The peril of “Just this once”

The only thing which makes us different from all other creation is our ability to speak and express our feelings
The peril of “Just this once”
Pxhere [Creative Commons]

Is it true that we are all the same? Or are we all different? People seem to argue on this topic endlessly. Consider these two scenarios: He says he doesn’t want attention. But did you look at his face when he was called up to speak? He clearly loved the attention. We all love attention. We’re all the same. She doesn’t like it when someone interferes in her personal life.

Others may like it when you ask them about their relationships, but she gets very defensive. We’re all different, you see. The truth is that we are all unique, that each one of us has his own peculiarities and idiosyncrasies.

This makes us believe that no two people are alike just like no two snowflakes are alike.

“We are all different. There is no such thing as a standard or run-of-the-mill human being, but we share the same human spirit.” (Stephen Hawking) “Each one of us has our own evolution of life, and each one of us goes through different tests which are unique and challenging. But certain things are common. And we do learn things from each other’s experience. On a spiritual journey, we all have the same destination.” (A R Rahman) “We talk about pluralism, multi-culturalism and tolerance. But I hope we are moving toward a time when we don’t just “tolerate” people from different cultures and religions, but when we can appreciate and enjoy both the ways we are all different, and the ways we are all the same.” (Anne Shelby)

There are billions of wonderful ways to be human - as many ways as there are people on planet Earth. We Are All Different is an inspiring celebration of the fact that all of us are individuals; vibrant and diverse, the idea reinforces that everyone has something to offer, that diversity enriches our lives, and it also considers what all human beings have in common - that there is more that unites us than divides us. Every person has his own identity and beauty. Everyone being different is what is really beautiful. If we were all the same, it would be boring.

Let us not forget that God is the creator of this universe and each and everything, including the humans, is created by Him. But we forget that out of all the creations, one of the best creations is “Humans” and the only thing which makes us different from all other creations is our ability to speak and express our feelings. In today’s time, we are forgetting that all humans are the same when we talk about feelings. We think that only our feeling are more important and forget to care about other person’s feelings when we exploit them. Instead of making Earth a better place, we are making it another hell by not respecting or understanding one another’s’ feelings. Everyone is busy fighting to be on top in his respective field; but at what cost? May be, it is at the cost of people whom we love the most.

We have seen many successful people, but if we ask their family, they all will have complaints like “they don’t have any feelings”, “they don’t have any idea that how much we miss them or when we need them the most,” and “they just don’t have time for us.” Is this where we are going in the name of progress? There are no feelings left, the one thing which makes all the humans similar to each other; and if that is not appreciated or acknowledged, then we are no different from all the other creatures of God. So, before it’s too late, start acknowledging the feelings of the people who matter the most to you and start making a difference. “Acknowledge the differences and appreciate the similarities,” is the best philosophy of life.

What is your philosophy of life and why? We may ask. Nothing gives a person inner wholeness and peace like a distinct understanding of where he is going. Robert Bryne once observed, “The purpose of life is a life of purpose.” In order to get somewhere, we need to define our end goal. That is essential. And the sooner one defines it, the clearer everything else will become. A life without a purpose is a life without a destination. Finding the right direction in life is an existential problem for all of us. Living without purpose is dangerous. Fyodor Dostoyevsky once said, “The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.” Finding the right direction in life is something you create. You make the decision to act; to try; to do something, no matter how small. Your purpose in life is to find and do the things that make you smile, laugh and forget time. Even if you aren’t sure yet, move into the exploration and experimentation phase of your life and enjoy the journey. You can’t put time on it. You can’t force yourself to find your “why” tomorrow or next month, or even next year. But by all means, search for clarity.

Once you have defined your aims and what you want, it is easier to deal with doubts. Easier not to get distracted from what is important, keep your focus, and keep moving. Only sustained movement in one direction can bring tangible results. You have permission to change your goal, rethink, choose another, by all means. It’s hard to maintain any momentum if your direction lacks definition. In order to reach big goals, you need time, during which you must continue moving in your chosen direction, not veering off course. Living “on purpose” means you live intentionally. A strong sense of purpose fuels your motivation.

When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds. Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great, and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be. (Patanjali)

Successful people have a definite purpose and sense of direction in life. They have a clear understanding of what success means to them. Everything they do is consistent with their goals. “When you want something, the whole universe conspires in order for you to achieve it.”(Publo Coelho in The Alchemist) They look forward and decide where they want to be. Their day to day actions helps them move closer to their vision. Once you find your why, you will be more careful and selective about your daily actions.

In his sixty seconds message the Google CEO, Sundar Pichai said that he considers life to be a game of 5 balls, which are swung in the air. Pichai believes that we try to keep these balls from falling all our life, one of them is rubber, and the rest are all glass. He said that it will not take you much time to understand that work is a rubber ball, whenever you fall you will jump again; while the other balls are all made of glass, if one of them falls, it will not be able to stay as before. But sadly, most of the time we remain invested with our work, ignoring other more fragile aspects of our lives. Steve Jobs cautions us when he says, ‘Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”

If you are desperately chasing after something you want, chances are that you will make rushed decisions that actually bring you away from your initial goal. But if you have the mindset that everything you need (or need to know) - every chance, every opportunity - is already out there, waiting for you to just take it whenever the time is right, you are starting to trust in that the universe offers you every possibilities you could think of. If you trust that it is indeed possible for you to achieve your goal instead of desperately chasing a dream of which you deep in your heart believe that you probably aren‘t even worth of achieving or not smart / strong enough to achieve, you will automatically make decisions that lead you into the right direction.

Every year, HBS Professor, Clayton Christensen, teaches students that well-tested academic theories can help them succeed not just in business, but in life. He expounds upon those lessons in his book, “How Will You Measure Your Life?” co-authored with James Allworth (MBA 2010) and Karen Dillon, the book uses meaningful corporate and personal anecdotes to extol the value of theory in finding and creating happiness. “You’ll see that without theory, we’re at sea without a map or a sextant,” Christensen writes. “If we can’t see beyond what’s close by, we’re relying on chance - on the currents of life - to guide us.” He also believes that certain common business principles are misguided and even dangerous. In the following excerpt, he explains why focusing on marginal costs and revenues can lead to personal, professional, and moral failure.

“Resisting the temptation of “in this one extenuating circumstance, just this once, it’s okay” has proved to be one of the most important decisions of my life.” According to him, “100% of the time is easier than 98% of the time.” This marginal-cost argument applies the same way in choosing right and wrong. Many of us have convinced ourselves that we are able to break our own personal rules “just this once.” In our minds, we can justify these small choices. None of them feels like a life-changing decision. But each of those decisions can roll up into a much bigger picture, turning you into the kind of person you never wanted to be. That instinct to just use the marginal costs hides from us the true cost of our actions.

Says he: “I came to understand the potential damage of “just this once” in my own life when I was in England, playing on my university’s varsity basketball team. We killed ourselves all season, and our hard work paid off - we made it all the way to the finals of the British equivalent of the NCAA tournament. But then I learned that the championship game was scheduled to be played on a Sunday. This was a problem. At age 16, I had made a personal commitment to God that I would never play ball on Sunday, because it is our Sabbath. My coach and teammates were stunned when I told them I couldn’t play. I was the starting center, and the backup center had dislocated his shoulder. They all said, “You’ve got to play. Can’t you break the rule, just this one time?

“It was a difficult decision to make. The team would suffer without me, and they were my best friends. We’d been dreaming about this all year. I went away to pray about what I should do and came back with the clear feeling that I needed to keep my commitment. So I told the coach that I wasn’t able to play in the championship game. In so many ways, that was a small decision. In theory, surely I could have crossed over the line just that one time and then not done it again. But looking back on it, I realize that resisting the temptation of “in this one extenuating circumstance, just this once, it’s okay” has proved to be one of the most important decisions of my life. Why? Because life is just one unending stream of extenuating circumstances. Had I crossed the line that one time, I would have done it over and over and over in the years that followed. It turned out that my teammates didn’t need me. They won the game anyway.

“If you give in to “just this once,” based on a marginal-cost analysis, you’ll regret where you end up. That’s the lesson I learned: It’s easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time than it is to hold to them 98% of the time. The boundary - your personal moral line - is powerful, because you don’t cross it; if you have justified doing it once, there’s nothing to stop you doing it again.” Decide what you stand for. And then stand for it all the time.

Bhushan Lal Razdan, formerly of the Indian Revenue Service, retired as Director General of Income Tax (Investigation), Chandigarh.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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