Saturday, January 18, 2014

Reminders Online

A few months ago, my Facebook account went through a few changes in the privacy settings department. Besides making certain posts visible to friends only, I also hid my birthday.
There are a few reasons for this. Early last year, I decided I wasn’t going to wish people for their birthdays unless I knew these people very well. I find birthday wishes that aren’t genuine both insulting and a waste of time. And since I never wished people, they wouldn’t want to wish me either, right? So to make everything much easier for everyone, I hid my birth date from the world. People also need not wish me for the sake of wishing me. Thus by not knowing when the day is, they wouldn’t feel obliged to wish me.

And so the day remained hidden from Facebook, and when I got to my birthday, very few wished me. Which I had no issue with because I now didn’t have to comment on the many posts that one’s wall is covered in like graffiti on birthdays.

This is where it’s important to remember that this is not about saying one community is better than the other. This is certainly not a comparison between two types of ‘friends’.

On twitter where I have fewer followers than I have Facebook friends, one wish led to another, and soon, tweeps I didn’t even know were wishing me. This is a usual thing over there, where, guided by the blue bird, tweeps celebrate even the most minor events. However, especially regarding birthdays, they never receive reminders or notifications. They only know through the tweets of other people, and the message spreads quite quickly. And so the day ended with maybe ten wishes on Facebook, of which most were family and (work) friends, and so many on Twitter. The latter is a place I rarely used to interact with other Sri Lankans until a few months ago, and so the wishes from tweeps known and unknown meant a great deal.

The moral of the story is that how close our friends are depends on how much information we put up on social networking sites. Relationship status, birthday, milestones, notes and the many posts we put up are the main source of information for many. It is quite disheartening to think that our friends, some who we talk with day and night, only know so much about us because of what we post online.
Thus, if you strip your online accounts of all information, people will suddenly realize they only knew your surname or school or place of work because the answers were just a few clicks away. If you decide to deactivate your various accounts and go on a period of absence, people will soon forget you, they will forget you ever existed, or commented on their posts or spoke with them.

Is anyone to blame? Can we point fingers and accuse people of not knowing anything about us, when we are just like them? We remember those details about family and our closest friends. We remember because we care about them. The rest, even though you studied with them in the same class for years, you don’t care enough about them. They are ‘friends’ and not friends.

In the end, the people who matter aren’t those who leave a ‘HBD’ on your wall. They aren’t the people who need a reminder to wish you. The people who love you, and care for you, are those who stay up till 12 mid- night to wish you; those who make an effort to type more than HBD or Happy B’Day.

අපි ආදරය කරන අයගෙන් අපිව අත්කරන්නට ජීවිතය තැත් කරයි. බොහෝ විට එය සිදුවන්නේ අපගේ සිහින හෝ අරමුණු හරහාය. එහෙත් අපි ආදරය නිසා අපේ සිහින අමතක නොකළ යුතුය. එය ජීවිතයේ කොටසක් යයි සිතා අපි යායුතු ගමන තනියම හෝ යායුතුමය.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

That Eternal Mystery Called Love

Poems, songs, movies and novels are dedicated to this one theme that seems to have no explanation. What exactly is love? Is it the nervousness you feel when meeting a particular person or is it the need to be with someone? Is love merely physical or is there an emotional element to it too? In a few weeks’ time the entire world will be painted red and roses and chocolates and cards will greet you at every nook and corner. And thus before we all drown in the pinks and reds, it’s important to look at what love is.

One of the best explanations of love is Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love. According to the psychologist, love consists of three components, intimacy, commitment and passion and it is the presence of the components that determines the type of love.

Thus there are various forms of love between people, and the one we look for the most is true love, which is when passion, commitment and intimacy are all present.

 Now we have inkling as to what love is, and the kind of people we love; Family, friends and of course lovers. And how great are the distances we go for the people we love?

 “Love is keeping the promise anyway,” says Isaac in the Fault in Our Stars. We make promises out of love, to always be there, to never stop loving people. And yet, often, we can’t keep our promises. We can’t love people forever, because love isn’t something we choose to feel. And just like falling in love is inevitable, falling out of love is inevitable too. We love, and then we stop loving. Thus while love maybe keeping the promise anyway, it is safer to not make promises of love in the first place.
Love seems to demand changes. At first you convince yourself that you love the person for all the flaws and imperfects, and yet, as time goes on, you start complaining about the  little things about them that bug you. However, that too is a passing phase, and slowly you start accepting people as they are. You see that they are beautiful despite their imperfections, and realize that you love them for their flaws.

 When it comes to loving, the biggest issue is that sometimes it feels like the world is against you. There could be a thousand reasons to not love someone, but there will always be at least one reason that will make you listen to your heart. However, there are times when the person is everything you ever wanted but you can’t be with them.

 This is where cheating becomes the topic of discussion. Since we were very young, we were told to never cheat on things and people. Yes, you may be tempted to peak into your friend’s paper during an exam. Sometimes, our minor crimes are forgiven.

 “Sometimes it’s okay to cheat on things, but don’t ever cheat on people, because once you start, it’s very hard to stop. You find out how easy it is to do.” David Levithan, Will Grayson, Will Grayson.

 Cheating on people is more serious than cheating on things. When you cheat during an exam, you are being dishonest. But when you cheat on someone, you hurt people. You break their trust, and make them feel like it’s their fault. Today, we hear of so many divorces, so many breakups. One of the main reasons for these separations is one cheating on his or her partner. When it comes to cheating, you can cheat on your friends, lovers and worse, spouses. If you are in love with someone who is in a relationship or is married, then you need to walk away. Sure, your heart will give you enough and more reasons as to why you should be with them, and yet, remember that, no one likes to be cheated on. Also think about your own life, principles and moral values; after all, once a cheater, always a cheater.

 For whatever reasons though, whether you were cheated on, whether you fell out of love, whether you just didn’t get along with each other, people leave. And couples break up. You are left stranded on what seems like an empty island with no clue as to how to deal with your heart break.
 First of all, we must all remember that, during a breakup, both parties are hurt. Sure, he may have cheated on you to be with another, but this doesn’t mean he isn’t hurt. When you are with someone, when you have a bond with them, no matter how short-lived, there are memories, and history that can’t be erased. People become part of your story, and even though the chapter is closed, that chapter is reread and remembered for the rest of your life.

The general stages of a breakup are anger, hate, denial, disbelief, numbness, sadness and acceptance. Some people move on, others don’t. There are many who can’t let go of the past, who can’t say goodbye. This isn’t healthy, but there are things your heart and mind just can’t do.

The things you can do to get over a breakup depend on which stage you are in. However, below are a few ways that may help you.

1.Keep yourself occupied. Do not let your mind wander. Don’t give into the temptation of checking their Facebook page or whatever pictures you have of that person. Do something, anything, and try to not be alone. Hangout with your friends, cook, clean your room. Just keep yourself busy.

2.Do not call them, or leave messages. They are also trying to get over you, and you aren’t helping by trying to talk to them. Just let go. Yes, it’s difficult and it’s not fair. But such is life. Don’t make the situation much worse than it already is.

3.Keep the energy levels high. There’s no denying that you will spend a lot of time thinking, crying and exhausting yourself. This is why you need to eat well. Certain kinds of food also contain various things that will trigger enzymes that will make you feel happy. Do not overeat though, which is something that tends to happen. Yes, the chocolate, and candy and soda may be tempting, but don’t give in. Surely, whoever broke your heart isn’t worth all the health issues.

4.Write. Not all people enjoy writing so this may not help some. However, if you enjoy writing, write down your feelings. You don’t need to share it with anyone, but write about your life, your emotions and what you went through.

5.Have a clean slate. Delete your chat history, delete their number, all the pictures you have of them. Throw away anything that reminds you of them. Create a great distance between your ex and you, which will make it easier to get over them.

6.Talk about it. If you have a close friend you can trust, just be honest and talk about how you feel. Closure is often gained by being honest and saying all you need to say. It is best if you could talk to the person who hurt you, and let them know how hurt you are. However, do not expect them to change their minds. Just tell them the truth and then leave.

7.Spend some time alone. This should only be done when you stop feeling angry and hopeless. Take some time off to reflect on your life and to ‘find yourself’ again. We often get lost when we are with another, and we forget who we are. We start being a reflection of our partners and this is why it is important to be yourself once again.

8.Don’t force yourself to think about them. For the first few days, you will think about them morning, noon and night. Slowly though, you will forget to remember them. When this happens, don’t feel guilty. Soon enough the song you both loved will be a song you stop liking, or a song you and another loves. People move on, and if they don’t, it’s mostly because they are too afraid to walk away from the memories.

9.Accept that it was meant to be. Once you break up, you will try to only remember the good things that happened between the two of you, just so you can convince yourself that he is worth a fight. Stop for a moment before you call him again. Think about your entire relationship, and look at all the dark moments. Do you really want to relive that?

“It only takes 24 hours to get over a person.” The individual who said this explained that whatever time spent after that is because of your own vanity. We may move on from the person, but the place that they occupied in our life isn’t easy to fill. And so we go on in life, holding on to the past.

Why love, then, if it causes so much pain?

Because, we can’t live alone. We can’t live solitary lives. And when we are with people, we can’t help falling in love.               

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Anger; bitter poison we choose to drink

Sometimes our biggest motivator is anger. We go great distances, we do unspeakable acts because of the anger that drives us to depths we wouldn't have thought possible. Look at provocation. We often use this defense as an excuse to do certain things, to hurt people. We say things at the spur of the moment, things we soon end up regretting.

Recently, while in morning office traffic, a motorbike driver tried to creep to the other side of the road. He cut across traffic, right in front of a bus. Of course, the bus hit his leg slightly. The bike rider then parked his bike right in front of the bus, ran across the road to this building, and ran back with a long pole. His obvious intention was to either beat the bus or the bus driver.

This was at around 7.30 when the stress and pressure of the day is yet to get to one. And yet, this man showed a level of anger I have never seen before. What would he have done if he had been knocked down? Or if the bus had run over his leg?

How angry are people today? You hear of so many cases of murder, rape, theft, assault, abuse. The stories of many point towards vengeance. We are so bent on taking an eye for an eye that we are forgetting that to err is human. And thus forgiveness must also be a human quality. Instead, we choose to harm, to kill, to hurt.

While shopping for groceries, I overheard a child ask his mother if she would hit him. Clearly, she had threatened to hit him. The boy was maybe five or six and was clearly distressed about the threat. The mother said she would hit him, then changing her mind, said she wouldn't. In a voice so full of hurt and confusion, the boy asked, "then why did you say you will hit me? Are you sure you won't?" Children can be annoying. They misbehave. It's difficult to control them. And while I can't judge the parenting methods of a mother or father, this kid had clearly received quite a few beatings. Something in his voice said it. While there are sadistic parents who, for no reason, beat their kids, most parents do so at the spur of the moment. They don't think too much about it, and just slap a kid. Later, they feel bad, and shower the kid with love. And yet, to be capable of such actions? Of so much anger? There's clearly something wrong with us all.

Buddhism is a religion that talks about loving kindness. Today, there are very few Buddhists. And yet, those who call them selves Buddhists, fight for Buddhism, and boast about how religious they are, well, none of them follow what the Buddha preached. I doubt they are even away of the teachings of the Buddha. Forget the eight fold path or attaining nirvana. Forget conquering your mind. Think about the first lesson we are all taught. That of loving kindness. When you backstab someone, throw blows at them, there is no loving kindness. When you seek revenge or carry around this ball of burning anger and hatred, there is no loving kindness in you.

It is said the Buddha had a very pleasant face. One would look at him and know right then that this was a man who knew something the world didn't. He looked kind and caring, he looked content, because there was no hate or anger in his heart.

And why do we always wear a frown? Why do we look ten years older? Because we are always so angry. We are so easily angered and we go looking for fights. From our youngest days we are told to fight for what is ours, we are told to fight for a kind of justice we have defined. Small boys are given toy guns. They are taught to shoot from their youngest days. Movies contain so much violence, it's shocking we are still at least slightly sane.

Why can't we be happy instead? Why can't we smile and laugh and love and care? It's not difficult. It's not impossible.

Why make the world an ugly place when we can make it beautiful instead?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

fragile houses, fragile lives

The houses along the New Galle Road, Moratuwa are a great reminder of anithya or impermanence. they are mostly made of planks of wood, a few have walls made of cement blocks that will never be whitewashed. Very few have gardens to grow various plants, and fences seem to be a sign of some level of wealth. Some houses have attached bathrooms, while many share public washrooms. Very few have windows, and the windowed houses too, they are mostly frames, the glass long cracked, broken or removed.

These houses may never pass the test of time. The road construction leaves the houses covered in a sheet of dust, and due to the raising of the road, the houses seem even more tucked away. The socializing with neighbors that once took place on the pavement, when in the evenings, families brought out plastic chairs and the kids ran around, has now been brought to a halt because of the roadwork. The houses will soon be gone, or so it seems. Finally travelers will see the great oceans and vast skies.

Yet, these houses, no matter how small they are, or how fragile they are, are homes to their occupants. Sure, very few have furniture, very few have TVs or fridges. Yet, when the fisherman can see land from far in to the seas, his catch ready to be sold, it is that house of wood planks that his heart yearns for. It may not be a palace, but to him, it is home. He finds comfort in the chair that needs repairs, the cracked plates, the clothes that need to be replaced. For it is not through wealth or materialistic goods that a house becomes a home. It is through the love one has for another, the sharing of a life, that a house becomes a home.

This is why we must remember that no one is better off than the other. We often look at people and say 'pau' or sin, we feel sorry for people, we pity them. Yet, who are we to do that?
'Pau' is just what it is in English; sin. The way Sri Lankans say,"sin men" implies whatever 'tragedy' one is going through is caused by the sinful deeds done. While poverty may be seen as a consequence of one's past actions, who are we to say they are poor of happiness or love?

Looking at the faces of the occupants of those fragile houses as they sit under the evening sky, one can see happiness. They seem to have, for a moment at least, forgotten the debts, the expenses, the alcoholic men, the screaming kids, the clothes that need washing. Instead they laugh and talk. Those are not practiced smiles, worn for a camera and not out of happiness. They may not wear shimmering gowns or be chauffeured around in a shiny new car. And yet, they are happy.

Thus who are we to judge? Who are we to say we are better off than others? Like those houses, life is impermanent, and it is up to us to make the most of it.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

More than just textbooks

“Education is something no one can take from you,” a relative always advises. To most, this seems like another way of saying one must spend each day studying. One would picture a student under a lot of stress surrounded by thick books. However, is this all education is? Are the only lessons we learn taught to us in a classroom?

A child’s life consists of so many exams, it’s a surprise we survived it all. Entrance exams to school, monthly tests, term-end exams, year-end exams, scholarship exams, Ordinary Level and Advanced Level. You think it ends there, when you walk away from school for the last time as a student. And yet, there’s a whole lot in store for you. University exams, and courses followed in order to bag those promotions at your workplace. No longer is experience a qualification. All that matters are the As and Bs.

However, the As and Bs are useless if they are for all the wrong subjects. Sri Lankan parents suffer from Doctor-Engineer-Lawyer - DEL Syndrome. Their children are worthless if they don’t study to be a doctor, engineer or lawyer. “After all the sacrifices we made for you, you say you want to be an accountant? So grateful you are!” parents would tell their children. In a family where my cousins and brother are all in the ‘science’ field, I often feel left out when they discuss their futures. Often, people think the whole ‘writing business’ is a hobby or passing phase. Why? Because according to society, no girl, especially one who went to a ‘Colombo School’ should be seen in a place as lowly as a ‘newspaper office.’ And why is writing not good enough a career option?

Forget jobs and degrees. Look at a child’s school life. How many are allowed to take part in extra-curricular activities? Most parents look at sports as a time waster. “You have an exam in ten months, what are you doing running around a track?” Or they would want to know what job you can get by showing all those certificates and awards you won at sports events.

Sadly, today many don’t see any place outside a classroom as a place to learn. The field or pool or court won’t teach you anything, people assume. However, isn’t life our greatest teacher? Do we not learn when we lose to another? Do we not learn when we work as a team? Do we not learn giving up shouldn’t be an option?

Thus knowledge and education remain important. Yes, you do learn from text books. But you also learn from novels and memoirs and other types of literature. While the school syllabus will teach you History, Geography, Mathematics or Psychology, life will teach you about friendship, love, and acceptance. And one is not better than the other. Knowledge, no matter where it is gained, is important. You may think learning about your country’s history doesn’t matter, and yet, what we learn from those text books make us proud of our roots.

Thus, education or knowledge cannot be taken away from us. We can share it with people, but unless we forget, there isn’t a way we can know less than we did yesterday. And there is no place that fails to teach us anything.

However, the DEL Syndrome of many adults limits us. We decide to follow their own paths, and forget our dreams. We choose to forget the lessons learnt from non-academic activities, and thus we become robots who can recite verse after verse off a text book, but we can’t write verses of our own.