Sunday, June 21, 2009

Clash of Intentions

The past week has seen me get rid of two horrible diseases (one less so) in my life though the laughable irony is that the diseases left my system with least effort from my side. Good health (literal and figurative) is indeed a joyous state of living.
The past few weeks/months have helped me confirm an old theory of mine: Problems are not unsolved because they are inherently impossible to solve but because people (involved in the problem) refuse to pursue/peruse/adopt solutions. So the problems, in themselves, are not intractable, but it is the people who do not care for the solution or do not wish to come up with a solution because it would require them to adjust a bit.
The past few weeks and months presented me (in a sudden rush of friendship) with several opportunities to observe this theory in action. Unfortunately, a few friends of mine were going through problems (some being marital) for which they were unable to find solutions. I love solving problems starting from unclogging drains (and this can be a tricky problem depending on what is clogging the drains) to handling excessive salt in a dish to wives and husbands unable to live together in a marriage. Somehow they all appear alike to my brain. I recall the time when back in college I was considered to be an Operating Systems guru/lover and I would tell my juniors that every problem of life can be solved by some algorithm that is found in popular operating systems and even fielded some standard problems (and then love was the most popular thing!!). One junior even asked me to apply any one algorithm to my life which was devoid of a love interest and I applied the theory of selective filtering, just that the filters were numerous or actually just one: A female me (and I haven't met anyone in my age band i.e. my age +/- 8 years, who resembled me more than 50%).
Anecdotes aside, I still believe that life's problems can be understood and resolved as one does understand and resolve problems in operating system design. Belief apart, I have proof too. My friends back in Pune had heard enough of those algorithms. There are some unfortunate applications of them too. Like creating a deadlock until one process relinquishes hold (for whatever reason) whereby the other process receives rights to proceed (with living a good life).
But the difference between OS problems and human problems is the clash of intentions. Processes and CPU registers do not have ulterior motives or ego hassles. The system assigns priorities and deadlines (e.g. in a real-time system) to them and they stick to them. The system has ways for bumping up priorities or lowering them (priority inheritance and inversion) and the processes comply because each process perhaps has an appreciation of the greater good of the system and faith in the Controller (in this case, the user). People and life's business have more issues and ulterior motives than good and clear intentions.Head butting
As an example, let me quote (and paraphrase) a discussion I had had with a rather wise and lovely friend of mine. We were discussing the issues in joint families (I was reading Madhur Jaffrey's Climbing the Mango Trees and love it) and she said, "If one brother earns Rs. 1000 and the other earns Rs. 50, though they might pool it together and let their father (head of the family) wisely decide on expenses for the entire family, there will always be the feeling that one deserves more than the other." This was an observation which didn't require assent or dissent. She then proceeded to pose a rather interesting perspective, "But, if the brother earning more left and established a separate household and his wife was not an earning member, he would give into all her demands although she contributes Rs. 0 to the wealth of the family. The disfavour that his brother earned for making less money although he too might have been equally useful in other ways (as his wife is) is not attributed to his wife who earns Rs. 0. The paradox is that one turns against one's own blood whereas one showers more on one who is not one's own blood and has had lesser association." Neither of us assumed that one's own blood warrants anything, but it is common human behaviour to be closer and more tolerant of one's own blood simply because there is a longer association. "Mother" and "father" might be an exception in this account of things. This is something that would not happen in the world of operating systems. If a process doesn't generate enough output and hence, is left suspended (given fewest CPU cycles) so would any other process which generates the same or lesser output.
Apart from the visceral repulsion of applying algorithms, statistics and differential algebra to human activities, there is no reason why they can't be. Marketing, for instance, is using these very tools to understand consumer (human) behaviour and position products accordingly. We'd, perhaps, stop buying Colgate toothpaste if someone told us that we are being plotted on a graph, along the X-axis! The whole world of robotics and androids is essentially that. An ego-based reaction is not sufficient basis for the lack of truth or applicability of something.
But more than the applicability of algorithms is the observation of (what I call) the clash of intentions. People who are not sufficiently involved or caring will not solve a problem as it is against their interest. A lady is willing to do anything for her child but not for her husband. A man is willing to do anything for professional success but not for his family. I am willing to do anything to get my lunch perfected but not for bungee-jumping!
Our clash of intentions creates problems which perhaps were never there. Two people might be comfortable with each other till one person tries to get things done her way over and above the relationship she has created with her friend. Here is where one thing becomes more important than another because we don't care about the latter or have taken it for granted. It is when that latter "thing" stirs and raises "its" preferences when a full-fledged problem is created. I have relatives who simply give into their wives' every demand. So the demand (which if placed over the relationship) is not the problem because the husband yields. If the husband found it incongruent or against his principles and takes a stance, even then it is not a problem. If the wife, on being made aware of the stance, refuses to budge then a problem is born. Since a lot of men would rather avoid a problem to taking a stance based on values or principles, a lot of marriages continue. Since a lot of women (though not the urban kinds) in India give in to their husbands' wants there is a lack of problems. Neither of them are solutions but the system is in a non-threatened state. The only solution is to have an aligned clarity and an understanding of what is good and Right. Anything other than that is either an escape or a postponement of a clash of intentions.
A recent conversation (and that will be another post) with a very dear friend and 2 of his team mates took us into the night (00:15 hrs) which is way beyond my sleep time (21:30-22:00 hrs). Here too we discussed issues with the work environment and professionalism per se. When I go over that conversation, I see the same thing emerge: clash of intentions. One person means well and guides others but the other person takes that for granted and is unprofessional because the guidance will perhaps not yield the kind of tangible benefits that s/he is used to receiving.
Hence, given that problems (amongst human beings) is nearly always a result of clash of intentions (I am not considering murderous humans and psychotic individuals), any attempt at solving such problems without resolving the clash of intentions would be implicitly futile and abortive. And the surest sign of a clash of intentions comes from the total lack of involvement and caring of the individual(s) (who are part of the problem) in resolving it. Tragic but common.


  1. Parvati7:28 PM

    In any objective context involving subjective human personalities, sticking always to the compliance of the objective principles involved in the association between two or more of these human beings, always using this objectivity as a touchstone to ward off the ills that egos invariably result in, is the only way for any semblance of harmony to be or continue.

    Otherwise man being monkey minded and his ego even worse, there will be no consistency in rightness if people do as they wish when they wish and want all to toe the line.

    When there is no character in a person and they disrespect subjective goodness in their interactions with human beings, it is mandatory that the objective and well established rules of the systems that they are a part of, always be obeyed for order and organisation to be maintained.

    That is, when the 'work' to be done in a job situation is the only sacred entity and not personal intentions whatever they are independent of the work to be done, and when the goodness and well being of the 'family' is the only sacred entity in a marriage or parent-child relationship and not a bundle of varied intentions, only then can we even speak standing on ONE common ground.

    Otherwise all will be a repugnant and distasteful chaos with the clash of intentions, egos, arrogances.

    Objectivity in always maintaining a clarity of vision about the purpose of associations, be they personal or work-related, is the only solution to the problems of subjective whims and everchanging intentions.

  2. I would go a level beyond to say the clash of intentions within an individual is the root cause, in the absence of which the external clashes would also cease to be a problem.

  3. Dear P,
    Amen! :-)

    Dear M,
    Intentions in themselves are of the individual, so yes, I agree with you.