About Kids and Certitude and why certitude is limiting

Last week I visited my native place, a village where my father has built a small house. Our only neighbors are a small family of four ; parents and their two kids, 7 year old boy and 9 year old girl. To cut the long story short, after they came to know about my existence they were kind enough to educate me about their daily routine at school. Their subjects and interests. These two were so talented. They were excellent at spellings and numbers.

My mind soon jumped to obvious questions. Where this talent will be used? how people will come to know about them? But more than that, I was amazed at their sheer ability to recite poems and rote tables. I soon learnt from their father who is a school teacher about how well they do in exams. I observed the sheer diligence and dedication of these kids. I witnessed a spark of idealism. I could easily imagine the caricature of these kids on front pages of NCERT textbooks.

Back in the city , I couldn’t resist myself from contrasting these two kids with my neighbors kid, 5 year old Akshat. Akshat hates homework (who doesn’t?). He likes his toys. He likes to break toys. He likes to play for extended hours. He likes chocolates. Akshat doesn’t like to answer any questions. When I ask him about homework , he makes a face. When I ask him what he learnt today, I always don’t get a good answer. But this kid likes to counter statements. He likes to question and reason. He might not believe in homework but he knows a lot more beyond the realm of his syllabus.

Did I draw any conclusions from these two contrasting observations ? really not. These were two different samples of kids from the different parts of  India. It is foolish to compare kids. kids are kids.

But I will surely draw an analogy here. Most of the village kids I observed have so much certitude thriving around them. It is like a revealed truth which most of the revealed religions like Islam and Christianity preach. Get good marks and you will shine. Work hard and you will be successful. Be ideal. Most kids from village believe in this revealed truth and focus towards that. They like to answer a lot. They are sure of things around them and proud that they know. They are not taught to ask questions, now this might sound arcane and one might argue that all kids are not taught to question but relatively speaking, village kids are more averse to questioning than the urban kids.

Kids like Akshat remind me of embracing uncertainty. They don’t like to answer so much. They are really not proud of knowing stuff. It is ok not to know. The understanding that it is OK to not know gives them courage to ask. Sometimes certitude can be limiting.

As Socrates puts it : I know that I know nothing.



The Bad and the Good

We fight between good and bad. And then to strike a balance we say the two are relative. Some go even further to prove a point that we harbor both the devil and the angel.

Make a quick list of all the bad things we are not supposed to do as humans. Here is an attempt: Don’t hate others, Don’t kill others, Don’t envy, Don’t have extra marital affairs, Don’t overeat, Don’t lie and the list goes on. Fundamentally we as humans were all meant to do all of the above for survival. Kill, fight, have multiple partners (best mate with best genes), overeat just to mitigate the risk sleeping hungry tomorrow. We as humans have been doing all that for at-least 99.99999% of the time that we spent on this planet. That is millions and millions of years. But for the last two thousands years or so, we started believing in god and the inter-subjective reality of religion.

Religion essentially tells us to forget the past and suppress your natural instincts to do bad while giving you a half baked story of why you need to do good. Religion is telling us to forget the past for greater good. Being “bad” is all the set of behaviors which we all used to survive. So if bad is default then we must appreciate the fact that being good is acquiring new habits and behaviors for social acceptance.

Are there places where you pay to work? Yes! Gyms!

Gym dropout rates are astounding. I did a little research and found that 50% of people drop-out from Gyms in the first three months of registering. That figure climbs to 80% six months down the line. Well, it is ok if I have access to such information but what if a gym owner has the curiosity to access this free information? can you imagine what she might do?

Think about the New Year Discounts! Early Bird Discounts! and what not discounts!Gyms know that come what may, they will have enough capacity in the gym for new registrations considering the high drop-out rate. But that is the Gym side of the story. It doesn’t matter if you know their story or not. But you need to understand your reality more.

Come to think of it, Gym is the only place where you pay to do some work. You move things, you lift stuff and pull stuff. You have to wake-up early in the morning get ready . Maybe drive couple of kilometers to an air-conditioned space with mirrors where many others like you have just arrived. The gym doesn’t have any responsibility to bring you to their place neither there are any consequences of absence . You have already paid the money so it is a sunk cost. Nothing will change that.Where do you think all that motivation to sustain the habit of the gym will come from?

That explains the high dropout rate. Most people on a daily basis drag themselves to their employers who give them monthly salary. Then in contrast, it is an easy choice for people to chuck gym for some tiny fraction of that monthly salary. Sunk cost is a negative motivator.


A truly flat organization cannot exist

Everyone believed the earth to be flat, until it was proved to be round. I don’t know how many people believe in truly flat organizations.

It is so not natural for organizations to be flat. It defies the order and hierarchy of conventional organizations. Hierarchy served a purpose for hundreds of hears. Then there was this invention of flat. And everyone was proud about it.

Flat organizations is a direct result of the mankind’s itch for solutionism. You don’t solve the rage of centralized power by obliterating the hierarchy and order. Like Democracy is not really the answer to Monarchy and Autocracies. Democracy is then a framework to maintain a quasi-state, a temporary solution to distribute power and wealth. Does it really help in doing that? not really. But in some way we convince each-other it might work for now.

Similarly , flat is not the solution for hierarchy.


Post-Puberty Atheism

As I was nearing my late 20’s, I realized that my rationality had boundaries. The foundation of so called atheism which I tried to build all through my late teens to mid twenties began to shake. Some inexplicable events pushed me to give some benefit of doubt to the concept of god.My brain fatigued dealing with the ideologies which were polar opposite of each other: the rational me and then the believer me.

Then I decided to borrow a few pages from the book of religion. I created a small belief system which could exist in harmony with the rationality.Whatever lied beyond my ability to rationalize could be attributed to the few pages of religion which I had borrowed. I gave myself that leeway. But certainly the post puberty atheism which I had acquired over the years was not strong enough to sustain on its own. It really didn’t come to the rescue during turbulent times.

Speaking of religion, you can be religious and then you can be very religious. There are different degrees to which you can measure your faith on the basis of  intensity and frequency you might follow some religion. You might pray daily or visit a shrine weekly.Or you might not pray at all and still have a strong belief.

But more important question arises: Can you afford to be a weak atheist? In most cases either you are a atheist or not. It is either 0 or 1. I think weak atheism is more dangerous than having a weak faith.

And then there are agnostics. But agnosticism is way too different, Wiki says “Agnosticism is the view that the existence of God, of the divine or the supernatural is unknown or unknowable”.

The other day, I was reading Why I am a Hindu by Shashi Tharoor, and as I was reading it, I came across the following lines. Tharoor says ” I am a believer , despite a brief period of schoolboy atheism of the kind which comes with the discovery of rationality and goes with an acknowledgement of its limitations.”

I realized that something I went through is a common phenomenon. And to say the least, it is easy to be rational! yes!. It is just training your brain to accept some objective rules of this world. It is easy to appreciate every action has equal and opposite reaction. It is easy to appreciate why good choices lead to good life. Hard work and good preparation and not prayers give you good marks. Getting a good life partner could be a matter of patience and more trials. A perfect life partner is not matching Kundalis! So it is easy to be rational. That is what formal education gives you.

But belief takes some serious efforts. A calculated rational action is easy but it is a different ballgame all-together to take that leap of faith.

I can just build a stupid imaginary scenario here. Around half a million years ago when some tectonic plates were shifting , I can imagine an ever widening crevasse which was short enough for the leap of faith but impossible for rationality. There were two sides to the crevasse, on one side there was this troop of apes exposed to famine and nasty predators. On the other side there was more hope and food and no predators. Some rational apes decided not to take the leap and discouraged some who were uncertain. The rational apes thought that the jump was impossible!But then those few who were fueled with tonic of faith just took their chances to jump, survived and flourished.

Maybe developing a belief system which aligns to the unknown is far more difficult than being rational.

Achtung! Uber-ola Strike!

Few months back I had written about my conversation with a dissatisfied Uber driver (Srini) who was not very happy with his earnings . (Read the article here). It was not sustainable for Srini to continue driving to support his family and pay the installments for the car debt. I concluded the article with my views on oversupply  and need for regulation.

Fast forward it today , Srini’s grouse has become a nationwide protest of Uber and Ola drivers. Their complain is simple; they are not earning enough. It is easy to understand that the drivers are sending a signal to their respective taxi-aggregators and unassuming populace of India that something is seriously wrong, repair it. While we were busy celebrating the emergence of sharing economy  , efficiency and a possibility of giving-up car ownership , there was an army of distressed drivers planning a protest.

The strike is a rude awakening, and it was pretty much an eventuality, here is why: Since the good old days there has been a steep rise in supply of capacity. Uber and Ola have aggregated pretty-much anything and everything which moves on the roads. Aggregation of Scooters, Rickshaws, Buses have suddenly unlocked huge capacity. A nail in the coffin was pooling. While all these modes added capacity and efficiency, Uber and Ola’s core and original product of cab hailing service took a hit. There were fewer rides for the drivers and hence less revenue. Nevertheless, Uber and Ola continued adding revenue streams.

Back in the good old days (2014-2015),  I was convinced that investment in a car for partnering with Uber can give 100% yearly return on the capital. That was the time when headlines like Uber Drivers making 1.5 lac per month , true or otherwise, made us feel sorry about our expensive education and careers.

Uber and Ola’s core and original service will become premium. Only those who could afford it will take it. Only few drivers in selected pockets of the metro-cities will be able to earn, the rest will write-off their assets.