Priyam Bose

Jan 23, 2022

5 Lessons we learn from Dr Abdul Kalam

A highly successful life

Dr APJ Abdul Kalam was The 11th President of the world's biggest democracy. He was also the leading aerospace and rocket scientist in India, successfully leading India's space and missile programmes on shoestring budgets. He was instrumental in propelling India into the elite club of nations with the trifecta of space, missile and nuclear technology. Throughout his life, he successfully led projects which carried the hopes of a billion Indians.

Yet extremely humble and grounded

Despite all the success, Dr Kalam remained a humble and honest man his entire life. In his own words, his biggest passions were academics and teaching, which he vigorously pursued after hie retirement, along with his love of poetry.

Deeply religious yet secular and rational in temperament

Dr Kalam was a devout Muslim who respected all religions, learning what was best in each faith. His approach in other aspects of life was that of a scientist.

What allowed Dr Kalam to have such an odd life that mixed science, politics and religion ? Dr Kalam attributes it to the lessons he learned throughout his life.

I distill here 5 such lessons :

1. Closely observe te thinking process of people and learn form them

2. Be mindful of accepting gifts

3. Small gestures transform can transform our lives in big ways

4. Humans are hardwired to be good towards each other

5. The greater good is more important than having a clean conscience

I do not call these "life lessons" because those are what we learn from our own mistakes and they alter our thinking for the rest of our life .

Lesson 1 Closely observe the thinking processes of others and learn from them

The only sure way to get better in life is being open to learning.

Dr Kalam , a passionate life long learner, payed close attention to the thought proceses of learned people around him. He learned from their problem solving , actions and decision making. He used these learnings to understand the complex science of rocketry and to make better decisions as the "People's President".

"The experience of meeting good people is an education in itself" - Dr APJ Abdul Kalam

Lesson 2 Be mindful of accepting gifts, accepting gifts is dangerous

Gifts often have strings attached to them

They force us to reciprocate in kind. Gifts make us sugar coat our speech, blunts the force of our decisions, sway our pens, blur the sharpness of our reasoning and make us lenient towards their givers. Receiving gifts can weigh down our conscience.

Dr Kalam quotes

‘When the Almighty appoints a person to a position, He takes care of his provision. If a person takes anything beyond that, it is an illegal gain.’ - Hadith

Lesson 3 Small gestures transform our lives in big ways

We neglect the transformative power of small gestures.

On a rainy winter morning, my mother was grocery shopping. The gorcery bag was heavy and it snapped. My mother stood in the rain baffled and disconcert. A beggar sitting nearby, seeing the worried lady, offered the only bag he had , which he was using to sit on the cold pavement. Back home, deeply touched by the gesture, She narrated the story to me.

The will to do good doesn't depend on how much you have, a lesson I will remember always.

Lesson 4 Humans just need an opportunity to do good

Nicholas A. Christakis in the Blueprint argues that humans are inherently good.

Dr Kalam made a similar observation independently many years ahead. He recounts how his brother and his grandson, undertaking the Hajj, were helped at different times by different persons in various ways. None of these good doers lingered to receive a word of thanks from them. Dr Kalam makes numerous references like this in his writings.

Makes us wonder what then prevents us from doing good all the time ? And what makes us do bad to fellow human beings at times ?

Lesson 5 The greater good is more important than having a clean conscience

In life, doing the greater good does not always align with our conscience. How to make a decision when faced with this tough choice ?

In 2005, after a dissenting Supreme Court verdict, Dr Kalam was faced with a dilemma - whether to resign from the Presidency or to stay on. Resigning would have helped his conscience, but it would have thrown the nation into chaos. After many sleepless nights, Dr Kalam decided to stay on as the President. The nation was far more important than his conscience.

When in such a doubt always choose the greater good.

Dr Kalam's was a life of unwavering focus, dedication and an ever burning desire to serve the nation. A study of his life provides deep insights on life's purpose, self-improvement and the value of attaching our personal good to a greater purpose.

Priyam Bose

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