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Archive for February, 2018

Man’s Search for Meaning – Book 9 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on February 27, 2018

“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” – Nietzsche

Above quote is the refrain of the entire book. Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning is considered as one of the most important books written in last century. For such a short book, it carries so much weight. This review can not do justice to what the author has gone through and how immense his contribution is to the millions around the world with his pioneering work. Viktor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist and neurologist, was interned in a number of concentration camps during World War II, including the infamous Auschwitz. His parents and young wife were also interned, though Frankl was the only member of his family who survived long enough to see freedom. Man’s Search for Meaning is, in part, a memoir of this period.

51w6zAgrzTL._SX313_BO1,204,203,200_For a book with just 150 odd pages, what makes this book great is author’s perspective. One can only marvel at the way Frankl has integrated his own highly traumatic experiences with the analysis and understanding of the psychological dynamics of a concentration camps. The book opens with Frankl’s entry into Auschwitz. Those who are familiar with books on concentration camp can guess what follows next. Frankl and thousands of other prisoners are subjected to an endless process of degradation and dehumanization by the camp’s staff. All the inmates are stripped of their freedom, possessions, body hair and even their names. They are no longer recognized as human beings. They are merely numbers; just a primitive, naked form of existence. As Frankl’s hopes and illusions are cut down one by one, he starts reflecting on his situation.

I almost felt bewildered with Frankl’s sense of objective curiosity amidst the suffering and humiliation. Having been in a camp when matters of life and death was always hanging by a slender thread, he is gripped by a grim sense of humour. Instead of succumbing to hopelessness, Frankl starts making jokes. It’s more like a scientist observing an experiment with complete detachment from his pain. He finds it miraculous how his body managed to carry on despite being subjected to a perilous combination of exhaustion, starvation, forced labour, sleep deprivation, filth, and sub-zero weather. It is so intriguing to read Frankl’s description of psychological factors inside a camp.

The first section of the book deals with camp suffering and finally, Frankl’s liberation at the hands of American soldiers. The second half of the book talks about Frankl’s theory of Logotherapy. From the insights he developed in concentration camps, he offers a new model of the human psyche, which is in complete contrast to what Freud, Jung and Adler had to say. If Freud theorises that humans are driven by a will to pleasure then Adler talked about humans’ need to be driven by a will to power but Frankl emphasized upon “will to meaning”. He says,

“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life..”

Frankl puts across his theory that though man is limited in many ways – biologically, socially, psychologically – but holds that his observations in German concentration camps provide evidence to “the unexpected extent to which man is capable of defying and braving even the worst conditions conceivable.” Many other accounts of concentration camps corroborate his experiences; tales of incredible kindness, strength, and integrity in the most horrific of environments.

There is so much one can gain from this book. It would take pages to jot down the learning one can distil from “Man’s search of meaning”. I will try to mention a few important ones, though each one of them deserves thorough description.

  • It is an acceptance of the situation, with a solid future goal that makes life as bearable as it possibly could be.

  • You may not have a choice in the experiences you encounter in life, but you have a choice in how you react to them.

  • You are capable of doing much more than you think

  • No man should judge unless he asks himself in absolute honesty whether in a similar situation he might not have done the same.

  • A sense of humor can get you through tough times.

  • You can resist your environment’s influence.

  • Don’t make success your goal because you’ll never attain it.

  • The salvation of man is through love and in love.

I will quote some wonderful passages from the book:-

Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue and it only does so as an I intended side effect  of ones personal dedication to a cause greater than ones self or as a by-product of ones surrender to a person other than ones self”.

I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way – an honourable way – in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment.

“Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answers to its problems and to fulfill the tasks it constantly sets for each individual. These tasks, and therefore the meaning of life, differ from man to man, and from moment to moment to moment. Thus it is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way.”

“…the damage to their inner selves was less. They were able to retreat from their terrible surroundings to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom. Only in this way can one explain the apparent paradox that some prisoners of less hardy make-up often seemed to survive camp life better than did those of robust nature.”

“the generous and heroic actions of a minority offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing, the last of human freedoms, to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life – daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfil the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.

No man and no destiny can be compared with any other man or any other destiny.

The medical men among us learned first of all: “Textbooks tell lies!” Somewhere it is said that man cannot exist without sleep for more than a stated number of hours. Quite wrong! I had been convinced that there were certain things I just could not do: I could not sleep without this or I could not live with that or the other. The first night in Auschwitz we slept in beds which were constructed in tiers. On each tier (measuring about six-and-a-half to eight feet) slept nine men, directly on the boards. Two blankets were shared by each nine men.

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way.

You may not have a choice in your circumstances and environment. But you always have a choice in how you react to those imposed upon you.

If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.

Logotherapy bases its technique called “paradoxical intention” on the twofold fact that fear brings about that which one is afraid of, and that hyper-intention makes impossible what one wishes […] In this approach the phobic patient is invited to intend, even if only for a moment, precisely that which he fears.

 “…there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become a plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become moulded into the form of a typical inmate.”

Man’s Search for Meaning is a great read for people who are looking to reflect upon the content and direction of their life. It is a book full of genuine positivity. Viktor Frankl provides so much hope that it’s impossible to not be uplifted by his story, and that of his view of our ability to rise above the situation and maintain our own humanity and meaning. And if you have a why for life you can weather any storm; what’s the why for your life? Book leaves me pondering, “What does my life mean to me?”

Happy Reading, folks. Cheers.

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The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers- Book 8 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on February 24, 2018

After finishing the Two Towers, I’d like to start off by saying that I’m waiting to re-watch this series all over again after 15 years or so. I found this book as exciting and much more detailed than the Fellowship of the Ring.  It has a rich collection of lore and depth. Book is split into two distinct parts. The first part features Aragorn, Gimli & Legolas and at some times Pippin and Merry and the second part centering on how Frodo and Sam fare. Both tracks of the book have its own appeal. With the Aragorn & Co. Track, it feels more like a mass event having numerous characters, strategies, plans, discussions etc whereas with the Frodo and Sam, it feels much more linear. You can experience feelings and journey of two people rather than the goings on of a large group.  The hobbit track is more intimate and dark. You feel more for these two as you know they are carrying the most dangerous thing in the world to the most evil place on the planet in a journey fraught with not just physical but psychological damage as well with a lecherous, nasty companion. It is more intimate.

41cnYEiew3L._SX304_BO1,204,203,200_Somehow I have developed a respect for this series mainly because of the depth of each of the character and the way Tolkien has visualized middle earth. It is sheer brilliance of the author that in one chapter alone you find more depth than you find in most 300 page novels.

At times, The Two Towers can be confusing since the names feel so similar but then looking at the positive side, it forces you to go back once in a while and focus more. The second book of the trilogy has more instances of day-to-day events which may appear like taking pace off the story but then you wouldn’t want it any other way simply because of the richness of the text. Also during that slow phase, new languages and histories are introduced for new characters. The Ents,for example, have their own language (which you hear at times), have their own songs, and have a troubling love story to boot. Additionally, they are pretty badass particularly when Treebeard and the other Ents decide to attack Isengard. You couldn’t help but cheer for them.

As for the movie version, from what I remember there were few digressions. For instance, I felt disappointed with the speed with which the Battle of Helm’s Deep was done. That was such a short passage, and I was expecting a totally amazing fight sequence. So that let me down just a little. Then there was unnecessary battle with orcs and warg wolves in the movie just to enhance a subplot between Aragorn and Eowyn Also, in the book Faramir is a great character having kindness, strength and integrity but in the movie he is shown a more like his brother Boromir who perished at the end of the first instalment. I can recall few more examples like how the Ents went to the war was totally incorrect in the movie. Also throughout the book, the equation between Frodo and Sam was cordial and motivating but in movie, things were shown slightly differently. Not to mention that Frodo is so much stronger in the books than the films.  They turn him into a weakling as well. The characters are so great and unique.  There was no need to change them. So, in a way Peter Jackson took quite a few liberties while making the films and movie version is not exactly faithful to the book.

It is an epic fantasy that has earned that classification.  Occasionally it can be difficult to get though and some of the sentences will need to be reread a couple times because of the multitude of the characters, route names, geographical details and bit of poetry etc but if you can get through it, you will be glad you did. With all this depth and history, you can’t help but get sucked into the story.  What makes Lord of the Rings so incredible is the way it engages you. It takes you to a totally different realm. The vividness of the trilogy allows you to paint the picture of what the characters are going through. It is a powerfully thematic, thrilling adventure that is absolutely worth your time.

Grabbing the final one of the trilogy. Happy reading, folks. Cheers.

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Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds- Book 7 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on February 9, 2018

A person is intelligent; people are stupid. Whoever once said that must have been referring to stock market manias. It’s incredible and disconcerting fact that, although first published in 1841, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles MacKay describes trends and manias that are as relevant today as they were back then. Some things never change especially basic human nature. Dimension and magnitude may differ but basic traits remain the same. This 178 year old book is still just as timely as the day it was written. Key in the search words- stock market bubbles in Google, and almost all the resulting article will refer to this book. The relevance of this book transcends time and space barrier.

Often cited as the best book ever written about market psychology, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and162120 the Madness of Crowds includes Charles Mackay’s account of the three infamous financial manias – John Law’s Mississipi Scheme, the South Sea Bubble, and Tulipomania. These historic episodes confirm what all modern day investors know and yet often succumb to, that greed and fear have always been the driving forces of financial markets, and, furthermore, that being sensible and clever is no defence against the mesmeric allure of a popular craze with the wind behind it. Though the author had obvious benefit of hindsight, he has produced a record that is at once a deep accurate depiction of people psychology, herd mentality and a gripping historical document. We might have advanced by leaps and bounds in every sphere of life and yet the basic driving force of greed and fear retains its ubiquitous stronghold over we mortals.

The author, Charles Mackay (1812-1889), was a Scottish journalist and author.  This monumental book is heavily-researched and details historical anecdotes of the pitfalls of group behaviour. Throughout, he focuses on repeated episodes when entire societies got caught up in drummed up irrational hysterias and behaved as if the laws of science or economics had been temporarily suspended. As it happens, in every case, hope overcame reason, as folks labored under the delusion that this time was somehow different (sounds familiar, no?), that their form of cultural madness was unique and actually made sense. Modern social psychologists and economists have taken examples from this book to describe the dysfunctions of following the “Crowd”. That perpetual boom to bust behaviour in equity market is neatly demonstrated in the book.

The first story of the Mississippi Scheme details the life of John Law – the Scottish economist, banker, adventurer, murderer, royal advisor and exile who in 1716 established the Banque Generale, a state chartered bank with the power to issue unbacked paper currency. He thought that increasing the money in circulation would benefit commerce and like it always happens, his scheme was a spectacular success but a short lived one. Mr. Law also created Mississippi Company, a French colony trading precious metals. To kick-start the operation, he needed funds for which he issued shares and low-interest government bonds. Soon enough, shares in Mississippi went sky high as people were drawn to the lure of trading in gold and silver. A mania spread throughout the country as people of all classes jostled to get their names on the share register. The craze was such that Law was forced to issue more bank notes causing extreme inflation. As the craze went on, the bubble became unsustainable and burst. The company collapsed plunging France into an economic crisis. The scheme wasn’t bad as such but it was the irrational speculation of the people that led to the inflated price and ultimate collapse.

 … It was remarked at this time that Paris had never before been so full of objects of elegance and luxury. Statues, pictures, and tapestries were imported in great quantities from foreign countries, and found a ready market.

All those pretty trifles in the way of furniture and ornament which the French excel in manufacturing were no longer the exclusive playthings of the aristocracy, but were to be found in abundance in the houses of traders and the middle classes in general. Jewellery of the most costly description was brought to Paris as the most favourable mart;”…

The second story of South Sea Bubble is almost of similar shade. However, it took place in Britain and their lawmakers handled it in a better manner than their French royalty. Tulipmania, on the other hand feels almost unbelievable with stories like how Dutch people would sell their entire estate to convert it into a few Tulip bulbs believing the latter to be more precious than anything at their disposal. There is this funny anecdote of a sailor who ate a prize tulip bulb with his herring breakfast thinking it to be an onion and spent months in jail as a result.

People are prone to delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first. We see one nation suddenly seized, from its highest to its lowest members, with a fierce desire of military glory; another as suddenly becoming crazed upon a religious scruple; and neither of them recovering its senses until it has shed rivers of blood and sowed a harvest of groans and tears, to be reaped by its posterity.” …..

Looking closely, you will find a common thread in each mania. The initial proposition seems almost sensible with the common theme of new proposal heralded as a way to end poverty and allow anyone to make money without actually doing any hard work; and how each mania distorts the economy such that productive industries are damaged by the rush of capital to speculation. But we humans are too greedy to be stopped. Whether its Y2K bubble or 2008 financial crisis, we are still the same. Every few years/decades, we will witness the next boom and bout of collective madness. Who knows? The thing about manias is that it is hard to spot them until they are well underway. As an investor, our primary goal is to notice when this herd mentality occurs and to avoid being swept up in the “madness” that can often have disastrous results. Easier said than done but….

I will finish this must read book with the most wonderful quote “… millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one “ Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.”

Happy reading, folks.  Onto the 8th. Cheers.

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TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking- Book 6 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on February 5, 2018

First, a confession. I am terrible at public speaking and totally petrified by the daunting but unavoidable prospect of making a passionate speech to a half eager, half yawning audience. It would fill up several pages if I start recounting how my previous attempts of public speaking had my legs wobbling, tongue swirling with rapid-fire ejaculation of gibberish words and confusion writ large on the faces of attentive listeners and not to forget; those dubious words of “tu acha bola”/ “you did good…” from my sincere friends! Yeah, right; as if I didn’t know! Phew! I did everything within my power to stay away from any public speaking platforms and look at the irony, somehow I have ended up in a profession/place where I need to be more vocal! Never mind…

ted-talksComing to the book, it’s been written by Chris Anderson, TED Curator. You all must have heard of TED talks, haven’t you? Just to give you a brief, since its beginning in 1984 as an annual Technology, Education, and Design conference, TED has evolved into a global phenomenon, inviting experts in all fields to present what TED calls “Ideas worth spreading.” The organization has grown and expanded like anything and they have a massive fan following. Their 18-minute (or shorter) talks are hugely popular, so much that they rack up more than 1 billion views each year. These TED Talks have become the pinnacle of public speaking.

This is not a one time read. For someone like me who needs to be better at this essential and amazing skill of public speaking, this book is more like a reference point which needs to be visited every now and then. According to the author, there is no one way to give a great talk and that’s because a key part of the appeal of a great talk is its freshness. He also acknowledges that almost everyone has experienced the fear of public speaking (partly due to the fear of reputation damage). He stresses the need to be yourself – to be authentic. This book is more about tools rather than rules.

The book is structured into 21 chapters, but those are broken down in five sections which deal with the five aspects of: TED Talk preparation; The Foundation; Talk Tools, Preparation Process; On Stage and Reflection. He explores five core tools in detail: connection, narration, explanation, persuasion and revelation. There’re seven ideas on ending with power (pull back, call to action, personal commitment, values and vision, satisfying encapsulation, narrative symmetry and lyrical inspiration). Book reflects author’s decade of experience dealing with speakers. He covers important topics such as making a personal connection with audiences, explaining complicated subjects to laypeople, priming people to accept counter-intuitive ideas, and cultivating a sense of showmanship. He also addresses aspects of preparation, such as knowing what vocal styles to avoid, planning attire, and managing nervousness. It doesn’t cater solely to communications professionals but is relevant and useful to anyone who wishes to make a mark in public speaking. Chris is very thorough about how to structure an argument and rhetorically present the big idea. One of the most important points for me was to have only one idea per talk. Also the fact that, there need not be one certain method or approach to present a talk. There could be a number of different approaches for different folks and depending upon your strength and passion, anything can fly.

Book consistently harps on the importance of storytelling – to align multiple minds into a shared consciousness. Author urges you to discover what really excites you then show why it matters and flesh out each point with real examples. And to be unexpected and raise curiosity when you deliver your message. Audience empathy is central and jargon is banished with “you can only use the tools that your audience has access to”. Chris also talks about four styles to avoid including: the sales pitch, the ramble, the org bore and the inspiration performance (i.e. “park your ego”). Additionally, there’s a wealth of guidance on what to wear and help with managing nerves. Studded with psychological insights, TED Talks has some interesting material on voice and presence covering voice coaches’ advice on pitch, pace (130-170 words a minute), timbre, tone and prosody.

To sum up, this is a pretty good book providing you with much wider and interesting dimensions of the art of public speaking. The author has presented several examples from the best TED Talks and practical advice from great TED speakers. In all, he references 48 talks, and you can watch all of them in the Official TED Talk Guide Playlist.

Happy reading, folks.  Onto the 7th. Cheers.

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