When you tell people ‘look at me’, you must also be prepared to hear what they think of how you look!
A celebrity performer, who is also a close friend, asked me the other day if I had downloaded the Sarahah App and tried it. I told him that I was not interested in the Sarahah experience. (If you are uninitiated, Sarahah is an App through which people can give each other anonymous feedback.) But he quickly added that people are already depressed using Sarahah because they are unable to “digest the feedback” they receive. I told my friend that one reason why people are likely to feel depressed is that while they are asking for feedback, they are actually seeking validation. They are expecting glowing tributes and fan mail and when they are not getting it all the time, they are feeling depressed. I am not against using a tool like Sarahah – but if you are using it, then you must be prepared to receive all the feedback that comes your way. Simply, when you tell people ‘look at me’, you must also be prepared to hear what they think of how you look!
Hearing my perspectives, my celebrity friend confessed that he found Sarahah very “unnerving” He said, “I know public opinion is fleeting. But I am constantly driven by this urge that people must appreciate me. When they don’t offer an opinion, I feel sad and when they criticize my performances, I feel miserable. So, essentially, I am always seeking validation of who I am from someone or the other. I thought Sarahah will help me but it has only made things worse.” He wanted to know how he can let go of his desire for validation.
I told the gentleman that the very fact that he believes he must rid himself of his desire to seek validation is very positive, very progressive. In order to reach a state of total detachment from people’s opinions of you, the futility of seeking validation must be first understood.
So, I asked him: “Do you perform for your inner joy or do you perform for public approval and acclaim?”
He replied: “I love performing. So, I do perform for my inner joy. But I also feel incomplete without public approval and acclaim.”
“When you perform and you seek public approval and acclaim and you get it, you think you deserve it, don’t you?” I asked.
He said he believes that he deserves it.
“Then why do you think you don’t deserve critique or criticism for your performances?” I further asked.
The man thought for a moment. And then he said, excitedly, “I get it. If I like being appreciated, I must be prepared to accept criticism too!”
I commended him on quickly grasping the learning there.
And that really is the point. If you are doing something that is visible to others, and you like hearing good things about what you are doing, then be prepared to receive the brickbats too. You can’t choose and claim to be deserving of one and undeserving of the other. To be detached from both the accolades and the criticism, you must learn to do whatever you do as an offering to the Universe, as a prayer to a Higher Energy. Then you are doing what you are doing only for your inner joy. Then who says what about you, what others think of you, none of this really matters.
I have learnt from Life’s experiences that seeking validation is a zero-sum game. Instead, if someone praises me, I am grateful – for their kindness. If someone ridicules me, I am again grateful – for their honesty, which is, they are being honest about how they feel about me.
Even so, no Sarahah for me please, thank you! I just do what I love doing and take any feedback that comes my way as constructive critique and move on. I have learnt that not seeking validation and choosing to be unmoved by what others think of you is a way to evolve spiritually. It takes time to attain this state of detachment. But once there, you will love the inner peace and equanimity that it offers.
My conversation with dancer and Thirupaavai Upanyasam expert Zakir Hussain for my ‘The Happiness Road’ Series that appears in DT Next every Sunday. Read the conversation on the DT Next page here. ‘The Happiness Road’ is also my next Book. Photo Credit: Vinodh Velayudhan
“Being myself is happiness to me”
There’s an endearing quality about Zakir Hussain. He doesn’t mince his words. And he’s clear about who he is and what he does. “Being myself is happiness to me,” he says as we sit down for this conversation at the legendary Krishna Gana Sabha. He was born and raised a Muslim, he went to a Christian Mission school and he devoured Andal’s Thirupaavai out of sheer passion. So, who then is the real Zakir? “My bliss is to inspire audiences to soak in the beauty of Andal’s Life and the message of Vaishnavism while promoting secularism. I am blessed that my profession and my passion blend to give me boundless inner joy,” explains Zakir.
Even so, I wonder how he manages the pressure and challenges of being a Muslim, a male Bharatanatyam dancer and also one who is a Thirupaavai Upanyasam expert. “Every moment, you are facing and overcoming challenges. So, I don’t single out my identity and calling to conjure up a special challenge there. Yes, what I do may appear to be unusual. But I am doing it to spread harmony, to inspire people to be happy being who they are. I don’t see anything wrong. If someone has a problem with it, I just let them be. I don’t see any need to justify anything. Discretion is the key to happiness,” he says.
Zakir adds that living your Life in full public view means that critique and criticism are unavoidable. “When people’s remarks hurt me, I sleep over them to douse my anger. Silence is a good weapon. No one can fight anyone’s silence,” he points out, laughing heartily.
But why exactly does he dance or spread Andal’s message through his Upanyasams? “I am convinced that I am able to be in communion with the divine. You must live in this real world and experience divinity here, in the now. That’s what happens to me when I dance or when I deliver Upanyasams. I see myself as offering my mind, body and soul to the divine. I become that,” avers Zakir.
As a parting line, he reiterates that he is not unique: “I truly believe that we can all learn to be happy and content with who we are, with what we have, when we carry in us the constant awareness of our impending, unavoidable, death.”
That truth about Life is like Zakir himself is – unputdownable!
Criticism can be debilitating only if you don’t know how to handle it.
I recently found my friend sparring animatedly with his friend over a Facebook post. It was a political stand my friend had taken on a post on his Wall. And his friend was rabid, scathing and unforgiving of my friend’s stance. My friend argued tooth and nail. But soon the conversation turned into a verbal slugfest and ended with my friend unfriending and blocking his ‘friend’ on Facebook.
I am sure the disagreement between the two gentlemen could have been handled differently. But, well, that’s the way it was meant to be!
I wonder why people find it difficult to let others have their opinions. In fact, the key to inner peace is to respect another’s opinion – because it belongs to them and they are entitled to it, just as you are entitled to yours! Important, your desire to correct another’s opinion or to deny them their right to have one can cause you untold suffering!
Vaani and I are often at the receiving end of criticism or unsolicited opinion on how we must be leading our lives. Particularly after they have read my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal or have heard my Talk (of the same name), some people approach us saying they differ with us. They disapprove of the choices we have made. And they are open about what they feel. But both Vaani and I have learnt to receive public opinion with gratitude and detachment.
We recognize that when you go out there and share your Life – or views – in public, you are essentially inviting people to look at you. Now, when you extend such an invitation, chances are people looking at you, listening to you, or hearing your story, will have an opinion about you. And they make their opinion known. When such opinion is in sync with your expectations, you call it praise. You love it then. But the moment an opinion doesn’t fit into your scheme of things, you dub it as criticism and you loathe it. We have learnt not to get carried away with any sentiment – with praise or with critique or with criticism.
We believe that the best way to deal with criticism is to deal with like hot candle wax. First allow it to dry up. It is a lot easier to discard it and get it out of your system when it has become cold and stale. So, don’t respond. Just let the other person express themselves, you remain unresponsive. Just let the opinion be what it is – a mere opinion. Second, appreciate where the person who is critical of your actions is coming from. Even if the person is unjustified, rude, violent or cruel, understand that that person has a right to her or his view, to their opinion. It belongs to that person and does not belong to you __ even if it is about you. Third, understand the message that is being conveyed and see if you can learn from what is being said. Train your mind to respond with an exclamation__from awe, from wonder, from amazement__ that says “Is that so?” instead of responding with anger and violence while asking “How dare you?” Know that when you, even if it is only in your mind, question the other person’s right to opinionate, criticize, it is really your ego which is leading you. So, refuse to follow it; turn your attention away.
Learn to treat the whole experience like a game. Tell yourself: “Hey! Watch out! This situation, this comment, this person is provoking me. And my mind is urging me to fall prey, to succumb. Let me escape!” And each time you win, punch your fist up like a champion will. When you do succumb, when you do get dragged into the situation and when you emerge from it bruised and grieving, remind yourself to not fall prey again. Simple.
Like with all other games you have learned to play in Life, you get better and better at dealing with criticism with practice. Then, over a period of time, you will have mastered the art of being unmoved. All criticism, then, will just fall off you, unstuck, even when it is thrown at you!!