You must fight the good fight if the process of fighting makes you peaceful. But if your inner peace is lost, then the cause, the raison d’etre – to fight – itself is lost.
I am often asked by readers or audiences on how we can differentiate between a good fight, a fight worth fighting for, and one that isn’t? This question often arises when I recommend a principle that I stand by – that the best way to win any battle is to not fight at all – or when I tell people to forgive and move on – even if they can’t forget – than cling on and suffer. Let me share my understanding here though, let me quickly clarify, choosing to fight an individual, situation or system is an intensely personal choice.
First, why do we fight anyone or anything? The idea of a fight arises only when you disagree with what’s happening to you – either with the way you are being treated by a person, by an establishment (a community, organization, society or even by a government or legal system) or by Life itself. So, essentially, you fight every time you see a lack of fairplay in an interaction, relationship or context. But just think about it – when did Life promise any fairplay? Life itself appears so grossly unfair when you weigh your intent, integrity and values against situations that you have to end up facing. So, when Life doesn’t guarantee any fairplay, where is the question of expecting it from humans, and from human-made contexts, systems and situations?
Even so, this doesn’t mean you must not raise your voice against acts that are inhuman or are against social interests. This doesn’t mean you must not want to or try to correct an action or system that urgently needs correction or fixing. Surely you must. But do whatever you must do, do whatever it takes, without agonizing, without suffering, without losing your inner peace. This is where the choice becomes very personal.
My close friend got into a litigious separation process with his wife some years ago. She is 16 years younger to him. They married after a breezy romance. But within a year, she separated from him and sued him for dowry harassment, impotency and domestic abuse. All this, because my friend confronted her with evidence of an affair she was having with a colleague at work. Given the women-friendly anti-dowry laws in India, the lady’s strategy was clear – harass my friend so that he grants her a divorce immediately and compensates her with a huge alimony that included a red Pajero! We advised our friend not to take the legal route. I encouraged him to settle out of court: “Just forgive her, don’t ruin your peace of mind, buy her the car and get out of this mess.” But my friend decided to fight her. In court. The process took over 8 years and it was hell – repeated impotency tests, dowry harassment charges against him and his aged parents having to be defended at every level from police stations to courtrooms, huge legal expenses and his inability to keep a job because the matter required 24×7 attention all through the years. Ultimately my friend won the case at the Delhi High Court. He was exonerated of all charges. And the lady apologized to him in court in return for being granted divorce. Now, all through the fight, through all this drama and humiliation, my friend remained stoic. He was always deadpan, unruffled. I never found him beaten or defeated. He anchored very, very well. Now, if you can deal with a fight with such clarity, such equanimity, then, it is perhaps worth it. But if you are going to suffer fighting, then you might as well not fight at all.
I too have the option to fight many fights. But I have chosen not to. For instance, there is so much corruption around us. Just take the state of the Chennai Airport. The contractors and the Airports Authority of India have a lot of explanation to do over its pathetic condition – falling glass panes, leaking ceiling, unsafe carousels and escalators. It has been rated as the worst airport in the world. Yet, no one has fixed any of these things in the last five years. Worse, no one has been held accountable for this shoddy piece of critical public infrastructure. I do feel like filing a public interest litigation demanding a court direction to the authorities to hold the people concerned liable. But between dealing with my existential crisis and public interest, I prefer preserving my inner peace for investing in resolving my own problem first. Or let me take another instance, of my need to be exonerated by my own family – I have been branded “a cheat” by them despite there being no evidence of my having frauded them at all. Now, this is a fight that I will never fight. Because I believe that if members of a family cannot trust one of their own, what is the point in making them realize their mistake? I have decided to let them live with their theory, and I have learnt to be accepting of my reality that I will never have their understanding all my Life. Important, I have forgiven them – even though I can’t forget the way in which I was treated – and I am at peace with myself and with them.
This is how I choose not to fight each time I am provoked – I go simply by wanting to preserve my inner peace. Because the only reward worth cherishing in Life is your inner peace! It doesn’t ever matter whatever else you have, or gain, if you have lost your inner peace!
So, to fight, to forgive, to move on is an intensely personal decision. The only way you can take that decision is to ask yourself what will make you peaceful. And go do what gives you peace. The key is to be at peace, to be happy with whatever is, even as you are making a sincere effort to change your current reality!
When you are provoked by another’s actions, your only priority must be your inner peace.
A friend and I were discussing about why our social environments sometimes get fractious and why culturally we are often very melodramatic. He said that a lot of problems can be solved if we can refuse to be provoked by other people’s views and statements and if we can avoid feeding off their negativity. I completely agree with him.
To get over people’s abrasive behavior, forgive and just wish the other person well. It is not difficult. It is simple. Think of a situation when you have been let down, back-stabbed and left to feel like trash. It happened sometime surely in your Life. What is your response to such a situation? Anger. Outrage. How-dare-you? Your mind keeps throbbing with this question. You sulk. You rant. You brood. At the end of it, your Life goes on. So does the other person’s. And what was the outcome of all that struggle? Pure misery for you. Was all of this avoidable? Yes surely. All you needed to do was to wish the other person well and let that person be. They also call this forgiveness.
The person’s choice to betray you was their own. Why do you have to react to it violently? It is only when you react this way that you feel miserable. If you were to just accept the situation as is, wish that person well, I am not saying you will feel good, but definitely, you will not feel like trash or be miserable. Know this: you will be run roughshod over or even betrayed in Life. Not once, not twice, but ‘n’ times. Yet, each time if you wish your detractor, your back-stabber, your betrayer, well, you can be peaceful. Ultimately, it is only your peace that matters. When you are peaceful, Life in your circle of influence will be peaceful. When people see you peaceful they will retract from their positions of designed or happenstance hostility. Being miserable you cannot make the world a better place. Being peaceful you can make your world better. You don’t have to be a martyr to do this. You just have to be sensible to see value in this proposition. Wish well, forgive, move on. The rest of your Life is more precious than your clinging on to your misery!
Wear your Life on your sleeve – and don’t bother about those who will never understand you!
I discovered an interesting statistic reading Priya Ramani’s piece on Barkha Dutt in today’s Mint Lounge. Priya says that Barkha’s book This Unquiet Land: Stories from India’s Fault Lines has 4045 reviews on Amazon – of which only 155 are positive. Priya says the fact that a majority of the reviews are uncharitable is a reflection of the fact that Barkha is hated by most people because she is “powerful, political, fiercely independent and single”. Barkha, for her part, has chosen to be unruffled by those that troll her. “Damned if I’m going to let poison and gutter-level sniping direct my choices and reactions,” she told Priya.
I entirely agree with Barkha here. This is the only way to deal with opinions that are unfair and unsavory – and, important, that are not based on facts.
It is fairly simple. If you share your Life and wear it on your sleeve, you will have people offering their perspectives on it. And not all of that will necessarily be based on the truth or be what you may like to hear. But that’s the way the world is. The only way to avoid such opinions is to not be open – be intensely private and guard your story from public glare. But what’s the point in hiding and not sharing? Just because some people are likely to be nasty to you, you want to deprive yourself and others of what you have to say?
Recently YourStory ran a story on Vaani and me (‘Fall Like A Rose Petal’ – Westland). Some of the comments on the story were not necessarily founded on any understanding of who we are or what we are going through. For instance, one of the readers called me a “conman” for talking of happiness when I owe so many people money. A friend too reported the other day that some people in his circle of influence, who also know Vaani and me, think I am a “fraud”. I have learnt to be non-plussed by such perspective, because, forget everyone else, well, my own family thinks we are faking a bankruptcy and that I am a cheat. Now, what do you do when some people refuse to understand you? You just learn not to pick up their sentiments. If you wait for everyone to see things the way you are looking at them, chances are one lifetime may not be enough to get them around to your point of view. Besides, letting others’ opinions or sentiments govern how you feel is totally, completely, avoidable.
I am not celebrating Barkha here for her media citizenship or for her activist stances. I am celebrating her for the person that she is. In her role, as a celebrity journalist, she wouldn’t be wrong to expect social acceptance and acclaim. But she’s got the maturity to not get depressed when she is not only not getting it from certain quarters, but when she is trolled so horrifically instead! What we must learn from her is to be ourselves – and be unmoved while being that way.
What others think of you and talk about you cannot make you or your Life any different. It simply cannot. Imagining that it can is the biggest disservice you can do to yourself. So, my two penny worth: Go on, wear your Life on your sleeve! And let people say what they have to. You, simply, keep walking…!