Seeking Answers

One day a few months ago, as I pulled out lentils, tomatoes, onions and ginger from various hiding places in the kitchen, I glanced at the clock and saw I didn’t have much time to make our lunches for the day and get ready before leaving for work. I seriously considered cutting corners – and one of the easiest, and seemingly obvious, steps to skip was the one where you look for non-daal objects in the daal.

I have been taught to pour daal out onto a plate after measuring it, to sift through and make sure there are no pebbles or rocks which can’t be washed away while cleaning and soaking it. I’d been doing it for years now, and never found anything worth noting. So I almost didn’t bother.

Then for whatever unfathomable reason – force of habit probably – I went ahead and did it anyway. And guess what. I found a pebble. Then a couple more. For the first time since I began cooking a few years ago, I actually found something kaala (black) in the daal! I had a little Good thing I checked! moment, and carried on making the daal. As I continued, something in my mind clicked into place, a larger Aha! moment. This act of pouring the daal out onto a plate and moving my fingers randomly through it had always seemed like an extra step, a waste of precious few seconds, a nuisance in the process of actually cooking the meal. Now, though, it felt like just as necessary a part of the recipe as washing the daal, or cutting up the onions and tomatoes, or the list of ingredients itself. I don’t think twice about it anymore.

As the day wore on, I thought about how many other things I grumble about having to do on a regular basis, because I can’t see why I have to do them. It also reminded me of how many things I was often unable to do without knowing why I couldn’t. I don’t know about you, but growing up in our house, my brother and I were constantly subjected to, “Don’t jingle your keys!”, “Don’t whistle!”, “Don’t use scissors at night!”, “Don’t leave your shoes off on opposite sides!” These are probably some of the more tame admonishments (did anyone else get, “Don’t call after someone as they’re leaving the house!”?), and we could never really understand why it was such a big deal to do any of these things. Our parents could never really explain either. My dad’s consistent answer was, “We may not know the reason now, but our elders have said these things to us – they must have had a good reason.”

I really had to take a step back and think for a moment about how much we have ritualized the daily practices of our lives. We do things blindly, unquestioningly, leaving the reason of it to ancestors whose world and society was vastly different from our own. While what my dad said has its merits, as I’ve grown to realize, it’s also important to ask questions about why we do what we do. Ask the questions, seek out the answers, and then base your future behavior on your answers.

This practice is of great importance in the business world – constantly reviewing business processes, identifying best practices, changing software and procedures, and so on. Innovation can’t exist without people asking whether what we have now is good enough, or if there’s something better. What I tend to forget about, though, and I think most people do as well, are the times when at the end of a line of questioning, the answer is that the status quo is just fine. We expect that things should always be moving forward in some way, progressing – modernizing. It’s unusual, considering how much technology and culture has changed, to decide that something should remain just the way it is.

It works the same way when it comes to religion and/or spirituality. It’s vital to ask questions about the practices handed down to us – whether we inherit religious practices from our parents or family, or because we adopt a different set of practices that comes with its own leader or instructor. Blind faith has its place, but what brings us to that place of blind faith? It’s so important to ask why we engage in certain acts in order to prevent meaningful practices from devolving into empty rituals. Question everything!

However…make sure to follow through on questioning. Too often our generation gives up when the answers aren’t obvious, and doesn’t make enough effort to track those answers down. We assume that if the answer is not easily accessible, it must not exist. Other times, we discard practices solely because they have existed for many generations, so we assume they must be outdated, without taking the time to analyze them in the context of our own lives.

Too often in my own life, I am quick to remove certain ideas or behaviors if I can’t explain them satisfactorily enough in a short enough amount of time. I have regretted this behavior at times, when I realize their importance only after they are missing from my life – or when alternatives just don’t pan out as well as I expect them to. Recognizing emptiness, inefficiency, and even waste as a result of certain behaviors in my life has taught me the importance of asking questions about everything I engage in and believe to be true. Incidents like this one, though, have taught me that seeking answers is also a personal responsibility just as important as asking the questions in the first place. It’s not enough to toss a question out into the universe and wait around to see what happens. Especially when it is a question of one’s personal growth, or contribution to one’s surroundings, it’s nothing short of irresponsible to not work for the answer yourself!

I’m sometimes still surprised that all of this resulted from a rushed morning of making daal. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t still tempted at times to skip that step – but, let’s take it one personal epiphany at a time.

ਦਾਲ – daal – in Punjabi, it means both lentils in their raw/uncooked form, and a traditional north Indian dish, a type of lentil ‘soup’, if you will, cooked with some combination of the lentils, tomatoes, onions, garlic, ginger, spices, and so on. A staple of Punjabi diets!

The Monkey Experiment – which had me slackjawed in awe and I thought confirmed everything I think about this topic. Though it turned out not to be the fabled version we hear in business presentations, the original experiment is still interesting!


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