E pluribus unum by Subhadra Jayaraman

E pluribus unum (out of many, one) is hard to adhere to when the premise is philosophy. What I am today is a collection of experiences, exposures, ambiances, and the mentorship of many wise people in my life. Is there an overarching guiding principle to my behavior? My answer would be a ‘maybe’ leaning towards a ‘no’. Are there various guiding principles to my many behaviors? To this I can confidently nod yes. My behavior and conduct are not just a manifestation of my innate personality but also a reaction to external stimuli, and when the external stimulus is another human, my automatic inclination is a reciprocation. Isn’t the point having a philosophy to inculcate a fairly homogeneous demeanor irrespective of external factors? This is quite debatable in my opinion. In the quest to be stoic, I don’t want to leave behind the occasional thrill of happiness or the cathartic tears of grief. There must be a way to maintain principles and internal philosophies while also being receptive to external cues. And in my experience with life so far, there is.

Karmanyeva adhikaaraste (The Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2, Verse 47). In other words, “Your right is towards your duty, and not towards the outcome”. This is my philosophy when it comes to a large chunk of activities related to my work and personal life. There are things I can control, and those that I cannot. In any endeavor, I can control what work I do, how I do it, how much effort I put in, and what level of physical and emotional investment I make. What I cannot control, however, is the result of all this. My philosophy in this case can very well be “don’t invest too much into anything, you will always be disappointed”. But here is why it is not – I believe wholeheartedly that, whether the outcome is fantastic or terrible, I ultimately take pleasure in the amount of work I have done. Because the effect of the outcome will wane, but the memory of hard work will never fade away – it will only fuel more and more. It is a common misconception that if I put in 100% and the experiment fails, I have nothing to show for it – false! I have the entire 100% to show for it. Points for effort! In contrast, if I put in 20% and end up with a grand success, I have that to show, but I have now emblazoned this false hope in my brain that I don’t need to work all that much really to achieve success. It might have worked now, but it will not work at all times. All this obviously does not mean I don’t slip up or don’t feel sad when I fail after attempting – I most certainly do. But this philosophy has kept me grounded and let me away from the shackles of dejection and demotivation and I am thankful for it.

Don’t start chasing applause and acclaim. That way lies madness”. Borrowed from Ron Swanson, this is precisely my philosophy in the times I feel I am doing a thankless job (whether at work or as friend, sister, cousin, etc.). When my expectations from an action are optimal, I feel myself being more at peace. If I start needing a pat on the back for every time I do a favor or make a presentation or give a gift, I am signing myself up for eternal dissatisfaction. My boss doesn’t always have the time to appreciate my every experiment. My roommates don’t always say my potato curry is awesome. My dentist doesn’t stand and applaud every time she sees a clean set of teeth. Sometimes I do wish my boss would have started with “that presentation was great…” before challenging it with a string of criticisms – after all, my friends thought it was awesome – but having this philosophy has also taught me to be more grounded and believe in myself, that one day I will truly be beyond the superficial need for acclaim.

Never stop learning. This sounds pretty straightforward – read, watch TED talks and documentaries, listen to podcasts, take a class, go to school. But it is a philosophy remember – philosophies are never straightforward. When I follow the ‘never stop learning’ philosophy, I make it a point to never be haughty about my knowledge, to never judge others on their outward seemingly simple appearances. There is something to be learnt from everyone, whether it is your barista, your mailman, or your 5-year-old child. We often look up to scholars or elders or people we respect to throw light on a situation when we struggle, and whenever we need help. But on the contrary, diminishing the contributions of people who are younger, or do not know enough in your personal opinion, will set you up for bitterness. I do not take medical advice from my milkman or discuss computer programs with my grandmother. But I am open to logical inputs from everyone without being judgmental, because I know I will learn something from every conversation, every meeting, and every coffee-time chat, just like I do from every TED talk, classroom, and business meeting.

For every philosophy that I harbor, my brain brews up a counter-philosophy, and it is an eternal battle of the titans in my mind when faced with an issue. For every good deed I do, there is a need for acclaim that creeps up trying to nudge the pleasure. For every portion of effort I put in, there is a doubtful cloud that threatens to gather over my contentment. For every person I am genuinely happy for, a shade of envy throws its fleeting glance on the gladness. I am not perfect, and probably never will be, but the times I feel the worst are not when people and things fail me, but when my philosophy and principles fail me. There will always be a battle in my head, but as always my philosophies emerge victorious, and if not for those devilish counter-philosophies, I would not be human.

2 comments

  1. You refer to ‘your philosophy’. What is that? Just because you read something and your mind can wrap around what is being said, does that become your philosophy? Because you agree to this (and possibly disagree with few others), doesn’t it mean that you are basically agreeing to something you already know.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Most philosophies are concepts we already know – we develop philosophies based on what we have experienced and what we choose to adhere to – so rarely does anyone reinvent the wheel when it comes to underlying principles. As for me quoting or referencing certain anecdotes, it is to provide a template to articulate my philosophies better in writing 🙂 – Subhadra

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