Once when I was home visiting my family in Marin, California, I went for a hike with my old friend Todd from high school. We stopped to eat mandarin oranges on top of a grassy hill looking hometown, just like the hills you in the picture above. I asked Todd, a naturalist and environmentalist, what I should do with my orange peels. I had grown up throwing them in the bushes in situations like these, but had more recently heard that this could be bad for environment.
“Well, there are a lot of ways to do things,” he first said patiently. He went on to talk about the different ways you could dispose of the orange peel, and why. But not with judgement, not with a hierarchy of “best” and “worst” ways, just simply telling me. I had to really push him to finally tell me what he, personally, would do with the peels.
This response still sticks with me, not only because I realized how freaking lucky all Todd’s students were to have learned about the outdoors from him, but also because it made me realize how much attention I give to identifing the “best” or “worst” ways of doing things, and spouting them out until everyone is deaf around me. “This is the way you prepare garlic,” or, “That is not the best way to collect data on gender-sensitive transport issues,” or, “Kentucky fried chicken is better than McDonalds here.” I live a glamorous life, I know.
While I see it’s important to create hierarchies (it is the essence of what I do professionally), I can also see how it can imply judgement, or worse shame to those who don’t follow every “best” way of doing things. Because, as Todd correctly and succinctly pointed out, there are in fact many, many ways to do things.
Fast forward to my life in India where getting everyday things in my personal and professional life are all consuming. Especially in my first months here, I would get frustrated by things being done in ways less efficient than I’m used to, or at a slower pace. Or as I would sometimes put it, “You can’t get anything <bleep> done around here!” I continuously compared my surroundings to things tens of thousands of miles away, which was often not helpful to anyone, particularly myself. While I don’t think you’ve seen the last of my obsession for efficiency in my work and life, I can still strive for less judgement in my pursuit of it.
This attitude has grown in both my personal and professional life. It breaks things down more obviously into two categories: things that I can help, and things that I can’t. While I can help some things run better, particularly at work, I want it to be done in a motivating and helpful way, not through shameful comparisons or impossible expectations. With so much done differently around here, you have to embrace and manuever with what you have, even if on some days all you have is just a bunch of mud, rain, and an asshole rickshaw driver.