How do we meet fate without blame?
A lesson from an elderly uncle
A favorite uncle – now in his mid-eighties – calls up to check on us. He and aunty have just returned from their second dose of vaccination. It’s taken them a couple of hours – but there’s no grumbling. Only an acceptance of the way things are and an intense focus on what they have to do. Now, this uncle is a bit of a legend. Back in his twenties, he was one of the brightest kids around, and his Employer adored him. They were looking to promote him in quick time – almost unheard of in those days. This would mean exotic postings and lucrative salaries.
Uncle then hit some personal roadblocks. His brothers had to travel, and he had to take care of his large family. They decided to forego promotions for life and stay back to help their family evolve. The Employer, while surprised, accepted his decision, and he stayed back in the same role for the next few decades. While everyone thought he had made a sacrifice, he would laugh it off. “I just did what I had to” was his inevitable answer.
And another example…
Recently, a gentleman in his late eighties found himself unwell with some early COVID symptoms. He called his doctor, who promptly arranged the tests for him. While he came out positive, his doctor was thankful that it hadn’t spread much – thanks to the vaccine. The gentleman then went into self-isolation for a couple of weeks. To keep himself busy, he increased his prayer time. He called a few friends to chat when he felt up to it. A few days later, he is fine and in normal health.
He never once said, “why did this have to happen to me – when I don’t even go out much?”. He just focused on returning to health. And now that he’s well again, he thanks everyone who wished him and helped him during his illness. There’s no blaming anyone whatsoever.
I was curious about what was happening here. How could these people not blame anyone for their misfortune? How could they accept life in its entirety and simply focus on what is required to bounce back?
Today, we find problems everywhere. We are unhappy with Government, with policy, with technology – we are comfortable blaming everyone but ourselves! What has changed over the last few decades?
I spoke with a few from the elderly generation (we’ll call it the grandpa generation) – and while it was a sprawling conversation, it gave rise to a few gems.
Meet Fate without Blame: Entitlement is a Barrier
Our current generations believe in entitlement. We feel we have a right to many things. Their generation believed the world was too complex to decode – all they could do was adapt.
My generation believed in the dream of earning enough to get a house, a car (for many, a stint abroad featured too), and enough savings. We had customized a version of the so-called “American dream” for India. The IT ship was the fastest transport that got us across this ocean. With money and status, we started to demand things. Today, we believe we can get preferential access to anything – from hotel reservations to a visit to the temple – using money power. When that instrument fails (like it’s happening in the COVID time), we feel helpless.
In grandpa’s generation, the world was volatile. They did not know what was around the corner. There was foreign rule, a famine, health challenges – but family and community were strong. So people focused on ensuring the family and community stayed strong – and would adapt themselves to make it work. They believed not in blame but in hard work. And they ensured things succeeded. And when things were unpredictable, God, religion, and elders came together to provide comfort.
Social Capital has been replaced by us “independently thinking” people
In Grandpa’s time, decisions taken by the elders in the family were often final. Elders never “micro-managed” what you should study or do. But they had strong opinions about how you should live. When things were bad – say an unexpected death in a family, these elders stepped in – easing the burden on people. And the elders’ decisions were ruled with experience and wisdom.
The unspoken hierarchy was that individuals were lower than family and family were lower than the community,
Today, many of us believe we are capable of taking immense loads on ourselves. We truly believe we can think our way out of anything. Reading a few journals makes us experts – and the experts have little time for us as they are super busy.
Smaller, nuclear families are often the norm. We have no one to bank on – and the stress becomes overwhelming. Many of the studies we take recourse too – are those that are done in recent times; they haven’t stood the test of time. Nor are they customized for our culture. As a rule, we often end up feeling a stranger in our own land.
Interestingly, the vaccine and masks are a community-saving instrument first and a person-saving instrument second. Its success is in cutting transmission rates and limiting spread. But how many are ready to take a vaccine for the sake of the community?
Trust has been replaced by an endlessly roving intellect
In the early generations, when a doctor prescribed a course, they would follow it to a T. Today, most of us are googling away second, third and fourth opinions. And this has led to us not being able to trust anyone in toto However Googling is not comforting all the time and can throw some disturbing news. And when the topic is not of our expertise, it adds to our discomfort.
We have replaced rituals of gratitude with micro-moments of anxiety.
Grandpa would do his prayers three times a day. He’d carefully pick flowers and adorn each God. Grandmom would bring the items lovingly for neivedyam (offering to the Gods). Every month, there would be time spent on bhajans – singing the Gods’ glory and some community functions where everyone came together for a more significant cause. These rituals permeate peace and gratitude. They are about thanking the world, our ancestors, and our Gods for giving us this life to live. When you say thanks three times a day in such elaborate detail, your mind tends to become happier.
We have today replaced rituals with SM. Endless scrolling of bad news – and more impactful – angry news – hurts us without us knowing. We become anxious, and we don’t know why. And where we traveled worlds of Gods, Universes, and nature before – today we traverse worlds of hate. And that makes a big difference to the serenity of our minds.
So what’s the solution?
How do we get ready to meet Fate without blame?
Here are some suggestions from the elders – simple, practical points as is their habit.
- Read old literature, mythology – the more ancient, the better. Spend time talking to people who have seen a lot of life – more than with the young guns. Call any old relatives. Just spending time on these will give us a better perspective of life and our place in it.
- Acknowledge that at heart, we are still frightened, kids. And then reach out to elders to take their opinion. Ask them how they navigated the crisis. Soak in their wisdom.
- Start trusting more – at least the experts
- Reconnect to your own rituals and roots. There is a reason religion has stayed forever – it provides an anchorage for our lives. Try replacing SM time with some of these, and it will make a difference. Reconnect to communities (And I don’t just mean the “gated” ones!)
And there’s the secret to “Meet fate Without Blame”. I’d love to know what you think?