They jumped back.
Much like I did many months ago. At that time, I was walking the streets of San Francisco when what seemed to be a green shrub moved many meters, came close to me and out sprung a much bearded man.
Putting on display teeth coloured like the crimson Sun.
He was playing a prank much like the Canadian show ‘Scare Tactics’, the TV show where hidden cameras capture open mouthed shrieks escaping from the throats of innocent passerby in front of whom are propped corpses or broken bleeding hands or something more grotesque!
His crimson teeth and his harrowing shriek were gruesome enough for me to yell and jump a good distance. A few more inches and I would have landed in Mumbai. That was how far I jumped and I saw from the corner of my eye the entire city of San Francisco wiping away buckets of tears, full of mirth.
That was exactly how some people jumped, when I posed them a question, without warning: “Look, if we should be designing the future, what should we do?” It was partly the strength of the question itself that made people emit a sputtering cough. The other part, I must admit, perhaps was due to the sudden poser of what seemed to be a rather pertinent question in the most inopportune of places.
Like a bathroom stall. When the guy is standing next to you and doing what he is supposed to be doing in urinal. Or during the morning run, when ace marathoners were counting their steps and running to a choreographed plan. And to slightly more comforting environs, like a cab or an auto. The startled looks from Taxi and autorickshaw drivers will stay etched in my mind forever but co-passengers on a plane whose jaw dropped almost all the way to the Earth upon the sudden propping of the question, was something else though!
Let me explain this a bit more. You see, when BlogAdda.com & INK talks put out an opportunity to write out a post on designing the future, they quite helped break a lethargy induced labyrinthine walls that had held ideas to ransom for a long time. Before I could start, I realized I had to be clear about what I hoped to get: My design for the future.
And it went like this
I dreamt of a future that will be inclusive. Meaning ‘inclusive of all age groups. Of all classes. Of the rich and poor. Or the fit and the falling. Irrespective of whether you are based out of Minnesota or Mumbai (The ‘Boulder or Bangalore’ expression has been traipsed all over).
It had to apply immaterial of whether someone was a janitor or the Joint Secretary! Literacy, economics, skin colour shouldn’t come in the way. Therefore it should cost next to nothing, yet be simple enough to practice and shouldn’t require “the skill that seems like Edison’s wizardry” to a grandma as she watched her grandson play Angry Birds on the I pad.
Now that was an inconceivably towering future. I was happy.
With some satisfaction I reviewed the contours of what I had come up with. In no time, the satisfaction melted only to be quickly replaced by a deep churn in the stomach. If such was the contour, what could be solution and would I, of all people be able to come up with one?
I’d rather seek help, I thought. And promptly thought I would ask random people seeking an answer. It proved to be a swell idea. For every conversation left me refreshed. Some by what people wanted and yet others by the elegance with which people shared it all. The bottom line: It left me with hope that all is not lost. At least not yet!
For, the future that people wished to design for themselves was simple. Not one spoke of the next big gadget. Surprisingly, none spoke of producing electricity from lint in the butt crack. Or something as arrestingly innovative as that. Not even the everyday utterances like ‘global warming’, price rise or for that matter, corruption. Topics that I thought would stay in the forefront of people’s minds.
NONE. I was flummoxed. To put it mildy.
This was no national referendum. Perhaps it was the surprise element. Or maybe how I looked, or asked the question. Or perhaps it was the lack of time to give a considered response. Whatever! I had a variety of answers. All in the same genre.
The answers bordered on these: Empathy. Listening. Conversing. Respecting each other. Innovation. Spreading some real happiness and cheer. Quiet reflection. Kindness.
That made sense. Think of it, we are immersed in our gadgets. Locked up in apartments with wafer thin walls yet iron like cells. Our worlds have shrunk from the vast expanse that mother Earth had to offer to the silent vacuous confines of singularly lonely spaces punctuated only by the hollow glow of a Television set.
Our view of the world shaped largely through that hollow glow mistaking argument for debate and searching for new lows in the quest for new least common denominators. We have very little time and lesser interest in seeing if another point to a story or a person exists, leave alone embracing it!
The stories that we hear of fellow people that inhabit the earth, our next door neighbours and their cultures, their Gods their beliefs, practices are all monochrome ones. Perhaps black and white too. Very narrow definitions that is easy for us to accept and process. Mixed up and cemented. The spectacular colour that every life can hold aloft for us, forever lost in the perpetual quest for speed in ‘slotting’ people, places and countries.
A pattern was emerging in my mind and in another conversation; I asked a CEO friend ‘Where should we begin’. And he replied, in-between generous sips of his coffee and silence, ‘it’s not simple you see “. Just as I thought there he goes again, he said: “If we need to design the future, we have to begin with the people that will take charge of the future. Our children”.
That made sense.
On the way back from that meeting, I asked the elderly taxi driver what we should be doing! He said in a matter of fact manner ‘people must talk to each other’. It hit me like a ton of brinks and silence engulfed the cab. Ironically omnipresent for the rest of the journey.
That was a very productive day, by any stretch of imagination. I was hunched on my desk till the wee hours, pondering on what the two elderly gentlemen had said. I wrote on a piece of paper: “Are children taught to think? Do they even get to stay still? Reflect on what they do? What they haven’t done? Do they get to play with a diverse set of other kids? Do they understand the value of simple conversation? Of listening and talking. “
I went to bed with those thoughts and woke up in a few hours. My plan for designing the future was ready! It wasn’t anything spectacularly new. For in one word, it was about CONVERSATION.
Conversation! The future ought to be a world where conversations flourish. Where we hold an idea aloft with empathy and debate it. To understand another not only from one monochromatic view of ‘an ‘issue or a position but to accept a person the way he / she is.
That led me to my grand action proposal: It’s time to mandate ‘conversation’ in school. Allocated time. Every day. To just find someone new, and talk. Get to know the person. The family. Perhaps exchange lunch. Understand the food. Talk about interests. Reflect on the conversations.
How about writing essays on such conversations? How do we teach our kids to be passionately curious about many things in the world? To entice them to listen carefully and to sort the music in the noise! The design for our future thus must have conversation at school as a key!
With a flourish I told the missus the grand proposal. Silence greeted me. Silence with hands on the hips. “Could you change her diaper please” was the response.
And as I dutifully changed my daughter’s diaper, I thought if my idea was some idealistic hogwash?
Another ‘wayward waste of time’ as the missus would have liked me think? What will it get us? Will this lead to Promised Land? A land of plenty with smiles with angels playing the harp, science to liberate us and the latest maps that will keep us happy?
Perhaps not. But this seemed to be a pretty good place to start. Imagine a future where people talk to each other. Listen with empathy. Pass on some kindness. No, not necessarily ‘agree’ to all what the other person says. But enough to hear the other person that instills grace, even in defeat.
And what better a place to start than school? My daughter let go of a laugh which thrilled me no end.
The missus rushed in. Only to see the diaper change accomplished to perfection. Her arched eyebrow in a surprise laden appreciation was all I needed to think that I had her stamp of approval to my idea.