Incomplete Reflection

Escher vicariously pondering about himself through you way after he stopped breathing

Ukraine got attacked by Russia and I can’t necessarily pinpoint the date because there had to be ongoing operations before the day that things became apparent publicly. This just looks like another event in the world that I’m not completely sure would impact everyone in the world but it is just another event that exposes the fragility of the human condition or the human experience, depending upon how you look at life. People will suffer, and many will even die on both sides of the war. Unfortunately, it is not the heartbreaking loss of life but how those lives are lost. For no particular reason and the will of a deluded leader of one side. Even if it was the other way around or my own country was involved I don’t think war is ever the solution to a problem. It is a thing to get everyone involved and mired in debate but it doesn’t solve many problems. It only pushes out the necessary decisions that need to be made. Also, now that people have moved away from the conversations about COVID it looks like there is another even to distract the world from their day-to-day life. Perhaps from my own life? I think the world is looking at the events like I am looking at life. In aggregate everything averages out. This last sentence isn’t the most simple way of saying this but I think as one goes through the posts here it will seem as if this life was just another human trying to understand things and that is what I mean. Now that I have veered this conversation into myself now is a good time to talk about what is going on with me.

I just got done with a few conversations about opportunities outside of my current firm. It was not the easiest but I managed to go through the conversations. In all honestly, I don’t think it went well. It felt like I touched upon all the topics that I should have during my conversations but my audience that is the people I was talking to felt like they were a little blank and lost, perhaps even disappointed with the answers to the issues. However, I will say that it was a good conversation and it was genuinely a conversation to get to know me unlike ‘interviews’ back in my homeland and many post-colonial regions in the world. Here is a short excerpt from a life long gone.

Six years ago I interviewed for an MBA school in Singapore. It was one of the leading schools that is usually featured on global lists of best schools in the world and I was excited about the conversation. Unfortunately, since the school is based in a country that continues to derive its processes from the English ways of life an interview is less of a conversation and more of an interrogation. Someone that comes from one of the countries that were previously a colony will relate to this sentiment. Interviews in the west are more like “conversations”. Interviewers will often even refer to them as conversations. This was one of the first things that caught me by surprise when I started my journey of applications to the schools in the US. At any rate, this interview was an evaluation and I thought I was ready. Somewhere in the conversations the interviewer’s second hand ( who I later realized was a second-year student) asked me what about other interests of mine, you know like outside of wanting to pursue an MBA? Innocently and in a rather forward manner I stated that I’ve always wanted to start a podcast. The moment I uttered the ‘t’ in the podcast I realized I had made an error. He raised his eyebrow and said “Oh! Podcast… Interesting. What do you like to podcast about? Can you share it with us?” I said it was an interest and I had not yet started publishing the episodes. 

Now in retrospect, I realize that many people can potentially give such an answer and use it simply as a filler or just as an excuse when you have nothing else to do. I could perhaps convince someone that I was genuine and I was true in my answer. I was genuinely interested in starting a podcast but no, I will not do that right now. All I remember about this incident is that the person asking the questions felt victorious. He had now cracked the accused in the interrogation. He had found out a fake and had a reason to eliminate the person from the roster. After all, that’s what the interviews are there for in the first place in those colonies. They understand the way to eliminate, dehumanize and demoralize. Heavy words for a simple conversation but worthy categorization that anyone who has been through a similar interview will relate to well. Interviews in most firms today, even those hedge funds which proclaim “pressure” interviews aren’t personally demeaning to the extent of my interactions with employers in the subcontinent and around. Maybe I just didn’t come across the best ones and hopefully, they have now changed their practices.

Back to the present, I realize the blog didn’t have a lot of posts recently. I had to stay away from the blog for a few days and it looks like the ‘muscle’ to write about things has atrophied which is why I had to force myself to get here. Not like in the previous times it wasn’t a struggle but it was more of a struggle this time. I tried external factors like coffee, music, and, location however nothing seemed to work until I got to Chris Hitchens. I don’t know if any specific combinations or everything I tried out worked but here I am writing away. Perhaps time to take a look at my drafts but now that I have talked about Hitchens perhaps a little bit about his impact or just him. But before I get to more about Hitch a little bit about my experience at the IBJJF Atlanta Open that took place on February 12th.

The question about blue is always lingering in my head. I know it’s not about the level but about whether or not I am capable of something on the mat. This test of being able to be tested without the nerves has always been there with me right from the start. I have started to believe it is more genetic but perhaps there are many things I can do about it. The net of it all is that I still need to grow in a lot of areas in life.

So I competed in yet another IBJJF competition. I wonder if I should say competed because the match lasted hardly 5 minutes. I struggled during the scramble but the nerves weren’t as bad as the last time or as bad as I had thought they would be. If I’m being perfectly honest with you I don’t remember if there weren’t nerves but I remember being confident about the scramble. I call it a scramble because in my head now it’s almost like a blur. Tugging and tearing at the opponent’s gi while trying to get a grip to pull him onto the ground.

What actually happened was that 2 minutes into the scramble I felt myself curve into a ball but, not a ball like defensive move and instead a very confident ball knowing exactly where I need to place my foot to get the next transition. I wish I could say that I won but perhaps it is not yet meant to be. Perhaps the lessons I am destined to learn are from the losses. 

I spoke to my opponent later and I was emotional about his state in life. He had a grown son who was at least 15 and he was proud to show me his family. He also mentioned his background in wrestling which my mind was quick to pick up on and justify as the reason for his strong sprawl. Oh no, now I know it wasn’t my weak arms tugging at him, it was his superior wrestling background. No, I won’t deceive you here, I was pathetic at it physically but my mentality was different this time. It was this latter part that I have come to take as my experience and learning from the match and experience. It is exhilarating to see people coming to terms with their challenges in life, getting out of their comfort zone, and trying to do something to prove to themselves that they will not just sit on the sidelines waiting for something good to happen to them.

I don’t want to fool myself or you by assuming that there aren’t harder challenges in life or that I would have achieved a grand accomplishment had I won this tournament. There isn’t much more deceptive than to say that this is one of the hardest things in life. The challenge is to set aside those hard things in life and make progress in multiple aspects at the same time. Now back to my inspiration about Hitch and how I feel about the world in this later part of February.

“It is only when you have grazed on the lower slopes of your own ignorance and began to understand the grand vistas of non-knowledge that you have, that you can claim to be educated at all”

Christopher Hitchens, Reddit AMA, 2009

As always, one thing that has disturbed me is the ignorance and attitude of people towards subjects. In school I wanted to spend time admiring the history behind the person who came up with the theories. The beauty of the equation impressed me more than the race to solve the equations at the end of the chapter. I sometimes took pride in being the first to come up with the answer but soon I found myself distracted from the subject by the stories behind the subject. People in general however are not interested in most things. Neither the outcomes nor the process and nor the process to come up with the process seems to be of interest to them. And yet they come to the stage with a confidence even if they are sometimes not aware of the subject completely. Even while writing this I am completely aware that the fault is perhaps completely mine because I am asking too much from un-interrogative minds. Perhaps they are not meant to be asking any questions in the first case. Among all of this Christopher Hitchens comes across as a balm – healing my soul and my intellect. I do not understand how much one needs to stretch themselves to match that intellect or the intellect of someone similar (for example Peter Thiel). I guess one things that I can do is calm myself to thing about one thing at a time and here is where my efforts to meditate come in to the picture. 

One hundred and eighteen days and I’ve not necessarily felt anything different. I have abandoned the the need to feel like I’m waiting for something to happen next. Sam Harris calls it waiting like a cat for something to happen next. I am making progress in visualizing myself floating through the ether with things happening all around me. At the same time I’m also facing a weird sort of degradation in my faculties operating as a sane member of society. I’m losing my strength of will and losing control over flow of my own conversations. Maybe there are many things going on at the same time or I’m not able to keep track of things or prioritize them. 

I have to keep trudging along and making sure that I don’t let my ship sink until all the tasks are done. There are miles to go before I sleep and the choice of the road in front of me is not even binary. Sometimes I think ignorance was bliss but then I quickly realize that if I was ignorant. I wouldn’t have had the realization that I’m ignorant. So perhaps if now that I think I’m not ignorant I’m more ignorant than ever? Perhaps a question for Escher!

An Intelligible Title

The amount of noise in the system seems to be at an all-time high right now. I wonder if this is just an externalization of what is going on inside my brain or the world is really in a bad shape right now. Almost everyone around me physically and virtually seems to be doing and thinking about things incorrectly. Unfortunately, the time is limited for everyone. The ultimate question is how does one make the most of this limited time?

What does approximately 900 hours of meditation teach one? I don’t know if there is some hidden meaning that will be unravelled after a given amount of time but I’m sure when I get to a point when the feeling won’t be one of sudden realization. Similar to the feeling after any hard endeavor there is a feeling of realization to which one can’t pin-point to and say that “here, this is when things started to make sense“. I think that my takeaway is going to be nothing special but something understood already like this that things eventually pass and that this too shall pass. At the very least I can say that now when I sit down to practice I sometimes instantaneously shift into a frame of mind which disassociates me from my physical presence. This seems mystical but it is not. It is probably most similar to how I feel when I am in a state of extreme pain, sadness or joy.

Looking at the internet and talking to friends and family it seems like people are lost and everyone is grasping at whatever seams seem to give them a semblance of meaning. Some find meaning in family, others follow people they admire for their lifestyles, their business, or some other aspect of their life. Net-net people are not sure about what their life should mean and they are grasping at things that help them give their lives some meaning.

I think first-principles can help in this case but one can quickly turn nihilistic if you look at things too objectively. I think you have to consciously pepper in some amount of emotion while being very conscious and cognizant that you’ve done that. One has to be mindful about how they look at things, events, occurrences, and situations around themselves. At any moment life will spin out of control. Those things that you hold very personal and close to your heart will disappear and shatter, what will all these things mean then? These might be the things that you expect are the things that are closest to your heart or you might not have realized that they were important to you. Is your brain as noisy as well?

80 days later

This is for you. It’s never easy and it takes effort. The easy part is to make up your mind. Executing and consistency is the hard part. Laurels are not won on the stage or during the performance in front of hundreds or thousands or hundreds of thousands. They are earned in the early mornings, the times where you take a step and question yourself about whatever it is that you are doing and then proceed, either by deluding yourself in some vision of the future or by convincing yourself that every other option is pointless, in the times when your face is marred with defeat but you decide to dust it off and get back at it.

Life isn’t a big fancy movie but it’s got ups and downs just like any adventure. In all of that action, resolve is paramount. Results come by virtue of staying at things, consistency and repetition are key. Repeated movement around the sun, around the objectives, and around whatever propels us forward. Forward towards whatever is next. I have been doing daily meditation for 80 days now and can tell there’s a difference from when I first started. To drop whatever is going on and proceed with an effort to realize something. The realization that this body is floating in a sea of things that are taking place irrespective, is not small. However, it is the action of consistency that makes you realize the importance of the little things amidst what seems like a futile journey.

I will write more about the process sometime as well but for now this is just a check-in.

Conversations, Arguments, and Intelligence

I have had this tab open on Chrome for a few days now and finally had an opportunity to read it. I didn’t want to peruse it because I knew that it will be of great value. Not something that would cause a dopamine rush in the immediate but something that I will have to read, let marinate, and then apply. This article/essay is written by Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI and the first president of YCombinator. His work has come across my newsfeed quite a few times. I don’t know how I feel about Paul Graham (who is the founder of YCombinator) but I really enjoy Sam’s opinions and work.

Good and bad arguments. Arguments are critical to growth but there can be good and bad arguments. I have tried to summarize a few thoughts about conversations in general.

The Impact of Good arguments:

  • Good conclusions
  • Learning new things for everyone involved (new ways of thinking)
  • Building new relationships with people that can challenge ideas
  • Philosophies rather than about particular scenarios

The Impact of Bad arguments:

  • No conclusions, illogical dialogue flow
  • About things that don’t matter in the grand scheme of things (this might be the most important point)
  • No set rules for dialogue
  • Conversation in bad faith sometimes under the pretext of playing the “devil’s advocate”

Communication in General​

Knowing what to say and when i.e. the importance of communicating clearly stems from intelligence to absorb the situation quickly and generate insights. This is somewhat related to wit and coming up with humorous responses. However, keeping in mind a caution not to be generous to myself, and at the risk of indulging my narcissism I will say that this form is not the only form of intelligence. I say that because while I might not be the quickest to respond in a given situation, I do usually take a more holistic and complete view than do other people around me. I think both ways of thinking and/ or intelligence are important and one is not more important than the other. Also, in all candidness, it might also be important to say that awareness and slow thinking is sometimes more important to evaluate a given situation, especially if long-term thinking is of any value.

Most challenges arise out of a lack of understanding the situation clearly. The problem arises because challenges do not get defined at an early stage in the solution process. If there is one thing from my role in consulting it is to take 80% of the allocated time in understanding the problem at hand and 20% of the time in coming up with an answer. One could almost say that part of understanding the problem actually makes it easier to come up with an answer and that is why it only needs 20% of the time. A majority of which (the 20% time noted above) is basically a framing our understanding of the problem and its solution per the audience.

Cafe Kerfuffle

This past Saturday I was at a lovely cafe in Minneapolis. It was bright and sunny outside but the looks of it were deceptive. It was -19C or -5F outside and this was without the wind chill. I didn’t hate it, I visited Minneapolis for exactly this. In fact, despite spending two years hovering around cafes in Minneapolis this particular cafe still was a new place for me to visit and I liked it. The coffee was local and tasted great along with the burrito that I ordered.

Picture by Brenda Johnson on Google Maps

The conversation that accompanied this breakfast was excellent as well. I didn’t know my friend was passionate about the subject of American values and global leadership. He wasn’t cynical about it and in fact, was very logical in the way he broached the subject. Acceptance of the flaws of any system, while supporting the system is an indication of a well-balanced viewpoint. We were only discussing why a system like that of the Chinese Communist Party could be a good system. Could there be a scenario in which authoritarian dictatorships are beneficial? A simple and non-controversial topic!

I was playing devil’s advocate as I often do and of course, the system that is beneficial for a people depends upon their culture. The culture shapes the values of the citizens, who then frame the politics of the future and this virtuous circle goes on and on. The Chinese government has played a significant part not just in Asia but in global politics and every year their influence seems to be increasing. Different populations react to this growing influence differently depending upon how they are impacted in the near term by China’s growing influence on the global stage. Some see it as a natural decline of an aging global power (the US), while others see it as a cycle that comes about for each country.

From my individual experience, I know that the Chinese people are very aware of their very rich culture. This is true for many Eastern civilizations. The existence of a long line of traditions that have been passed down through the generations plays an important part in the pride of the citizens for the nation. Even in the case of India where more than 80 million people live in extreme poverty, there still exists pride in the traditions and the culture of the various religions. Even if those religions and practices might have given us a divided and broken system in the first place. People might not understand how their economy, modern technology, politics, the sewage system, nutrition in food or government works and that might set them back from making positive change but they will not forget to continue religious practices that have been handing down to them by their elders, for e.g. a housewife living in dilapidated housing even though mistreated by her husband and prejudiced by society will not forget to water the Tulsi plant or visit the temple twice a day. The grip of religion is impeccable and it is not temporary. The Chinese people are in the group of an ideology that is very similar to a religion. Authoritarian regimes anywhere in the world are not a good thing in the long term. One could argue that at a certain age of the citizenry an authoritarian government could be a positive thing, but in the long term, it could never be a good thing. Not for that particular country and not for the world around it.

Abosulte power corrupts and does so absolutely

John Dalberg-Acton

I think a country as prosperous (from a cultural and human resources perspective) as China should be allowed to set the rules for its people but the incumbents who have enjoyed the thrills of power for as long have a responsibility as well. It might seem to the uninquisitive eye that the fall of the US is due to internal factors and a change in the culture but that is not the whole picture. Technology has helped the proliferation of foreign intelligence across physical borders and nefarious activities are not the doing of powerful nations but allies as well. I don’t think I can talk much more about this subject because I am uninformed about the details and much of what I say could be opinions and not state the facts. However, I am informed enough to have learned from history and aware enough to keep an open mind.

In other news, jiu-jitsu seems to be coming along well. There’s a competition in another 39 days and I can’t say that I’m feeling prepared but I’m feeling confident about my abilities. I don’t know where this will take me but it’s something I’m adding to this crazy life. Also, homesickness is a thing. So is everything associated with having people around that understand things. The reality is everyone comes into this life with nothing but has only their actions to speak for in this dream-like existence. Questions will be asked about the actions and to be honest to oneself about those actions is a Herculean task nonetheless.

Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; cblessed be the name of the Lord.

Job 1:21

I am not much of a Christian or “Lord” fearing person myself but I think if you replace the Lord with the Universe it makes more sense. The entropy that causes the formation of elements and the combinations that led me to be sitting here today can all be encapsulated in one word and you could call that ‘the Lord’ if it pleases you or makes things easier to comprehend.