Omoiyari — A way forward?

I like this word. It is nice to pronounce and also is nice to hear. It also means nice. There are several meanings to this Japanese word.

Omoiyari (おもいやり) is a universal concept in human interaction. It has meanings like being considerate, having compassion, feeling empathy, etc. Everyone needs to have some of these qualities for a society to be sustainable.

Having dealt with the subject of meetings in the last blog, I want to discuss a little on human interactions in this essay. I am not an expert on human behaviour or human psychology. These words flow from an ordinary human being having met, observed many individuals in my life.

I do not know where to start. Let me start with a society with rules.

Society with rules

There are rules for everything. For walking. For parking. For throwing trash. For talking. For smiling. For eating. For small things. For big things. Practically everything. All these simple processes are regulated in some way or the other. You can not show your anger. You can not smile and cry publicly. Any non-compliance is not accepted. You may not know your neighbor, but occasionally smile at him. The focus seems to be shifting to I, me and myself whether it an office or a family. There are also unwritten rules to deal with your own family members and friends. Relationships are formal. You can not meet a friend or a relative without an appointment. I recently heard a story where parents and children are living in separate apartments in the same city as the girls require ’space’. Every process is defined and everyone is expected to follow the process. Even children are taught to behave in a particular way. I believe that the same lesson is taught in a particular class in a Japanese school on any given day throughout the country in the spirit of the standardisation. Efficiency is the name of the game.

Society without rules

I am born and brought up in a society which has a lot of rules and these rules are not followed. I give two examples. I had a German manager Mr. Werner Fessel who asked me to conduct two experiments. He asked me to talk to ten persons in my office and write down how they wear their shirt everyday. I went around and talked to ten persons chosen randomly. The outcome was ten different variants in this simple process. One starts from the right sleeve, the other from the left sleeve, the other from the top and so on. He also wanted me to find out how the newspaper is read everyday in an Indian home. Again, I got some twelve variants in the process. One starts from the back page, one from the centre, one from the sports page, etc. In an hour after receipt of the newspaper in an Indian home, it would be found in six different places. I am sure in a rule based society, the newspaper is read only in a particular way.

In my country for whatever reason, we do not follow rules. Driving, parking, eating, queuing up for a bus, dealing with trash etc. To be ahead of the line is considered as birth right. We do not care for others. The rules are for others to follow and not for me. However, we swear by our strong relationships. We love each other and hate each other. We fight each other and fight for each other. We gossip about each other. Thanks to Bollywood, we see all flavours. Heros, villains, lovers, etc. We do have four passions — Politics, Religion, Cricket and Entertainment. We have a view on everything. We are very vocal in conveying our emotions and thoughts. But we do not want to follow rules.

Where does Omoiyari fit in ?

I shall give you a few examples for illustration.

I was traveling in Shinkansen in Japan a few years back. When I got down at a Yokohama station, I was walking past and was stopped by a young girl with a hand stop sign in the crowd. I thought that I had done something wrong. To my surprise, she bent down and tied my shoelace which had come out which I had not noticed. The girl had noticed.

During my first visit to USA, I was in Kansas city. I was staying in a hotel with my office team. We were not used to driving on American roads. When we used to walk on the road to office, some unknown person would give us a ride and drop us daily to our place of work. Every day we used to look for a good Samaritan.

In Lausanne, train station in Switzerland, I did not have small change and wanted to change for 50 Euro note. The girl at the counter gave me change which included all the denominations without asking.

In Beijing, I hired a taxi to visit a few places. The driver was Peter. Though we were unable to communicate in our languages, he stopped, parked the taxi and personally showed me all the places of interest like a tour guide and dropped me back at the hotel in the evening. He did not charge me anything extra apart from the meter reading.

In one of our visits to Datung, Buddhist Grottes near Beijing, we stayed in a hotel. Lisa, one of the junior front lobby managers was extraordinary to help us as we did not understand the language and we were vegetarians. She even paid her own cash as my credit card was declined.

Shilpa, a front line agent in the erstwhile Kingfisher Airlines, was remarkable to support me with a return ticket from Hyderabad to Bangalore when I was stuck at Hyderabad airport on a particular day. It was not necessary for her to show this gesture.

There are several instances in my life and many outliers supported me without asking. Most of them were strangers and I was meeting them for the first time. I am sure this has happened to most of you.

Omoiyari is beyond help, empathy as I understand. Omoiyari is the one of the behaviors coming from pure innocent heart of kindness and compassion. While I derive extreme satisfaction in living in a society that demands and works on the principles of Omoiyari, the interactions could be very stressful if the relationships become deep and dense. It has happened to me several times in my life and I am sure all of you had similar experiences when the relationships are intense.

I am tending to vote for the society for non-attachment as this is not stressful. Many of the scriptures such as Bhagavad Gita support the idea of non-attachment. It easy and less demanding where people really don’t fundamentally care too much about each other and just try to be responsible for their own life. No emotional dramas. Lesser the compassion, the better is the life these days. Do you agree ?

Does Omoiyari has a place in the society ?

I have been questioning the various fundamentals on which my life got evolved and built over the years. The answers are very fluid and ever-changing. Search for the answers has become an everyday affair.

Purpose: Am I clear with the purpose in life. Is it necessary to relook given the changing social landscape ?

Deep understanding: Do I have a deep understanding of what is happening around ? Am I aware of my ambience ?

Core values: Do I see an impact on my core values I stand for ? Do I need to change ?

Learn from experience: Am I learning from my experience what my life has taught me ? Am I reinventing myself ?

Relationships: Are deep relationships necessary for happiness ? What are the choices ?

Story of Sri.Padmanabhaiah

Sri. Padmanbhaiah was my grandfather and he was also my headmaster. He taught us English and Geography in school. He always used to wear a dhoti and kurta. He was a great story-teller. He strongly believed in sharing with others though he was poor. I remember many instances where he would go all out to help the needy. He donated practically everything — food, clothes, money etc. He never cared whether a particular individual was a friend or an enemy. He was very generous in everything. He would help students, families and unknown individuals on the road though he had small monthly income and in spite of a huge resistance at home. He never cared of what people talked about him. He truly demonstrated Omoiyari all through his life. I am yet to come across a person with such a deep compassion for everyone around. I always wondered how he was able to sustain such a behaviour. Any of his students, if they happen to read this blog would definitely agree with me.

Finally, there are many individuals still out there in this world even today like Sri. Padmanabhaiah, who strongly standby Omoiyari and I take a bow and salute them!

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Dravida Seetharam

Dravida Seetharam

Life long learner with interests in reading and writing