So here’s the background: I was invited to give a TEDx Talk at TEDxSRCC in October at Delhi. It was one of the coolest things that ever happened to me so I wanted to speak on a topic that… matters. Conventional wisdom meant speaking on ‘the road not taken’, ‘following your passion’, or ‘stay hungry and stay foolish’, but I thought of it this way: If this was the only time I ever got a chance to speak on any platform as prestigious as the TEDx stage, what thought, theory, or idea, would I want to leave people with? Given the fact that the theme of TEDxSRCC was ‘Food for Thought’, I decided to speak upon a topic that I believe is more basic, more human and more important than success, hard work, passion or anything else: KINDNESS. For the distinct purposes of sounding cool, I named the talk ‘Don’t be an A**hole’. The talk is online now, but I’ve put out the full text below too:
THE FULL TEXT
(Including some points I missed in the video)
Please note two things:
1. It was an 18 minute talk so this is a LOOOOOOOONG Read. Like WTFHOWLONGISTHIS read.
2. This is not an article, it was a talk, so some of the humour written was specifically meant to be funny to the audience watching me speak and it may come across as lame. It probably came across as lame to them as well, but hey, don’t say I didn’t warn you!
So there we go:
DON’T BE AN ASSHOLE!
I want to start by clarifying one thing – for those who saw the description these guys had put about me on the Tedx page, there was this thing where it said that I’m a blogger for MTV Roadies. I promise you – that is not true anymore. I promise. If it was, the title of my speech today? It would make NO SENSE. This would then be a talk at TedxIRONY.
Having said that, I want to tell you guys a story. A few years ago, I travelled to Egypt on work. On the last night there, I went to a souvenir shop to buy a bunch of stuff for my family. The shop-owner of that place was a guy called Ahmed and Ahmed, for some reason, really LIKED the fact that I was buying stuff for my family. So much so that he offered to take me to his nightclub and show me belly dancing. Not HIS belly. And then just before I left he said – DON’T TRUST ANYONE IN EGYPT.
That should have been strike one right? But here’s the thing. I was incredibly boring back then. The wildest thing I had ever done was spike my hair – and that was because my mother has requested me to start being cool. So I called up Ahmed and told him that I’m ready to be wild. And then I left a note in my room saying ‘I’m going out with an unknown man named Ahmed. His shop is this his number is this, if I don’t come back please tell my mom I loved her.’
Strike two was Ahmed’s shady car. Strike three was him getting lost and not being able to find his own nightclub. I mean by this point I had basically realized that I was going to die tonight and that could be the BEST case scenario of what would happen to me. But when we eventually did reach the nightclub, I didn’t escape. That could probably be because I had nowhere to go to – but it was also because I really wanted to see how this would play out. WHAT DID AHMED WANT! I stayed as Ahmed got drunk, got loud, got emotional. And on the way back he almost started crying about how poor he was and how he was working hard to get his family money. That’s when I realized – he wanted money for me. This was going to be awkward. So I paid no attention to him and started figuring what’s the right amount to give him. I waited for him to ask the whole way back. He didn’t. We reached. As I awkwardly tried opening my wallet when he dropped me SAFE and SOUND – he said, thank you so much, I just thought you looked like a kind person and I hope we have more guys like you. Please stay friends.
I couldn’t sleep that night – I was not kind that day. He was the kind one. I was, in fact, an asshole. Someone who had been so ingrained to not trusting ANYONE being kind that I just naturally assumed anyone showing empathy was a liar. One of the great American writers, George Saunders, recently gave a keynote address where he spoke of how the only thing he regrets are “failures of kindness”. I failed to be kind that day too, and I tell this story today because while I talk about assholes, what I really want to tell you guys about is kindness.
THE THEORY OF KINDNESS
But before that – I want to tell you guys some statistics. That’s because I’ve seen a lot of TED Talks to prepare for this – yesterday night, basically, because after all, I’m still an engineer at heart – and I realized that the best TED talks have some amazing statistic that makes the audience go WOAH. So I’ll be kind and give you TWO:
There is something called the World Giving Index, that measures 130 countries on how kind they are. It’s basically about how kind we are. India ranks 93. Behind – I kid you not – IRAQ, PAKISTAN, BANGLADESH, AFGHANISTAN. I mean – these countries have NOTHING to give, how are they still giving more than us!?
The second statistic is my favourite: It has been scientifically proved that if you are kind – if you are not an asshole – the chance of you getting rich, famous and getting laid are basically a 100%. Yes, of course, I’m the one who proved that through my life. Well, not the getting laid part. And not the.. rich part.. and well, not the famous part either.. but that’s not the point.
Okay, so let’s not call what I just said a scientific fact but a theory – but this is a theory that I truly believe in with all my heart and soul and I’m going to spend the next.. 12 minutes.. in trying to convince you on why it works and why you should believe in it too. The theory is simple: The universe works in your favour if you are kind.
I genuinely, wholeheartedly believe that if you are kind to people
you know, to people you don’t know, to yourself, to the environment, to your body – okay I shouldn’t be talking about that – but if you are kind in general, you are going to be happy and successful. When I say kindness, I don’t mean a vague concept of politeness… or being ‘nice’. Gulab Jamun is ‘nice’. This spotlight is ‘nice’. Naveen Kasturia’s hair is ‘nice’. But I’m talking about ‘kind’, not ‘nice’. Kindness is about caring. It’s about compassion. It’s about empathy. It’s about giving a shit.
GEN D (DOESN’T GIVE A SHIT)
I mean I really don’t understand how it became cool to NOT GIVE A SHIT? I mean, I’m appalled – yes that’s how strongly I feel about it to use a word like appalled – I’m appalled that I come across so many people who ‘don’t give a shit’? You must have met them too. ‘Hey there was an earthquake the other day’. ‘I don’t give a shit bro’. ‘Hey people are dying of hunger and poverty’ ‘Talk to the hand’ ‘Hey you are an ASSHOLE’ ‘LOLZ WHAT A FUNNY WHATSAPP FORWARD HAHA’.
So when did this become cool? To not care? When did it become cool to wear earphones on purpose so no one would try and talk to us? When did it become alright fake texting people when going in elevators instead of smiling and saying hello? When did it become ok to be so self-involved and self-obsessed that we can’t even comprehend the pain and suffering around us, much less share it or be of help?
Let me put this in perspective. Let’s go back in time and imagine if Thomas Edison didn’t give a shit? ‘Kya yaar, who’s going to put in all this effort in making a light bulb… waise bhi I’m scared of the dark.’ Or if Alexander Graham Bell didn’t give a shit? ‘Ugh connecting people? Ugh why would anyone ever want to do that? People are stupid and I don’t give a shit.’ What if – and here’s an idea that will horrify you – what if Mark Zuckerberg didn’t give a shit? What would we LIKE then huh? How would we ever show our support to poor hungry children in Africa by liking their pictures and sharing their memes? But in all seriousness – if the guy who invented fire and the girl who invented the wheel was just like this generation and didn’t give a shit, we wouldn’t HAVE this generation. We’d still be half apes – which, when you think of it, may just be better than who we are today.
WE ARE ASSHOLES!
Because let’s be honest, we are assholes. We are people who quickly close an elevator quickly even when we see another person just about to enter it. We are people who walk in the middle of the road showing their hands to stop cars like we’re Ironman or something – that if YOU hit me it’s on YOU. And when we drive, oh man… we would honk and honk and honk in a traffic jam as if the guy in the car ahead is PURPOSELY not moving the car.. and when it’s our turn, we never EVER let another car overtake us because… tu jaanta hai mera baap kaun hai? We litter in public when no one is watching – and sometimes when everyone is – we pee on the road, we spit on the road, we park our vehicles wherever the hell we want, we are the people who will KILL one another to get into a Metro train!! I mean what kind of a species jumps queues – queues make us HUMAN!
These are just a few quick examples – but raise your hand if you have been one of these people. Hey, it’s okay, for the longest time, I was an asshole too, you should check out my twitter feed from 3 years ago. And to be honest, on certain days every month when I’m stuck on Western Express Highway between Kandivali and Andheri in traffic, I still am! Because it’s really hard to be kind – but just like all things hard, kindness is WORTH IT.
Because that’s the thing about kindness – kindness not only makes others happy, it makes YOU feel happy. And since happiness is really what we are all trying for, why would anyone be anything but kind? I believe *everything* and I really mean it when I say that – *everything* that makes the world a better place – or at least OUR world a better place – can be tied back to kindness.
EVERYTHING IS KINDNESS
Think about it: Why do we love our parents so much? Really THINK about it. It’s not just biology or their money that we love them for – well, at least most of us – it’s because they are kind to us. Their hearts beat for us. And we love that!! We love them because they CARE. Take the example of your BFF – why do you love him or her so much? Because when everything and everyone sucks, they say something kind and cheer us up! ‘Don’t worry it’s okay’ – that’s all you want to hear. A kind word. What do we love the love of our lives? Our better halves? Because they know EVERYTHING about us and YET they are kind to us!! So think about it – it’s actually kindness that we seek in everyone and it’s kindness that we really thrive on.
Think of the person who instantly puts a smile on your face – the most warm person in your life. Are they kind? Of course they are! Why would you smile thinking about someone who kills ants for pleasure? Even thinking of someone kind can put a smile on your face. I’ll give you a Bollywood example. Who is the most successful director in Bollywood today? Raju Hirani, who’s collectively made over 1000 crores from his movies. You know why his movies are so successful? Because they are about kindness! Jadoo ki jhappi is about kindness, gandhigiri is about kindness, ‘All is well’ is indirectly about kindness. This reminds me – I just saw Shandaar and they have this dialogue, ‘Everyone is sindhi’ – and I feel like I’m saying something similar in ‘Everyone is kind’. But hey, my message is better, right?
Because think again – religion! What do all our individual gods and religions really preach – at the core… at their deepest core… at their core core… Everyone really talks about kindness. Dalai Lama has said that kindness is his religion. Imagine a world like that – if kindness was the only religion and where *everyone* would be kind? There would be no left wing vs right wing – because we’d be kind enough to let everyone have their own opinion. They would be no straight vs homosexual – because we’d be kind enough to let everyone make their own decisions. Heck, there would be no BANS – because we’d be kind enough to let everyone live their own lives.
I truly believe that we can alter the course of the world, of someone’s life or even our own, if we are kind. Because Kindness begets kindness! I believe in the spiritual aspect of kindness. I believe in energy – I believe that if you are kind, and you spread that kindness, good things will happen to you. And I will tell you another story to prove that.
ONE MORE STORY & THE HELPER’S HIGH
I was in Turkey. Yes, somehow, all my stories today have international destinations in them…travelling is nice (not kind). So I had gone to turkey – well I was stuck in turkey on a layover. It was the start of a Eurotrip me and my brother took. We decided to kill time so we booked a cab to the nearest tourist spot. My father told me that he’s heard that Turkey cab drivers are scamsters so when it was time to pay the driver, I was very careful in calculating the exchange rate since I had to pay him in dollars. Turns out that this guy actually was charging less, so I decided to be kind and gave him more instead. He was a nice guy! On a completely different yet connected note, just before we had got into the car, I had told my younger brother that it was I who would keep both our passports because a) He was younger so pffft, obviously he was irresponsible, and b) I had bought a cool pouch for passports and I wanted to keep the passports in it with me.
So you know where this story is going right? Yup, I forgot my ‘cool pouch’ in the cab after getting off, along with my iPhone, my iPad, and miStuff. It’s a really long and funny story but in the interest of time I’m going to get straight to the end. After two hours involving Turkish police, a VERY angry sibling and more, I got a call from the place where the cab driver had dropped me off. The driver was back with my pouch and wanted me to come there to collect it. I profusely thanked him and asked him why he returned – he said because I was kind. Maybe older Arab gentlemen and I have some strange cosmic connection or perhaps the truth is – kindness is awesome.
Kindness is so infectious and that’s been scientifically proved. Not by me this time but by actual research, that says that there’s a phenomenon called Helper’s High, where every time you help someone or are kind, feel-good chemicals or endorphins are released in your body. Look it up –I have researched this before coming because, as I mentioned before, this is Tedx, so I wouldn’t come unprepared, right? So it turns out that recipients of kindness always pay it forward. It could be something as simple as – you know my mother travels alone sometimes and like all mothers has these HUGE suitcases and bags that she carries with her because she’s Indian. And it’s a fact that tells me that all is not lost in the world that each time she’s travelling there’s always someone who is kind to her and picks her bag. And because it happens to her, I ensure I do the same each time I travel and see someone older. In fact, I actively look for older people to help!!
Kindness can be cultivated like this. If people are kind other people see them and want to be kind too. I’ve been teaching college students for five years now, and every year, at the end of my semester I have this one class where I ask my students to be honest. I tell them to let their guards down and just talk about something that you really truly care about. That you feel for. That’s my favourite class of every year. These 20 year old kids have said some of the nicest, most beautiful, bravest things in those classes – from why praying is important to why homosexuality is not a sin. The reason I do this class is because in today’s age, we know everyone through their Facebook pages more than ever trying to get to know them. And this class is about showing people that there’s so much more to us than our names. If you *know* people you are going to be kind. It’s an exercise in compassion. You know how many people have come back to me and said – the other student used this private information against me? NONE. You know how many people have come back to me and said kindness is awesome? TONNE(S). ..Hey, that rhymed!
THE CULTURE OF DISCONNECTED TROLLS
I mean that’s really the thing that’s turning us into assholes isn’t it? The fact that because of the internet and technology and all these buttons we can hide behind, we don’t ever get to really know people – or think of them as real human beings with feelings. It’s amazing how the more the world gets connected, the more disconnected we get with each other. I mean if it was only indifference that would be one thing, but it disturbs me how we have moved towards being a culture of mean-spirited bullies.
Social media, instant messaging where the meanest comment gets liked, the loudest troll gets retweeted and the biggest asshole has the most fans, has turned us into assholes too. On the internet, we only see words, and not people. People who haven’t ever had the courage to step out and do things on their own are today sitting behind a computer screen and laughing at people who do, however good or bad they might be is besides the point. ‘Hey you SUCK’. ‘You can’t sing’. ‘You can’t act’. ‘You are ugly’. Who are we to judge someone’s talent? Who are we to judge? Social media gives us the power to be judge and jury but strangely, we don’t need facts to give any sort of verdict.
Take the very recent example of the picture of the drunk police officer in a Delhi metro that was being shared on Facebook with everyone calling him all sorts of names. I’m not saying here that he was a good person or that a police officer in duty clothes should be let go scot free. But my question is – how many of us knew ANYTHING more than the fact that this was a drunk officer in a metro? What if he had lost someone that evening and he was getting drunk to grieve? I’m giving an extreme scenario because the fact is, if we don’t know this to be true, how could we assume the other to be true – that he was, in fact, a drunk, alcoholic, asshole cop? There are so many times that we don’t know anything, then why are we unkind? Who are we to say someone’s way of living life or someone’s right to an opinion or someone’s way of expressing themselves is any better or any worse than someone else? We are now a culture that is quick to pull others down because they don’t meet *our* expectations of how *they* should lead their lives.
THE SCARY THING ABOUT BEING AN ASSHOLE
The problem gets more grave and has a socio economic angle too. Yes, I went there. I now have the distinction of using the word ‘Roadies’ and the phrase ‘socio economic angle’ in the same talk. When we are not kind to people we become apathetic towards them and as a consequence, we are disrespectful or impolite or rude and sometimes contemptuous too. And this first comes out especially to those who are considered ‘weaker’ be us because of caste, creed, colour or class. Think about it – we would never go into an Armani store or a Zara story and haggle for discounts right, even when we are buying thousands of rupees worth of stuff? But we are ready to insult the poor hawker on the road for Rs 5 less on vegetables worth Rs 50 or the rickshawwala who doesn’t have change? We get SO UNKIND when the auto rickshaw driver doesn’t have change but we are ready to pay Rs 500 as service charges on food worth Rs 600 in expensive restaurants. We are unkind to beggars, to eunuchs, to anybody providing service to us like a watchman or a driver or a sales clerk, because they are considered ‘weaker’. Heck, we don’t even know their names! No one likes to be called ‘waiter’ or ‘driver’ or ‘watchman’ but that’s exactly how we address them! Do we genuinely believe that our lives are so tough so we don’t have time to be kind?
What a shitty excuse that is! How much time could it possibly take to be kind!? To say ‘thank you’ to someone or even smile back? If we think our lives are hard IMAGINE how hard the lives of people lesser privileged than us must be. And you know what the socio economic consequence of this is? When auto rickshaw drivers refuse to ply to us. The carpenter you called to your house takes more time than necessary to get things done. The house help steals something every now and then. It’s not on them – WE are to blame. The larger picture is that some of the horrible crimes that happen in our country – and especially in cities like this where the class divide is very obvious – those crimes are violent crimes. They are crimes that stem from anger. Because WE have created a circumstance where a lesser privileged person feels humiliated and ashamed that they are lesser privileged because WE are unkind and we selectively choose to be nice to people who come from money.
I mean, what a shame. We’d rather be assholes and see the world around us descend into chaos than just be kind. And I have also noticed how it’s become unfashionable to be kind. Kind people are boring – unexciting. ‘Oh he’s ‘nice’. What an idiot!’ We are scared to be kind because it’s looked down upon!!! If anything, it takes courage to be kind in today’s uncynical world. It takes bravery and a certain kind of heart to GIVE a shit when no one else around you really seems to care. It takes a certain kind of good crazy to NOT ‘move on’. And it’s not uncool at all – because kind people are always more successful than unkind ones. Because people WANT to be around people who make them feel good about themselves. People are generous to those who have shown them generosity.
KINDNESS IS AWESOME
Take it from me: I’ve been standing here in front of you for the past 17 minutes and doling out LONG gyaan, because I’m probably considered successful by the organizers of this event because my ‘CV’ has ticked off certain check boxes that add up to ‘Tedx speaker’. And I can tell you first hand, while many others in my field strongly believe in ‘networking’, I believe in being kind to people and being actual friends with them – and hey, I’m both happy and I guess, ‘successful’ in the conventional way. A lot of this success has to do with the fact that I’ve worked my ass off, sure, but the secret is: that the other part of it is because I’ve been a kind person… and hence, the universe has worked in my favour.
The fact is, life is not about what you do as much as it is about how you go about doing it. People will forget your work, your degree, your bank balance, but they will always, always remember how you made them feel. Especially if you were kind.
So I’m going to go back again and implore you all: be kind. Believe me, when I say that, I don’t mean I want you all to go donate your kidneys. It can be little things you do, that will go a long way in making you happy and in making this world a better place. Little things! For eg. Say ‘Thank you’, when you are given a service by anyone – the rickshawala, the waiter, the bai. Say ‘Thank You’ anyway. Thank yous are nice. I send a thank you mail at the end of every year to everyone who was kind to me – you know why? Because acknowledging those who are kind is ALSO kind. Give someone a compliment. Tell people who are awesome that they are awesome. Ask your sabziwala to keep the change. Hold the door for the person who’s coming behind you. Open a door for someone else! Keep the lift open if someone wants to enter. Give 20 bucks to the guy who’s come to deliver a 1000 Rs order. Smile at a stranger. Smile anyway. Smiling is awesome. Treat a kid begging on the street to some junk food. Find out the names of all the people who are giving you a service! LIKE a happy post, SHARE a kind post and RETWEET those who ask you to care. Be respectful, be polite, and really, start giving a shit. Don’t be an asshole – there are already too many of them in the world.
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Note: This talk was first given at TEDxSRCC in October 2015.
Picture courtesy: TEDxSRCC. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.