Letting go or walking away is not always giving up!


There will be times in Life when you can’t do anything about a situation or a person, or both! You will feel incapacitated, even helpless. You will want to give up. Instead give in. Sometimes, a good way to make peace with a situation or a person is to give in, to let go, to walk away. But do it with grace, giving the person or the situation all your love and understanding. Do it peacefully. Without malice, without prejudice, without feeling frustrated.

Last week the Pope announced his resignation. An act, I believe, of extreme humility__announced as it was in a much-watched and debated environment__which personifies the message of letting go. The Pope does not have a higher office to direct him. Yet, he treated his conscience as one.  And heeded its silent counsel that he did not have either the health or the leadership acumen to capably discharge his duties anymore as the Vicar of Christ. Even as I ruminated on the learning ensconced in this rare decision, over the weekend I watched the Hindi movie ‘Inkaar’ made by celebrated director Sudhir Misra. It is a story of love and hate packaged in the backdrop of a sexual harassment suit in an advertising agency. In the film’s climax, when it becomes apparent to the viewer that this is a love story gone haywire, and that the ambitious lady protagonist is all set to come to terms with her guilt, the lead male character, played excellently by Arjun Rampal, simply walks away. He recounts a lesson that his father had taught him when he was a boy: ‘When you can help someone experience inner peace by leaving them an opportunity you are clinging on to simply do it. Never hesitate to walk away!”

So two different, and at the same time, unique scenarios. One was in the context of being infirm and incapable of performing and leading anymore. Another was in the context of not wanting to come in the way of someone experiencing peace. Yet both were acts of letting go and walking away. To be sure, there may be a temptation to view these as acts of giving up. Perhaps a third anecdote may help clarify the essence of this learning better.

I have a friend who, apart from being a very acclaimed actor in Tamil cinema, is a very successful entrepreneur. He will not like to be named, so I will not disclose his identity. Some years ago, he was in business in partnership with his cousin. They both held equal stakes in a large, highly profitable, business process outsourcing enterprise. Suddenly, owing to irrevocable differences of opinion between them, it became apparent that they both could not see eye to eye in the management of the company. Resultantly, all Board decisions were getting stalemated. My friend tried to have someone arbitrate the matter with his cousin. But the situation was getting acrimonious, messy and a prolonged, legal battle for control of the company seemed inevitable between them. My friend, however, in one shocking move, relinquished all his claims on the company, including transferring his stake for zero value, in favor of his cousin and walked away. I confronted my friend and asked him what was the whole idea of being a martyr? After all, it was he (my friend) who had built the company up from scratch. I recall my friend replying, smiling, calmly: “The cost of my relationship with my cousin far outweighs my financial stake in and benefits due from the company. That relationship is affected today because of the business. Not the other way round. I don’t want to fight a relationship over a business. In trying to prove each other wrong, we will spend a lifetime in grief and there will be so much bad blood. It’s simply not worth it!”

Indeed. Trying to prove a point at the cost of your peace of mind is simply not worth it. Most often in Life, we don’t grieve over the injustice meted out to us by someone or a system or a situation. Our grief often comes from the fact that we have been taken for granted. That we have been pissed on, trampled upon and passed over. The hurt from having been used causes far more suffering than for having been abused. It is to avenge the ignominy of the treatment that we either fight or give up, choosing to continue to grieve or sulk eternally. Neither approach delivers peace. But giving in does.

This doesn’t mean you must not contest. That you must not compete. That you must not take up the leadership of a situation or run a race. But whenever the sporting spirit is lost, and acrimony is beginning to set in, or as in the Pope’s case, when you are no longer able to create value, clinging on, even if something legitimately belongs or is due to you, is pointless. Letting go or walking away or giving in is not an act of cowardice. It is the most intelligent way to restore peace and equanimity, allowing all parties, including you, the time and space to think things over, sort themselves out and reflect on the learnings without any angst or animosity or fear of losing!