What matters?

I got pickpocketed a few months ago. I was out for a late night snack in New Delhi where a large man bumped into me. Almost instantly I knew something was wrong. I felt my left pocket, where my phone was supposed to be empty. But within those few seconds, the man had left the scene and was nowhere to be found.

As I sat in the police office, a few surprising thoughts came to mind. One bit was the almost comical nature of the police’s reaction to the incident – they spent most of the night trying to convince me not to report a crime, and that instead I had “lost” my phone. The second way was how calm I felt. Just moments after I realized I had been pickpocketed, I felt the feelings of anger and shock subsiding and becoming replaced much calmer feelings of inquisition and curiosity. In fact, I almost felt like I had earned won a behind-the-scenes ticket (albeit a rather expensive one) to a new part of India.

I’d like to attribute this attitude of calmness and perspective to my growing maturity (or at least to my increased interest in mindfulness and meditation), but I think a big part of it could and should be attributed to the simple fact that I’ve now been in India for a while. India overwhelms, physically and mentally. Every walk down the street is an opportunity for sensory overload – fascinating and nauseating smells, inspiring and heart wrenching sights, and of course, ever present honking horns. In a way, these extremes have forced me me to find a more moderate way of viewing my environment – having to react to and think about every stimuli would be incredibly tiring, and even if I wanted to, I probably couldn’t.

On one hand, this moderating process has been alarming. Sights that would bother me in the past, such as the couple living in the trash dump near my apartment, no longer affect me. The continuation of this tempering, I fear, will become an attitude of apathy. However, I’ve also begun to think about this process as an incredibly helpful one – a process that really forces oneself to think about what matters.

What matters? Not a stolen cell phone. What matters? Not a few extra minutes waiting for chaotic traffic to pass to cross the street. With its overwhelming nature, India reminds me everyday that many irritants that might previously gnawed at me simply don’t matter. In turn, I can use this renewed perspective to focus on the priorities that truly to matter to me – to discover and appreciate the world around me, to grow in empathy with others, and to continue to work in service.

James is thrilled to dive into the intersection of social innovation, technology and India through the Fellowship. James' interest in social entrepreneurship began as a student at the University of Pennsylvania, where he learned about the opportunities to use business principles and market forces to create positive social impact in the world. At Penn, James worked at New Sector Alliance, a non- profit consultancy, and received the Wharton International Research Experience grant to conduct research on government policy and its impact on social enterprises. He also helped create the Wharton School's secondary concentration on Social Impact and Responsibility. After graduating, James joined Google, where he worked on launching new Chromebooks and on campaigns to help small businesses use the web to grow their business. For the Fellowship, James will be working at Babajob.com, a startup focused on bringing better job opportunities to the informal job sector. In his free time, James enjoys photography, optimizing things, and eating Chipotle.

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3 thoughts on “What matters?

  1. Wow- incredible that you have found this peace and perspective that many spend years looking for. Also, I had a similar thought when I thought I had lost my phone on the train. I had left it on my seat and I realized it when I was at the gate. I ran back and luckily my phone was still there. Sorry about your phone 🙁

  2. A wonderful read yet again, James. It reminds me of an article I read in India Ink a few years back (http://india.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/22/why-i-left-india-again/?_r=0). It’s one Indian-American’s perspective about desensitization to India and the affect that can have on someone’s sense of morality.

    I think we can all identify with the issue you are describing. It’s really important not to give in to a sense of apathy and keep perspective on what matters. Very well said 🙂

  3. James
    Catching up on my reading. India has a way of rearranging people’s priorities and perspectives. Mine change everytime I visit.

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