What I hold dear

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You know those moments, when you think you have things all figured out and one shift in the arrangement of the dice throws all other things in disarray. You try to find a firm footing, a base from which all other things can regain their meaning.

Well, I had one of those recently. A few days ago, just as I was about leaving home on a short trip, a phone call came in for my sister; it was a friend of hers. After a short but notably terse exchange of pleasantries, the caller announced that a long-time family friend of ours had passed on about two hours before. A heart attack. She had not been sick or shown any signs of approaching ill-health. One minute she was with us and the next minute, she was gone.

During my trip, a bus journey of about three hours, I pondered on what all of this was for, this time we spend chasing things that we cannot take with us when we leave the earth. I think, when viewed objectively, everything has a strong sense of ephemerality, of transience. But maybe it is not time that passes, but us. We are moving, through a time-space continuum of our own inadvertent creation. We have to understand what it is we are doing all of this for. If not, we would discover, when the final bell tolls, that we have been running a race for no discernible reason. Perhaps, we have been running from ourselves, because we are afraid of what we find when we look inside.

One of the questions I have struggled with the most is figuring out what I hold dear. I think this question is one whose answer is elusive primarily because whenever I have settled on a set of facts, events come along that expose those “facts” as perhaps not being well grounded in reality. What this has shown me is that we can only aspire to a set of values; sometimes, we fall short of the standards we hold ourselves to, and other times we exceed these bars. But these values are not fixed in stone; they are fluid. And as we learn and experience more, we solidify what it is we hold dear, what we consider to be our values. Hopefully, these values continually tend towards the expression of what we may call universal principles.

I have come to think, though, that a rephrasing of the question is necessary, for any meaningful progress to be made. Rather than “what do I hold dear?”, a more suitable question may be “what should I hold dear?”. This new question, I feel, has to be in accordance with who I am fundamentally as a person. So, after having three hours of a post-shock trip to review my values and where I want to go, here are a few I settled on.

I value love. Love, in the sense of showing compassion to the next man in a crowded walkway, the poor kid without food to eat and the troubled lady by the street-side with tears in her eyes.

I value family, because my family is the backbone of whatever it is I do in life. I value laughter too, the light that comes into my heart when something amuses me or when I make someone else happy. Laughter is medicine for the soul in a way that cannot be truly quantified.

I value integrity. I want people to be able to trust that I am who I say I am. Too many people lead lives which are lost amidst the many different versions of themselves they put out every day, in hopes of getting ahead or throwing people off. It is rare to find the integrated man who is at peace with himself because he knows himself, knows his strengths and weaknesses and acknowledges his limitations while working diligently to expand his circle of influence.

I value certainty, to the extent that I want to be sure of some (few) things, like who I can trust, what my overall goal is and why I am doing what I am doing. I also hold contribution dear. I believe that when we contribute, we activate the best sides of us. We cannot have been put in this world to just lead sad little lives and then die. If we make even one person’s life better, if we contribute to the progress of mankind in a little way, we can say at the end of the day that we lived.

I value thoughtful action. It is easy to act without thinking but it is far more common to think without acting. The paralyses that is associated with excessive analyses of events and situations, with no final decision forthcoming, has led to the ruin of many a man. I understand how hard it can be. Saying a definite ‘yes’ to one thing means indirectly saying ‘no’ to myriad other things ‒ both the known and unknown. This conscious closing of doors can be a hard step to take for many. In the end, our lives end up being a series of decisions (yes-no-no-yes-no-yes-yes-no-no…) and this goes on. A wrong ‘yes’ when a ‘no’ is more suitable can be a bump on the road and lead to lost time ‒ sometimes running into years ‒ as well as lost resources. But if we don’t make those decisions, we will never know.

I value spirituality, not only in the sense of religion. Spirituality, in terms of being able to look inwards and identify the inner workings of the id and the ego and be one with one’s environment. Spirituality helps make sense of where we are from, why we are here, what we are fighting for and where we are going. And amongst other things, it helps us maintain a form of groundedness amidst the turmoil of our everyday lives.

In a world in which more people are connected but fewer people actually listen to each other, values can help determine how we treat other people. Once someone airs views that are not quite like ours, we put them in a box and designate them as “the other”, treat them as the enemy, not worthy of being heard or considered. Do we dismiss people for holding opposing views or acknowledge that difference and try to understand the root concerns of the differing views? From my experience, open-mindedness is vital in an increasingly close-minded society, and being willing to see beneath the masks we all wear to the people within is perhaps the rarest value of all.

I think we all should be a bit more sensitive, to others and to ourselves, and as we try to make sense of a world that is constantly changing, I hope we try to listen to other people, not just the words but the stories, both those that are obvious and especially those that are hidden.

The question “what should I hold dear?” isn’t an aspirational goal in the way motivational speakers preach. No, it is a reflection of the yearning inside, the desire to live true to one’s true nature and toss aside the many robes that have been worn, in a bid to fit into society’s expectations. Knowing what it is you would like to have as guiding values helps crystallize who it is you are. To reduce it to an easily discernible one-liner, show me your values and I would show you who you are.

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