet, there are scores of people looking for compressed information, they want something even easier than going to the relevant website for information!

I recently gave the TISS entrance and I’ve been flooded with such inquiries. And if these were people who went to the website first, didn’t follow and then asked me, I’d understand. No, they blatantly asked without bothering to look for themselves first! I think this is where the whole collectivistic nature of India comes in. In the west, they are very individualistic and would not ask for help as long as they can do things themselves. I think this one value should be imbibed in us – of independence. As students we are always plying on others to help us for things we can easily do, and therefore it is not a wonder that at work, when people aren’t obliged to help us, we feel stuck.

Don’t think that I don’t like giving information, in fact, if the exchange is mutual, as with friends, I love doing so. But all the people who asked me were mere acquaintances, who brushed up contact with me to only ask about the entrance exam, and if I tried to ignore, they sent such texts as if I were some culprit trying to hide information that is supposed to be openly available to the public! News flash – It is openly available to the public! It’s on their Website!

An extension of this is, that people who do not do their own work, don’t think for themselves as well. Which is why the majority is swayed by opinion and advice freely available in India. All of us can make a start to be mentally independent by being independent with our work, and not using our acquaintances or contacts as ‘tools’ to our needs and then brandishing ourselves as ‘forever alone’ because we have no real friends. We never cultivated any!

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From the heart (read: mind) of a Psychology student.

Yeah, I was asserting in the title, that be it a lament, like the one which you will endure in the text below, or spurts of joy, all originate from the mind, and not the heart. It just pumps blood, and being the Shahrukh Khan of the body, by being at the right place at the right time, has stolen the show. Anyway, so what’s on my mind right now ? Lot’s of stuff apparently  and it falls into categories too – reflection, angst, frustration, and maybe, insight.

Although, please do not think that when I bang my toe against pieces of furniture (which happens rather often) I yell, ‘Oh damn you, Mistaken Visual Perception!’ No. I just say ‘Damn’. Or, ‘Hey Ram‘ if I’m feeling theatrical. So I’m approaching the last year of my Bachelors and will definitely continue studying psychology in my Masters, and so, as usual, I reflect. And then I have the dumb idea that with so much reflection, I might find employment as a mirror if Psychology fails me. But then I realize that I’d make a bad mirror because being stuck on a wall would turn my usual straightforward-ness into acid sarcasm that wouldn’t procure the best reply when asked, ‘Who is the prettiest of them all?’

So I leave the ideas of alternate employment and wonder about the pros and cons of being a Psy student. First of all, I would offer an affectionate smack to the teachers who went all ‘Psychology is about people, and people are everywhere, so imagine how awesome it would be to study it!!’ First of all, even sanitation is about people, and people are everywhere etc. Secondly, they did not tell that understanding people would not automatically be accompanied by acceptance. And so, although I could not blame someone for something (maybe it’s his genes, maybe its his environment – the Psy version of Maybelline), I wanted to blame them so bad, because, well, people do act rather abashedly stupid at times. And now, you can’t even call them stupid! Great! Because now you Know, with a capital K. Or, N, rather.

So now I understand people a little better, which leads to all the more impatience. Thus, when a girl in Aerobics class complains she didn’t stop eating the pastries until it was just too much because she didn’t realize when she got full, I want to say to her, ‘No, I’m sure your hypothalamus told you to stop when you were full, but you have issues when it comes to pleasure seeking sensations and you happen to find it in food!’, but of course, I don’t. I just give a sympathetic nod indicating that an indulgence once in a while is fine, after all, our Aerobics instructor’s income depends on it.

Then there are those people who get all starry eyed when you tell them you’re studying Psychology, and ask you if you could read their mind. You want to tell them that there’s nothing to read if they are asking such dumb questions, but you just say ‘I think, right now you’re curious about psychology and want to use it to get some unresolved questions answered’, and they gape at you like you pulled a rabbit out of your hat. You shake your head as if you’ve lost all hope and just let it go.

Then, there are some really questionable things within Psychology itself. One example is experimentation on animals, surely, unconditional positive regard just went flying out the window?

Secondly, the almost annoying interference that border on fanatic righteousness of what constitutes in being human. I’ll illustrate with this disorder we studied in Abnormal Psy, called schizotypal personality disorder. A person having it is cold and keeps to himself, but, isn’t antisocial, and does not harm others.If he is happy in being away from human contact, and he isn’t killing people, what the fuzzy flipflop is your problem? It looks to me that YOU are the one who has an OCD of diagnozing and simply can’t leave people alone. And what is the justification? That as a human, emotions are a primary, basic deciding factor, and if a person has an absence of those, why, he has a disorder, of course. Interestingly, homosexuality was a disorder once upon a time too, till they all had an AHA moment, where apparently, who you get coital with doesn’t matter as long as it’s human, consensual and adult. Happy realization!

And then,  there’s the frustration where you know what’s wrong but beyond the explanation, you have little. Like, we know that The Bystander Effect occurs, wherein, during an attack situation, everyone feels someone else will help the victim, but no one does. Now that I know this, maybe i will rush to help, but what of other situations where I’m not? Can you publish about the by-stander effect and make sure that people act in a less awestruck and more pro-active manner? It’s a rosy picture, but I don’t think that will happen.

The frustration isn’t just pertaining to others, but to oneself too. When you catch yourself thinking Dark Broody Thoughts, and the Psy Self tells you that worry is useless and so on, you just want to give the Psy Self a hard kick on its behind. Can’t you even brood in peace, you wonder?

But since I’m in a good mood right now, I’ll end this on a positive note, by saying that Psy has made me wiser, maybe acceptance is something I should learn from somewhere else. Over and out, before the Psy Self takes over and tries to convert me into a Willing Learner or some such crap.

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