FF Daily #377: The reason to live

May 21, 2021: Dr BJ Miller on learning to live well; Much ado over Shailaja Teacher; Too many billionaires?; [Song] Aaj jaane ki zid na karo

Founding Fuel

[Image by istvangyal from Pixabay]

Good morning,

When Dr BJ Miller first got on stage in 2015 and opened his mouth to say, “Well, we all need a reason to wake up,” we sat down, with him, to hear him speak. His talk was about what really matters at the end of life. The palliative care physician and author knows much about what it is to witness death from close quarters. We revisited his talk on what really matters at the end of life after all these years, because there are times when we need to be reminded how much there is to life, if only we choose to see it. 

“Beauty can be found anywhere. I spent a few months in a burn unit at St. Barnabas Hospital in Livingston, New Jersey, where I got really great care at every turn, including good palliative care for my pain. And one night, it began to snow outside. I remember my nurses complaining about driving through it. And there was no window in my room, but it was great to just imagine it coming down all sticky. Next day, one of my nurses smuggled in a snowball for me. She brought it into the unit. I cannot tell you the rapture I felt holding that in my hand, and the coldness dripping onto my burning skin; the miracle of it all, the fascination as I watched it melt and turn into water. In that moment, just being any part of this planet in this universe mattered more to me than whether I lived or died. That little snowball packed all the inspiration I needed to both try to live and be OK if I did not. In a hospital, that’s a stolen moment.”

On listening to him speak, as only he can, we were reminded of how important it is to take time out. “Play may sound like a funny word here. But it is also one of our highest forms of adaptation. Consider every major compulsory effort it takes to be human. The need for food has birthed cuisine. The need for shelter has given rise to architecture. The need for cover, fashion. And for being subjected to the clock, well, we invented music. So, since dying is a necessary part of life, what might we create with this fact?… I tell you it has been a liberation to realize you can always find a shock of beauty or meaning in what life you have left, like that snowball lasting for a perfect moment, all the while melting away. If we love such moments ferociously, then maybe we can learn to live well—not in spite of death, but because of it. Let death be what takes us, not lack of imagination.”

When he was done talking, we stood up. And applauded. Silently. Have a good day!

In this issue

  • Much ado over Shailaja Teacher
  • Too many billionaires?
  • [Song] Aaj jaane ki zid na karo 

Much ado over Shailaja Teacher

When KK Shailaja (popularly known as Shailaja Teacher) was dropped from Pinarayi Vijayan’s cabinet as the health minister, it was seen as a shocker. This, because she was widely credited as one of the most competent ministers and is perceived as the face of Kerala’s battle against Covid. “Her well-deserved fame went against her, and made party bosses insecure,” as argued by Sagarika Ghose on NDTV, resonated in many circles. Ghose also pointed out that “Pinarayi Vijayan is often referred to as Modi in a mundu, in a reference to the CM's imperious ways with the media.”

This is why we found TK Arun’s counter-arguments in The Economic Times compelling. “Shailaja Teacher is a dutiful comrade, who does a good job of the task she is given. That is about it. She is not a mass leader, she does not command a devoted following within the party, and she is not even remotely close to challenging Vijayan’s leadership. She was not renominated as minister, to comply with a rule that Vijayan had set while choosing candidates: to have a two-term cap for MLAs, and to have fresh faces as ministers…

“If Vijayan had total control over the party, of the kind Modi has over the BJP, breaking the rule would not have mattered. But that is not the case. The party still functions with some modicum of internal democracy and total arbitrariness would create problems. So, Shailaja Teacher had to be sacrificed. That is about all.”

Dig deeper

Too many billionaires?

The super rich have gotten richer during the pandemic and the wealth disparity has gotten starker between the haves and have-nots, points out Ruchir Sharma, chief global strategist at Morgan Stanley in the Financial Times. India is home to the third largest number of billionaires. But when Sharma parses over the data, he places it into three buckets—those who have good wealth, bad wealth and inherited wealth. Turns out, the most number of billionaires who are inheritors are from India as well. How are we to interpret this?

“I started tracking billionaire wealth in my home country, India. Back in 2010 anger against the new wealth elite was growing, and my first parsing of the Forbes lists helped explain why. Although India is relatively poor, billionaire wealth had soared to the equivalent of more than 17% of gross domestic product, one of the highest shares in the world, with most of the gains accruing to a narrow set of families in industries prone to crony capitalism,” he writes.

There is much else he offers to think about. May we urge you to pore over the data he has presented? We’d very much want to listen to what thoughts his commentary triggers in your mind. Write in.

Dig deeper  

Still curious?

  • Sustainable progress of humanity requires a new toolkit with three disciplines: systems thinking, ethical reasoning, and collaborative enterprise design, reasons Arun Maira in this essay on an ethical toolkit for systems transformers.

[Song] Aaj Jaane ki zid na karo

How beautiful this song is wouldn’t sink into my young head until my favourite uncle, who couldn’t understand Hindi, asked me to translate it for him. That eternal romantic couldn’t get over Farida Khanum’s voice. And so, the both of us, sitting at our ancestral home in Fort Kochi, started to engage with every word until he got it all. That is also when it started to sink in for me that he was right. And over the years, now that he isn’t around any longer, this song brings fond memories of him as well for me. ~ Charles Assisi 

What’s helping you get through these tough times? Send us the song, poem, quote that is your balm now. And we will share it through this newsletter.

And if you missed previous editions of this newsletter, they’re all archived here.

Bookmark Founding Fuel’s special section on Thriving in Volatile Times. All our stories on how individuals and businesses are responding to the pandemic until now are posted there.

Warm regards,

Team Founding Fuel

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About the author

Founding Fuel

Founding Fuel aims to create the new playbook of entrepreneurship. Think of us as a hub for entrepreneurs- the go-to place for ideas, insights, practices and wisdom essential to build the enterprise of tomorrow. It is co-founded by veteran journalists Indrajit Gupta and Charles Assisi, along with CS Swaminathan, the former president of Pearson's online learning venture.

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