Sometimes people will fix you. Not because they hate you but because they are very insecure deep within themselves.
Your normal reaction is to explode. To hit back. To beat your chest and shout from rooftops that you have been fixed, that injustice has been done unto you. You will want retribution; and you will want it now! But the truth is that, more often than not, you will not get redressal immediately. Because even if the offender, the detractor, the conspirator, realizes that what she or he has done is wrong, your combative stance does not allow a resolution. The animosity will only increase, the situation will only get confounded.
Ideally, the best response to such a situation is to not fight at all and walk away. A Buddhist teacher has said that a snake is poisonous only if you walked towards it. So avoid the person and the conflict if possible. Remain detached from the actions of the other party. But often times you cannot be so lucky as to stay away. The situation may demand a response, an action and involvement by you. If you must respond, do so with complete awareness. Know that the person has done what she or he has done because she feels that by causing you pain, her or his own pain will get mitigated and erased. Know that such a thinking represents a confused mind. Know that your role is that of a teacher at this time and not as a victim. Because if you respond as a victim, you will continue to be agitated. But if you responds as a teacher, you will be patient and will present a teachable point of view, a learning which will help the other party. Initially she or he may not accept your perspective and may continue to stonewall you. But eventually, with your kindness and concerted effort, she or he will see reason.
This approach is important for an issue, any issue, to be resolved. You must allow room for the other party to feel secure, realize the mistake and redeem herself or himself. By all means resent the act, present your case with facts, prove your innocence, but don’t resent the individual. People do nasty things to others__and that includes you__because they feel that something worse is due to befall them. If you react in equal fashion, it is forever going to be a no-win situation – leaving you emotionally drained and charred. Do you want that? Well if you don’t and want to live in peace, then make an effort to build harmony.
Of course, if you have tried to resolve such a situation with someone and have failed, the simplest option is to stay away to retain your inner peace. Remember this: nobody is always unkind, scheming and vengeful. Surely, you don’t want to be that way. People are or appear to be so because of their own situations. A little bit of understanding, a wee bit of kindness, a teachable perspective can touch their lives, making a huge difference to them, and leaving you in absolute peace!
There’s no point in killing your creativity and stifling who you are to please others. You live when you do what you love doing. If you stop doing that, then you merely exist, you don’t live!
The Tamil writer Perumal Murugan is in the eye of storm in Tamil Nadu. One of his works, Madhorubhagan, has come under fire from Hindu outfits who feel it should be banned and Murugan arrested. The book has also been translated into English by Penguin and is titled One Part Woman. The fundamentalists allege that it shows Lord Shiva in poor light. Murugan, on the other hand, has been defending his work saying it is a love story of a couple, Kali and Ponna, who are unable to conceive a child. Societal pressures cast a shadow on their relationship and Murugan tells their story set in Thiruchengode of the past.
Over the last couple of weeks the protests over Murugan’s book have turned ugly – copies of Madhorubhagan have been burnt and the decibel level against Murugan has been high. Yesterday Murugan, in utter frustration, decided to quit writing altogether. “Perumal Murugan, the writer is dead. As he is no God, he is not going to resurrect himself. He also has no faith in rebirth. An ordinary teacher, he will live as P. Murugan. Leave him alone,” he posted on his facebook Page.
To me, Murugan’s reaction is emotional. This will only accentuate his pain and prolong his suffering. This is a classic case of inability to deal with people who practice value systems that are different from your own. So, you end up quitting in a huff. You want to sacrifice your joy, in an act of inverted martyrdom, in the hope that your action will appeal emotionally to the conscience of your detractors. The brutal truth is it will not. Please understand that if someone is your detractor, it is only because that someone has a different value system than your own, has few or no scruples, and has a conscience which is on an endless vacation. Appealing to or trying to communicate with such people is trying to do a data transfer between two devices via Bluetooth, when one of the device’s Bluetooth option is turned off or is simply not turning on. It is from personal experience that I say that inverted martyrdom does not work. I have voluntarily sacrificed opportunities, entitlements and given up what’s legitimately due to me because I have wanted to emotionally appeal to people who were playing plain dirty. And every time I did that, I was hoping that my actions would transform them. But each time my efforts came to a naught and I ended up giving up on what was logically, legitimately mine. Inverted martyrdom is the act of sacrifice that people indulge in to prove a point, to demonstrate their goodness and righteousness to the world around them. Unfortunately, inverted martyrdom achieves nothing – it is like talking to wall. You just end up berating yourself!
Murugan has done precisely that. His decision to give up writing – something which gave him joy and which was his very Life – is something he must seriously review. In fact, in a recent interview to Akila Kannadasan of The Hindu, Murugan has said, “I am a writer first. I started teaching since I couldn’t make a living out of writing. Writing is my jeevan (Life). Teaching is my jeevanam (bread and butter).”
The Murugan drama offers us all, who are dealing with detractors in some context or the other all the time, a valuable lesson: Dealing with detractors is a part of Life. You simply can’t escape it. And it definitely is part of walking the road less trodden, or taking the creative path. Remember that your detractors revel in making you feel weak and impotent. You don’t need to necessarily fight them. Because to fight them you have to stoop to their levels. And that’s what will weaken you. Instead, you just need to stand there and keep doing what you always do – which is, live your Life fully, do what you love doing and refuse to cower, refuse to capitulate. In the face of integrity of Purpose, I have discovered, no destabilizing force can ever thrive. And integrity of Purpose is the ability to go on, no matter what challenges you are faced with, doing what you love doing.
Be grateful to your detractors too – because they are teaching you what Life is! They are showing you a dimension you aren’t aware of and which you can learn from.
Often times when people are unkind and unjust to us, we end up disliking them. We carry anger and grief within us which soon turns into hatred. This is undoubtedly a natural response. But there’s another way of looking at such people. Be grateful to them – for they are teaching you what Life and people can also be.
There’s a story about a Zen Master. He was on a pilgrimage and he came to a village at sunset and begged for lodging for the night, but the villagers slammed their doors. They were against Zen. They didn’t allow the Master to stay in the village; they threw him out. It was a cold night, and the old man was with no lodging, nowhere to go.…he was tired and hungry. He had to make the cold stone steps of a dilapidated temple, outside the village, his shelter. It was really cold, and he could not sleep well. He kept hearing animal noises through the night – and that kept him on the edge too!
At midnight he awoke — because it was unbearably cold — and saw the reflection of the full moon in the temple pond in front of him. A few lotus buds floated in the pond. The moon’s reflection amidst these lotuses made the moment look very surreal. Overcome with the beauty of what he saw, he sat up and bowed in the direction of the village. “Through their kindness in refusing me lodging I found myself on these cold temple steps and saw this immensely beautiful sight of the full moon’s reflection in the pond’s shimmering water,” he thought to himself. He felt grateful. He thanked those people who refused him lodging, otherwise he would be sleeping inside someone’s home and he would have missed this blessing — the beautiful moon, and its magical reflection in the temple pond, amidst the lotuses, and this silence of the night, this utter silence of the night. He was not angry. He accepted his shelterless, cold moment that night. And he welcomed it with great gratitude.
Osho, the Master, while narrating this story, has said: “A man becomes a Buddha the moment he accepts all that Life brings with gratitude.”
I have found great value in holding this perspective. Every time someone is rude to me or criticizes me without knowing the full story or opinionates and passes judgment based on what they think I must be doing, I let that moment of anger and grief pass. I don’t deny that I feel anger and grief at such times. I do. But I let that moment pass. My awareness then reminds me that this painful moment is actually a blessing to practice forgiveness and patience. Like the Zen Master’s cold night became a blessing to witness the beauty of the moon and its reflection in the temple pond, I too find that each unpleasant encounter with a detractor turns into a blessing when I treat it with gratitude. Doing this is not difficult. All it requires is awareness and practice. When you are grateful, and not agitated in trying times, you are peaceful.
Everyone teaches you something about Life. It’s up to you though to learn from them!
It takes all kinds of people to make this world. Some of them we instantly connect with and vibe very well. Some of them we can’t understand. Others we intrinsically feel uncomfortable with. When we categorize people based on how we feel about them we miss a great opportunity to learn from them. We must learn to treat everyone, including our detractors, in Life as a teacher – that way there will be less strife between us and other people surely; besides, we will evolve into better individuals.
Some years back we worked with a client with whom we then had a decade-long relationship. We had begun working with this client when they were a start-up, less than a million dollars in revenue. And in the time that we worked with them, they had grown to be a 300 million dollar multi-national company. The company’s founder, Chairman and CEO was very close to me. When we started work with them, he and I had spent countless hours building and executing their internal experience (culture) and external visibility (brand) strategy. As the company grew, the CEO got obviously more engaged at a vision-level and a team of professionals took charge of executing the growth strategy. One of the professionals was mandated with leading the reputation strategy for the company and we had to work closely with him. He was a young, aggressive manager with a finance and investor relations background. For some reason he disliked me from the very first time we met. He made it clear to me that he had heard that I was very “close” to his CEO and that, going forward, as an external partner, I had to route all interactions – strategy, ideas, communication – only through him. Being a stickler for process and protocol myself, I complied. Over the months that followed, I interacted with the CEO only when I was called out by him. Which, of course, happened with amazing frequency, much to the young manager’s chagrin. This only made his dislike for me personally grow into outright hatred. He started to harass me and my team (which was owning and servicing the relationship). It came to a point one day, when he demanded that we ‘show cause’ why there was a “typo” in one of the research papers we had prepared for him to present to the CEO. I saw no point in arguing with him, as I knew where he was coming from on his vindictive mission, and instead wrote him a mail saying we were surrendering a month’s retainer as compensation for the “typo”, and per our contract, we were serving a month’s notice to the client to disengage with them. I had taken a high moral ground. And even though this news shocked the entire company, particularly the CEO, I refused to reconsider our decision to disengage from the client when we are asked to.
The young manager too was shaken up by my decision. He requested me to meet him for coffee on the afternoon that we were exiting from the company/relationship formally.
He asked me: “I can understand the basis for your decision. But what I fail to understand is why did you not fight me? Why did you not complain about me to your close buddy, my CEO?”
I replied: “I don’t believe in fighting unequal battles. Had I complained to the CEO, you would have been asked to move to another function for sure. But it wasn’t as if the CEO did not know of this. Of course it was evident to everyone that you were brow-beating us. Besides, I am nobody’s buddy. Your CEO is a good business leader and if he wanted to he could have always stepped in. That he chose not to, means he was okay with it. I too was okay with the relationship, despite all the pain you were inflicting on me, as long as we were able to create value at your company. The moment you stooped to being petty, I realized it was time for us to step out. No hard feelings my friend. I learnt from you. Thanks.”
He hid his discomfort while he heard me explain and asked me: “What could you have learnt from me?”
I replied: “I learned what happens when people don’t evolve despite their education, experience and intelligence. I learnt what it means to be immature. I also learnt patience and forgiveness.”
I met this gentleman some years later in New Jersey. We talked shop and wished our families well. I still wish him on his birthday each year. And Life goes on for both of us.
People teach you not just from what they know but through their behavior. Some people teach you, like this manager taught me, why you can’t get along with everyone or why some people’s behavior can never be understood. The key is not to let hatred and resentment set in. And instead let forgiveness flow. When you can’t make a relationship work – whatever it may be – because of someone in the relationship, such people teach you the power of walking away. I have learned to be grateful to people for all that they do to me – good, bad, ugly, I see every interaction as a lesson in living and an opportunity to grow and evolve.
People are teaching you all the time – through their interactions with you. You are a bad student if you are not learning from them!
The best way to deal with your detractors is to not resist them. Let them do what they must. You be vulnerable, be open. Let Life take care of the rest.
This approach really ensures that you stay focussed, conserve your energies and don’t let any negativity consume you. But this approach is rarely taken.
Whenever someone wrongs you, the first reaction is: ‘How dare she or he do this to me?’. You rush to respond with rage and simply end up staying agitated. The more you cling on to anger, hatred and hurt, the more you will burn in them. If somebody is doing something to you, which you think is against your interests, please know and accept that she or he is doing it because they think it is right for them to do it! The viewpoints are different. That’s all. Perhaps, if you explained your viewpoint or if the other person in question considered your viewpoint upon review, things will be different. For the present however, you feel you have been wronged. And someone feels they are right. Further you are seething with rage, wallowing in self-pity, looking at the whole world as being dark, hellish and full of hideous people. Know also that you are the one who’s burning. The perpetrator of your grief is possibly happy, unperturbed by his or her action. That makes you even more angry. And you now seek revenge. What is the point? You cause pain to that person in retaliation. She or he responds with more acrimony. And then it’s your turn again. So, the ping-pong battle goes on, on and on. And all through this tenure you are burning. You are unable to concentrate on your work. Even anger or self-pity or staying grumpy or being cynical is an addiction. As ruinous as any other physically debilitating habit! You don’t even realize that you are destroying yourself in the process.
To break away from this destructive cycle of negative emotions, something has to give. And it has to be your desire to cling on. Give that up! Wisdom lies in the fact that you unshackle yourself from this rage, from this hatred, from this injury and become free. It takes two people to cause any enmity. And you can decimate that cause by refusing to enjoin in it! Let go of all animosity within you. Give up your need to be right all the time. Give up your need to get even. This is the only way – to be vulnerable and open – to inner peace, to be free and to perhaps win the battle – without even fighting!