This piece is in continuation to the several I have written on the subject, some of which, were carried in these columns, in the past. Perhaps a lot has been written on the subject, by many, across centuries. So the impelling question that emerges is, what is the need for its reiteration? Purely, it is because of its significance. There are some universal truths and principles that need re-visitation for creating the necessary emphasis, on their importance in our day to day lives. Good memory is the consequence of retention by narration. So, a subject spoken upon, is never a closed item. No thought can be frozen; it remains fluid. In fact “all thought” has inherent propensity to be re-hashed, re-considered and re-framed. This attempt is to drag more the attention of the younger readers of these pages.
There is an adage in the Urdu language that you can’t choose your relatives; but you can always choose your friends. Most of us can re-call with fondness our school years when we would be asked to produce essays on topics like, “A man is known by the company, he keeps” or “birds of the same feather flock together”, etc. The spirit of our ‘Teachers’ behind this exercise was obviously to ingrain upon the formative minds that if one chooses ‘good’ friends, one is likely to remain ‘good’, in all aspects of life, inclusive of all personal and professional areas. And if to the contrary, any were to fall into ‘bad’ company, the result will also be similar, of being labelled as bad and unacceptable.
At the very outset, it is critical to develop, clarify and define, these simple words, coined as, ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’. Good refers to virtuous, ethically correct, morally upright and generally well behaved. Bad, refers to unacceptable, undesirable, inappropriate, unsuitable and displeasing. Having stated the obvious, both these words have to be contextualised to our belief system that may include a wide spectrum ranging from religion to social standards. There are many aspect of behaviour that our religious beliefs sanctions and some are either prohibited or are considered inappropriate, hence, unacceptable; similarly there are many everyday practices of living within the microcosm of large or small societies, where again a particular pattern of habit or behaviour, may be considered as acceptable, while some societies may render it as, undesirable and unacceptable.
Universal truths cut across boundaries of religious beliefs, culture, caste, creed, race, colour or linguistic differences or preferences; like no society gives kudos to ‘falsehood’, it is abhorred; while across all divide(s) utmost significance is given to ‘truth’. Consequently, the first principle for application in selecting a friend is to know which side of the fence, do they belong to, live and exist. On a broader scale, when seeking employment or engaging in business initiatives, one must apply the same principle of selection. It is easier said than done. The scribe admits. Beggars cannot be choosers. In quest of employment, where jobs are far and few, how can anyone with a sane mind expect people to do a “know your employer” due diligence! One of the reasons we have ‘innocent’ employees being charged for having credit balances in their bank accounts, that are incompatible with their salaries, is that they are signatories (at least purportedly) to these unidentified bank accounts -- that they fall victim to such demands is because jobs are dearer, with each passing day. This is a choice to either sacrifice or flirt with dirt. Admittedly a difficult option to exercise!
If goodness breeds goodness, trust, the not-so-good bad and ugly, spreads with greater velocity. The glorification of bad practices and behaviour create the illusion of being acceptable. Weren’t we all shocked to see the footage of a teenager charged with cold blooded murder of his friend(?) being released on bail, owing to his feudal leverage, and to rub salt into the deep cavities of wounded societal values; he proudly, waved a Churchillian “V” (Victory) sign. It was so obvious that youngsters from good and privileged families are equally prone to consequences of bad company.
While working in entities, a conscious effort must be made to get associated with colleagues who have demonstrably a strong track record of impeccable behavioural standards. Working for an enlightened manager is most pleasurable and most unfortunate are those who have to contend with working for a suspicious, insecure and dishonest manager. While looking for an acceptable manger/ supervisor to work for, search and look out for telltale signs, in their persona; these demonstrate meanness, unkindness, injustice, selfishness, self love etc. “Toxic relationships not only make us unhappy; they corrupt our attitudes and dispositions in a way that undermine healthy relations….”
It is important to work alongside colleagues who are representatives and embodiment of good disposition. For such are mostly those who are not only exemplary in demeanour, but are also on a worldly scale too, extremely successful people. These believe in general goodness of humanity: and when they see an aberration to this divine rule, they just seek to part away, mostly without a whimper.
Miguel de Cervantes Said, “Tell me thy company and I will tell you who you are…” Never flirt with the bad, but fight back by associating with colleagues of good conduct; must learn the act of keeping together with the strong in conduct and distant with the weak on this count. Seek good company as part of responsibility not as an opportunity. This selection can either uplift you or bring you down. The company must bring the best out of you. Careers are limited by age and time, so it is best to spend them with people you adore, admire, love and who mean to you. Choose judiciously your company.
The most deadly blow upon the habit of reading books has come from ‘online’ reading. The online reading is all about reducing content to two minute focus; anything beyond this is considered boring. Only those who have read, for example, short stories of Krishan Chander can appreciate the value of creative, imaginative description, when in one of his stories, he examines a clothes line, hung for drying, on the roof top of a neighbour. He evaluates each single clothing item on the line to determine based on colour, size, cut, etc, the personality and character of its wearer. And this spreads over three / four pages --- what creativity!
Reputation is built over years/decades of good conduct, or otherwise too. In my school years we were ‘forced’ to read Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Talisman, The Treasure Island and above all Aseop’s fables as part of sub-curriculum. The convent environment was designed to make us men of virtue and not merely for acquiring knowledge.
Reading a particular author repetitively one tends to befriend him/ her unconsciously, hence we find ourselves quoting extensively Ghalib, Iqbal, Faraz, Nasir Kazmi, etc. They become part of us.
Good books must be read repeatedly, where the contents need not just be swallowed but chewed for infusion into the stream of thinking. Rene Descrates had remarked, “reading good books is like a conversation with the finest men”. Reading is both a silent conversation with a loud speech to one’s soul. Do not look at books as pain, but as a gift.
While reading books on management, self-development and how to make the first million dollars, don’t exterminate and put to burial books on literature, history and culture. How can we expect a manager of people to understand the pangs of hunger, life in an orphanage or abject poverty, if they haven’t read Dickens; or how can any manager appreciate loyalty and betrayal, if they haven’t read history. We fail our lives when we let loose books. By reading excessively and voraciously we provide fertility to our thinking minds. Literature is mostly educative, both for the temporal world and the Hereafter.
The habit of reading beyond economic reasons needs to be revived. Managers at workplace must ‘invest’ time in inviting their colleagues to its many benefits. But for such a thing to happen, the manager himself has to be a well-read person. In today’s corporate world it is actually ‘necessary’ not to talk anything other than balance sheet(s) or P&L account. When the importance of the balances in bank accounts exceeds the boundaries of socially acceptable behaviour, that’s when the decay in society begins.
The writer is a banker and freelance contributor