Unicorns, Stars and Stripes: Recovering From the Shock of November 9 2016

unicorn-flag

About ten days ago, on the eve of US Elections, I went to bed with severe anxiety.

I had lots going through my mind; will the economy collapse, like it did in 2002 and 2007/8 and will I have to lay people off – or conversely, get laid-off myself; will marriage equality be reversed and I won’t be able to get married next year; will my daughter’s rights to choose, in their reproductive years, be snatched away by a lopsided supreme court; will there be public humiliation of my Muslim friends or family in the hands of a McCarthy style tribunal in days to come; how will they treat me – since I carry a Muslim name – but now an atheist, cohabitating with another atheist, and raising two daughters with no religious preference.

All of these heady, very personal thoughts coagulated into bizarre, dystopian dreams and a sleepless night. I woke up with a headache the next morning. My eleven-year old daughter, who had gone to bed at 8 pm last night, woke up confused and asked me, “Daddy, is it true – Hillary lost? What happened? ”

We hugged for a few minutes. The first thing I told her, “it’s going to be ok, baby. We are going to be ok. America is a great country. I have experienced America for 31 year and I know what it’s made of” Even as my heart was heavy with uncertainty, I was doing my fatherly thing, re-assuring her that life is not about to change dramatically.

I went to work like a mechanical drone, back-to-back meetings, and flew to Los Angeles that night for work. For about 7 days, I couldn’t bring myself to watch my comfortable NBC news with Lester Holt.  I felt the mourning of liberal friends on social media – it was a similar howling I had once before, from my family, on the day of my fathers death – somewhat bizarre, yet excruciating in expression. They needed to get their feelings out in the open.

The weekend after the elections, my sister came to visit from Canada, and it was easy to forget everything by wandering around beautiful Boston; she was also shocked. We tried to keep our political discourse to a minimum, and tried to take in the sunshine and fall colors surrounding us.

All throughout the week, I kept racking my brain to think, how could I be so way off in my projections – how did I completely misunderstand the American “way of thinking.”

During the Gore vs. Bush or Kerry vs. Bush elections, there were clear signs; I was actually very doubtful that a biracial man with a Muslim name would ever be President of the United States. But this time, I felt a level of certainty, that I had never felt before.

Early in my life, I lived 15 years in the rural hinterlands of Missouri, the Industrial rustbelt of Ohio, farmlands of Wisconsin and western hills of the mining country of Pennsylvania. I distinctly remember, how I always felt like an outsider there; I could feel people stare at us, as soon as we entered a restaurant – or some folks just moved a few feet away, as you walked by, at the grocery store.

It was only after I moved to Denver, and in Florida, that I felt as if I belonged there. A short tenure in Texas reminded me of the Midwest again – but then I quickly escaped to Massachusetts – the bluest of the blue states!

And of course, there were the 8 years of Obama, the unimaginable passage of Marriage Equality, the possibility of tilting of the Supreme Court.

Altogether, time and space has played a trick on my mind!

I had started to believe in this utopian fantasy of equality and morality. I felt, as if in my lifetime, I would see the transformation of America into an imaginary land of equity and equality.

While things have dramatically improved over thirty years and America, since last week, I have come to accept that there is still ways to go. The better way to think, there will always be the opportunity to improve here.

People may say it’s economic anxiety of the working class poor that drove our election results. But it’s not JUST economics. It’s definitely not one-dimensional. There is race, there is bigotry, there is misogyny, there is homophobia. It’s all kind of mixed together. In a lot of ways, it’s Malcom Gladwells Revisionist History: we voted for a black man twice, we have done our share. It’s time to swing the pendulum back for a while.

As I speak to Shania and Daiyaan today, I remind them of a day in Missouri, thirty years ago a particular landlord told me on the phone, that they didn’t have rentals available – but asked my friend with an American name/accent to come look at an open unit on the same day. I also remind them that when their grandfather, an International scholar, had a “temporary white” card so he could sit in the front of a bus, or drink from “white only” water fountains. That was only sixty years ago.

America has made tremendous progress. But everything is still not yet equal here.

I also remind my daughters, that I have traveled six continents and there is no other place on earth, where liberty and equality is respected more. Period.

America may not be perfect – but it’s better than any other place on earth.

America will always be a work-in-progress.

Thirty years from now, we will see and experience things, that we can’t imagine today. I am more confident of America than ever before.

We may have to put up with some theatrics and melodrama for 4 to 8 years. But if the government over arches and tries to scale back social progress, I know that there will be significant pushback from those 61 million voters who didn’t vote for that level of social change.

In eight years,  Shania will be ready to cast her first vote; the latest, on that day,  there will be another opportunity to swing the pendulum back. She will have that choice. And I expect to be there, to help her make that decision.

In the meantime, we need to remain engaged. When behaviors make us cringe, we need to speak up. When our civil and human rights are questioned or threatened, we need to understand and claim them back.

America is a continuum. A beautiful continuum where we have a lot to add

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When Good Things Happen: November 9 2013

The last four weeks have been some of the most tumultuous times in my life.

After struggling for three years, with dissolving the institution of marriage, the divorce finalized.

I moved from one home to another.

I was offered another “once in a lifetime” chance to join a world-class team to take an organization from “good to great” – the kind of opportunity most people dream about.

Heading  into these four weeks, I was nervous, anxious, worried; I stayed up late thinking about all the possibilities of things going wrong. My analytical mind concocted up linear algorithms of disaster, trauma and tragedy!

Finally, the nail-biting stormy, triple effect night passed, and none of those disasters materialized; this morning, as the sunlight shines down from heaven, I feel stronger, motivated and relieved. The feeling isn’t euphoric – it’s just a “deep breath” moment.

When the lights come down from heaven

I have regained my confidence in the energy of the Universe; good things do happen, when you keep your intentions pure and clean and when you choose to do the right and beautiful thing.

Your expectations do become your experience.

All through my journey, I am grateful for the moral compass of my two beautiful daughters. Every decision I make, every step I take, I have made their safety and  well-being as the center-piece. This centering allows me to think clearly – even if my heart is wondering or my brain is analyzing and criticizing.

I am also grateful for a wonderful, supportive community of friends and family who watch me struggle – never interfering– but keep telling me over and over – “This too shall passyou are making the right decisions”.

Just before the three events took place, I went away to Key West for two days and just walked the streets or sat by the pool trying to re-focus my energy. When quandary overwhelmed me, I called a friend asking for his guidance – specially on this emerging new role; his answer was clear, “Dude, you have trained yourself for this role all your life – why are you thinking so much? Do you think Shania will be happy if you aren’t happy? “  It gave me the clarity of thought at that moment to stop being a worrier!

I remember the evening before the court proceedings, I texted a few friends about being a nervous wreck; they left their work early, and met up for a glass of wine and helped me divert my attention to other things in life.

I Skyped my sister on weekends and unburdened my emerging feelings and anxiety. She patiently listened and encouraged me to keep moving forward and staying focused on the day after – the day when all this drama will be over.

At the end of the day, as I look out to what the Universe has gifted me; my health, my two awesome daughters,  wonderful – supportive friends and family and a truly wonderful career that has availed me possibilities to learn, grow, travel and work with some amazingly talented people. I have re-connected with my spiritual side and found peace in boating, writing, reading, wine and food.

I have so many things to be grateful for.

I watch the Atlantic this morning – the surf on the azure blue sea and wonder about the changing scenery – the clouds appear and disappear in a moment’s notice; as if the sea and the sky are teaching me that same lesson.

Good things do happen, when there are good intentions.

The skies do clear up and the ocean does regain its blue; just have to keep believing in the immense possibilities of the future.

Living with a Benevolent God

Free wallpaper / desktop wallpaper - nature, sunset, by Voetmann

At the age of seven, my childhood priest warned me that, on the Day of Judgment, every grain of wasted rice would return as a snake and devour my head.  Needless to say, instead of comics and Disney characters, many of my dreams were superimposed with different snakes that engulfed my body parts.

Growing up in a hybrid environment – one religious parent and the other of a more liberal bent – my childhood and teenage was packed with religious and cultural rituals and contradictions; however, the basic tunes of religion never stuck a deep chord in my mind. I practiced reading the Holy Quran in Arabic (without much understanding of what I was reading) and prayed before serious exams and on Fridays.

Fast forward about 15 years; at an interview on PBS, a renowned philosopher talks about how he couldn’t imagine his God creating a place like hell. His God is so loving and caring, and makes humans in his own reflection, that hell is not a factor in his world.

From that day onward, I felt an affinity to this point of view and have had a highly skeptical and cynical view on organized religion of churches, mosques and synagogues.

I have fallen in love with a Loving God; a God who cares, forgives, nurtures, nourishes – benevolent and non-interfering. Unlike the one that sits around and constantly watches (with billions of micro cameras) what I am doing and writes down in a big book with a magic marker.

After the birth of our first child, I had a long argument with one of my elders about why children need to be raised with one of the major organized religions.  I don’t want to raise my children with the fear that is so prevalent and practiced in most Abrahamic faiths, where men and women are never equal and God has a vengeful side and lands you in purgatory if you don’t pray umpteen times or don’t cover your head in a particular way.

I am perfectly comfortable if, as an adult, one of our daughters pick a religion that gives them peace of mind. In my world, however, I have chosen not to have priests or intermediaries.

When I am upset or feel treated unfairly, I try to meditate – to come closer to that higher, kinder spirit, I believe, helps me understand both myself and the environment that surrounds me.

I know that all the answers that I seek, will not be revealed with some message – but I seek the jurisprudence to make a fair decision that will not hurt anyone and will seek to build better relationships rather than destroying them. My father had a couple of simple rules; don’t lie and don’t consciously do something that hurts someone else.

When I watch natural disasters, like a Tsunami or an earthquake, it’s easy to believe that God  cannot be sitting up in some space, seven layers above, manipulating the sun and the moon in ways beyond my comprehension – no way could she let these innocent (and mostly God fearing people) be devastated without any rhyme or reason.

When I watch poverty besieged around me in Bangladesh, or abundant prosperity of my own surroundings and realize that very few people have the ability to break out of their own circle of truth and become someone else (other than who they were born), one wonders, why the lottery of life I have won, is different, from the person next to me.

On a lonely plane journey, when the plane suddenly falls into turbulence, I do say a quick prayer. But the prayer is to my non-interfering God – who looks up and smiles and wishes me well; she inspires me to be truthful – not to blame others – or to look for reason in everything.

I close my eyes and take a deep breath. My beautiful God resides all around me; with all of her benevolence and beauty. 

Difficulty with Endings: October 2009

At every step of life, and almost at every school learn many ways to start new things… a new adventure, a new relationship, a new business; very few, if any, has taught us to understand, when an end is near and how to call it quits, gracefully.
It has always amazed me to think why we have such difficulty with endings; it could be our Abrahamic faith views life very discretely, with a distinct beginning and an end, and therefore, why worry about this unpleasant ending scenario? Or, simply, it could be the western inclination of our values that views ending and death as a failure of some sorts, thereby negating any need for training to gracefully and meaningfully, close a chapter in our lives or its enterprises.

Whatever it maybe, such fear of endings leaves us completely unprepared to diagnose when things are getting close to end and thereby paralyzing us with fear of calling it quits even though, in our hearts, we may know that such a venture or a relationship maybe untenable in the long run.

In my leadership roles, I have known people whose current role was about to end very soon; the only person who seems oblivious to this fact is the incumbent in the role. It is not his fault; he walks around the office with a bullseye on his back without anyone ever telling him that it doesn’t matter how hard he tries, this role is not going to continue for long.

Similarly, a pet project, that may have run its course, often needs to be cut-off before they become gargantuan in size and drain the organization both financially and emotionally.

I know the leader of a company who had a pet project that was not supported by many of his business leaders. The leader personally championed the project and poured millions into it. At the end, the project cost a lot more and never really delivered on its promised results. The leader lost his job as a consequence of such a large undertaking, during a transitional time in the marketplace. More importantly, no one in the organization had the “heart” to tell him that this project was headed downhill and could eventually lead to his downfall.

Both professionally and personally, it is very important to let our instincts guide us; if one is not enjoying something, work or personal, it’s probably not working right. By no means, this means that if you had a bad day at work, you should go and quit (I know some people who are prone to do that too); but if you have had a bad year at work, you should clearly question yourself and have the discussion with your peers and boss about what’s wrong with this situation. If you don’t, they will most likely bring this to your attention, soon. It is very likely, that they are not thinking about the same things and once they decide to talk to you, it’s already too late for you;  at that point, you have very little control on the outcome.

In one of my business roles, I had one of the best jobs of growing a business, both globally and organically through new products and “white space” entries. Over five years, I enjoyed considerable success in this role of moving the organization forward, and in return, building wonderful relationships with one of the most talented group of people I have ever worked with.

There came a time though, that I realized, I had accomplished what I came for couldn’t see a “next step”; As realization set in, I actually decided that I need to create options for myself. This was a really sad moment because I had a hard time separating my emotions from what was practical and necessary. However, once I crossed that bridge, I went and talked to people and within a very reasonable time frame, had three wonderful opportunities pop up that met both my personal and professional needs.

Lesson learned, at this juncture, was that it’s very important for one to create options. This allows one to look at things objectively. You may never exercise the option, but the fact that you have them, allows you both flexibility and provides mental leverage. Without well planned options, one is likely to feel trapped and unable to think objectively about how to get out of such a mental barrier.

Why do things change and why do good things come to an end? Why can’t we just “keep the good times rollin’”?

Of course, we wish that all good things keep going forever; however, every fun party has to end at some point; things change; people change; the environment around us changes constantly. Sometimes, things we did in an early stage of our careers (or relationships) were fine for that time frame. As people (and environments) change, we are sometimes unable to identify and adapt to these changes or our expectations may change, all of which lead to disappointments. Our children grow up and have different expectations from the world than we did.

One of the very powerful questions I have found helping me in changing situations (both personal and professional) is: knowing what I know today, would I start this (particular project)? If the answer is negative, I try to re-evaluate the strategy or seek alternatives to improve the scenario.

By no means am recommending that one abandons their responsibilities, but I think it is critical to evaluate alternatives and seek balance.While there are many things beyond our control, I also believe in the power of perseverance and effort to “right wrongs”. We owe it to ourselves, and those who care for us, to make things right. One always has choices; make it work right, or get out of it.

At the end of the day, we have one life to live. Life’s too short to live miserably, have meaningless conversations or do things you detest in the first place.

When you decide to do the right thing, and end this journey, let’s do it with grace, dignity and holding our head held high. Not everyone will be happy with our decision;  however, in the long run it will be the best for us and those we love.

Even if we don’t have a choice about whether we will live long, we do have a choice to live Big!

A glass of Pinot Noir with your Halal Biriyani? July 17 2009

Wasima makes this smashing biriyani… the kind that people travel over fifty miles to eat. Juicy, succulent, fresh khashi (goat) with tender kalijira rice, just a hint of zafran, few toasted almonds and lot’s of love….sprinkled to make a sumptuous meal. Take a little bit of lemony-fresh cucumber-tomato salad, some mango chutney… makes your mouth water!

But you know what also opens another dimension of that Biriyani? A great glass of a Syrah, Pinot Noir or a good Meritage.

I had a call from a friend recently, who was invited at our home to dinner; he warned me that they only consumed halal (permissible) meat. This posed a huge quandary for me: halal biriyani with a glass of Pinot? Do I need to change my wine selection??

When I first came to the US, I was totally confused by this concept of halal. Having grown up in a country where this food selection criterion was just never discussed, I didn’t understand, how to adjust to this new world of uncertainty. Am I to assume that everything that’s not halal is Haram (forbidden)?

In Toledo, Ohio, we had a unique Egyptian cleric at our mosque, who at a Sunday sermon told us not to make too big of a deal on this “halal meat”concept; if you can’t find a halal store, just say your prayers before you eat; the origins of the halal concept was really developed from the concern for food safety (very similar to Kosher) and in America, there are laws that keep the food safe, said our Imam. I remember him forbidding us from buying halal meat from a monopolistic meat seller who overcharged us for just putting on this label!

On a differnt incidence, I was shocked when a young couple once called and told us that by putting up lights during the traditional US holiday (Christmas) seasons, we were being “un-Islamic”.

While growing up in a Muslim majority country, our early growth environments were liberal and respectful of all faiths. My father had a simple belief; it’s not the amount of prayers that really make someone religious; it’s their good deeds and humanity (truth, love, caring).

At that same time, I experienced Pujas at my friends homes and remember Christmas parties at our teachers home in Chittagong; I was always taught that all religions are good and people just pray in different forms (just like we like wearing different clothes).

As I have made my home in a country where cultures and religions intermingle like a wonderful “salad bowl” (every item is distinctive, but together they are even more delicious) one always questions, what (rituals) to discard and what to cling on to. One also treads gently on the concept of beliefs versus taboos.

As we grow older, it’s just pointless to provide room for “litmus testing” of what makes us a good person or not. As long as we are not hurting or disrespecting someone, how can one human have the ordained “authority” to provide a litmus test?

Instead of getting all caught up on food labels, I would rather teach my children that clothes, at a fancy department store, sewn by children under a certain age, are haram; or, Hummers, spewing heavy amount of carbon in our environment are more likely to be “haramful” (not just harmful!). Meaningless or destructive chatter (specially about others) has to be qualified as haram. Wasteful spending or delinquency of thought may be considered the same way.

While I ponder about all of this heavy duty stuff, my succulent “Halal” Biriyani beckons; so does my contradictory glass of Pinot, side by side, like a jigsaw puzzle; sometimes difficult to comprehend together, but once you do, the experience: not necessarily sinful but definitely indescribable.