My last couple of weeks in Bangalore taught me a few things about Indians.
Most interestingly, no one in Bangalore appears to know anything about any location more than a few kilometres outside of their current position. They don’t understand maps, nor have they heard of any of the landmarks mentioned as “major”.
This however, is much less of a problem than one might think. Everyone here appears to be used to asking and giving directions. A friend hilariously pointed out that “9 out of 10 people asking for directions in New York are Indians”.
Whenever I want to get somewhere I just call the person at my destination and hand the phone over the auto-rickshaw driver.
And then smile at the subsequent 5 minute conversation.
Now I might think it is a bit crazy, but the Indians apparently think I am crazy for thinking a cup of strong coffee in the evening might keep me up at night. Or that a cold shower in the morning is better than no shower at all.
(You’ll get sick! And then when I do, with any disease – “See! It’s those cold showers!”)
I’ve been collecting these random bits of information – things which people continue to believe despite evidence to the contrary, like:
The stories we tell ourselves
These examples are interesting to me because they make up part of the story we tell ourselves of our lives. That we are being good to our kids by not giving them sugar. And being healthy by not eating saturated fats.
They remind me about how much we live our lives on auto-pilot – acting as we have been born and taught to act – most of the time without even realising.
I love this perfect example, of a woman who used to cut off the corner of her meat before placing it in a baking dish. She never thought about why. Turned out she’d been taught by her mother to do that because her mother’s baking dish was too small to fit the entire piece of meat.
I’ve been of two minds about all this for some time now. Perhaps we just don’t have a choice about running on auto-pilot. Perhaps genetics plays more of a significant role than we would like to admit. Or maybe it’s just that with many significant life decisions, we often don’t get a second chance.
This article about the work of a prominent neuro-scientist certainly put a new spin on all of this for me –
If our sense of control is built on an unreliable account from automatic brain processes, how much control do we really have? Are there thresholds of responsibility, for instance, that can be determined by studying neural circuits?
Woah, hold up.
Now we have a neuroscientist telling us we can’t be responsible for our own actions?
Not quite. He has his own, non-scientific take:
Like generosity and pettiness, like love and suspiciousness, responsibility is what he calls a “strongly emergent” property — a property that, though derived from biological mechanisms, is fundamentally distinct and obeys different laws, as do ice and water.
Moral to this story?
The philosophy and science behind our actions are interesting, for sure. And should continue to be pursued. But they still do not provide us with an excuse for not taking responsibility for our lives.
So until we can be sure, I’m going to keep questioning – asking (and looking) for direction!