Sunday, June 07, 2009

"People can't change!"

Someone recently told me that people don't change and while I agreed with the observation at the time, I found myself questioning it, a nagging strand of disbelief in the notion. I've observed changes in myself over time and that leads me to believe that people do change over time. I was finding it difficult to reconcile the two conflicting claims,  until recently, when I heard someone put it a little differently, "People can't change!"

I realized that this was a claim I could not agree with. The clarification proposed was that while there might be minor changes to how one might react to a situation, for the most part, once 'programmed' to what a person is  by the age of (say) 18, one can assume that there would be no significant changes in him/her for the rest of his/her life. Another hypothesis was that let's say there are a million traits that define a person. After a particular age, only about a hundred of them can be changed, the rest are frozen in stone.

My argument against these theories begins with the simple premise that people are conditioned by their experiences. This should be fairly obvious from one's personal experiences and from all literature on child psychology. As the experiences keep adding up, they build inertia, a resistance to any change. As more experiences contribute to defining a particular trait or aspect of the personality, the higher the inertia against it. However, my claim is that no matter how high the resistance, there can be an experience strong enough to overcome it.

The analogy from the basic laws of Physics is that the more weight an object has, the greater the force required to move it. Similarly, the more the experiences that have conditioned a particular trait, the greater is the sum of experiences needed to condition it otherwise. If you still disagree, consider the individual who has felt safe, protected, secure all their life and then had to live through serious trauma like an assault or a terrorist attack. Try and convince yourself that this person will feel safe, protected, secure in the future.

I believe people can (and do) change, but can you bet on if they will change? I’d calculate my odds based on the factors influencing inertia:

  • Magnitude: of the experience(s) that conditioned the trait and of those that seek to undo the conditioning
  • Duration: the conditioning has stood its ground for.
  • Inherent openness to change: Probably the most significant factor is the individual’s general openness to change. An open-minded person is more likely to change for the better over time. This can be further broken down to the following:
    • Ability to appreciate a perspective different from one's own
    • Ability to question oneself and one's actions and realize when one was right, and more importantly, when one was wrong.
    • Variety of experiences that one puts oneself through

Once you have some of this information, it’s a question of what you’re wagering and what odds you’re getting and if the risk is worth it, but I’ll leave that analysis for the next post…

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

“Million…” a representation of the Billion?

There has been a lot of discussion around Slumdog Millionaire being an inappropriate representation of India and while I’ve been part of this debate in the physical world, I haven’t really written about it. I started writing a comment to this post, but decided to post here instead.

I’ve heard various arguments over the appropriate vs. inappropriate, all good arguments as in the post above, but I’m confused why the discussion even goes that far. The actual debate should be on the noun, not on the adjective that classifies it. Is Slumdog Millionaire a representation of India or should it be? I really don’t see why it should.

Slumdog Millionaire is a movie, not a documentary. It's also not titled 'India' (analogous to the recent 'Australia', which wasn’t really a representation of that country, either).

As a movie, it's purpose, it's responsibility is to entertain people. It was never intended to be a representation of India. That was never its responsibility or its right. It’s just a movie that tells a nice story and does a bloody good job of it. It shows what it needs to to tell that story, and part of that is the setting, which happens to be in India!(Random tangent: Remember the times when any Bollywood movie justified a kiss by saying ‘The story called for it’?)

It's annoying to see any art form (or other media, not good enough to qualify as art) with Indian artists being judged as a representation of the entire country. It really should stop as more and more Indian artists vie for the global stage or we’ll just end up restricting them and ourselves.

Just to dispel any doubts, or to start up debates, if you disagree (I so hope you do!)

  • Arundhati Roy’s ‘God of Small Things’ was not a representation of India, nor are any of Salman Rushdie’s works.
  • Bandit Queen was not a representation of India.
  • Shilpa Shetty in Big Brother was not a representation of the Indian woman. Neither was Aishwarya Rai in Pink Panther:II (God forbid!)
  • Choosing the issue of SD being an ‘inappropriate representation of India’ as the one we want to make noise about, when there are so many real issues facing the country, is a representation of India.

As a people, we need to stop being so conscious of how we’re being judged and just go do our thing! It’s not like Obama’s going to watch Slumdog and decide to bomb India instead of Afghanistan or the UN will send in the Human Rights commission (which may not be a bad thing, actually).

Seriously, we’ve got a fair set of issues. Let’s focus on those, rather than creating more where none exist!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Life is a Poker tournament!

I've recently been trying to improve my skill at the Texas Hold 'Em variant of poker. For the uninitiated or those who still believe poker is  mostly a game of luck (players of the Facebook variety), consider that the Final Table at the World Series of Poker is constituted of mostly the same group of people each year.

This argument had me convinced that skill was extremely relevant, but I still couldn't explain how.  Also, I was playing  casually and relying largely on making a great hand through improbable luck, which meant I mostly lost and even when I won, it didn't have the satisfaction of a job well done.

As I started reading up on poker strategies, the following argument struck a very strong chord with me:

Even if you're playing right all the time, you'll still lose a few hands because the other player got lucky with the cards that hit the board, but over time, that luck part will average out and skill will stand.

When I read this, it got me thinking how apt this is for anything we do in life. Sometimes, you might do everything right and still fail. At other times, you might be rewarded even when you know in your heart (or mind) that you screwed up and succeeded purely by accident (or luck). In either situation, it's easy to rationalize that we must change our strategy, our outlook (give-up because it's no use anyway, or reduce effort because you're getting results anyway), but that luck factor will eventually average out.

I can think of multiple analogies to this line of thinking. Different settings have different ways of communicating or interpreting it, but in all cases it seems to hold, whether it is the rationale for making solid long term investments rather than opportunistic short term ones or for a business to stay true to it's vision and not get overly tactical for short term returns.

What is important is to constantly, consistently, do the right thing. Yes there will be screw ups, you'll make mistakes. To fail in the short term is acceptable, if you know that your strategy is right or that you did the right thing.  If it wasn't, the failure must contribute to learning and correction in your strategy.

Finally, it got me thinking of the first form I heard this message in, in the Bhagavad Gita and although that message is far more generic and deeper in meaning, it seems so much simpler when I think of it in the context of 'luck averaging out over the long term':

Karma    Perform your duty without worrying about the outcome (rewards).

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Engli$h @lph@bet

"When I am older, losing my hair, many years from now...." - The Beatles

... I wonder how many letters the English alphabet will have.

In addition to the regular 26, here are the few I can think of:

@ for @pple: Hopefully, the fruit shall remain the same.

$ for $edative: With the dollar falling the way it is, the symbol is unlikely to be otherwise recognizable.

4 for 4gone: As in it is a 4gone conclusion that grammar may not survive this Renaissance.

2 for 2morrow: As in the black and white blockbuster, "2morrow Never Dyes"

8 : As in procre8, an activity made popular first by a couple named Adam and Eve, and taken to new levels by the citizens of India and China.


As we welcome the new, we shouldn't forget those who's day is past:

s - "Having lo$t itz pozition az the letter denoting pluralz, the uze of thi$ redundant letter iz now limited only to hi$torians. $ome call it the end of an era, but it ha$ been more of a gradual fading away into oblivion"

- The New York Timez (March 18th, 2018)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Desi Superheroes: Who's your favorite?

India has had it's fair share of superheroes, ever since the Ramayana and Mahabharata to the more recent Krish and the like. While not as large as the Marvel brigade, they've all done their job and kept us entertained.

However, changing times call for a new line of superheroes and they have now emerged.

Here are the two superheroes defending the Indian soil these days.... Which one is your favorite?

Makkad-Man (by WebChutney)

Super Singh by someone at MAAC


Let the votes flow in....

Other nominations welcome.


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Monday, April 16, 2007

Limerick - Tag

Tipsy Toes has tagged me to write a limerick, and she's been after me to complete the assigned task. Those who know her would be familiar with her ability to persuade people, especially when the rest of her is tipsy as well.

So here goes, my attempt at a limerick. Not thrilled with my effort, but then I've always been more of a prosaic person. (Isn't Prosaic also a brand of sedative?)


There once was a man in Hydie,

Who thought it was a little too sidey,

So he packed up his bag,

Overcame the jet lag,

And swung across the globe like Spidey!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Bellevue, WA

So, it's been a while since I wrote. The intention was there but the chaos around me prevented me from spending quality time with my blog.

The news is that I have moved out of Hyderabad, to the state of Washington in the United States. It's been two weeks today since I landed here, and they've been two very chaotic weeks. However, I hope to manage my time better in the future and this blog should see some activity again.

The Amateur Blogger will, in the near future, ramble about efforts at settling in here, observations of a culture different from the one I've been used to, raves and rants about a different city than in the past. 

Now that the vision statement has been laid out, I shall end this post here and wait till the next one to actually start reporting :).