Tag Archives: Learning

No Room For Small Dreams- Shimon Peres

20180311_160150431403436.jpgWhen a Book has these many markers sticking out from it, it is evidence enough of having been a more than satisfying read.

There is something about Israel that has always caught my fancy. It all began with the movie Raid on Entebbe (1977 ‧ Television film/Docudrama), my parents true blue cinephiles had the VHS tape among others in their collection. I was all of 8 when I saw the movie, later Dairy of Anne Frank primarily and hundreds of other books on the Holocaust cemented my curiosity of the Jews and the land of Israel. So, it was due to providence itself that into my hands fell the autobiography by Shimone Peres, one of the founding fathers of Israel. The number of autobiographical books I have read and enjoyed I can count on one hand, Open by Andre Agassi had reigned numero uno for quiet some time until now when No Room For Small Dreams usurped it.

From the title itself I found myself mesmerized by the book. I read the title again and again, I wondered at its meaningful depth – haven’t the most questionable of dreams resulted in the most amazing of creations. Israel had been an almost implausible dream and its creation an almost impossible task. No Room For Small Dreams is the condensed version of its creation in the words of one of its architects, Nobel laureate – Shimone Peres. Born in Vishneva, Poland in 1923, his family had lived in the area for several generations, they called the village ‘shtetl’ yet it was never home for the many Jews who lived there ‘They saw it more as a way station, one of the many stops over thousands of years along the road back to our homeland. The land of Israel was not just the dream of my parents; it was the animating purpose of so many people we knew.’ In 1934 Shimone Peres with his parents and brother immigrated to Mandatory Palestine, the land that would be Israel. In this autobiography he reveals how an uneducated yet literate son of a librarian and lumber merchant became twice Prime Minister and President of a nation that would defy all its detractors to transform from a hopeless desert of permanent poverty to a technological miracle and a hub of scientific enterprise.

I have been inspired by the words of the man himself, and share some with you. The heads under which I have categorized the sagacity in his words are not necessarily the way he has done so in the book. These are derived out of my own need and my own understanding of them.

Overcoming the impossible:

We felt as though our mission was greater than securing a homeland, it was our job to imagine a new society…It gave us a family larger than any we had known and a purpose greater than ourselves. the hardness wasn’t an inconvenience; it was the reason we were there.

On Leadership:

I was assigned a job that would give me my first experience as a leader – not of men, but of sheep. Yet there was striking similarities: shepherd, for example, may have authority over his flock, but that alone does not mean he can control it… It took time and patience to master the skill. We had to find a common language, a common understanding. I had to know their fears as if they were my own, so i could understand where they could not be led – or at least, when I’d have to move with more deliberateness. I had to be both empathetic and insistent in stating my intentions – a figure they would follow, even reluctantly, if only out of trust.

On one of his biggest lessons learned from Ben-Gurion:

I had seen something else, too, something that would strongly influence my thinking about leadership: when he had been most frustrated, most intent on walking away, he had remained open to the arguments made by two young men with a mere fraction of his experience. He had nearly given up on the larger debate, but he had not given up his belief in debate.

On Chutzpah :

 In almost every meeting, we found the same set of circumstances – a courteous but firm dismissiveness… And yet I knew that we never achieve great things if we let austerity become an obstacle to audacity. To build a stronger, more prosperous state, we had to set our gaze higher than our temporary limitations.

The lesson on Cynicism is by far my favorite in the entire book:

Experience has taught me three things about cynicism: First, its a powerful force with the ability to trample the aspirations of an entire people. Second, it is universal, fundamentally part of human nature, a disease that is ubiquitous and global. Third, it is the single greatest threat to the next generation of leadership. In a world of so many grave challenges, what could be more dangerous than discouraging ideas and ambition?

 

Classification : History
Genre: Autobiography
Pub Date : Sep 14, 2017
Page Extent : 336
ISBN : 9781474604208
Price : Paperback – Rs 449 Kindle – Rs 338

Empty Platitudes

holding-hands-752878_960_720

Recently a very dear friend suffered a huge setback. Her father had been confined to bed for many years, now her mother who had been the primary caregiver for her dad suffered a stroke. My friend, an only child, rushed to her hometown to be with her infirm parents. In her own home, many, many miles away, was a teenage son studying in the 12th Grade and a husband who has a job that necessitates a lot of travel.

There she was torn by love at both ends. Her parents, both confined to bed, on one and her husband and child on the other.  A supporting spouse and a mature child helped her cope with the situation, so she turned her attention to where it was needed most.  In the early days, I was unable to speak to her she was handling a lot and for obvious reasons needed to concentrate her energies on the constantly developing situation in front of her.

My friend is a vibrant person, whenever we spoke we have only laughed be it the mundane or the difficult she has always managed to look at things from a quirky point of view. My thoughts were with her constantly, worrying and wondering how she would cope.  Life had suddenly thrown her a curve ball the like of which I had never heard of. Caring for one ageing and infirm parent is tough enough; she had two to take care of at the same time.  I was in my teens when my ageing Grandmother had been confined to the bed for five years and I had seen what my parents went through in those tough times. So yes, I worried and wondered and worried some more for this friend whose spirit through thick and thin has always laughed and made me laugh along with her.

I worried when I thought of her taking decisions that would determine the course of her parents’ healthcare. Are any of us ever prepared to take such decisions? I worried about her support mechanism. Who was there standing besides her helping? From the outside everyone can advise, but she was the one ultimately who would live with the consequences.

I wondered if people were calling her telling her to be brave. To be resilient in the face of adversity. To take it one day at a time. Some would say you have the strength you just need to find it. Others would tell her that its karma and she has a part to play. Some old school folk, I knew would try to encourage by saying she was ‘blessed’ to be paying back the debt that is owed to parents. Telling her that this was the greatest duty and that she was noble soul for having undertaken it.  I put myself in her shoes and another thought started to trouble me, would I want to hear all this?

In a flash the answer came No!!

Why do we mouth such tired expressions to people going through difficult times. How do such phrases help anyone? Does it encourage them or are we assuaging our guilt for not being able to do more? These are questions to which I have no answers. But, what is very clear to me is the fact that a person dealing with a tough situation does not want to hear mere platitudes from me, they want me to just listen to them. Can I not do that thinking of their needs rather than my own?

A few days later after having got her life under control as it were, we finally spoke. The first thing she said to me was, “Babe, make me laugh!” That was what she needed and I did just that!

Later I also listened when she shared the pain that she was in, the conflicting emotions that she goes through every day. Watching her parents in that state. Her child and her husband far away in a home that she hasn’t been able to go back to since the fateful day that her mother collapsed.  Every day she wakes up to a choice that was not hers, but she made it. A lot has happened in these days and I will need another post to express the myriad emotions that she has shared and I have felt with her.

X Marks the Spot

Born in the 70s and educated in the 20th century, I have some serious bones to pick with the systems that governed my education. In the memories of childhood academics, the one that I have no fondness for is the X in my answer sheets. I do not mean the ‘x’ of algebra (surprisingly I had bigger problems with Math than the elusive x.) What I am writing about is the red X or cross that the teachers would mark an incorrect answer with. Some teachers used small ones at the end of the answer as gentle reminders and some boldly crossed out entire answers to let you know how deeply you offended. Whatever the shape or size of the red X, it only ever shouted out WRONG or INCORRECT or MISTAKE!!

As I approached the learning process, discovering new lands and delving into the past, Math was fraught with anxiety yet the sciences took up my imagination. Literature and language become my greatest loves, the arts though neglected during early academic years became my sustenance in later times. Someone who considers herself a lifelong learner, I did not enjoy writing exams so much and getting back the answer sheets even less. There were some sheets that would not have a single X marring them, and then there were some that the Xs crossed, causing a lot of despair. Over the years the number of red Xs became fewer though they followed me everywhere, hoping to goad me into doing better. Did they succeed? No, they only caused resentment and did not hit their intended mark.

As an aspiring educator in the 21st Century, I was pleasantly surprised to discover during my training that we were expected not to mark a child’s answer with an X and especially not with red. There were studies, we were told, red used to denote danger, stop signs and warnings. It was a color that signified negativity to a child’s mind.

Finally someone had said what as a kid I had wondered about. Why the love for the red does a teacher prize, their vocation is to enlighten, and not to dishearten. There are so many colors in the spectrum why not a pleasant blue that calmly reminds? A sassy pink that with verve refines? A pale green that coolly propagates? A bright orange that hopefully energizes? A vibrant violet that disguises reproofs as prizes?

As for the X, does it not exclude creativity? Penicillin, the pacemaker and x-rays are discoveries that would not exist had it not been for someone making a mistake. So before you correct with a large X, stop and consider, let it not be a factor to curb innovation. Let it not continue to be a prophecy of inadequacy for a child who stops trying, due to the X’s intimidation. Reclaim it as a tool to fuel adventure, only on maps, for X marks the spot where treasure is to be found.

His Mother & Her Mother

H

His Mother

Nine months of reading, planning, organizing. Focusing completely on myself as the books said to have a healthy baby eating right, thinking right and reading right I did it all. Now planning in advance and doing things on time is my OCD. So with two weeks left for our ‘due date to meet’ I was taken aback to say the least when my son decided to take matters into his own hands and arrive to be his father’s birthday gift. “How could I be left out of the celebrations?” he seemed to think.

I lay exhilarated yet exhausted with the ordeal, yes, ordeal, the process of natural child birth is not the most beautiful feeling as the books and my well-meaning Aunt’s conned me into believing. In discomfort and in pain I discovered that this tiny little being had come in to turn my world on its axis. I was a mess in those early days, too used to thinking only about myself, putting the needs of my child before mine was a learning I had to go through. Tired, bleary eyed, emotions that seemed to be out of my control and loss of independence are some of the things that I remember of that time. My mother-in-law and then my mother (God bless those ladies and their patience, I did drive them crazy) got me through the first forty days and I learned to feed, massage, change diapers and clean drool, bathe, sooth and rock to sleep my child who was full of beans from the get go. I would often just stare in amazement at the attitude of this 20 inch human being who could send a bunch of normally sensible adults into a tizzy of anxiety when he bunched up his face turned red and let out a bawl or had them in raptures oooooing and awwwwing as he smiled contentedly in his sleep.

Well the ‘holiday’ was soon over and it was time to take my tiny human and get myself back home to another city far from the doting crowd. I was ***t scared, my biggest worry being that I would do something wrong and harm my child. Despite my mother assuring me that I was ready and I should trust my instincts I was not convinced. Life goes on and one learns to adapt, I struggled and persevered and loved, my son got me through it all. He taught me to be patient and to be less compulsive with time and routine. He taught me to put the needs of others before mine. He taught me how to love unconditionally. I learned to cook healthy meals disguised as treats. He taught me to get down on my knees and play in the dirt and blow bubbles again. He asked me questions that had me scrambling to read Encyclopedia’s. He is calm and sensitive, every mother’s dream child yet with a mind of his own. He inspires me with his commitment and  makes me laugh with his humor.

Her Mother

My daughter came into this world much less dramatically than my son. She took her time and did not upset her OCD mother’s plans, staging her entry keeping to the timeline exactly to the day she was supposed to. (That was the only thing she did that was undramatic, the rest of her life continues to be a series of dramatically inspired events with her parents and sibling as audience.) The oooing and awwwwing all were the same and again we had adults making themselves silly over an infant. This time though, I did not read any books and I was far more confident with myself and her, in fact I was a pro and on my feet within hours. I did not drive anyone crazy and handled both my children with aplomb. I had already learnt the ropes from my older child, I thought.

Well yes to a certain extent. But then you tempt fate when you decide to be over-confident. I thought I knew it all but didn’t. My learning began in earnest again with this bundle of energy that could not hold still to discover the world, she was in a tearing hurry. Turning over at 13 days, crawling at 3 months and walking at 6.5 months. Babbling from the earliest and talking at 9 months she was a whirlwind that had me in a daze. She was sunshine in the tinniest frame, who had to be WATCHED constantly. In the blink of an eye she could turn an entire cupboard inside out, hang precariously out of the balcony railing, climb up on anything that she thought needed to be climbed upon and be off to her next escapade gleefully. I learned that the world was one interesting place that needed to be explored fast before the mysteries escaped to God only knows where. Food for her was an unnecessary complication that needed to be avoided and I had to learn to be ingenious about making things for her hiding nutrition with chocolate. I learned patience again and I learned laughter with her. I learned that every shop housed a treasure that she was just ‘dying’ to have and the world would stop spinning if she didn’t. I learned to walk away from her tantrums in crowded places even if people thought I was a bad mother. I learned to negotiate from her not losing and not winning either.

She continues to twist everyone around her little finger and dance to her tunes. Ever since the day she was born I haven’t taken a breath and the world doesn’t seem to want to slow down. She makes me young again.

When I was a student and a working professional, I thought in terms of degrees and in terms of designations. These were the labels that would define my worth. How things change. Today nothing makes me happier than to be called His Mother or Her Mother, these are the labels that are worth having. For from them I have learned the true art of living.