New Delhi Diary-March 2021
The pursuit of the good and beautiful
It was quite a joy to welcome the spring season with a book that I have always wanted to read. Marcus Tullius Cicero’s book, On the Good Life, went well with the expectations of a better year after one traumatised by the COVID-19 pandemic. Cicero, a Roman statesman and one of the first-known philosophers, tells you, without the jargon of philosophy, all about life and its goodness and beauty.
According to Cicero, a good life is one that is full of morality. Now, one has to understand this point of view of those years before the Common Era (BCE) when humankind had hardly formed any opinion about good and bad, forget about philosophical writings to have a life that is purposeful and meaningful.
But Cicero had given to humankind, all those centuries back, everything about morality and the goodness of a purposeful life. And he was very dynamic also in his views. At one point in his life, he happily admitted that his thoughts had undergone drastic changes. In fact, he says that the dynamics of life is such that without changes, nothing good remains good forever.
The broad picture that he presents in the book is that just being good is not good enough. That has to be morally good as well. A perfect moral goodness lands one directly into a world of happiness and contentment. Here, contentment does not mean that one does not do anything after sometime, and feel happy in not doing anything. It means that while one is not unhappy with what one has at any given point of time, but one never stops in the pursuit of all that is good, beautiful and meaningful.
The joy of spring season
The word ‘spring’ itself is full of positivity and hope. Anything associated with ‘spring’ is assumed to be dynamic and progressive. It is in this context that one hails spring season across the globe. This is because spring season is associated with ‘revival’ of life, a fresh lease, after the hardships of winter. Spring comes with a riot of colours, and nature gets decked up in a variety of colours, letting everyone know that everything is fine with the world!
But there are disturbing reports that Delhi and several other parts of the country and elsewhere have had ‘no winter’ this time. Climate change across the globe has wreaked havoc in the last one year. America, Australia, parts of Africa, Siberia and several other regions were ‘afire’ for months. And, recently, in Uttarakhand, snow-slides created havoc in the Chamoli area, killing more than 200 people, and destroying properties, according to one estimate, worth Rs 20,000 lakh.
That was bound to happen. January 2021 was the hottest winter month on this planet. And in India too, according to an IMD report, January 2021 was the hottest month in 62 years, since 1958. The average minimum temperature was 14.78 degree Celsius. As a result, Delhi too had no winter this year! The cold wave that the city normally witnesses, especially for a week or two in January, was altogether missing this time.
Slaves to our habits
Why are we slaves to our habits? We are dictated by our habits, and our habits are what we are. Our very identity is linked to our habits in many ways. For instance, you are known by what you do, mostly. That is to say, if I go to a religious place often, my first identity would be of a religious person. All this and many other insights on habits are given by American journalist, Charles Duhigg, in his book, The Power of Habit.
What are habits and how does one form them? They are a result of four simple steps: Cue, craving, response and reward. The cue triggers the brain to initiate the behaviour. The craving acts as the motivator. And the response to the craving is the actual habit you perform. And, finally, the reward is the end goal of every habit.
Woman: Why don’t you take me out for dinner?
Man: I don’t take married women out for dinner!
Woman: But I am your wife!
Man: Yea, but I make no exceptions!
By P.P. Wangchuk
P .P. Wangchuk is a New Delhi-based editor-at-large, columnist and professional speaker