Saturday, December 27, 2008


( Photo Credit : Internet )

YES, my takeback from the year just going to end is :

This world is great, if you do not expect anything and just do things with passion for the pure pleasure of doing them without harming any soul !!

A while back, I started sending sms to a whole lot of my friends my new year wishes for them , and truly, I felt splendid.

So, here I wish all my known n unknown online friends who drop by my blog :

May the New Year usher in a whole lot of newer opportunities and newer horizons to explore for fulfilling all your dreams in days to come !



Saturday, December 13, 2008

Empathy..... in action

EMPATHY .... in action !!

One of these days, as I was about to drink water from a bottle ( the white one in the picture) and lifted it up holding the bottle at the grip curved out ( observe the curved shaped bottle again ... you will understand what I am referring to ), a powerful thought came to me in a flash. Is it not an excellent example of “empathy” on part of the manufacturer of the bottle?

Yes, it was originally a soft drink bottle of a particular brand – having a capacity of 1.5 ltrs ... quite heavy when full, but still very covenient to use with the shape of the bottle specially curved at the right place to facilitate grip of the person holding the bottle. Not only that, there are also some dot-like things on the surface of the curve to make the surface coarse and thus build more friction while holding so as to prevent the bottle from slipping off your hand. Simply put, the bottle is pretty user-friendly.

Contrast this bottle with the older versions of the similar type of bottles minus the grip-curve. If you have ever tried to drink straight from a 1.5 ltr bottle full with soft drink or water and straight from the refrigerator ( i.e. with water vapours on the exterior of the bottle), then you would recall how slippery and inconvenient it used to be. Look at the blue bottle in the picture, without any curve and imagine it as big as the white one and you would be able to appreciate the contrast [ Sorry, could not find a bigger bottle for the pic].

In my opinion, it takes a lot of empathy to proactively build this kind of user-friendliness into products through small, small, apparently insignificant innovations in design, shape, size etc.. In a business context, even if these changes are done after evaluating customer suggestions/market feedback, that would still amount to being empathetic – as apart from having openness to feedback; you require an understanding of the perspectives of others from their suggestions and that is also empathy. What I would emphasise, though, in empathy is the proactiveness, the ability to anticipate the requirements of the end-users, the ability to "put oneself into another's shoes", or in some way experience the outlook or emotions of another being within oneself.

Reminds me of something my father used to do.

At our home in our native place, the civic bodies are not so efficient about garbage clearance. Result ? Most of the times, residents pile up the garbage on the roadside from where the municipal carriers are supposed to pick them up – but by the time they arrive in the morning, half the garbage ( the green garbage – skins and peels of vegetables and fruits, left-overs of food etc. ) somehow get “ cleaned” when stray cows/animals eat them up from the roadside. You like it or not – this is a daily affair. So, what my father used to ensure was to have separate dustbins for green garbage into which no one was allowed to dump anything plastic, metal , cotton, or toxic.. so to say, anything that can inadvertently choke or harm an animal while feasting on the garbage !! Early in the morning, he would personally empty those bins and I have observed often, immediately some cow or ox would come running to feast on that .

So, what was it that used to drive my father to take so much care even in handling garbage - apparently a silly affair for many ? Tell me honestly, how many of us do that, or ever have thought about doing that ? Just to protect the stray animals ?? I think, it was his empathy for others – be them animals !! Well, I may add, perhaps it was lot of empathy mixed with a lot of sympathy. He must have first thought from the standpoint of a stray animal, who would be tempted to eat from the garbage, but would have no ability to discern and segregate the uneatables from the eatables . Simultaneously, he must have visualised the sufferings of the animal if anything dangerous like plastic bag etc. gets stuck in its throat – and exclaimed: poor animal !! That is compassion, sympathy or empathetic concern ( as distinct from empathy, in which you need not have compassion or pity ).

It is possible to be empathetic and sympathetic at the same time, though in many situations in real life, it is empathy which is the required thing more than sympathy . As someone rightly said: Give a man a fish a day .. you will feed him daily ( sympathy): Teach him how to fish, he will feed himself a lifetime without looking upto your favour ( empathy). That is, it is not charity ( driven by sympathy) but equipping the underprivileged and creating growth opportunities for them, wherein lies the essence.

Like to share another anecdote, I had read somewhere long time back, and just remember the essence. It is an excellent example of what empathy in practice means … or rather lack of empathy means.

Long story cut short, it goes like this. A Chief of an Army division once felt for the soldiers out in the front, spending their best part of life in bunkers without proper food, drink and other basic amenities. He thought, he should do something to cheer them up .... does not matter even if for a short while. He decided to send them icecream .. to be served in bunkers !! Well, the orders were carried out and one fine day, the soldiers were excited to find a consignment said to contain icecream reaching them in the bunkers. Excited, as they started serving the icecream, they realised that something was wrong .... the entire lot had melted on the way, and there were no spoons or other aids to eat the icecream with !! What thoughts are crossing your mind right now after reading this story ? To me, it is a classic example of lack of empathy !! The chief only thought of his part of the act ... sending the icecream...perhaps more with an unconscious desire to prove his magnanimity before himself ( oh! pat, pat ... I am so concerned about the joy of my boys out there !!) withouit really thinking about the end-users; how the soldiers would eventually receive and enjoy it. Had he put himself in the shoes of the soldiers in the bunkers, he would have ensured that icecream was delivered as such ( not as some melted semi-liquid) and he would have ensured spoons to serve and eat the icecream with. What was the purpose after all ? Sending icecream or pleasure of the soldiers in bunkers emanating out of eating ice cream ?

Usually, many of the so-called initiatives taken in personal as well as professional life fall flat as those are taken without any empathy – any genuine effort to understand what the others need or want in a specific situation. If you are an empathetic person, you would not be tempted to persuade another person to do what you want; instead you would understand what the other person wants, what the other person needs and then try help him to achieve it. How often do we tend to diagnose and give advice even before listening in a communication ? When that happens, it is a sure shot case of lack of empathy .

Another happening coming to my mind. A few months back, we had been to Lord Jagannath Temple during the daytime when the sun was pretty high and the steps were very hot. As you have to walk bare-foot inside the precincts of the temple, it could have been really horrible, but for the fact that there was arrangement for water pipes continuously watering the steps !! What relief to the devotees visiting the temple in high sun !! I had never observed this practice earlier. Must have been introduced recently by some empathetic soul related to temple administration !!

Empathy is the ability to mutually experience the thoughts, emotions, and direct experience of others without them being directly communicated intentionally. Out of such empathy emerges small initiatives leading to great impacts !!

Empathy can also be better appreciated as distinct from sympathy, although these two terms are, more often than not, being similarly used. They are not the same.

It is possible to be empathetic and not sympathetic at the same time. For example: If poverty and extreme adverse circumstances drives a poor man to commit a murder and he gets caught, you may feel empathetic and try to analyze the reason for his so doing; but you will not be sympathetic towards him as murder is a henious act and nothing justifies it.

It is also possible to be both empathetic and sympathetic at the same time. For example, if I have just lost a dear one to a fatal disease, you may sympathise with me for the loss and at the same time, you may also empathise with how aggrieved and sad I must be feeling at the loss of a dear one.

Merriam Webster defines as under :

Empathy: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner

Sympathy: an affinity, association, or relationship between persons or things wherein whatever affects one similarly affects the other b: mutual or parallel susceptibility or a condition brought about by it c: unity or harmony in action or effect.

As I understand, the difference between the two concepts is :

If you are depressed and as I talk to you, I also start having those feelings and feel depressed, I am having sympathy for you and this may place me in a depressed mood in which I may lose my ability to help you overcome the situation. But if on the other hand, as I talk to you, I don’t feel what you are feeling , but say, I can relate your feelings to something I had felt in a similar situation, I can say I can empathise with you. I can understand that you are depressed and I am still in a position to help you deal with the depressed state by additional feedback or just empathic listening.

Step back... and reflect on many of the daily routine interactions that you have in your professional life, you will be amazed to realise, what wonders can happen to our performance if only we put a bit of empathy into our dealings with our own colleagues and our customers... if only we first seek to understand and then try to be understood ( credit :Steven Covey) !!

I do not know if I have got it correct or not . Like to have your views, if you differ.

Saturday, December 6, 2008



( Always ensure first the basic facilitating conditions to ensure result)

Morning Walk …. Such a simple thing to do; so..o.. many people do it regularly ; such a known-to-be beneficial and often-recommended health tip !!

I am ashamed to confess, it has taken me so..o..o very long to give it a start.

Not because I did not know the benefits.

Not because I did not know I personally require it, if not for anything else, just to address my overweight !

Not because I did not actually have the time. ( Although, that was the excuse I had been giving myself all these years in the name of my more important morning chores I had to finish before I left for office everyday … and as I said, it was just an excuse.)

But I guess, because

I never was serious enough.

And I never had purchased myself a pair of walking shoes !!

Perhaps, I should even reverse the order and make “not having a pair of walking shoes”the first reason. Had I bought me the walking shoes earlier, I might have been interested to just try out, even when I was not very serious enough and finding its early signs of benefit, I might have become serious about it.

Lost opportunity … for me. At least, I have started it now. But I want to share it with the lazy-heads like me, who are yet to start morning walking, so that at least you do not lose the opportunity of reaping the benefits of this wonderful, yet simple habit, before it is too late ( well, remember, it is never too late to try anything good till we die !!)

It happened like this: for the recent Europe Tour, I had purchased this pair of walking shoes as per the instruction given in the travel manual … AND thank god, I complied with the instruction. It was absolutely required as most part of the touring & sight-seeing was by walking and I shudder to think of having to walk so much in high heels !!

And YES ! I loved walking in these shoes – felt so light-footed, without any strain and it most certainly made me feel very nice and energetic ( despite the fact that we were hardly eating much. Wait a sec… was it because we ate so little? Ha, ha - in India, we all are such foodies. Of course, climate does a bit of mischief here – one feels hungry. There in Europe, it was such lovely cool ( not bone-chilling) climate that you do not feel hungry for hours after having just one sandwich !! When we returned home, I was virtually amazed at what I discovered ! I had lost some weight ( never happened earlier despite my hectic schedule and a few attempts at yoga ).

So, I was resolute enough this time … I must make it a HABIT to have morning walk. This time, I had no excuses … no hurry to go anywhere, I have the walking shoes ( on earlier occasions when I had tried walking with my regular slippers on, I found it truly hurting and inconvenient .) , and this time, I am very very serious to shape up a bit (this is one of my “goals” on my personal mission statement prepared immediately after I left my job). It all helped … I am having morning walk now-a-days regularly and can feel the positive impact.

So.. the point is : even if I was serious about walking, I was actually not doing this earlier, as I had not ensured the basic facilitating tool for that – a pair of walking shoes. Appears such a small issue – but has such a fundamental implication .

Many a time, I used to wonder, if morning walk is all that simple (… all that you need to do is, open your door, step out, and start walking. …..), then why there are so many ( like I used to be ) who would just wish to do it but end up procastinating ???

No, it is not all that simple, as it involves getting up early and that requires a lot of motivation, you admit it or not – and especially when you have such a packed schedule everyday that you get to go to bed late at night. Most of us in today’s world have this kind of a daily schedule and given a chance, we would rather steal those few more minutes of sleep early in the morning, than wake up, put on the shoes and step out to walk. It becomes easy only when we have strong motivation to start, the facilitaing conditions, feel the benefits ourselves and let this become a habit.

Let me try helping you form this invaluable habit, if not formed already !

DO NOT HAVE ENOUGH MOTIVATION ?? JUST GO THROUGH THE FOLLOWING brief account of all the amazing benefits that accrue from brisk walking .. as the doctors say:

ü right-sizes your body ( the only tangible abode where your spirit resides ) ; particularly when you are overweight.

Just think, 1 pound of fat = 3500 calories and 1 kg fat = 2.2 pound fat = 7700 calories. To lose one KG weight, you need to burn extra 7700 calories energy with the present calorie intake and activity level !! When we walk, our body burns stored fat and supplies the required energy to our exercising muscles – perhaps the easiest way to burn extra fat !! Experts say, roughly 240 calories get expended if a 60KG weight person walks 5 KM a day so that per month roughly 7200 calories can be expended through walking.

ü builds Cardio Respiratory fitness

Walking helps in maintaining an optimum capacity of your circulatory and respiratory systems to supply oxygen and other nutrients to the various muscles and body organs, which in turn provide protection against many heart ailments we are so familiar with and reduces risk of heart stroke.

ü reduces Blood Pressure

Regular brisk walking for just about 30 minutes a day amounts to aerobic physical activity that can reduce blood pressure by 4 to 9mm Hg.

ü prevents diabetes in normal persons and pre-diabetic individuals and controls diabetes in diabetes patients, as regular walking increases insulin sensitivity.

ü de-stresses by releasing the neuro transmitters endorphins which produce relaxation and remove pain.

ü promotes good sleep

ü Improves lipid profile – increases hdl ( good) cholesterol and decreases ldl ( bad) cholesterol as well as total cholesterol even in the absence of any significant weight reduction.

ü Assists in making bones stronger and helps in protecting against osteoporosis ( a disease of low bone mass leading to fragility & increased susceptibility to fractures.) Muscles and bones are living tissues that respond to exercise like walking.

ü Reduces risk of colon cancer, breast cancer and endometrium cancer

ü Delays aging – age related decrease in skeletal muscle mass ; helps look younger

ü Enhances brain power .

“ If you are seeking creative ideas, go out walking. Angels whisper to a

man when he goes for a walk.” So said Raymond Inmon.

All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

I have personally felt this very very strongly, ever since I have started taking walk early in the morning on my terrace, deeply enjoying the fresh air, the chirping birds, the holy bells ringing at temples, the morning sun rising with all its crimson grandeur, the tall,green trees, … and the free flow of ideas, some of them coming in flashes from nowhere!! This article is also the result of that .

There is a scientific reason to this, as I learnt now. Walking releases endorphins, sometimes called as natural happy chemicals, which reduces pain, improves mood and relieves depression. It also stimulates the brain to increase the production of neurotransmitter, serotonin, which promotes feeling of well-being. Walking increases blood flow to brain and increases thinking ability.

[Credit for the above medically tested information : Dr S .Velumani & Dr V.Jeyalakshmi. In fact, since you have read so far, I would reward you by sharing that these two doctors have jointly authored a book titled “Walking” which is an amazing book dealing with this topic very comprehensively with lots of practical tips on how to go about it. A must-read by all non-medicos !! ]

Experts say, the human foot is an anatomical complex engineering project, involving 26 bones united together with 107 ligaments nd 32 muscles with 37 intervening joints. And no other foot among the millions of species in this planet has ever been designed with such precision as the human foot. The simple act of walking involves half of all the body’s 650 muscles and tendons; upright walking requires hundreds of adaptations throughout the body from bottom to top. No wonder, walking is considered to be a near-perfect exercise !

So.o..o?? Have I succeeded in waking you up, my lazy friends ?

Let me assure you – it does not take more than 7 days to form this habit and once it becomes a habit, the rest just keeps on happening… so not that difficult either . Just make up your mind .

Yeah, besides the walking shoes, you may be required to ensure a couple of other facilitating factors : like what to wear and where to go . Keep these two things convenient for you so that you do not find excuses in them to discontinue walking. For example, I have chosen my terrace ( it has enough stretch that allows me to build up the required speed/pace ) instead of a near-by stadium because I save a lot of time and I don’t have to care how I dress up. For dress, I just slip into salwar-kameez , does not matter even if crumpled, I don’t have to do my hair or bother about meeting people.

REMEMBER… but for the human feet, we would be swinging from one tree to another. Let us use them for the purpose they are designed … get going … start walking, if you have not yet !!!