Don’t agonize assuming things about people

One of the most important principles to simplify your Life is not to imagine things about other people.
More so, when you haven’t seen something for yourself. And you are going purely basis what you perceive things to be or what others have told you. This simply means don’t form opinions about people basis what you imagine them to be or what others have shared as their perceptions. For all you know, all that you have heard and imagined may be completely untrue! And just in case you have seen something and your opinion stems from whatever evidence, visual, definitive, empirical or otherwise you possess, forgive them for having value systems different from yours or for behaving differently from your expectations of them. Know that no person is good or bad. All of us are a product of the time that we go through. Someone behaves in a manner that you find peculiar or unacceptable only because he or she does not find it either peculiar or unacceptable! If he or she thought like you, they would not behave so. If this person is someone close to you, try counseling. If counseling doesn’t work, let go. Let that person learn from time. Keep sending positive energy and pray for the person’s awakening.
This is the simplest way to ensuring you are anchored in peace. When you are peaceful, clarity of thought will emerge, which, in turn, will help you deal with the situation or the person, or both, better. When you are succumbing to your perceptions or are getting agitated over the evidence you have against someone, you will encounter agony. More frustration and clouded thinking will cause you to be in disharmony with your natural state of peace and joy.
So, whether the person who you disapprove of and disagree with over opinion, ideology or behavior, is a spouse, a sibling, parent or child, colleague or neighbor or a public figure, never pass judgment. Don’t enjoin in gossip. Don’t agonize assuming things about people. Just let go. Let time teach and heal. Send positive energy. That’s the surest way to staying peaceful and happy!

Don’t Know? Then please don’t judge!

When you stop judging people and accept them for who they are – you will not only be peaceful, you will learn from them!
Kejriwal with Lali
Picture Source: Internet
Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal was slapped two days ago by an autorickshaw driver named Lali in New Delhi. This was the second attack on him in four days and the third in under a fortnight. Kejriwal was left with a swollen left eye after Lali slapped him. Yesterday, Kejriwal visited Lali and sought to understand why he was attacked. He said later that he had forgiven Lali for what he did. This action of Kejriwal’s is being viewed by many as a publicity stunt. Some call it a great “photo-grabop” – which is, insinuating that Kejriwal grabbed the opportunity to get free, positive mileage from the attack. I am not a supporter of Kejriwal. So, I don’t write this to say he’s right in what he did or that he’s truly Gandhian in his outlook. I am, however, keen to understand how do we, the #hashtag opinion-makers, know he’s not truly Gandhian? How do we know, merely by watching TV, following social media updates and reading political commentaries, that Kejriwal really did not forgive Lali?
As much as there’s muck around us, there’s muck in our minds too. We often rush to judge people that we hardly know anything about. Why do we see every politician as someone who’s wily, self-obsessed and corrupt? If someone does any good to anyone, why must he or she be having a hidden agenda? If someone does not bereave someone’s death by beating her chest, why must she be “cold-blooded”? If two people are very close friends, why must they be having an affair? We go on and on pronouncing judgment on everyone around us. And we do this without even seeking to know, let alone understand, the facts of any matter or the truth. Now, curiously, those who judge others are the ones who miss the opportunity to see the beauty in humanity around them or learn from fellow human beings.
Rushing to judge people is a disease that makes you look at everyone around you with suspicion. Your entire system is consumed by the negative energy and doubt and suspicion generate. With so much negativity in you, where’s the opportunity for you to feel love and compassion? When you are filled with negativity, you are hurting yourself in more ways than you can even imagine. And definitely you are not learning from the people you judge. Kejriwal, for instance, sat for an hour at Raj Ghat after the attack. He then went and met Lali – and forgave him. What I learnt from Kejriwal is what I know about the power of meditation – it helps you overcome anger, insult and hurt. I also learnt, in a very reinforcing way, the value of forgiveness. Forgiving someone, especially a detractor, sets you free. Otherwise the hurt can keep simmering and continue to breed more negativity in you. But if we just want to brand Kejriwal as a politician and judge him as someone who is a master at drawing political mileage from every situation, we will miss the spiritual lessons his episode has to offer.
The simple rule of thumb to practise is – if you don’t know something about someone, or don’t know that someone well enough, hold your opinions, views and judgment about that someone. Avoid getting carried away by popular sentiment. Because while the sentiment may be popular, there’s no guarantee that it reflects the truth. When you don’t rush to judge someone, chances are you will see the goodness in them and perhaps learn from them too!

Develop an Is-That-So Attitude to steel yourself!

The easiest thing for anyone to do is to opinionate on what others do and how other people should live their lives. We are all guilty of making such opinions, passing such judgments, all the time. There’s a certain, call it sadistic if you like, joy that people derive in hurting others with their words. And there’s so much grief, therefore, that people carry within them, of memories of such wounding words, in their lifetimes.

In order to avoid getting into either end of this hurt trap, it is very important to stay aware.

The moment your mind rushes to judge someone, remind your mind that your opinion is perhaps both unsolicited and avoidable. Enquire whether what you are about to say is true or kind. And only then, only if completely unavoidable, and totally true, say what you must, but say it kindly. If you can’t say it kindly, just don’t say it! Period. The other thumb-rule to follow is while you can have an opinion on someone, it is best when it is with you. For it is completely worthless when it is invested in someone who does not value it.

Now, while you can indeed check yourself, and your pronouncements, with your awareness and with lots of practice, you really can’t control what people have to say about you and the way you live your Life. The fickle human mind, that craves for instant gratification in all matters, will want you to rush to defend yourself when you are criticized, ridiculed, opinionated on and your Life is scrutinized beyond reasonable limits. Overcome that temptation to defend, to clarify, to retaliate by simply remembering this – what I learned very early on in Life but did not realize its value until recently – “Opinions are like farts. Everyone has one. And they all stink!”

So, in essence, all you need to do when people say or do something that hurts you is to ask, in complete, genuine bewilderment__because your sense of shock is really that__ “Is that so?”. I learned this through a Zen story I heard some years back.

The Zen Master Hakuin Ekaku (1686-1768), one of the most influential figures of Japanese Zen Buddhism was revered by his neighbors as one living a pure life.

A beautiful Japanese girl whose parents owned a food store lived near him. One fine day, the girl’s parents discovered that she was pregnant. This made her parents very angry. She initially would not confess who the man__who had got her pregnant__was. But after much forcing, she, at last, named Hakuin. Horrified, the shocked parents went to the Master, blamed him, berated and threatened him with dire consequences if he did not “own” their daughter’s child.

Is that so?,” was all that Hakuin said, smiling.

After the child was born, it was brought to Hakuin. By this time he had lost his reputation, as people shunned him for his “immoral” conduct. The barbs from, and being ostracized by, the people did not trouble him at all though. Instead, he took very good care of the child. He obtained milk from some of his more forgiving and tolerant neighbors and provided for everything else the little one needed.

A year later, the young girl could stand her own lie no longer. She told her parents the truth – that the real father of the child was a young man who worked in the local fish market.

The mother and father of the girl were even more horrified this time. They at once went to Hakuin to ask his forgiveness, to apologize at length, and to get their grandchild back again.

Hakuin was both forgiving and willing. In yielding the child, all he said again, smiling, was: “Is that so?

The moral for all us is to learn from Hakuin. Let us learn to be just witnesses of whatever happens to us in Life. Including being witnesses to judgments and opinions being pronounced in favor or against us. In fact, that’s what we really are __ mere observers. In joy or in sorrow let us not get attached to the events, people, circumstances, opinions and judgments of, and in, our lives. Let’s develop an Is-That-So attitude to steel ourselves in Life. This, and this approach alone, can guarantee us the inner peace that we all crave for, work hard for, but never really manage to find.

Understand, don’t interpret

A lot of our problems arise from our tendency to rush and interpret people, occurrences or even thoughts than understand them. Even before people have finished saying what they want to we have composed our responses in our mind. When a simple coincidence like a cat crossing our path happens, we have interpreted it as a bad omen. If we dream of someone dying in our dream, we interpret it as a sign that something grave is due to happen, often as a premonition of our own death! Our urge to interpret, or our inability to deeply understand Life, often comes in the way of our living fully, completely!

Even if unwittingly, my neighbor taught me the value of understanding, over interpreting, this past week. My neighbor also happens to be administering the affairs of the condominium in which we live. When we moved in here, I noticed that the common waste disposal bins were too small for the amount of trash that was generated by the apartments in our building. It never struck me then that I could suggest to my neighbor that she consider enhancing the capacity of those bins. However, when a journalist friend from a local daily pinged me asking for some thoughts on being responsible citizens in today’s age and time of community living in condominiums, I did speak openly on how ‘insensitive’ condominium planning and planners can be. I requested my friend not to quote me because I loathe any visibility and also because I was new in our condominium. My friend assured me that I would not be quoted. I was traveling for several weeks after this conversation so I missed reading the local papers in that time. Upon my return from my travels, I happened to meet my neighbor. She promptly referred to the report in the local daily, which had appeared when I was away, and said: “Good point. But I wish you had told me about this first before talking about it in the media.” I was shocked. I looked up the newspaper clipping and there I was, evidently quoted. My journalist friend had obviously not kept her word. I apologized to my neighbor profusely and transparently shared with her how this had come about. “I am sorry we are experiencing each other this way. I seek your understanding,” I prevailed upon her. It was a particularly awkward moment. I was meeting my neighbor only a second time since we had moved in. And to be defending a banal situation such as this one was so stupid. Further, in a condominium’s context, where neighbors, particularly if they are also administrators, have huge egos, this unintended media coverage and its possible aftermath were both imminently avoidable. My neighbor and I shook hands and we promised to reach out if we could help each other in any way. Ever since that instance, surprisingly, our neighbor has been always available for any escalations we may have had with regard to issues relating to the common areas or shared services in our building. And yesterday, she even reached out and apologized for an inconvenience that we were put through owing to the elevator not working.

I personally am humbled by her maturity and personal leadership. While the incidents in question itself are so inconsequential, her decision to employ trust and understanding, in place of ego and interpretation is both commendable and inspiring. If we look around us, more than half the time, our relationships are strained because of the scourge of interpretation. Almost anyone who lives in a condominium will appreciate the potential that such episodes have to vitiate the environment and spread disharmony. If my neighbor, more so in her role as an administrator, had chosen to interpret me, she may well have approached the entire episode of that media coverage as follows:

  1. How dare he talk about our condominium’s planning and planners when he is a rank newcomer here?
  2. Why did he choose to talk to the local daily when I was just living a floor above him – obviously he has a sinister agenda to paint me black?
  3. For all the damage he has caused, for which he feigns an apology now, I don’t want to have anything to do with him and his family – let him fend for himself!

There’s so much destructive power that interpretation holds. And so much constructive opportunity that understanding offers. It is a no-brainer which path we must choose. Yet, by default, we all often rush to interpret. To interpret means to judge. To judge means to perceive. And, as Aristotle has said, to perceive means to suffer, because what you perceive may or may not be true. To understand, on the other hand, is to accept people for who they are. There is no judgment involved here. And those that understand always, as I have learned from my neighbor, have a teachable point of view.

Don’t judge and don’t bother about being judged!

One of the first lessons we are taught in school is “Don’t judge a book by its cover”! But that’s precisely what we do.We do it all the time. We are always judging someone or something __ events, governments, government policies, sporting teams, movie stars, politicians, children, parents, siblings, companions and partners.

Why do we judge? Because judging is free. Nobody is stopping you. So you indulge in pronouncing judgments. It comes easy. It is exciting. It gives you an air of superiority. That superior feeling you may not be seeking consciously at all. But your subconscious loves it. You feel like an exalted member of the jury, looked up to by your own private circle of courtiers, while pronouncing someone guilty.

And why do we loathe being judged? Because you almost always are being judged for a single act and not for the real person that you are. Let’s say, in a country like India, in a city like Chennai, where autorickshaw drivers are known to fleece people, you are seen haggling with an autorickshaw driver for about Rs.20/- (less than 50 cents). You are attired in business formals, are carrying a laptop bag and looking every inch a well-heeled white collar manager. Two people passing by, who are new to Chennai, watch you haggling. One of them tells the other that he thinks you are a miser who is finding it difficult to part with Rs.20/-! You hear that comment and feel hurt. Why? Because your fight with the autorickshaw driver is on a matter of principle and not a function of affordability. That you are a man of principle is not being considered by the opinion-makers. That you are a miser, which you believe you are not, is what they perceive. So, you hate being judged because it is never based on the complete reality though it may well be based on some sound perception! When you are judged, you feel like a worm. You feel like a criminal, standing helplessly in the dock, who’s being judged and indicted without the full story being heard!

The simplest way to avoid judging is to put yourself in the shoes of the person being judged and ask if you would have liked to be talked about that way! This is not easy to do. But it is simple. Over time, employing empathy and compassion, you can kill your urge to judge __ yourself and other people!

No one is perfect. No one is complete. No one is a saint. And no one is a born villain. Left to themselves, even the people who commit heinous crimes, who are tried, judged and punished by law, may not have ever wanted to end up that way. Given a choice, they would not have wanted to commit those acts at all or they may well want to undo those acts. Take Oscar Pistorius for example. Who would have thought this global icon would have ended up facing charges of murdering his girlfriend? In his statement he has said, “I am absolutely mortified by the events and the devastating loss of my beloved Reeva…I cannot bear to think of the suffering I have caused her and her family, knowing how much she was loved….” Pistorius has his own reasons, his own defense for shooting at Reeva (as he says, accidentally) and the court trying his case will focus more on the act than the person he is. In fact, that is the way law is drawn up in all parts of the world. Where the criminal act, with the related evidence, coming into weigh more on the final judgment than sentiment. The judgment rarely indicts the person. It merely punishes the act, though the person who committed the act is pronounced guilty of it!

Perhaps there’s a lesson from the legal system here for all of us who indulge in recklessly and wholesomely judging people. Perhaps, it’s also a good idea to fundamentally evaluate whether judging people, including ourselves, is worth it at all? A lifetime is a much bigger, vaster, varied experience. A single act may well mar and scar a person’s reputation __ as we found in the case of Shiney Ahuja or Tiger Woods or Bill Clinton __ but cannot incinerate a lifetime of work. So much time and emotion is wasted in judging. So much so, that sometimes, we end up judging ourselves and plunge into either depression or float in a fake sense of exaggerated self-importance.

This does not mean that we should not step in when we see someone headed in a wrong direction. We sure must. A teacher must judge the performance __ both academically and morally __ of her ward and prevent and prohibit factors that inhibit good performance. Don’t judge does not mean don’t correct. It means don’t condemn. It means don’t dump. It means focus on the act and still respect, love and appreciate the person for who she is. Place the act not in the backdrop of your morality, your virtuousness or your principles alone, but in the context of that person’s well being and the well being of the people in his or her circle of influence. For all the same or similar reasons, should you agree with them, don’t bother about being judged. Because if you are being judged, there can be two reasons. One, your actions must have led to the judgment. Second, the people judging your actions may be less evolved and may have ended up condemning you wholesomely. Either way, it doesn’t change who you are. So, live with that truth and make peace with yourself that way!

To judge __ others or yourself __ is as heinous a crime as the act being judged itself. It is wasteful, regrettable and, therefore, imminently avoidable. Instead, a better position to take is to be a witness. A silent observer. No opinions. Just quiet learning. Take what you want to take from that person’s action or experience and discard the rest. Most important, when you are a mere observer, there is no anguish, no pain, no suffering, no victim, no villain…there’s just you, in total bliss.