Sunday, November 30, 2008

Tuesdays With Morrie - Mitch Albom

Is this a book on self help? Yes and No.

This book is the true story of an old professor dying of ALS or motor neuron disease also known as Lou Grehig’s disease. This is a gradually debilitating disease that eats into the body of man, crippling him everyday, every minute and rendering useless, one by one, all parts of the body until the person is completely paralysed and dependant on another, even to turn their head.

While the professor is spending his last few months at home away from the clamour of the city, an old student of the professor, working for a news paper or magazine, chasing money, fame and success, happens, by pure chance, to hear about his old professor and decides to visit him.

When they meet, after many years, the young man opens his eyes, for the first time, with the help of the old professor, to look at life with a new perspective and reevaluates his own life, his priorities and the path he has chosen to tread.

The two of them begin to meet every Tuesday when the old man imparts his views about various matters of life including death. That’s why the book is called Tuesdays With Morrie.

The discussion that follows is actually nothing new (to the reader). It’s the same old thing we have been hearing in the modern times of rat race, about how to live.

Live as if it were your last day today. Prioritize. People, relationships, self and soul… Wealth does not last long. Happy memories do.

Some really precious lessons and values of life have unfortunately been made base, trite, and hackneyed by emails and forwards that tell you with graphic images and stories about how to live, how to stop chasing the wrong things, how to stop for people who matter, the near and dear ones.

If you have already had a fill of all these, you may not be able to appreciate the book much. And then, there are millions of books on self help. The author himself says “America has become a Persian bazaar of self help”.

The story is similar to the story of Monk who sold his Ferrari – an old successful lawyer goes to the Himalayas having thrown away everything and learns the lesson of life. He returns and imparts his learning to a younger lawyer.

This book however, is different as it is based on the real life experiences of two people, a dying professor and his student. There is some sincerity as it comes from a dying man…
The dignified disposition of the professor, his acceptance of death, his gratitude towards his family for being there for him and his perseverance through his misery move you as you read and bring a smile on your face.

As usual, I made notes of some lines and lessons that made so much sense. The lines in Italics are from the book. The lines in regular font that follow are my thoughts about the relevance of these lines.

Accepting the past as past without denying or discarding it...

Tension of opposites. Life is a series of pulls back and forth. You want to do one thing but you are bound to do something else. Something hurts you, yet you know it shouldn’t. you take certain things for granted, even when you know you should never take anything for granted.
The tension of opposites like the pull on a rubber band. And most of us live somewhere
in the middle.
Which side wins?
Love wins. Love always wins.

Death is a great equalizer...

Sometimes you cannot believe what you see. You have to believe what you feel... Closing eyes makes a lot of difference...

A teacher affects eternity. He can never tell where his influence stops... – Henry Adams

Fate succumbs many a species. One alone jeopardizes itself – W H Auden
Very True.

Love each other or perish...

In the beginning of life when we are infants, we need others to survive. In the end when we are dying we need others to survive.
In between, we need others as well...

Don’t let go too soon...but don’t hang on too long...

People wanting to gobble up new things. New car, new piece of property, latest toy, “Guess what I got?”
These people are so hungry for love that they are seeking, accepting substitutes. Embracing material things and expecting a sort of hug back. It never works. You can’t substitute material things for love or for gentleness or tenderness or a sense of comradeship...

If only people realized this, half the shopping malls, all of which, sell the same things to people who don’t need them, would shut down. Bangalore traffic would decrease.

Ignore the lure of advertised values...

Softskills : Confidence, dressing, presentation, how to shake hands, assertiveness, smile please, attitude, grooming…there are a million shops selling them for 5000, 10000 and 20000. I don’t deny that they are values. But they are being advertised because there is money in them. Are there any training institutes that teach you honesty, speaking truth, integrity, contentment, humility, good character? No. Why? These do not fetch money you see.

All the above advertised values are a mere manifestation of a deeper quality that comes from within. Confidence, for example comes from knowledge, experience, skills etc. The institutes can’t help you develop those, because they take years. They only teach you to wear a smile, sit in a certain posture or stand with your chest thrust forward, give a tight handshake, look your interviewer or client straight in the spot between the eye and the nose (just in case you become nervous upon looking him in the eye and help him make a correct assessment of your worth) and pass off for a confidant fellow whether you have the skill, knowledge or not.

My stand is, softskills does not have a fragmentary independent existence. It has meaning only when it is combined with education of the mind and soul.

Wasting life over other peoples’ drama.
People spending so many hours on things that mean absolutely nothing to them personally... Movie stars, supermodels, latest noise about princess Diana or Madonna or a dimwit Malaika Arora. People who did not know O J Simpson surrendered their entire lunch hours watching O J Simpson trial...

Those fellows who just learnt the art of surveying the market for opportunities in some B-school (and the B-schools don’t teach them the distinction between the society and the market... the whole world is one market for them) and those parasites living on dead and decaying matter of human spirit, waiting for another sensibility to die and another weakness to be born, the programmers of the social virus, found a way of making money out of this one too. They started Zoom TV!

Why are we embarrassed by silence? What comfort do we find in all the noise?...

Detachment does not mean you don’t let experiences penetrate you. On the contrary, you let it penetrate you fully. That’s how you are able to leave it.

Agreed. Looking at the same idea from another angle, people chase things and once they get it, they take it for granted and don’t cherish it anymore! House, car, love, friendship!!!

It’s a good book but does not strike me as an outstanding work of wisdom as it would strike other people, mostly westerners (much of the popularity of such works can be attributed to the impact they make on westerners, many of whom prefer domesticating dogs to rearing babies because dogs are cheaper! That should speak volumes about the necessity of such books in the west).
This is perhaps because my encounter with such wisdom has happened many times before. First of all, I am an Indian and have the good fortune of inheriting 5000 years of philosophy even as I come into this world. We Indians grow up assimilating such wisdom without even realising it. Don’t we? How many Harikathas, Bhajans, recitations of the Bhagavadgeetha have I grown up listening to! All of them impart the same learning. And much more than that. Don’t they?

Anyway, read the book and let me know your thoughts.


Sanjiv said...

have a look at the site about books - have you fought over a good book lately?

Sowmya said...

I read the article. :-) We have a book reading club in Bangalore too. I am sure they know better than fighting over books. I must attend one of their meetings sometime.

Niva said...

you prejudiced against the west :) ? :P it shows so blatantly in some of your posts, u seem to have a very rigid stand on certain things when it comes to "west". :). just thought, i would rephrase the quote from the book : "Accepting the West as West without denying or discarding it..." for you :P..
the Italicized and the regular font words tell me to go get my hands on the book and i am going to... :)

Sowmya said...

Hi Niva,


Dont think it is prejudice. I just see things for what they are...A lot of westerners themselves would agree with my observations about them. In fact, the fact about people preferring dogs to children was told to me by a westerner.

I also love the west for certain other things...

And if I were really prejudiced, I would never know about it until after I got over the prejudice . right?:-)