Saturday, August 03, 2013

Help This Person...

I just came across this article recently which says to think ‘help this person’ whenever we meet someone as it would supercharge your career and improve your quality of life. By reducing the focus from ‘me’ to thinking about others might have a reciprocal effect and it would leave you feeling better.  This is also related to my previous blog post.
Some of the comments below the article say that people will be offended if you try to help without really being asked etc... My take away from this article is not that we should constantly ask people ‘how can I help you?’ which may be annoying especially if someone doesn't need assistance, but to think, ‘in this situation how can I act in such a way so that it is helpful to this person’.
One of the first things that came to my mind while reading this was to try to implement it while driving, after which I’m almost always worked up. Three-wheelers and motor bikes seem to be on a suicide mission creeping from everywhere, and no one follows any rules! So after reading this I said I’ll start the journey with a ‘help this person’ mindset, where I will let people pass rather than trying to race them. So far, I start calmly but halfway through I've forgotten my ‘help this person’. Maybe if I continue this mantra with time I’ll learn to relax while driving and it might add years to my life!
I also heard about a book with a similar concept by Adam Grant, ‘Give and Take: A revolutionary Approach to Success’.  The HBR Review of the book raises some interested questions, and has now aroused my curiosity making me want to read this book.
This creates a challenge for managers. Can they promote generosity without cutting into productivity and undermining fairness? How can they avoid creating situations where already-generous people give away too much of their attention while selfish coworkers feel they have even more license to take? How, in short, can they protect good people from being treated like doormats?
In life the only thing I can change is how I react to life, everything that happens will continue to happen, people will remain the same no matter how much we get stressed/ annoyed/ angry or throw tantrums. So if I look at life with a more positive attitude, and look at people with a more generous perspective where they turn from people there to make me happy to people whom I can help, life would be much simpler and easier. Of course being ‘too’ helpful or being a doormat is not healthy either. It would leave you feeling resentful. So it’s important to get the balance right. Help with a generous heart, but not let people walk all over you either.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Random acts of kindness...

I came across this amazing video on Facebook. It's done by a group called Life Vest Inside. Simply put, they are promoting random acts of kindness. I was really moved watching the video and so decided to post it here.    It has a similar theme as the movie 'Pay it forward' where each person who is at the receiving end of a random act of kindness, continues to help someone else... What a beautiful world if would be, if we could all live this way.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Six degrees of separation...

The first time I heard about the concept of ‘The six degrees of separation’ was soon after I joined Facebook. A friend had sent the ‘Six Degrees’ Facebook application which calculates the distance between people on the network. As I disliked having lots of applications on my profile, I did not accept it, but read up on ‘Six degrees of Separation’. It states that everyone in the world on an average are separated from everyone else through six other people. Being the ‘die hard’ Bon Jovi fan that I am, I remember thinking, hmmm… I wonder if I can connect to him in six levels…

Just yesterday as I was chatting to a colleague I found out that yes I could! Turned out that the son of another colleague knows Bon Jovi’s eldest daughter Stephanie as they attend the same school!!! So that means I’m connected to Bon Jovi in 4 levels!

When she mentioned it, I just thought, wow the world really is growing smaller! With many of us having travelled on studies or work or at least knowing others who have travelled all over the world it’s turning into one big global village day by day.

With the advent of social networking tools such as Facebook, twitter and linkedIn and Skype it’s easier than ever to keep in touch across the miles too… the physical distance between people is getting less and less relevant, after returning back to Sri Lanka and moving to our own house (more on my new home and work on a later post) we still have not been to see our neighbors due to busy schedules, but have managed to at least send a message or email to most of my friends in Switzerland and Cambridge. I know more about my friends on FB living it different countries than about my aunties or uncles in SL who are not on FB!

I have over 600 friends on FB and on linkedIn 250 direct connections with over 3 million connections 3 degrees away. At this rate it does sound like I can connect to anyone in the world (at least the part of the world that is online) if I were to look at 6 degrees away! Of course this wouldn’t work with the many people living in isolated or rural areas, who haven’t had the opportunity or the interest in travelling outside their towns, and who may not know many people. But for many others, even if they have not travelled, they would know someone who has, and can be connected to that person’s network.

What I've also come to realise  is that even these social networks, friendships across the miles all run on the basic principles of any relationship, you need to give before you can expect to receive.  You have to be a connector yourself, when others need help, and then often help comes your way when you need it. Whether in person or across the miles, lasting relationships are all about keeping in touch and being interested in the other person, its not only about you... For me this network has been invaluable in my last few vagabond years, from putting me in touch with people in cities I’ve visited, to giving job advice or forwarding CVs when I was searching for a job. When I first went to Geneva I stayed with a couple introduced through my father's friends friend.  Another cool fact is considering how we can connect to almost anyone if we go through a few degrees is that someone in your network is bound to know something about anything you can think of!

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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Is there a doggy heaven?

This morning I was pondering about doggy heavens while playing with our dog Lassie. She seems almost human, the way she looks at us, how she gets excited when we come home, how she looks sad when we leave, she is the epitome of loyalty and unconditional love...

There are so many other loyal dogs too, that have saved their owners life, either by dialing 911 like in this story or simply by being a companion and showing unconditional love to someone who doesn't have anyone else. It also reminds me of the story of Hachiko the Japanese dog who went to the train station to meet his master for nine years even after his death. Its hard to imagine that such patience and love can go unrewarded.

But then this opens up the whole debate about do animals have souls? As a devout Catholic, we generally believe that only humans have souls, but then what about the animals? Not only dogs, but many animals live lives which we can emulate. Even Jesus used birds as the example of trusting in God. "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them" Matthew 6:26

Then there's the famous leadership lessons by Geese which was observed 1972 by Dr. Robert McNeish. He noticed how they fly in a formation to support each other, how they change leaders, encourage each other by honking and support the birds in difficulty.  There can be so many lessons that can be learnt from animals, unconditional love, no jealousy, to be satisfied with little and patience to name a few. They don't try to out do each other, they don't say to the owner, the next door dog has a better ball, I want one too. They are satisfied with what they have. They seem to be predisposed with the ability to do right rather than us humans, who struggle day in and day out with decisions of how to be better people. 

I don't know what happens to any of us after we die, or whether heaven is a place or a state of mind. What ever it is, I do believe that God also has a 'good place' reserved for dogs and cats and all the other lovely creatures created by him... And I hope to see dear Rocky sometime, our faithful German Shepard who left us, earlier this year.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Seeing the glass half full...

Since the day I arrived in Sri Lanka the most common question I have had to answer is ‘Is it difficult adjusting back to Sri Lanka after staying for four years in Switzerland?’ or ‘You must be missing Switzerland a lot'. My reply is always, it's your attitude towards the location rather than the specific place. Of course if you are in a place where you don't have the basic necessities like food, or water, then its a different fact all together, but as long as you have the basic necessities and try to make the most of life, it does not matter where you're located.

Everywhere you go there will be wonderful things and problems it’s upto us to focus on the good and ignore, or try to change the negatives whenever it is in our power. It was the same even when I left Cambridge, though I thought I would miss it, after I came back to Sri Lanka I loved being back home. Again it was the same when I went to Switzerland; I really enjoyed the experience as you would already have seen from my earlier posts even though many people called it a boring sleepy town. I loved the mountains in the distance, the amazingly efficient transport system, and meeting all those wonderful people from all over the world, not forgetting the chocolates of course. Now the same people ask me how can I leave such a wonderful developed country and come back home? Its the usual 'grass is greener on the other side' syndrome... 

I tell them, that in Sri Lanka I love spending time with friends and family, I like the fact that I don't have to wear layers every time I want to go out, understanding what people say and being able to get things done and seeing the beautiful beaches everyday, and I like to think that I can be part of the development of this lovely Island that has been ravaged by war for over 30 years! Sure I can think of thousands of annoyances here too, but not dwelling too much on them is the secret to stay happy.

I think its similar with people too, no one is perfect, but then no one is all bad either, most of the time there's good and bad in all people, so in order to enrich your relationships it is important to focus on the good, and if it would help, try to give feedback in a constructive manner, to help the person improve. 

This post also ties back to my earlier post on Stopping the spread of negativity. It's important to realise that there are problems, and try to improve them if possible, and if not ignore them and focus on the positive sideof life. So I'll end this post with my favourite 'Serenity Prayer'.

God grant me the serenity 
to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

--Reinhold Niebuhr

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Friday, November 25, 2011

Were the good old days really that much better?

I often hear older aunts and uncles say how ‘In the good old days morals were much better, or the world was less materialistic…etc.’

While we see terrorism and murders and rape in the newspapers every day, there are also lot of young people getting involved in social services and trying to make the world a better place. Unfortunately the virtuous acts of people are not as news worthy as the ‘horror stories’ and so we continue to only hear about how the world is getting worse each day.
So in this blog post I thought of highlighting some amazing young people who have come up with creative ways of helping each other. Most of these are students or normal people like you and me. While there is also a trend of famous millionaires and celebrities such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Matt Damon, Bon Jovi establishing their own Not-for-profit (NFP) organisations, I will not go into those which get enough publicity but just mention a few examples of youngsters trying to improve the world even if it is in their own small way.

 Just yesterday I had the opportunity to attend the final presentations of undergrad students for their subject on team work. The assignment was to work in teams and achieve something larger than themselves. I was very touched by the dedication and creativity of these students. One group worked with the residents at Sahanaya (National Council for Mental Health) where they conducted art therapy classes with the residents who were given materials to make Christmas cards and then these cards were sold to raise funds for the organisation. Another group worked with a very poor school to buy them books, another worked on empowering young girls by teaching life skills, and yet another decided to help the cleaning ladies of their own university. At the end of the session most of the students said that at the beginning they worked on these projects in order to get the marks, but at the end they were so moved by the project that they wanted to continue the work they started even after the end of the project.

Another young group of students trying to make a difference from the University of Colombo have come up with their own organisation, Empower Lanka.  Their mission is to provide free electricity for rural villages to help them break out of the poverty cycle and to reduce Sri Lanka's carbon emissions. This organisation was supported by ‘GlobalChange Makers’ a vibrant community of young activists, volunteers and social entrepreneurs. The Global Change Makers community activists and social entrepreneurs aged 16-25 who are actively bringing about positive change with the support of the British Council.

Even in MBAs subjects on philanthropy and social entrepreneurship have become more popular. When I was in Cambridge (2006/07), we had an elective on social entrepreneurship but it was cancelled due to lack of students, but now subjects on these areas seem to be much more popular in most MBA schools. Here is an article from Business Weekly on the subject

Cambridge University has started a new venture called Beyond Profit in their own words the mission of Beyond Profit is to inspire and support students to make the world a better place through their career or through entrepreneurship. 

Another example of young students using technology and web 2.0 in tackling the world’s major issues is End Ignorance. It is a collaborative non-profit online platform that addresses today’s most pressing issues ranging from extreme poverty to genocide by informing individuals and providing easy access to opportunities to get involved. The content is written collaboratively by volunteers around the world and it has a similar concept as Wikipedia.

Maybe the youth of today want to do something larger than themselves, or maybe after the Financial crisis they realised the temporary nature of material things and thought of doing something more… or looking for their purpose in life, in a world where religion and spirituality seems to be disappearing… With the advent of the internet and web 2.0 privileged youngsters also have the opportunity to learn more about what is happening outside their ‘happy homes’. Whatever the reason there is hope for the future… So I don’t think the ‘good old days were better than today’.

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Time to say Good Bye…

These last few days have been quite difficult, as I’m getting ready to leave Geneva, my home for almost 4 years. While the physical aspect of leaving the apartment, dealing with administrations, ending contracts with phone, electricity, etc. getting rid of all the furniture was challenging, especially as they needed to be done in my broken French, the hardest part is saying ‘Good Bye’.

Good bye to all the wonderful people I’ve met... Good bye to Global Fund and my colleagues who’ve become friends for life… Good bye to the Young Catholic group that started out as a weekly bible reading group but now we’re one big colourful family… Good bye to all the other friends I’ve made along the way, especially while travelling and at all sorts of expat get-togethers.

I think it first started to sink in, as I gave away all the furniture in our apartment to Caritas, and sat on the cold empty floor with my laptop. Then yesterday I said Good Bye to our little apartment and handed over the keys and now am staying with some friends… I have also been having farewell lunches or dinners almost every other day as I really want to meet everyone before leaving. I was especially touched by our team farewell yesterday, but I also felt a little melancholy as I will not be seeing them for a long time.

I still remember arriving here in Geneva in May 2008 apprehensive about a new life in a new city with just one suitcase and no idea what was in store for me… but in the last few years, I’ve had amazing experiences and travelled to many places that I wouldn’t have dared to even dream about… It’s been a rollercoaster ride with many more highs than lows.

Now it’s time to say Good Bye… As they say ‘every end is a new beginning’… So now I’m looking forward to many more adventures with my family and friends in Sri Lanka.
I will end this post by saying Thanking each and every one of you who have made my stay here memorable, and I would love to show you our little island Sri Lanka sometime… You all made Geneva a home away from home for me.

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Saturday, September 17, 2011

My Happiness Project

Recently I started reading 'The Happiness Project' by Gretchen Rubin. It’s an interesting book about her year of trying to improve 12 aspects of her life one for each month, and in the process trying to become a happier person. Some of the areas she focuses on include energy, marriage, kids, work, relationships with friends and her spiritual side. 

You might wonder why someone like me, who seems to be having a great life, read books on Happiness (you may also remember a previous post on Happiness which I wrote). I believe that we're all learning creatures, constantly trying to improve ourselves and our circumstances, and in the process find happiness. For me happiness is a state of mind, where you are content and satisfied with all around you. Of course it's easier for me who has nothing much to complain about compared to someone who has a serious illness such as cancer or lost a family member or is does not know from where his next meal will come... but still I often find myself being grumpy or finding faults with the world around me. 

As a child I was very shy and reserved and did not smile much with people, once long ago I remember an old lady at some party saying that she thought I had a nice smile but looked unfriendly as I rarely smiled... Afterwards I thought about it and tried to be friendlier and smile... That was the beginning of my turning into 'smiley', the pseudonym I gave myself when I first started this blog. In the description of the blog I say that ‘I try to see the bright side of life’, but somewhere along the way I got overshadowed by the clouds and forgot to see the silver lining.

Reading this book reminded me to go back to the old chirpy me... To cut people more slack, not to think the worst of people's intentions. To do things without complaining or grumbling, after all the complaints and negativity not only affect oneself, but it also affects those around you. Unfortunately it’s often the nearest and the dearest who have to suffer through your complaints and whining. Not only is it better for the people around you when you are happy, but it also helps you to feel better. Many times smiling in spite of feeling bad, has made me feel better. So why do we complain so much? Because you tend to get more attention when you complain. No one gets attention for being the ‘happy person’; people don’t care too much about the feelings of the ‘happy person’, not like the ‘grumpy person’ whom everyone is much more sensitive to as you don't want to set that person off! I guess that's why most of us in spite of knowing that having a positive attitude is beneficial to all, still continue being our negative selves. I have been trying to reduce negativity and wrote about it on my previous post 'Stopping the spread of negativity'. 

I think lately my blog has turned into my happiness project, though unintentionally... when i write down things I want to improve in my life it is in black and white, and I've written it for the world to see (even if it's only a few close friends who generally read it!). So I feel that I need to commit more to it, and when I look at the blog, the titles remind me of my resolutions. After all if I want any changes in the world, that change has to start with me… I'm going to try to make my 'happy' resolution work especially in the next few months against the stresses of getting ready and leaving Switzerland, all the admin stuff as well as packing and cleaning and sorting out... 

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Saturday, September 10, 2011

It's not easy being a 'good Samaritan'...

Today I had totally run out of food in the house as I was sick last week and went to our neighbourhood supermarket to stock up. In the supermarket I passed by a guy who had one arm which seemed paralysed but the other arm was fine. As I was buying the veges he was struggling to open a clingy bag to put his veges into. These are the kind of annoying bags that even with both hands you have difficulty opening! As I saw him I wondered if I should help, or would he think of it as pity? does he want to be independent? Should I speak in English or broken French? While I was in my own reverie wondering what to do he had managed to open the bag and had moved on...

The twist of the tale was when after my shopping I left my three bags on the floor to return the shopping cart, and one of my bags toppled over and my plums rolled onto the floor. Who was behind smiling with a couple of plums in his good hand, but the same guy I was contemplating helping. He didn't think twice about it, just picked up the plums and gave me! In the end I just thanked him and wished him a nice day and left...

On my way home I realised how much we sometimes over-think and over-complicate situations. Easiest thing to do would have to simply ask if he needed help. What's the worst that could have happened, he could have said no, and I wouldn't have felt bad about not helping someone... but at the time I didn't ask... While this was a very small incident (if you could even call it that) I think one of the reasons this stayed in my mind  was because it made me wonder how helpful I would be to a stranger in trouble... I would like to think that I'd be the 'good samaritan' and just help, or would I over think things till its too late? Often when you see something its easy to say its not my business, or I don't want to create a scene or someone else will help and many other excuses and do nothing, but at the end of the day it's better to err in the side of being helpful than to do nothing.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Who says you can’t’ go home…

I spent twenty years tryin' to get out of this place
I was lookin' for somethin' I couldn't replace
I was runnin' away from the only thing I've ever known

And like a blind dog without a bone
I was a gypsy lost in the twilight zone
I hijacked a rainbow and crashed into a pot of gold

I've been there, done that, now I ain't lookin' back
And the seeds I've sown, savin' dimes
Spendin' too much time on the telephone
Who says you can't go home?

Who says you can't go home?
There's only one place that call me one of their own
Just a hometown boy, born a rollin' stone
Who says you can't go home?

Who says you can't go back?
Been all around the world and as a matter of fact
There's only one place left, I want to go
Who says you can't go home? It's alright
It's alright, it's alright, it's alright, it's alright

I went as far as I could, I tried to find a new face
There isn't one of these lines that I would erase
I left a million mile of memories on that road

Every step I take, I know that I'm not alone
You take the home from the boy but not the boy from his home
These are my streets, the only life I've ever known
Who says you can't go home?

Who says you can't go home?
There's only one place that call me one of their own
Just a hometown boy, born a rollin' stone
Who says you can't go home?

I've been there, done that, now I ain't lookin' back
It's been a long, long road, feels like I've never left
That's how the story goes

It doesn't matter where you are, doesn't matter where you go
If it's a million miles away or just a mile up the road
Take it in, take it with you when you go
Who says you can't go home?

I was just listening to Bon Jovi’s ‘Have a nice day’ album and heard, ‘Who says you can’t go home’.  It suddenly took on a new significance to me as I am getting ready to go back home to Sri Lanka and settle down with Lakshi there from November 2011.

Looking back at the past four years I consider my time in Cambridge and Geneva my wonder years, where I spent my free time trying to find myself, in acting, writing, connecting with nature, discussions with friends… I think I really grew as a person in these few years… I think it also helped me find out who I am, especially as the initial years I was here alone and was able to explore my thoughts and feelings on my own… Of course we’re always changing trying to become better people, and no matter how hard you try it’s impossible to really understand yourself completely, but I think the last few years helped a lot in becoming who I am now.

While my time away from ‘home’ both here in Geneva and in Cambridge have been amazing, I’m now really looking forward to going home. I’m looking forward to spending time with family and old friends. I’m looking forward to living in a nice home with a garden instead of the tiny apartment that we live in here. Now that the war is over, I’m looking forward to being part of rebuilding the country. I dream of a developed Sri Lanka, and I think it is within our grasp if only everyone worked trying to develop the country instead of only focussing on personal benefits.

When I originally came to Geneva and told people that I will only be here for a few years, get some experience, learn about the world, travel and then go back, they all told me that I would never leave Geneva as they believed that I wouldn't be able to give up the life style here, or the salary. But I believe that there’s so much more to life than riches such as family, friends, knowing that this is your ‘home’ and not having to worry about permits and visas; knowing you belong.  So that’s why this song really came to my mind, cos I am coming home soon…

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

With great power comes great responsibility…

Were the wise words of uncle Ben to ‘Spiderman’, and so it is with any kind of power, not only ‘Super powers’. I just started to think about the power of technology and social networking while reading about the recent  London riots which were organised and planned using blackberry messaging and through social networks like Twitter. These are the same technologies, the same networks that enabled the world to be updated and aware about the events during the Egypt and Libya uprisings when media could not reach the spots, the same technologies that helped survivors of the Mumbai blasts let each other know of whereabouts through constant tweets.

While in one part of the world the Web 2.0 and social networking were used to overcome political oppression or disasters, in another part it is now being used as a tool for rioters to plan more activities to destroy a city or to spread rumours and tarnish the reputation of an organisation set up to save lives (read this  for more on how the Associated press article which claimed corruption of Global Fund financing without proper factual base was circulated all over the world…Don’t get me started on this one). I was just thinking about how the many wonderful inventions which give us so much power to communicate to the whole world, to network, if not used with responsibility could also be the same technologies to bring about our own destruction. After all technology is simply a tool with no soul, no conscience, available to be used by anyone. While I do not endorse governments or any other body screening the use of internet or social networks, it also seems that the total free usage can also cause very serious problems, especially in the wrong hands.

These amazing innovations can help us to live much more productive lives, reach many more people… even the fact that I’m able to write this and with a click of a button anyone in the world can see it, is a miracle, but it’s the same button that can be used to spread lies… in the end the technology is not to be blamed, its simply the enabler. We can literally reach the world through our fingertips, so with that power it is each and every one of our responsibility to ensure that we use this power to improve the world we live in, not to destroy it. 

We can blame governments and society, circumstances, but then two people going through the same bad circumstances do not end up in the same way, one may choose to steal or destroy while the other might choose to fight crimes or work hard and help society... What is it that causes the difference? I wish I knew... Is it religion? believing in a higher purpose? love? Equality?

In conclusion… I have no conclusion and no solution just many questions... All I can do for now is to ensure that I use what ever power I have responsibly...Making the world a better place, one person at a time...

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Thursday, August 04, 2011

Stopping the spread of negativity...

Will this comment help our company?
Will this comment help our customers?
Will this comment help the person I’m talking to?
Will this comment help the person I’m talking about?
If the answer is no, no, no and no, don’t say it!
-Turning a Negative into a Positive by Marshall Goldsmith
I came across this article and I feel it is very relevant, especially during this time of change in many organisations. The first thing you notice in any organisation that is going through change is complaints and whining of the staff.

I can see first-hand how all the corridor conversations are poisoning the atmosphere as we’re also going through some re-organisations. The negative atmosphere spreads like a cancer effecting all the healthy cells or in this case the optimistic motivated people in the organisation. We have some amazing people who are intrinsically motivated and love what they do, especially as they know they are working for a greater good, but since of late the motivation seems to have drastically declined. While it is important that Senior Management communicate everything transparently and manage change in such a way that the effect on staff is minimised, I think we’re also responsible for our own attitude and actions. After all they are all human and trying their best too. Of course if you have constructive criticism it’s important to share it with the decision makers, and it’s the responsibility of the leaders to listen to the concerns of staff, but just whining and complaining only robs that person and others around of energy and has no positive impact.

Of course I know that this is much easier said than done, so I am also telling this to myself. I’m happy to say today I managed to avoid any such conversations which would end up with me feeling even more stressed and no positive result. How long will I be able to continue to not complain? That I do not know, ofcourse after reading the article above ‘Turning a Negative into a Positive', its heartening to know that even famous writers such as Marshaell Goldsmith are not immuned to destructive comments.

I wonder what the world would be like if we all stuck to these rules even when speak in general. In an earlier post I also blogged about only saying things if they are ‘Good, True or Useful’… There would be no gossip, or belittling, or deception! It’s hard to even imagine such a place, and even harder to imagine myself actually following this rule everyday. Sometimes it seems that the more interesting topics of talking are around negativity… Why is that? It’s much more easy finding faults than appreciating the good. Is it the way we’re conditioned? To keep looking at the glass half empty and not half full?

Sometimes its important to acknowledge when things are not right and especially when you feel bad and stressed. Sometimes its good to discuss the way you feel and get it out of the system and we all have the right to feel what we do, the difference is not to just spread the negativity or project negativity to others making them the 'bad guy'. If there is something really bothering you, its important to tell to the person but not to discuss it behind his back.

I am going to try my best not to be a vehicle for this negative ‘cancer’ to spread. I might actually become rather quiet if I do. I'm going to try to challenge myself to try to find other intersting topics, like travelling or hobbies :) and to become more creative and find other interesting subjects to discuss…

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Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Avoiding Conflicts

Recently we had a communication skills training where our trainer described the many stages between when someone says or does something until the point when we react. First we hear or see the action of the other person, then we interpret it taking into account our own world view, we judge what that means to us, this judgement may cause an emotion and then we react. Usually all this happens within seconds. But what we must realise is that only the hearing or seeing of the action is objective, the rest is subjective according to our own values, culture, experiences and many other factors including our mood. So the interpretation and judgement are the first steps towards a long drawn misunderstanding. This is especially true working in a multicultural environment as cultural norms tend to differ widely. What one person may think as being straight forward another would view as rude! What one person sees as politeness is what another would consider ‘beating around the bush’.

When this process evokes a strong emotional response, we may react without thinking and start a conflict. One of the main messages of the training was to try to control that emotion and take time to process and understand the other person before reacting. It is important not to project our own thoughts and feelings, but to ask the other person what they meant and to listen with an open mind... A method of engaging in difficult conversations that was discussed was to initially only state the facts; such as “I saw…” or “I heard you say…” Then to say what you felt when you heard or saw it, as no one can say that you can’t feel that way, and you are not making the other person the bad guy. Then to finally ask the person what they think about it, giving them the benefit of the doubt and the space to explain.

I have heard about the importance of using ‘I’ statements in conflicts before, but usually in the heat of the moment I always forget them, especially when I get emotional and sometimes it's even felt physically! The suggestion by the trainer was simply to take a break at the point when you start feeling emotional, not to say anything at all. In the end it’s all about seeing things from the other person’s point of view and trying to understand them.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

To be a candle in the darkness…

Lord, a candle stands before me.
It burns restlessly, sometimes with a small, sometimes with a larger flame.
I too am often restless. Let me find rest in You.
It gives me light and warmth. Let me too be light for the world.
It consumes itself in its service. May I also be of service to people.
With this candle I can ignite other candles.
May I also contribute in this way that others may begin to shine.

I came across this prayer when we dropped into a lovely church in Lucerne to light a candle for our intentions. It reminded me of my favourite quote by George Bernard Shaw (which is also the description of this blog). The quote talks about being a splendid torch, but even that torch most probably got its light from a tiny candle... There is something beautiful about the flame of a candle flickering in the wind, that has always drawn me to it. Today with electricity the candle doesn’t have that same significance to give light, but I always see the value each time there is a power cut (when I was in Sri Lanka) and we light the house with candles, its wonderful how even a single candle can pierce the darkness and give light…

I would like to be like a candle, giving light to dispel the darkness rather than just cursing it. This is also the motto of a Sri Lankan association which was started to help the needy called CandleAid formerly known as AFLAC (Association For Lighting A Candle). I came across this organisation when I was at the University of Moratuwa studying engineering and across from our University there was a blind colony which was helped by AFLAC. There were 5 houses with around 7 blind, very old and feeble ladies and gentlemen with no one to look after them. I remember doing a community services project where we went with some Civil engineering students and improved their houses and blocked leaks so that they would not slip and fall when the rain water leaked from their roofs. We also went there a few times to talk to them, take food and rations (they especially loved sweets) and they always welcomed us holding our hands to say hello, they even sang Christmas carols to entertain us… I wonder how they are now… I haven’t visited them for a very long time, I guess life gets busy and then we forget about the less fortunate. Especially living in Switzerland I don’t really see much poverty. Even the beggars here dress quite well. Of course I’m sure they have hard lives, trying to live in such an expensive location with no proper income, but the sheer level of poverty is not so obvious here and when you don’t see them you don’t feel guilty for not doing anything.

I have now hung up the prayer from the church to remind me to be that ‘candle’ rather than just a complaining or cursing the darkness…

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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Empty Airports...

I just dropped off Lakshi at the airport yesterday and started to write this post while waiting for him to confirm that everything was ok... Just waiting there gave this very lonely feeling...

I've always disliked airports; whether coming into an empty airport seeing everyone else being reunited with parents, kids, husbands, wives, friends and even dogs; or saying good bye and dropping off a loved one at the airport and leaving alone... Even though you know that you would see each other soon, it still has a feeling of finality... there's an air of missing or losing someone at the airport.

As a frequent traveller myself, the part I dislike the most is when I have to arrive at any airport alone. For the past year or so I didn't feel it cos Lakshi and I travelled together so there were no empty airports, but yesterday it came back again.  I don't mind the travel time alone, I'm happy reading, or watching a movie, or even writing a blog post, but I've always hated the arrival or leaving an 'empty' airport... It's full of people but 'empty' for me.


Friday, July 08, 2011

Is there really an 'Adjustment Bureau?'

Yesterday some friends and I met up for a lovely pot luck dinner with International food and while chatting watched the ‘Adjustment Bureau’. I had watched it already some time ago, and a few of us started discussing it’s concept… Whether there really is something called ‘Free Will’ or as in the movie whether we’re all living predetermined paths leading to a destination which has been planned by ‘The Chairman’ as the movie puts it, or God.

In a nut shell the movie revolves around an up and coming Politian running for the US Senate (played by Matt Demon) and a lovely dancer whom he meets by chance and he falls for her, but according to the ‘plan’ they should not be together. The ‘Adjustment Bureau’ is the agency with men who ensure that all people's lives proceed according to the predetermined ‘plan’ which has been set by ‘The Chairman’. So he sends his ‘caseworkers’ to ensure that this relationship does not happen, but in the end, due to the unrelenting pursuit of the couple ‘The Chairman’ changes their predetermined destiny and they are allowed to be together.

The movie raises the question whether God or any other supernatural force has a plan and uses angels to ensure that we live according to it. If so what about free will, are we just some puppets moving through life according to ‘the plan’? Does God plan for some people to murder and rape and hurt others? But if God does not have a plan, is God simply a silent observer watching the world go around and people in their distress? Or is there no such higher power? With our limited intellect and knowledge of the world we cannot know with certainty, but this is my theory based on my own experiences.

I think that’s God exists and he does have a plan for each of us, an optimal plan which would lead us to become the ‘highest form of our self’ not only in terms of personal development, but also spiritually… to follow the example of Jesus Christ. But at the same time He has given us Free Will and choice. So we can wonder off that path that God had in mind. I think he tries to lead us on the correct path through our conscience as well as through signs along the way. In my life, I think my decision to come to Geneva was based on such a sign (which you can read about from my previous post). I think God is like a GPS navigation system in the car after you have input the destination. It will show you which way to turn when you come across a junction, and if you ignore the advice and turn the other way, it will tell you the next possible turn so that you can get to the destination and so on until it is shut off. In the same manner I think God will continue sending signals through people, friends, incidents, to show you the correct path, which you can ignore, and then he’ll send more signs until the day you leave this world, of course people can choose not to heed the signs… Its like the parable of the drowning man who had asked God to help, and when a boat passed by asking the man to get on board, he said ‘I have faith God will rescue me’ then a ship passed by and the same thing happened and finally a helicopter sent down a ladder and he still said ‘God will rescue me’ and drowned in the end. When he asked God why he didn’t rescue him, God said, 'I sent you a boat, a ship and a helicopter and you didn’t get into any of them! '.

If God has a plan the other question that comes to mind is what about all the bad things, the natural disasters, the diseases where they all part of that plan? It seems that many of these things are caused by years and years of human abuse of nature rather than any plan of God… We’re not only individuals we live in this interconnected web, so one person going off the path could impact someone else’s life too, how would that work? I think that even if we get off the path momentarily due to another’s actions, God will show us how to use it for our advantage and get back on our path… In the end I think as long as we focus on being the best people we can be and follow the example of Jesus Christ and the signs God sends us, we will have a great life on earth.

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Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The Blind leading the sighted...

Last weekend Lakshi and I visited Lucerne and Zurich. While I found Lucerne to be one of the prettiest towns I’ve visited with ancient bridges and churches and the world famous ‘Lion Monument’, the highlight of the weekend was our dinner at the Blindekuh (literally meaning Blind Cow and the word is also used for the game ‘Blind man’s bluff’ in German) Restaurant. The tagline you see as you enter the restaurant says ‘We’ll give you a meal that nobody has seen!’

The concept of Blindekuh started around 10 years ago in Zurich with the aim of giving sighted people the experience of being blind, and to create jobs for visually impaired people. You can find out more about the origins of the restaurant here. Currently the restaurant in Zurich is self-financing and you can see the popularity by the fact that we had to reserve 3 months ahead to get places in the weekend.

We had an unforgettable experience with the reversal of ‘roles’ and heightened senses. Here we were the ones who were led into the pitch black ‘space’ by our attentive blind waitress Cornelia(I call it ‘space’ as we have no idea how large it was or anything about it). She told our friend to hold on to her shoulders and we formed a ‘train’ one behind the other and followed her. She knew where to go while we were all just holding tightly to each other as we tried not to stumble and fall on our way to the table. Cornelia tried to talk and ensure that we were all fine during our long walk (I think it just felt long since we couldn’t see the destination) from the lighted reception to our table where it was dark to the point where it didn’t matter if you had your eyes open or closed. We were to call her by name when we needed anything.

Before entering into the dark room we were shown the menus and asked to choose. I had a lovely shrimp and Chinese noodles starter, sea bass with passion fruit sauce and rice and picked the surprise for the desert. It was fun as the desert had 5 different types and we had to guess what they were just by tasting and feeling it. The food was delicious and I noticed that my sense of smell was heightened. Initially had opted not to have a starter, but when I ‘smelled’ the starter the others in our group were having I just called out to Cornelia and asked for one too! It was great to observe how she could say from where the voice came from but for us we were often confused whether she was talking to us or someone else nearby. Eating with fork and knife was another challenge when we couldn’t see what we were poking! So sometimes I stuck an empty fork in the mouth without realising it! In the end I just decided to use my hands.

While dining we noticed how much of our conversation is around sight, even when we were trying to tell each other what we ‘feel’, without thinking we would say ‘I see there’s …’ or ‘It looks like…’. I noticed that my sense of feeling seemed to have heightened too when I felt a tiny thing drop on my lap to see (again I used ‘see’ when what I meant was feel) it was one of my tiny earrings. I’m sure I wouldn’t have felt it ordinarily. Even the famous saying is ‘seeing is believing’ it’s almost as if we don’t trust our other senses. We have to ‘see’ to know something, so it was especially interesting for me to immerse myself in a world without sight.

I left the dinner with a much greater respect to all those who are blind or partially sighted. It would be so difficult if I had to live in that darkness forever with no colour, no sight… but then, maybe they can feel and hear colour… their other senses are so much more acute to compensate for the lack of sight. Maybe we’re the ones who are missing something in our smell, taste, hearing and touch since the sight always overpowers them all. We will never know what we do not know…

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Midnight in Paris

It was more like 4 nights in Paris! and while we didn’t meet the great artists and writers during late night strolls through the lovely streets of Paris, we did manage to go back in time and also to enter a whole new magical world during our visit. La vie en rose  (French for "Life through rose-coloured glasses", literally "Life in pink") by Edith Piaf was playing in my head most of the time as we walked in Paris, just like in the movie, so that’s why I decided to call this post ‘Midnight in Paris’. The song really seems to suit the character of the city! I think Paris is the most romantic city in the world and its lovely to share it with my husband.

We arrived Thursday afternoon and after dumping our bags in the hotel, went straight to Arc de triumph. Then we strolled along that very prestigious lovely avenue Champs Elysees, dropping into all the designer stores and checking out lots of stuff which we could never afford to buy! We had dinner at one of the cute cafes on Champs Elysees and continued to walk up to the Eiffel Tower by which time it was almost 10pm. At the beginning of each hour the lights in the Eiffle tower start flickering like millions of little fireflies and it was soooo beautiful. The view from the top of the tower was breath taking seems as if you can see the whole city from up there all lit up.

The second day was my favourite when we entered the enchanted world of Disney!  With my usual crazy planning schedules we managed to be at the entrance even before the park opened with ticket in hand, and made a bee line to the big thrill rides as soon as we were let in! I'm a huge fan of the big exciting rollercoasters (especially the ones that turn you upside down) like Indiana Jones Temple of Peril, Space Mountain and Thunder Mountain… of course even the other kiddy rides were so cute like the Small World with little dolls from all over the world dancing to the song ‘It’s a small world’ while we floated by on the boat and Snow White, and Peter Pan.

Another reason why I loved it so much was as it has been a childhood dream of mine to visit Disneyland for as long as I can remember. One of those crazy things on my ‘bucket list’  (well to be honest I think I’ve already done a lot of things on my bucket list!) And ofcourse I loved the parades too. It literally was out of this world. I loved the last Parade when all the major Disney Characters float by including my personal favourite 'Pooh Bear!'. I felt like a little kid too!

What really struck me was how as soon as you enter in its like you've entered fairy land with the lovely pink and purple castle at the entrance and all the rainbow shaded buildings. Everything fitted into the fairy land fantasy, including shops and restaurants. Talking of shops another thing that struck me going in now as an adult is how much it has been commercialised. Everywhere you look there's toys, candy, clothes all to imitate Disney characters, and neatly arranged just outside each store to tempt the kids. So you can see so many kids who are really enjoying being in this fairyland but at the same time miserable cos their parents won't buy everything they asked for...

We went to a number of lovely restaurants where the food was delicious and even tried Snails! (they actually taste nice, like muselles i think). Another plan of mine was to practice my basic French while in Paris, but it was almost impossible! I kept trying to speak in French at Cafes and Restaurants and the waiters and waitresses kept replying in English!

On the third and fourth days we visited Louvre, Versailles Palace, Miraculous Medal Church in Rue du Bac, Sacre Coeur, Montmartre (Basilica of Sacred Heart), Notre Dame Cathedral. They were lovely but I guess since I had seen most of them, and seen so many museums and churches by now, they all seem almost similar to me. We also went to Nevers where St Bernadette's body is still intact without being decayed and in a glass cage. Even though it was the second time I was in Nevers St Bernedettes life made a huge impact on me, her simple life of humility and love and how God chose the simple over the rich and powerful…You can see more about it in my previous  Easter in Lourdes post.

All in all we had a lovely time in Paris, and here are some pictures we took there. More can be found on

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Friday, April 29, 2011

Easter in Rome

This year I spent Easter in Rome with Lakshi and it was my second time in the city… surprisingly it wasn’t as exciting as it was the first time I was there. The first time I remember I was so excited and loved all the sculptures, paintings, historical buildings and ruins. I think it was also extra exciting as I had just read angels and demons and then experienced sites that were described in the book. This time too of course I enjoyed it, but it was really crowded and we spent so much time in queues and the cathedrals and sculptures and paintings started to merge into each other… maybe I’m jaded, after travelling like crazy around Europe in my first couple of years here, now the scenery, history, art seems to be similar. I must admit though that it was lovely travelling with a partner rather than alone for a change.

The main reason we chose to go to Rome during Easter was to attend the Papal masses at St Peters’ Basilica. It was amazing to observe the way people stood in queues (including us) for 3 to 4 hrs to attend the papal Good Friday mass and Easter vigil mass. We attended both of these masses, and stayed in queues ourselves, and it was funny to see how the cardinals and the pope were treated like rock stars! I guess maybe it has to do with the feeling that you are part of something greater than yourself, a great big family with so many others with the same faith and beliefs…

We met many people while waiting in queues for mass, from all over the world as far as South America and Australia especially in Rome to get a glimpse of the Pope and for the Papal Blessing held on Easter Sunday morning in St Peters Square, and as I watched the fanfare for the Royal wedding, it reminded me of our experience in Rome with people shouting and waving flags on Easter Sunday morning during the Papal Blessing! It was also very touchig when the Pope wished everyone in many languages, including Sinhala (my mother tongue)… We were told that if you attend the Easter Sunday papal blessing and confess and denounce sin, you would have to spend less time in purgatory. I don’t know exactly what happens after death, but we too went for confession. For me the confession was more about meditating on the wrong I’ve done and trying to become a better person. I think it’s the genuine rejection of sin and faith that saves you.

All the sculptures and the Vatican museums and fountains were as beautiful as ever. One of my favourite places was the Trevi Fountain, but was sad that it was squeezed between ugly new buildings which spoiled the effect. I was trying to imagine how ancient Rome would have looked like, with all these amazing architecture, fountains, paintings... Being in the Colosseum and imagining the Gladiators also horrified me… human beings murdering each other, or being murdered by animals was a form of entertainment. Maybe they just walked in with a snack to see who was going to get killed and how bloody the fight would be!

Overall though the trip was fun, though I was able to get more in touch with my spiritual side at Lourdes during Christmas, rather than in Rome this Easter in spite of attending the masses celebrated by the Pope. I think part of it was due to the crowd and queues where finally when I entered the church I just wanted to sit out of exhaustion rather than kneel and pray. I also think I have been spoilt by Geneva, cos after living here with the peace and quiet and very clean streets, with great public transport and mountains in the distance everywhere else seems dirty and crowded!

I’ll end this post with a few pictures of Lakshi and me in Rome…of course as everyone else we did put a coin in the Trevi Fountain so that we would be able to come back to Rome again! So until next time...

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Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Another New Year is here...

Already the New Year has begun and usually with the end of the year I make so many New Year Resolutions, which are forgotten as we get to the middle of the year… already I’ve forgotten what my last year’s New Year resolution was… So this year I’m going to keep it simple… My New Year resolution: try to be the Best person; Best wife; Best daughter; Best friend and Best employee that I can be… And like the song says ‘Don’t worry, be happy’ though ofcourse it’s easier said than done… After all, there’s no point in worrying after I’ve given my best try even if there is a problem, then I just have to hand it all into to God’s hands and know that he will take care of me, as he has done all these years!

I’ll wind up with post wishing you all a Very Happy New Year with no Worries!

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