For a moment, let’s go back to January 2020, in fact 1st January 2020. People across the globe had plans, work and personal, for the year that was yet to unfold before them. In that moment had someone even cautioned them that the rest of the year, the entire world will be forced to stay indoors, will have to work from home, study from home, avoid travel or even visiting friends within the city boundaries, get married on Zoom, have no house help, and that it would stay that way for time unknown, no one would have even for a millisecond thought that such a scenario would be anything close to reality. But the last five months have shown us that those situations weren’t very far from reality.
As we learn to survive through this crisis, and as some would say an opportunity, certain questions appear before us - How can you equip yourself for the future? How can you be better equipped to do more? Everyday, how do you equip yourself to become stronger? Asking such questions and finding answers within, distinct personalities yet united by their outlook towards crisis, success and gratitude, Ajay Piramal, Chairman of Piramal Group and Radhanath Swami, activist, author and monk, engage in an invigorating fireside chat during the closing keynote of People Matters TechHR India 2020.
The two incredibly successful and serene individuals discussed how the human race has stood the test of time through a multitude of life-changing events in the past, the perspective of focusing on what we have vs. what’s lost, and building resilience to tide through the rough waves unleashed by COVID-19.
Perception drives the future
"Rather than worrying about what can happen in the future, focus on what you can do in the current circumstances."
Reflecting on the months gone by that have caused a significant shift in how the world functions, Mr. Piramal and Swamiji together emphasized the importance of realigning our thoughts with the present and recognizing that we have is what matters.
Encouraging everyone to focus on what’s important, Swamiji shared, “When challenging times, difficult emotions or tough thoughts come forth, we can often lose sight of what’s important, and in such times it's critical to build resilience to survive and thrive.”
Crisis comes with its share of challenges and opportunities, however, how we perceive it as an individual, as a leader, as an organization is what defines how the future will unfold. "In crisis we are in a situation where there is the maximum opportunity to become creative and think out of the box," suggests Radhanath Swami. “This helps understand how we can adjust ourselves to really move forward.”
Mr. Piramal recommends focusing on securing your present and strongly believes that whoever survives today, will come out stronger. Citing how personal and professional challenges led to the Piramal Group exploring industries beyond their traditional textile empire, he states that it was in crisis that they happened to tap into this opportunity, “Had it not been for the crisis, we would probably have not looked at a newer industry.”
This ability to think of exploring newer avenues and untapped paths cements resilience in humans as they survive one crisis after another. “We are all vulnerable. Nothing lasts forever. So one must do their best. If we move forward, with that we will never give up or lose hope or lose enthusiasm. We must adjust ourselves to the circumstances to be the best we can be.”
Translating a teaching from his Guru, Swami Prabhupada, Radhanath Swami shared, “A person’s greatness is estimated by how he responds to testing circumstances.”
He states that history is evidence enough that greatness comes by pursuing persistent enthusiasm in the face of unfavourable circumstances, even when everything seems impossible.
“A person is faced with two options when confronted with a challenge - lose hope and give up or have faith.” Much like having a compass while sailing, sometimes one may come across a bright sunny day and smooth waters, but there will also likely be times when one is faced with unfavourable conditions, rough tides. The focus must remain to adjust in a manner to be able to keep moving forward in the face of all challenges.
“Success is about going failure after failure after failure, without losing one’s enthusiasm to succeed,” highlights Swamiji. He believes that every human has this ability. “It’s just a matter of our perception of a situation and positive thinking.”
A brilliant mind, a grateful soul
A guiding mantra shared by Mr. Piramal during the session was, “The business can only be as strong as you are.” Staying strong and having the conviction to move past the emerging challenges is a prerequisite to be able to move forward in the face of adversity. "Our duty today should be to just keep going and emerge stronger."
Once such action is initiated, there are two possible consequences, things will either work out or they won’t. Radhanath Swami brings about an interesting perspective on human tendency here, “If things go our way, we become arrogant, if things don’t go our way we become depressed.” This is where we need to instil gratitude.
“Our life is full of gifts, and we need to be grateful,” reckons Radhanath Swami.
"We can be brilliant in our minds and with our resources, but we must recognize our gifts and adjust ourselves to circumstances to be the best we can be."
When one becomes successful, he/she/they tend to forget humility and gratefulness, that’s the time when one must remember gratitude even more, urges Mr. Piramal. Affirming to the above, Swamiji shared, “Gratitude can inspire humility. It is a sign of strength and it gives us courage, it protects us from being an exploitor. We feel like caretakers of the universe.”
How can we build resilience to weather crises
"From the perspective of progressing towards real fulfillment and purpose in life, oftentimes success is a greater challenge than failure. We should not be prisoners of our success," believes Radhanath Swami.
On being asked how can one work on building resilience and character to remain undettered as we face crisis, Swamiji suggested, “It’s not just something that happens. It’s something we have to value, and we have to pursue, with intelligence, with direction, with determination.”
“You have to prepare, you have to train, you have to practice. When we are prepared and then challenges come before us, we know how to respond, we are ready to respond.” He recommends four cornerstones to build resilience, and in effect a character to weather the crises one is bound to face in life:
- Sadhana: Put some time aside everyday to feed, nourish and strengthen your heart and soul. “Our moral and spiritual character needs to be nourished. If we don’t nourish it, it will certainly be compromised and be vulnerable to destruction.” Meditation, suggests Swamiji, is a great way to nurture one's soul.
- Satsang: Surround yourself with people who inspire you. Swamiji emphasizes on being with people who exhibit positive thought and perspective, people who enlighten you. "We need to have positive people around ourselves to not succumb to the negativity around"
- Seva: The greatest joy to the heart, says Swamiji, is how we can be an instrument of love to make others happy. “All the scriptures have one common purpose - Om Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah - We want all beings to be happy.”
- Sadachara: Sadachara focuses on living with character and compassion. “We grow and help others grow. That’s something everyone can do if they choose they do so.”
While the above cornerstones help build a strong foundation to become resilient, it is ultimately continuous practice and building of character that empowers humans to conquer challenges and move forward towards growth, emerging stronger.
Remembering all the adversities that the world has seen in the past, beginning from the early 1900s - The Spanish flu, World War I, Russian Revolution, The Great Depression, and World War II, among others - Mr. Piramal emphasized that having faced such difficult times, the world emerged as a stronger and better place. Taking cue from what the human race has already overcome, he concurs, “The world has seen many difficult times, this too will pass.”