When you make choices based on what makes you happy, you can never go wrong.
I was waiting the other day to record my Podcast at a studio. One of the visitors there got talking to me about Life and relationships. She asked me if it is okay to be “blunt” with people, especially with those in “close relationships”.
I told her that it’s a personal choice. Now, there’s nothing wrong in being nice, being accommodative, adjusting and understanding. But if you try to do all of that at the cost of your inner peace, you will end up feeling miserable. So, it really is a decision you have to take – do you want to be happy and peaceful or do you want to feel unhappy and suffer trying to please others?
I shared with the lady an experience I had had earlier in the day. My cousin had called Vaani and me. She was inviting us to play godparents at her son’s engagement ceremony coming up later in the month. She is a single parent and her own father is no more. Her brother is not likely to attend the ceremony and so my name, as a male member of the family, was proposed. While I was humbled by her invitation, I was very clear, even as she proposed the idea, that I was not going to sit through any rituals. Besides, I had issues with any ritual or tradition that accorded men special privileges. All her Life, she had raised her two children, but just because she is a woman and she is single, “tradition and culture demand” that she could not be leading the engagement ceremony? I found this idea both regressive and lacking empathy. I told my cousin that I was not going to accept her invitation and instead advised her to lead the ceremony herself.
In taking this decision, I employed my time-tested principle of asking myself the following questions: 1. Do I believe in what I am being asked to do? 2. Will I be happy doing this for myself? I have noticed that whenever I weigh any option based on what gives me joy or makes me happy, I am a lot clearer with what I want to do. Or I am sure about what I don’t want to do. So, appraising any situation on the happiness question is an important and efficient way to make choices.
Over the past few years, I have become very distant from rituals – and religion. I have also stopped seeing marriage as necessary for people who want to live together. So, I was clear that I was not going to play godparent to my nephew to “simply perform some rituals that are meant exclusively for men”. I told my cousin exactly that. She respected me for my forthrightness and left the matter at that. I appreciate her understanding.
So, as is evident from my experience, conversations must be honest – you need not necessarily bother whether you are being “blunt” or “rude”. Being honest is more important. Your being honest may make the other person uncomfortable but it will always leave you peaceful. As I said earlier, it is always, finally, your call, a personal choice.
Whenever in doubt, whenever you are unconvinced about doing something for someone or even for yourself, ask yourself – will doing this make me happy? If the answer is no, simply don’t do it. There are no two ways to be happy. Choosing to be happy is the only way. And you can never go wrong with being happy!
The simplest way to get from point A to point B is a straight line.
A reader asks me what he must do in a situation when he has let his wife down. His wife is a very loving, very compassionate lady – she does not even realize she has been let down! She keeps showering him with all her love. This makes the man feel even more guilty. He does not know how to face her. He asks me how can he tell her “all that she must know” without having a “fear of being rejected or punished for his actions.” “I don’t want to hurt her. I don’t want to hurt myself. I want it to be smooth. Is there a way,” he asks me.
The only quality worth striving for in any conversation is to keep it honest. Trying to make a conversation simple or easy, trying to cushion someone from the impact of the message or outcome, trying to control the outcome of the conversation – all these, quite frankly, are irrelevant. What is it that you want to tell someone? Can you sit down and say it with a straight face, honestly. If, as in the reader’s case, you want to appraise someone of what you have done, what you have learnt from doing so and seek their understanding, then just say it. Be honest. Say everything there is to it – don’t hold back, don’t sugarcoat – just say it! The same approach works when you are giving feedback to someone or are sharing perspective with them. The point of avoiding hurt and injury has often already been transgressed in such cases. For instance, if the reader wanted not to hurt his wife, he may well have never let her down. Or if you were not already hurt over someone’s behavior, you will not necessarily be in a conversation with them sharing perspective or providing feedback.
I have learnt that the simplest way to get from point A to point B is a straight line. If something has to be said, just say it. If you must tell someone you love them, say it. If you must say sorry, say it. If you must hold a mirror to someone, hold it. And when you can’t get yourself to say it face-to-face send them a WhatsApp message. Simple. Grief and guilt, in such situations, come only from postponing, or fighting shy of, what you really want to communicate.
Focus only on the issue on hand, not on the people involved or on past dramas.
A reader reached out in response to my blogpost of yesterday. He wanted to know how we can be honest with someone that we are obligated to. “What if we are obligated by way of a favor we have taken from someone or if we are connected through a strong familial relationship? How can we be in-the-face in such situations,” he asked.
I am glad this reader seeks clarity. This allows me the opportunity to share a related instance and the learning it offers.
A few of us ex-colleagues got together for a reunion at a visiting friend’s hotel room some years ago. It was an impromptu meeting. As we started partying we called up some more friends and summoned them to join us at short notice. The friend who was hosting us in his room, Rajiv, called up one of our other former colleagues, John, and asked him to come over. John tried crying out saying he was attending it to his bed-ridden father. Besides, it was already 8 pm. But Rajiv persisted. And by about 9.30 pm, John joined us. As he walked in, Rajiv got up to receive him. He shouted out to John, “Dei macha, see, you dare not say no to me. It is only because of me that you have a job!” We were all startled by the cold welcome and this totally avoidable declaration. It turns out that when John was struggling to get a job some years ago, Rajiv had connected him to a friend of his, who in turn helped John get placed at the company he works in now. Anyway, men being men, everyone got back to drinking. John, who is normally very cheerful and boisterous, surprisingly, was sober all through the evening. He did not drink. He in fact offered to drive me back home. Once in the car, John asked me if Rajiv did the right thing in demanding “subservience” in an unrelated context. “Yes, he helped me get a job. But does that give him the right to use that information in unrelated contexts such as this one or for him to keep reminding me of this? This is not the first time he has done this. He always keeps rubbing it into me that I have a job because of his referral,” said John.
I told John not to bother about Rajiv’s actions or analyze them. I told him if he didn’t like the way Rajiv behaved with him, he must tell him so. “But won’t that mean I am ungrateful,” protested John. Of course not! What Rajiv did by way of referring John to a job is done and dusted. It is over. What Rajiv is doing now is the question – and if it is unacceptable, it must be checked, questioned, stopped. As long as John keeps giving Rajiv the room, the space, on the confused pretext of being grateful, Rajiv will continue taking John for granted. For Rajiv, it may not even be an ego trip. It may just be that it is his nature to rib his friends, a tad awkwardly though. But unless he is told to stop, how will Rajiv even know he has to stop?
There are Rajivs in our lives too. We often confuse gratitude for a past action, an obligation, as a reason to postpone telling people what we dislike in the way they treat us. It may not even be dislike. You may just not want to experience that person in that way in a certain context. Or you may not appreciate someone’s sense of humor. Or it may be that you don’t like being bullied. Whatever it is that discomforts you about someone, you must speak up. Honestly. In-the-face. Now, if you bring a past obligation into play, out of context, and postpone sharing how you feel, then you will suffer.
Always separate the issues from the people who cause the issues or the situations related to them. Never link two issues and confuse them. And don’t look at the personalities involved either. Just stay focused on what discomforts you. If it is bullying that you dislike, if it is gender-biased humor that you dislike, if it is being communal that you dislike, then how does it matter who it is or what past equation you have had with that person? Just speak up honestly and move on. Again, as I said yesterday, if the person can’t handle your honesty, and breaks off, so be it. You have one redoubtable stakeholder less to deal with!
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Happiness overflows only when you are peaceful within.
I recently had to communicate to a long-term business associate of ours that we were moving away from them. I started my conversation saying, “What I am about to tell you may not be something you would like to hear. You may not even agree with me. But I have to say what I have to say. So, please bear with me until I finish what I have to tell you.”
The conversation went well. And we ended up parting ways.
I have always found that it is best to say what you feel about someone, about something, up front. Telling the truth as it is, speaking my mind as I feel, has never worked against me. Of course, it sometimes makes the situation tense, it makes the other person uncomfortable and sometimes it ends up rupturing the relationship. But then I have learnt not to protect any relationship at the cost of my inner peace. So, if someone can’t understand me when I say I have a problem with them, too bad for both of us. But I am not one to sugarcoat or hide how I am feeling. The moment I realize that I am uncomfortable, I raise a red flag. I call for a resolution. If it works, great. If not, then I feel it is best for either party to be left alone.
Now, such an approach does not mean you have to be bitter. The whole idea is to better the experience with the other person. The only reason why you are even bringing up the issue is because the situation discomforts you. So at the end of discussing what makes you uncomfortable you must feel better that a. you have got the load off your chest and b. you have told the other person how you like to experience them. But, as someone asked me the other day, what if the other person ends up being bitter? My response: that’s a choice that the other person is exercising; it is beyond your control, so, why do you want to think about it?
I feel far too many opportunities to speak up and heal yourself is squandered by you in a lifetime. This is so true of all of us. The justification you try to give yourself is that you don’t want to hurt the sentiments of someone who is making you uncomfortable in the first place, by their behavior, by their presence, by their utterances. I find it weird. So, you are okay with suffering in silence but you fight shy of seizing an opportunity to liberate yourself by speaking honestly?
If you think about it, if someone cannot take constructive feedback or be willing to understand why something must be repaired in a relationship or be ready to end one so that both of you can be at peace, then such a person, such a relationship, does not deserve your time and attention. Simple. This can be a boss, subordinate, spouse, parent, sibling or neighbor. Whoever it is, whatever may be the issue, the moment you feel uncomfortable, raise a red flag and say it as it is. I will discourage two approaches though – diplomacy and rudeness; neither delivers results! You don’t have to beat round the bush or be abrasive. Just be honest. Period. Once you have spoken, go with the flow of the outcome. Don’t analyze. Don’t chew on what happened. Just examine how you are feeling. You will feel better and you will feel free! Celebrate how you are feeling. That feeling is happiness – and it overflows only when you are most peaceful within you!
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Honest conversations are critical to make relationships thrive.
A business leader confessed to me the other day that his biggest learning from 2016 was not to trust his direct reports implicitly. He cited the case of his CEO not living up to the values of the organization. “I think I sold my trust cheap. I have learnt now that my people must earn my trust,” he declared.
Team leaders, business owners and entrepreneurs often lament this situation. Almost everyone in the corporate sector has at least one story of misplaced trust. When I led a team, I too have felt let down, when some of my team members took me for “granted” and “misused” my trust. But over the years of learning from Life I have realized that trust is over-rated. And I have come to believe that if you feel let down by someone, it is because you have failed at setting, or establishing, the contours of the relationship.
Let me explain my point of view. If you think about it deeply, trust is nothing but an expectation that you place on someone. You are saying to yourself, without even expressing to the other person(s) explicitly, that because you are well-intentioned, compassionate and objective, you expect them too to be the same way to you. Since this expectation is often unexpressed, it remains within you. And when it is met or exceeded, you feel your trust has paid off. And when it is not met, you feel your trust has been betrayed. Now, where is the question of your trust coming up when you have not even stated your position, your expectation upfront? Which is why I feel that, in most contexts, this ‘betrayal of trust’ lament is a bogey. And which is also why, in any relationship, corporate or otherwise, work or personal, the contours must be drawn up clearly. What works, what does not, what excites you, what does not, what you expect and what is expected of you, it is better these aspects, and more, are spoken about clearly. Upfront. Not so much in a cookie-cutter, Standard Operating Procedure format. But as honest conversations. Then the relationship starts off on a clear note. As you can see, this is not about work-related relationships alone. Even between spouses and companions, among parents and children, among siblings and among neighbors, these conversations help in fostering harmony and avoiding heartburn.
Raising this argument to a spiritual plane, can you have such contours drawn up with Life? Can you claim to Life that since you are hardworking and ethical, you must be given a fair deal? Will your submission even be considered by Life which operates with a mind of its own? Yet, in this lifetime, is there a choice you have with trusting Life? You have to. Period! You have to accept that since you have been created you will be provided for and looked after. Your lamenting that your expectations from Life have been betrayed will cut no ice. Life will simply go on. So, then, when you can’t really do anything but accept Life’s ways, why are you getting so keyed up about the way people treat you?
Take a chill pill. Stop setting expectations on anyone. Instead, set the contours in any relationship upfront. Say how you like to live or work with people. If they respect your choices or invite you to visit common ground, fine. If not, move on and be happy without such people in your Life – whoever they may be!
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When we don’t resist Life, it always teaches us how to cope.
I met a friend at a party over the weekend. He said he admired me and Vaani for being so resilient in the face of so much adversity. His wife said that she found it amazing that we have the courage to share our story, through my Book ‘Fall Like A Rose Petal’ (Westland) and my Talks, with the world. I thanked both of them for being so generous with their compliments. But I clarified that resilience is not something unique. All of us are capable of resilience. It is like the Bluetooth feature on our smartphones. To use it, we must activate it. Simple.
To be sure, we started our own journey through this cathartic bankruptcy gripped with fear, anger, grief and guilt. Forget facing the world, I even hated the face I saw in the mirror. But over time, I realized that resilience is not a singular quality. It is not as if you download an App into yourself or that you turn on a switch in you and it starts working. Resilience is a beautiful combination and interplay of three coping mechanisms that you must deploy when you are faced with a Life-changing crisis:
- Having honest conversations. Be honest with yourself and also engage with someone you can trust with giving you brutally honest feedback. In my case my daily practice of silence periods, mouna, really helped me. Plus, of course, my soul-mate Vaani and I often have very empowering conversations to share what we feel, how we must move forward and what we can or must do with any situation or challenge that springs up.
- Being practical. In almost any situation in Life, you will want to do some things, you will not want to do some things and you will have to do some things. It is the last part that is often the most difficult to do, even though it is the most practical. So, bottomline, no matter how you feel about some thing or someone or some situation, you have to do what you have do. Be clinical. Be focused. And just do it.
- Keeping the faith. No matter how hopeless a situation is, please know that Life is very, very, very, very compassionate. You will always get what you need. You will not always get what you want. But you will always get what you need. I call this the marathe vechchavan thanni oothuvaan (Panakaaran, 1990, P.Vasu, Ilayaraaja, Vaali) – the creator shall always provide philosophy to Life.
So, as I see it, resilience is resident in all of us. It doesn’t show up when we resist Life. But once we embrace Life and accept it for what it is, and go with the flow, it quietly kicks in. The other way I see it is that a problem comes into your Life only because you have the ability to handle it. That ability is your resilient nature. So, no matter what you are faced with right now, soldier on. Eventually, everything passes and you will always overcome!
If you must stop living a lie, a difficult conversation must be had.
Yesterday we watched Tanuj Bhramar’s ‘Dear Dad’ (Arvind Swamy, Himanshu Sharma). It’s a short, beautiful film – in fact, if there is anything that interferes with its precise 90-min length, it is the forced intermission that we have in Indian cinemas. It deals with a 45-year-old father (Arvind – who is simply brilliant!) making a confession that he is gay to his teenaged son (Himanshu – who delivers a powerful performance!!) on an impromptu road trip. The script and the narrative are no-nonsense – they look at the family coping with this revelation with shock, denial, struggle, compassion, guilt and, eventually, very, very practically!
And, truly, that is the way families will have to cope with their own truths and realities. Honestly, really, practically.
‘Dear Dad’s’ story is of a father daring to come out to share his sexual orientation. But each family has its own such moments of coming out – for different reasons, in different contexts. So, I think the bigger picture, the larger question to be considered is whether you are going to continue to live a lie or are you going to have that difficult conversation(s) that can make Life much easier, simpler and happier for everyone concerned in the long run?
Why do we fight shy of having honest conversations? Often we think others can’t handle the truth. Or we think we can’t handle a constructive confrontation if it comes down to that. Or you fear being called selfish because you do speak prioritizing your aspirations or needs above those of others. Or the culture of your family is non-conversational – nobody has ever spoken against a visible symbol of authority or faced up to the family’s power center. There can and will surely be other contexts. But whatever they are, you have to examine how you feel when you are living a lie? If you feel you can handle it, maintaining status quo, then avoid the conversation. If you feel you can’t live this way anymore, go ahead and have that conversation, however much you struggle with it. And be prepared to live with the consequences, which, unlike as in the ‘Dear Dad’ story, may even lead to total ostracization.
An honest conversation is phenomenally useful for your inner peace even if it is undoubtedly difficult to have one. Yet, there is no better way to have that honest conversation other than saying it as it is – brutally frank, direct and in-the-face. And when having one don’t expect people to understand your point of view immediately. Embrace the denial, the drama, the struggle and the emotional outbursts as they come. But continue to speak your mind. Over time, people do realize the value of the truth, because it involves everyone. If you are honest, it will always show. And eventually everyone makes their own peace with the way you are, the way their new realities are, even if, in some situations they may choose to shut you out!
I believe ‘Dear Dad’ has done us all a huge service. If we peel away the context of sexual orientation, and stick to considering the value in having honest conversations in a family, it shows us how, despite new – unusual, seemingly difficult-to-accept – contexts arriving, we can still accept, understand and appreciate each other. That is, if we are all ready and willing!