Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Two Books - Fiction and Non Fiction - Wait...What?

Two books I have read recently. One is Graeme Macrae Burnet's novel "His Bloody Project: Documents Relating to Roderick Macrae" and the second one is a non fiction written by James E. Ryan, title: "Wait...What? And Life's Other Essential Questions".

I have enjoyed reading both of these well written books.

Graeme Macrae Burnet's novel has good character development, and written such a way as if one is reading a non fiction account of an actual event. I am familiar with Scottish and Irish history, not a whole lot, but some through my other readings in the past. However, this particular novel describes the tragic life of a boy who was brought up in poverty in a remote Scottish village. What surprised me is so much similarities I have found between the central antagonist, the village constable who bullies a poor family and takes advantage of their plight and the rural villages in Bangladesh, where I was familiar with similar characters that used to be known as "Morol", or village leader, and some of them were as horrendous and brutes as the horrific character that Graeme Macrae Burnet written in his novel.

The main character, Roderick, had a tough life, lost his mother during child birth, had a rigid father who didn't know how to show love toward his children. Roderick was a gifted boy, so much so that his school teacher had urged him to pursue higher studies, but Roderick was loyal to his family so he stayed by them. Roderick's observations of injustice that the village constable was causing to his family and others in the village was heart breaking. In the end, the story turns to violence and innocent lives were lost for which Roderick had to pay ultimate price though most possibly, according to her lawyer, Roderick was mentally ill, however, in that time of nineteenth century, it was not easy to prove his case.

James E. Ryan's non fiction book "Wait...What? And Life's Other Essential Questions" is based on the writer's commencement speech at Harvard University where he is the Dean of Graduate School of Education.

The writing is effective as the writer points out several fundamental aspects of life that can help one get most out of his or her life. The very first pointer is to ask good questions without hesitation. It is by asking questions we can understand a true nature of a problem before jumping to a premature conclusion.

The second point that the writer point is to be curious at heart by asking "I Wonder..."? Being curious helps a person learn more about the world, our very existence, the universe and any other similarly perplexing questions. Curiosity is one of the biggest reasons that propelled humanity to its progress at this level I believe. The writer also correctly points out that curiosity leads to empathy. He writes, "Curious people are likely to be healthier, and to experience less anxiety in particular, because they see new situations as an opportunity to learn rather than an opportunity to realise that they don't know enough." The reason I find the writer's point is described well is because he had cited some of his own personal experiences including his search for his biological mother that is heart touching.

The third question that the write points out is "Couldn't we at least...?" - can really be effective as I can attest to this after using it to make my 3 year old son brush his teeth before going to bed. In a situation when things may seem difficult to solve, taking small steps perhaps can be helpful in many settings. Here is a quotation from the book, ""Couldn't we at least....?" is a good way to get unstuck. It is a way to get past disagreement to form some consensus...It's also a way to get started even when you're not entirely sure where you will finish, as in: "Couldn't we at least begin?.....The key to maintaining healthy and productive relationships is consensus...whether in politics, business, marriage, or friendship. Asking "Couldn't we at least agree?" especially in the midst of an argument, is a good way to pause, step back, and look for some areas of agreement."

Coming to negotiation, a middle ground, is difficult these days, as the writer refers to "group polarization" - "When like-minded individuals get together, online or in real life, they tend to reinforce each other's views. They not only increase the strength of each other's convictions, but they often lead each other, intentionally or not, to take even more extreme positions.....Asking "Couldn't we at least agree?" is a way to push back against polarization and extremism, because it is an invitation to find some areas of consensus. If you can find some common ground with others, especially those with different views, you are likely to see the world as a more nuanced place. At the very least, you are less likely to demonize those with whom you disagree."

The fourth question that the writer talks about is "How Can I Help?" - trying to help others is humane. Every human being is going through his or her journey of life, his or her stress from work, family, career, money issues, health, fear, anxiety, etc. Sometime we prejudge a person without knowing the full story. Being proactive and asking the question "How Can I Help?" "You will come to appreciate that.....It is the question that forms the base of all good relationships. It is a question that signals that you care. It signals a willingness to help. But it also signals respect, humility, and likelihood that, in the end, it is you who will be helped just as much." Good point.

The fifth question is "What Truly Matters?" that helps to differentiate between the really important and trivial. Here is a quote: "My only suggestion is that you regularly ask this question - of others, for sure. But more importantly, you should ask this question of yourself, and you should answer it honestly and fearlessly. If you do, this question won't just help you get to the bottom of an issue or a problem. It will also help you get to the heart of your life."

The writer has a last question as a bonus: "And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so?" - human life is full of pain but also of sheer joy and happiness. By being bold, lending helping hands to others, not prejudging anyone, trying to getting into consensus, having empathy and sympathy for others, staying curious at heart forever, knowing the difference between the most important and the trivial matters and being humble can quite possibly lead one to say a resounding yes to the question: "And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so?"

The following sentence by the writer sums it up well: "A sure way to feel beloved yourself is to help others feel the same."