Two Years Later: Life Update and Why Life Is About Deception

It has been a long time. Much has happened (good things!). I have grown. My writing has changed. My location has too. But I am sure my 16-year-old-self would easily recognize and relate to my 19-year-old self; that is because at the heart of it, I have still remained me.

It is not clear to me what the purpose of this post is. I shall probably let my thoughts flow as they come to me, without too much adornment and editing. For better or for worse, the floweriness and complexity of my writing has, as you shall see, decreased. Writing academic papers and frequent emails at college does that to you, I think. Looking back at my blog and my writing, I am surprised by some of what I see. I don’t think anything I have composed is spectacular or anything, but my past postings are ambitious, creative, and eccentric. While my blog has not achieved anything noteworthy, I am glad that I chose to begin it all those years ago. Not everything can be fully understood through the numbers (ironic coming from a prospective Mathematics major, I know), and the happiness I derive from re-reading my old blog posts is one of those feelings.

So, who am I now? Let me get the formal facts out of the way. My name is Bhavya Shah, I am 19, and I am a rising sophomore at Stanford University interested in mathematics, theoretical computer science, education, and disability studies. What have I been up to in the last 2.5 years? I completed my high school in India and sat for the JEE Main test, won the world championship in debating, dabbled in audio-based Math teaching, took college classes on law and warfare and group theory and secrecy, and assisted in research projects about gender violence and campus human rights and media priming. As pleased as I am with my progress in life, there is always a part that questions the extent of my role in securing these opportunities.

The classic example is debating. The World Schools Debating Championship is the largest and most prestigious debating competition for high school students around the world. Thailand organized it in 2019 hosting 64 national teams, and I was part of the 5-member contingent representing India in it. An English As A Second Language (ESL) country had won WSDC only once in the tournament’s history, and there was little precedent to blind students even participating. As such, it sure sounds remarkable that Team India, with a blind member, should win WSDC 2019; what is more, this blind member ranks 6th best speaker in the world.

I should be proud of myself for this feat. For the most part, I truly am. But I cannot but cogitate a certain counterfactual. In the team that I was, I know beyond any reasonable doubt that my four teammates were exceptionally extraordinary; It is immensely obvious to me that they were a huge part of our team’s success. While coaches cannot play a role in the debate rounds directly because participants are prohibited from communicating with them, their role in preparing us cannot be overstated. I know for a fact that we were lucky to have access to some of the kindest, most committed, and most talented trainers there exist; thus, it is abundantly clear to me that they were crucial to our team’s success. However, what I am less certain of is my own contribution. I think one can make a good case for my value to the team. However, I think it is equally plausible that were I replaced by somebody else, India may have done just as well. The badgering feature of this hypothesis is that it is impossible to test: whether I was uniquely valuable to the team or not, I may never know for sure.

There are many instances in life where we are plagued by self-doubt, consider our triumphs flukes, and experience the “impostor syndrome.” In my experience, objective assessments of our merit can go only so far in providing solace. A much more effective coping mechanism, in my view, is self-deception. It sounds ill-advised and suspicious, but stay with me. I was having a thoughtful chat with a friend at college about life, and she was the one who helped put this into words: self-deception is the skill of deceiving yourself into believing what you need to. For example, it entails convincing yourself that (i) your successes are a direct consequence of your effort and (ii) your failures can be attributed to either bad luck or corrigible mistakes. Any debater will tell you that the strongest arguments can be refuted; therefore, it is useful to occasionally deceive yourself into simply believing something that makes you feel better rather than logically examining the weeds of it.

For instance, I have successfully deceived myself into believing that I was meaningfully responsible for Team India’s showing at WSDC 2019. I have duped myself into thinking that my decision to not spend another 6 months preparing for the JEE Advanced was the right one: I had received my Stanford acceptance, the burnout was real, and I sorely deserved a break. (It was a dilemma because so many phenomenal JEE teachers had invested insane amounts of their time and energy into me and I genuinely detest not seeing things through to the end.) I have tricked myself into viewing music as something I can enjoy without being particularly good at it. Deceiving others is immoral, but deceiving yourself can be cathartic.

Naturally, there are limits to the application of self-deception. Healthy introspection and reflection on your past choices and actions is important. I have no good answer to the question of when to think rationally and when to deceive. I suppose the former is wiser to default to, but in cases where it falls short, I do not hesitate to cut through the grey and view it as black and white. In my mind, there is a perpetual tug-of-war between both mindsets, and I endeavour to be the best referee that I can.

That being said, something I don’t think I require self-deception to be convinced of is this: I am in a fairly good place in life right now. My family is well, I attend the college of my dreams, I have good friends, and I am optimistic about where my life is headed. Ah, and also, I get to be around a 70-pound ball of fur, my cousins’ energetic little Bermepoodle, this summer.

Author: Bhavya Shah

I am a 16-year-old techie, quizzer, debater and Potter+Musk-head from Mumbai, India, and I am Passionate about STEM, world politicss, and disability rights. When I am not burdened by school homework (which I never bother doing anyways) nor busy blogging, you might either find me programming in Python, reading a contemporary classic, or aimlessly perusing the Internet. Also, by the way, I forgot to mention something; I can't see a thing, lost all my eyesight by the age of 11, and I'm totally blind. That's me.

2 thoughts on “Two Years Later: Life Update and Why Life Is About Deception”

  1. I don’t have words for this awesome blog. also, I want to say you should upload at least one blog in the weak

    Like

  2. I have Always got something inspiring from your life stories & your life experiences. Motivational & worth reading content as always. God will always bless you as you grow.

    Like

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