Focus on issues, than on people – and always say it as it is!

When you must, simply speak your mind. Keeping your views to yourself is a good idea if you have learnt not to grieve. But if you are the sort who simmers when you are unable to express yourself, it’s best to say what you want to – openly, candidly.

Tharoor and Modi: Picture Courtesy/Internet
The papers are full of stories of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) wanting the Congress High Command to reprimand Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor for “praising” Prime Minister Modi over Modi’s pet project – the Swach Bharat campaign. Clarifying that he wasn’t pro-BJP, Tharoor has said this in his defence: “The Prime Minister pitched his appeal as a non-political one and I received it in that spirit. I am a proud Congressman and a proud Indian. In short: not pro-BJP, just pro-India.” But the KPCC mandarins would hear none of this and is seeking that Tharoor be chastisized.

I am not bringing this up here to talk about the inner-party discipline of the Congress or even comment for or against Tharoor’s sense of political propriety. I believe the incident, if you peel away the political affiliations, the overtones and the personalities, gives us an opportunity to understand how we can be focused on issues than on people. The issue here is not Tharoor or Modi, or Congress or BJP – it is about a clean India.

The tragedy though is that almost always we focus on people and miss the issue – How can I say this to him? How dare she speak to me like that? How can I bring this subject up – what will happen if my intention is misunderstood? We fear the repercussions of our being open with family, friends, in social circles, at work and often even in issues that concern our nation or the world. The reason this happens is because of a subconscious tendency that all of us humans have – which is, to be nice to people and to be seen as being nice. So, whenever there’s an opportunity to flag an issue – and debate it, we let it go saying “it” won’t be taken well or that this is not the “right” time. Resultantly, we end up grieving without having been able to express ourselves. Honestly, all of us have felt this way at some time or the other in our lives.

I have learnt it the hard way too. For several years, I tried to be content being tactful than being truthful. But I was very uncomfortable in all those situations when I was unable or I had chosen not to express myself. Over time, I have learnt that if I have an opinion on an issue, I will express myself – saying it as it is, without sugar-coating things, no matter what the issue is or what the context is. And in situations when I choose not to express myself, I also decide not to grieve or complain about the situation. I simply accept things the way they are, I accept my inability to speak about it and I move on.

Recently, we had some maintenance work being undertaken by the owner of the apartment above ours. The owner lives in Dubai and had entrusted the work to a contractor. The contractor did not bother to follow certain procedures laid out for maintenance work by our building’s management. So, for weeks on end work went on, literally above our heads, noisily, for over 18 hours daily. Towards the end of the maintenance project, the owner came from Dubai to review arrangements for a house-warming that he planned to conduct at his “new, improved” apartment. He visited us too. He apologized for the “inconvenience” that we had to put up for over four months. And invited us for the house-warming event. I told him that I could not accept his apology because he was merely saying it for the sake of saying it. I pointed out to him that he could not be “genuinely” apologetic because he has not felt our pain or understood what it means to have someone banging away at the floor above your head for weeks on end. However, I did tell him that if our schedules permitted, we will join in their house-warming ceremony.


This is what I mean when I say focus on the issue. And never on the people. When you focus on the issue, you can express yourself clearly. And candidly. It is when you bring in people and relationships (could be with anyone – between friends, in a family, with a boss, or an organization) that you become emotional and wary of expressing yourself. At the end of the day, it is always better to speak your mind and get it out of you. Or if you choose not to express yourself, also choose not to grieve. Bottomline: Don’t grieve over anything. Definitely not over your inability to say what’s on your mind!  
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