Sunday, September 30, 2007

Reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones

Recently, one of my classmates from the Stanford program invited me to Seattle for a consulting contract. It did not take much to convince me to take the job, as I had my dearest "Baha'i brother and sister" -Martha and Coroush (and little Anika)- had just moved to Seattle. I was very happy to be able to see them again, and was even more grateful that the company I was consulting with had the most exciting technology to more than wet my appetite. I know there is much I can contribute to them.
So after working, I headed off to see Martha, Coroush and Anika. They were exploring to get a new place and I was honored to be a part of this process. Meanwhile, Chuck Cooper another dear friend now living in Chicago, happened to notice that my Facebook profile indicated I was in Seattle. He suggested I meet some dear friends of his, which I did and am so glad. I now have some new and wonderful friends in the Seattle area- Roy Steiner and family, John and Nooshin Darvish from Samimmish. John and Nooshin have a Holistique Medical Centre, and I was happy to hear Nooshin does work with autistic children. I am hoping to bring my son over to have her as his doctor.
Timing also enabled to spend Wednesday evening with the Baha'is of Sammimish. It was a wondeful Feast and so many children were present. What I liked best was that all the children present made the effort to say a prayer. That was so sweet indeed. The family that hosted Feast was so generous and had a DELICIOUS Persian dinner!! It was such a treat indeed. I met so many people, and in fact felt that I had met some before but could not place when. Overall, it was delightful meeting new people and connecting them with others.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Forces of globalisation and need for perspective taking

Having grown up in Singapore (majority immigrant Chinese), with a strong British and American influence, as an Indian, truly opened me to instrinsic perspective taking. It was a skill I needed to survive. My parents also consciously taught it to me as a child to see things from the other persons shoes. This really helped me fit in almost anywhere even today. I however realise that whilst this may be true with people who are minorities, it is not usually the case with people who are in the majority race or culture.

Today, I live in Cupertino in California where there is amost 50% Asians (including Indians). Living here has made me aware that not everyone does perspective taking. This I see as the cause of much "conflict" between the cultures. I hear my Caucasian friends talk about how rude Asians can be, that they don't look at you when trying to cut into your lane, don't give signals, cut into a parking slot you have been waiting for, etc. Meanwhile Asian friends complain how Caucasians are so aloof, don't help unless asked, don't make friends easily, don't invite you into their homes, etc. Yet for me, I have both positive and negative experiences irregardless of their cultural backgrounds, and often it is more do with personalities. Although I must add that it is my immigrant friends around here are the ones I can count on more than my American friends who are from this area (just different survival instincts I suppose).

Yet, I do feel that people treat me differently based on their perspective of how I look. I feel more often than not, that before I open my mouth and talk, people treat and respond to me as if I am an illiterate Indian woman who does not know her rights or what she needs. Now sure if I project that image or is it just their stereotype of Indian women, but I get talked down to a lot. Just yesterday a man pulled his car all the way into the gas station right in front of me cutting me off, even after seeing me thus leaving me little or no room to pump gas at the adjoining stall. He just ignored me and chose not to see my predicament for whatever reason. At the Northwest airlines, I used to get the ticket counter people talk to me as if I did not understand English. Over and over again it happens. I cannot help but feel that condescendence ooze out, or am I taking things personally. My husband tells me that I should tell myself that people are just going through their own stuff and not take it personally. But it takes a lot of patience and understanding, and is hard at times, especially when it happens over and over again. It is times like this that perspective taking can come in handy but is hard to do. Hence my reminder that "when you find the light within you, you will liberate others".

Whatever it be, I am so glad to see that my son is now attending a seminar at a class for high functioning autistic children where he is learning perspective taking. It is so useful although hard for autistic children to do so. But he is learning everyday and improves on it. So if he can do it, anyone can. That made me think, and I thought if only everyone learnt about perspective taking, social thinking, social etiquette, etc. we can avoid a lot of this unnecessary conflict we find living together. That we can better enjoy each other as human beings and not what we stereotype each other to be based on how we look, what we wear, etc.

So I do hope that we see more of this "Centre for Social Thinking" type education for our children in schools, where we do not assume they will get it even if not taught. Teaching ourselves and starting at home will be a good way to start. Having an international circle of friends whom you can have frank discussions and learn from them what you are doing wrong or right, will also help. I believe as long as we are open to learn how to reach out, not to offend, feel what others may be feeling, and truly want to be connected as one, we will then reached a state of unity.

Baha'u'llah states that “The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established. ”Let's not forget this and let's not take unity as a given, rather let's work on establishing unity and hence peace for all.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Oneness of Humanity is a complex and organic concept=not simplistic as it may sound

Oneness is a central theme of the Baha’i Faith which calls for the unity of mankind, for the recognition of the unity of the Godhead and the Manifestations, for unity of the sexes, and for unity of action after a decision has been made.

Abdul Baha has written
•“Unity is necessary to existence. Love is the very cause of life, on the other hand, separation brings death. In the world of material creation…all things owe their actual life to unity. The elements which compose wood, mineral, or stone are held together by the law of attraction..So is it with the great body of humanity.”

Baha’u’llah compared the world to the human body. Human society is composed not of a mass of merely different cells but of association of individuals, each of whom is endowed with intelligence and will…no cell lives apart from the body, whether in contributing to its functioning or in deriving its share from the well-being of the whole.”

The deeper implications of this Oneness of Mankind concept promulgated by Baha’u’llah more than a century ago, implies an organic change in the structure of present day society, a change such as the world has not yet experienced. It represents the consummation of human evolution- the next step is the high synergistic society where there will be a linking together of the consciousness of mankind..” This linkage is the linking of consciousness- a linking of soul-to-soul. More than just tolerance and coexistence.To go beyond a skin encapsulated ego. Beneath the skin, we are all one in spirit.

Baha’u’llah extols that
“The purpose of religion as revealed from the heaven of God’s Holy Will is to establish unity and concord amongst the peoples of the world; make it not the cause of dissension and strife. Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship, …Wherever you find the attributes of God, love that person, whether he be your family or of another.”

Often though, culture seems to be a knowledge, some of it conscious and "pickled" into coded or traditional forms, such as myths and rules, some of it quite unconscious and automatic, such as the rules and structures that allow language speakers to understand each other. This knowledge is learned both formally and unconsciously within human groups and is heavily dependent upon language as a medium for transmission. Culture is shared between generations and within generations, but this sharing is neither completely homogeneous, nor without error. Humans, as individuals and as members of groups, use cultural assumptions to make sense of the world around them as they live out their lives. They also use culture to create strategies with respect to their group and individual interactions.

“This diversity, this difference is like the naturally created dissimilarity and variety of the limbs and organs of the human body, for each one contributeth to the beauty, efficiency and perfection of the whole. When these different limbs and organs come under the influence of man’s sovereign soul, and the soul’s power pervadeth the limbs and memebrs, veins and arteries of the bidy, then difference reinforceth harmony, diversity strengthened love, and multiplicity is the greatest factor for coordination.”

Baha’u’llah tells us “Ye are the fruits of one tree, the leaves of one branch.”
Abdul Baha reminds us:
“Consider the flowers of a garden: though differing in kind, colour, form and shape, yet inasmuch as they are refreshed by the waters of one spring, revived by the breath of one wind, invigorated by the rays of one sun, this diversity increaseth their charm, and addeth unto their beauty. Thus when that unifying force, the penetrating influence of the Word of God, taketh effect, the difference of customs, manners, habits, ideas, opinions and dispositions embellisheth the world of humanity..”

As we discover this new sense of oneness, this will bring forth a new universal culture in a truly united world- a spiritual rather than material society. Such a society Baha’u’llah tells us will:
“Be generous in prosperity, and thankful in adversity. Be worthy of trust of thy neighbour, and look upon him with a bright and friendly face. Be a treasure to the poor, an admonisher to the rich, an asnwerer of the cry of the needy, a preserver of the sanctity of thy pledge. Be fair on thy judgment, and guarded in thy speech. Be unjust to no man, and show meekness to all men. …Let integrity and uprightness distinguish all thine acts. Be a home to the stranger, a balm to the suffering, a tower of strength for the fugitive…..”

Monday, September 10, 2007

Science and Religion

Long before I declared myself as a Baha'i, I read the book "Seven Mysteries of Life" by Guy Murchie. My guru (Guru Nityachaitanyati from the Sree Narayana Mission), had introduced me to that book. Interestingly, it was that book that I first learnt about the Baha'i Faith (Guru Nitya was happy when I told him that I accepted the Baha'i Faith as my path of spirituality. He has passed on and remains my dearest teacher in my heart.)

There was a quote from Baha'u'llah talking about the harmony between science and religion. Guru Nitya and I used to have hours of conversation about this topic, hence his recommendation to me of the book.

Years later, understanding it further as a follower of the Baha'i Faith, I just completed watching the video called "What the Bleep- down the Rabbit Hole". I strongly recommend this video documentary for anyone searching for this harmony between science and religion. It talks about quantum physics and a more transcendal knowledge of God. How the one explains the other and vice versa. That the old ways of physics, e.g. Newton's laws, only explains part of life. There is a whole other regime of Quantum physics that now makes more sense and is the physics of the 21st century. It now becomes easier for us to see the harmony between science and religion although there is still so much we cannot always explain.

It also discusses about the current duality i.e. we see ourselves as separate from God and from each other. Guru Nitya always used to tell me about this duality that we need to overcome, and I see this myticism in the Baha'i writings as well. How the oneness of humanity and unity, is not a physical oneness only, but a spiritual connectedness. What quantum physics calls "entanglement". Baha'u'llah talks about this organic and spiritual connectedness of humanity. How each one of us is connected to the other much in the same way the organs in our body are connected and function together.

It also helps me understand how Baha'u'llah reminds us that we have the two parts to our being, the material and the spiritual. We need to "feed" both. They are much like the two wings of a bird. Unless both are equally developed, the bird cannot fly. With science and our industrial age disconnecting the spirit and the material, we have learnt to indulge more in one or the other, rather than finding a balance. As we find a higher understanding of "God" and "ourselves", we will achieve this connectedness and achieve this balance. Hence the practice of meditation and prayer to "excercise" our spirit.

Don't want to take the thunder out of this amazing DVD, so go watch it.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Social entrepreneurship and Values-based business

I am very encouraged with the many statements I see from reputed individuals in business, and their awareness of something more in life than just the pursuit of money.

The recent AeA/Stanford Executive Institute was one such experience. At first during the course, it appeared as if I was the only one interested in such issues. Then when I made a comment on the need to address the "Digital Divide", several participants came up to me to share their interests in this as well. I also had great discussions with some of the professors on the issues of social entrepreneurship.

Then we had some very inspiring keynote speakers. Mr Tim Guertin, CEO of Varian Medical spoke about the key elements of leaders, being someone you can 1) TRUST their judgement, 2) TRUST them with people, 3) TRUST them with resources, 4) TRUST them to get things done and 5) TRUST them to be dependable. Interestingly he also spoke about how important it was to work with people who will root for you. This element "TRUST" is needed for success.

Eric Benhamou, Founder of Benhamou Global Ventures, also stressed the need for integrity. He spoke about how his fund actually refused funding from a suspect source. His fund focuses on social entrepreneurship, communication technologies that impacts humanity, and also has a philantrophic arm e.g. assisting basic literacy skills. He stressed that values discussion should NOT be divorced from strategy discussions. It is the basis of reality and will be used to make decisions in grey zone times. Ultimately he says "listen to your guts not to just analysis".

Nancy Schoendorf, a well seasoned VC and Managing Partner of MDV-Mohr.Davidow Ventures, impressed me also with such discussions during the New Venture Lab discussions. She counselled startups not to just look for the valuation price offered, but also the value of the VC and more importantly the VALUES of the VC. She said that investment is like a marriage, and should be considered wisely.

I was just totally encouraged by all these conversations. In fact even before this, I met Prof Tom Kosnik from Stanford Venture Labs Program who has started the GLEAN network (Global Leaders, Entrepreneurs and Altruist Network. He believes that a values based strategy will help bring a better world and world peace, and so is rallying people of likemind and also academic programs to nurture such thinking. At the recent TIECON'07 as well, the CEO of sales and CEO of eBay, talked about values and social entrepreneurship. One of the TIECON keynoters this year, was also a "teacher" or "sathguru" from India. He stressed us not to forget to have JOY in our lives. I loved that so much it was probably the most memorable TIECON for me.

All encouraging developments and I hope to connect with more such people and do something together. Thought I would share this in case you feel inspired to do the same.