Monday, March 30, 2009

Review - Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families - Part 1

"Happy families are all alike; Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." - Leo Tolstoy

Stephen Covey in his book 'Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families' tries to teach the framework for developing such happy and beautiful family culture.

What is beautiful family culture?  It is a nurturing culture where family memebers deeply, sincerely and genuinely enjoy being together, where they have a sense of shared beliefs and values, where they act and interact in ways that really work. And building such family is no easy work. It takes a lot of time and when it is happening the progress might not be visible outside. The seven habits framework can be used this way to develop that 'we' culture in a family. 

Habit 1# Be Proactive: Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response, In our response lies our growth and happiness. The growth in any family begins with the recognition of this great truth that we can choose our response. We can use our four uniquely human gifts, self-awareness (to step back and observe our own behaviour), conscience (which tells us what is right), imagination (to imagine what we want to do) and independent will (the power to take action) to choose a proactive response which would help us reach our ends. We can use our fifth gift called 'humour' effectively in such situations. 

He introduces a concept called 'Emotional Bank Account' which is the trust level we have with our family members. The more the balance, the easier it is to have a happy family. At any time the balance of the trust in the account determines how well we can communicate and solve problems with another person. The emotional bank account can be built by loving unconditionally, being kind (doing little things, saying please thank you etc) , apologizing when wrong , by being loyal to those who are not present and most importantly by making and keeping promises. We also need to forgive the mistakes - You will always be a victim unless you forgive.  All these deposits are based on the primary laws of love namely 
  • Acceptance rather than rejection
  • Understanding rather than judgement
  • participation rather than manipulation
These laws are the foundation of a beautiful family culture and if family is a place where these are followed and the environment is loving, then we encourage obedience to primary laws of life such as honesty, responsibility, integrity and service. 

Many people who have never recieved unconditional love and have never developed a sense of intrinsic worth struggle all their lives for approval and recognition. To compensate for the impoverished, empty, hollow feeling they have inside, they borrow strength from a position of power, status, money, posessions, credentials or reputation. They often become very narcisstic, interpreting everything personally. And their behaviour is so distasteful that others reject them throwing fuel on the fire. What would happen if, rather than labelling them, you were to love unconditionally instead? As Goethe said "Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he should be, and he will become as he can and should be." The laws of love affirm the basic worth of the individual, now they are free to develop their own strengths rather than worry about proving their worth. 

Habit 2# Begin with the end in mind: Most relationship problems come due to lack of proper communication and different expectations. So the best way to overcome this is to have a common mission statement of what their family means, how do they plan to resolve issues and other things. So basically explore what family means to them, create a mission statement and use it as a compass to guide the family through trials and tribulations. It would work only if everyone is involved and given sufficient time to work on it and it is really followed i.e dont announce it, dont rush it and dont ignore it. 

We stand at crossroads, each minute, each hour, each day, making choices. We choose the thoughts we allow our mind to think, the passions we allow ourselves to feel and actions we allow ourselves to perform. Each choice is made of the context of whatever value system we've selected to govern our lives. In selected the value system, we have made the most important choice we will ever make. - Benjamin Franklin 

In the same way, the challenge of creating a family mission statement will drive you to do the inner work to have the vision and values of a family clear and thats why it is so important. 

Habit 3# Put First Things First: We know that happiness in family is more important than other things, we need to make sure we put it first. When there are so many sources of influence to the family - peers, tv, movies, it is easy for our conscience to become disoriented, the moral compass is thrown off. Hence he argues that we should steer the family or it will go where the river takes us. And the key to successful steering of the family is to be intentional about the family rituals. So you should commit to a weekly family time and also one on one bonding time between the members of the family. This will increase the trust level between each of them and they will be able to open up. The relationship grows. One-on-one bonding times give you the opportunity to build the relationship, the emotional bank account, so that you can teach. Without the relationship, the feeling would be " I dont care how much you know, until i know how much you care." To sum it up, this can only work if family is made a real priority. 
Okay now, I know what you're going to hear from people is "We dont have time." But if you dont have time for one night or atleast one hour during the week where everybody can come together as a family, then the family is not a priority. - Oprah Winfrey. 

This post is becoming very big so I will write about the remaining habits in the next post. 

Friday, March 20, 2009

Review - Waiting For The Mahatma

I have recently read the book 'Waiting For The Mahatma' written by R.K Narayan. It transports you to India in 1940s when the freedom movement was gathering steam. The book is written through the words of a young boy Sriram, who lost his parents and is brought up by his grand mother. It is about how he falls in love with an orphan girl, Bharathi, whose father is killed in the non-cooperation movement. She is brought up by Gandhi and grows with his values instilled in her. When Sriram asks her to marry him, she says that it can happen only with the permission of the Mahatma. The book is about what all Sriram has to go through before he secures the permission of Mahatma to marry. 

The story starts with Sriram being given a pass book with all his pension money being given to him on his twentieth birthday and he revels in the newly gained freedom. It describes the fictional town Malgudi, which R.K Narayanan has used in many of his stories. 
Sriram sees Bharathi when she collects funds for the Mahatma's tour of Malgudi and then he attends the meeting to see her again. Here he is introduced to the philosophies of Mahatma.. He is inducted into the camp and while cursing the lack of the luxuries in his home, slowly becomes used to them. The dialogues with Mahathma will make the reader understand his philosophy and the human touch of Mahatma. 

The author captures the details of how people joined the national movement and how they tried to participate through Sriram and his work for Quit India Movement. When Bharathi goes to jail, who guided him till then, is faced with an identity crisis and  joins the Indian National Army of Jagdish Chandra Bose and due to the activities he does then, he is jailed.

He comes out of the jail to a free India. Here the author portrays the horrors after the partion and how Gandhi has helped to stabilize the society with his fasts and marches in Calcutta and Bihar.  The story ends with Mahatma being shot dead by Nathuram Godse, but not before he okays the marriage of Sriram and Bharathi.. 

As we read through we understand the the identity crisis of Sriram to how he matures under the guidance of Bharathi and Mahatma to a freedom fighter.  It also honestly portrays the Indian national movement and how Mahatma influence people with his love an compassion and how he touched the lives of people whom he knew. The tender feelings of Sriram and Bharathi and their desperation to get married is also well portrayed. 

If you like to read the book, get it right here from amazon.