Lessons we learn in this lifetime

(NOTE: I had actually published this post on Vesak day, to share something tangentially related to the festival which has given me a different perspective on life [and death]. However, I realised there was a lot more i wanted to say and have been adding to it since then.)

Over a month ago, I stumbled upon this Reddit thread titled “Parents, what spooky ‘past life‘ memory did your kid utter?”.

A discussion on reincarnation, it explores how young children will sometimes relate, to their parents, eerie accounts of past lives.

For the record: I’m not a woo-woo person. I find it hard to believe claims about alternative medicine, mysticism and the like, especially when they sound more like assertions than well-researched findings.

So when I started reading the thread, it was with some degree of scepticism.

Undoubtedly, there were dubious-sounding stories. Yet, for many of the recounts, there seemed to be a pattern:

  1. The children who had past-life memories were very young, around the ages of three to six years old or so.
  2. The utterances often took the sentence stems of “I used to…”, “When I was older…”, “This happened when I was big/grown-up…”, “Before you were my mum/dad…”, etc.
  3. These memories were sometimes triggered by certain experiences or places.

It took a while but I ploughed through all the comments, fascinated by the uncanny similarities of the cases.

Or coincidences, perhaps. I was recently introduced to the word “apophenia” or the “tendency to perceive meaningful connections between unrelated things”.

I was well aware of the possibility of me trying to make meaning out of nothing at all, as well as all the other conclusions that could be reached.

At the risk of dating myself, I’ve used the web long enough to be familiar with the adage “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog”.

In other words, the nature of the internet affords an anonymity that allows anyone to pretend to be someone they are not, contributing to the proliferation of catfishing, a heightened belief in fake news, etc.

So it could be argued that these people who were posting on the Reddit thread – if they were even people and not bots – were all in on the act, posting tall tales for the attention, using a certain template hence the pattern, etc.

Even then, my gut told me there seemed to be much more to reincarnation and past lives that I – and we, as a civilisation – don’t know enough about.

At the same time, I saw, in some of the posts, mentions of academic research on reincarnation that had been carried out.

I thought it fair to suspend my judgement and started sifting through the external sources provided by some Redditors, as well as searching for key terms that had sprung up in the posts.

Since then, I’ve been reading as much as I can on these – and related – topics.

Interestingly, I’d been carrying out research on mindful leadership and self-care since last year, with some forays into meditation.

Some of the concepts I’m reading and learning about are starting to coalesce in some manner – though, again, I acknowledge the possibilities of confirmation bias, recency bias, etc.

I’m compiling what I’ve covered so far below this post so as to facilitate the search for anyone who might be interested in finding out more and desires some level of rigour in the readings.

As mentioned earlier, I’m not a woo-woo person, so I wanted to be sure the works had some degree of credibility.

Unfortunately, there’s still some fluff in some of the materials. This is unavoidable and should not be seen as marring the overall quality of the research done by other scholars or thinking embarked upon by other writers.

Until there are better and more precise ways to capture measurements, information, etc. about the phenomenon, what we have presently has to suffice for now.

Perhaps you might also be interested as to where I stand with regard to reincarnation and past lives, and why I’ve been so captivated by it.

First, the notion of reincarnation. Is it real? Does it exist?

The best answer I have right now comes from the translated abstract of a Spanish paper* which encapsulates my views in a nutshell:

The hypothesis of reincarnation is controversial. We can never say that it does not occur, or [that we] will obtain conclusive evidence that it happens. The cases that have been described so far, isolated or combined, do not provide irrefutable proof of reincarnation, but they supply evidence that suggest its reality.

Ernesto Bonilla, “Evidence that suggest the reality of reincarnation”

* NOTE: I haven’t been able to read the paper in full so my assumption is that the translated abstract represents the paper accurately, and that the paper is sound.

Next, if reincarnation is real, it’s conceptually appealing to me, as a believer in and lifelong practitioner of people development.

The purpose of reincarnation, as theorised by some religions in which reincarnation is a central part of their belief system, is for each of us to learn a set of lessons in each lifetime as we progress to our final stage, be it enlightenment, liberation or what have you.

Even if reincarnation were proven to be fake or a hoax, this principle of bettering ourselves is still a noble one to practise.

There’s a third reason which revolves around human intelligence and the next stage of our evolution as a species, though I haven’t quite been able to formulate it into a coherent thought.

The general idea I have right now: we need to be devoting as much resources – money, time, energy, etc. – to understanding ourselves as we are dedicating to developing technology of and for the future.

I hope to return to this soon when my thoughts are more fleshed out. In the meantime, please enjoy the readings and do let me know if there’s anything I should add to the list.

  • Web articles that provide a starting point
    • Children Who Report Memories of Previous Lives | University of Virginia
      The website of the Division of Perceptual Studies, a department in University of Virginia’s School of Medicine, dedicated to the study of phenomena related to consciousness functioning beyond the confines of the physical body, and phenomena that suggest continuation of consciousness after physical death.

The following section contains books from the National Library Singapore which I’d like to borrow, but which aren’t readily available:

Stuff you must read today (Sun, 16 Feb 2020) – The Explaining Incompetence Edition

  • Research: Do People Really Get Promoted to Their Level of Incompetence? | Harvard Business Review
    A confirmation of The Peter Principle and how firms can manage around it: creating a structure in which top performers are rewarded with pay rather than promotion; and promoting, to managerial positions, staff who are above-average in individual contributor roles, but savvy in skillsets of leadership.

  • The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity | Carlo M. Cipolla
    An essay by an Italian economic historian that provides an explanation for human behaviour in the world.

  • The Dunning-Kruger Effect Shows Why Some People Think They’re Great Even When Their Work Is Terrible | Forbes
    “…many people are underperforming simply because they don’t know that they could be doing better or what really great performance looks like. It’s not that they’re necessarily being defensive, rather they just lack the knowledge. In fact, he told me that research subjects were willing to criticize their own previous poor skills once they were trained up and could see the difference between their previous poor performance and their new improved performance”.

  • If Humble People Make the Best Leaders, Why Do We Fall for Charismatic Narcissists? | Harvard Business Review
    “…narcissistic individuals radiate ‘an image of a prototypically effective leader.’ Narcissistic leaders know how to draw attention toward themselves. They enjoy the visibility. It takes time for people to see that these early signals of competence are not later realized, and that a leader’s narcissism reduces the exchange of information among team members and often negatively affects group performance”.
  • Putt’s Law | davewentzel.com
    “I really admire managers who follow the management-by-walking-around (MBWA) principle. This management philosophy is very simple: The best managers are those who leave their offices and observe. By observing they learn what the challenges are for their teams and how to help them better.

    So, what I am looking for in a manager?

    1. He knows he is the least qualified person to make a technical decision.
    2. He is a facilitator. He knows how to help his technologists succeed.
    3. MBWA.”

Stuff you must read today (Sun, 1 Apr 2018) – The Hiring Edition (Part I)

  • Adam Grant On Interviewing to Hire Trailblazers, Nonconformists and Originals | First Round Review
    “By default, companies are built in the image of their founders, which is why it’s vital to proactively introduce diversity of thought… ‘What happens when startups get successful and grow is that they become more and more vulnerable to the attraction-selection-attrition cycle, where people of the same stripes are increasingly drawn to the organization, chosen by it and retained at it. The way to combat that homogeneity creep is to proactively infuse the culture with originals, who have the will and skill to think differently'”.
  • How to Hire | eShares
    Four principles and six heuristics on hiring. Some of them are counter-intuitive, and all of them turn what we think we know about hiring on its head.
  • Your Company’s Culture is Who You Hire, Fire, & Promote | @DrSepah
    The writer presents a powerful Performance Value Matrix based on the following with the following categories and rules: Incompetent Assholes (Fire Fast); Competent Assholes (Remediate or Separate); Incompetent Nice Guys (Manage or Move); Competent and Outstanding Nice Guys (Praise and Raise).

    The Performance-Values Matrix – Performance behaviour against values-congruent behaviour by Dr Cameron Sepah

  • The No Asshole Rule: Part 1 | HuffPost
    There are myriad costs to keeping employees who engage in demeaning behaviour in an organisation: From how detrimental they are to the mental and physical health of their colleagues, to the overall undermining of learning and organisational effectiveness.
  • Why I Wrote The No Asshole Rule | Harvard Business Review
    “My father always told me to avoid assholes at all costs, no matter how rich or powerful they might be, because I would catch their nastiness and impose it on others. I learned, as an organizational psychologist, that his advice is supported by research on ’emotional contagion’: if you work for a jerk, odds are you will become one”.