Perceptions can derail you only if you allow them to.
My friend called me from Canada the other day. He shared notes with me on “how perceptions of people around you can pin you down”. He said in the time when he lived in Kerala, and when he owed money to family and friends, he would always be ridiculed for being a mudhalaly, an estate owner, who “lived it up” while claiming to be insolvent. “Even if I wore a shirt that was well laundered and ironed, they would demand that if I had money to “buy a new shirt”, I must find ways to repay my loans. I found social sentiments crippling…they made me very fearful, I was even scared of my shadow. I am still haunted by all those remarks and how I felt back then,” he told me.
I can empathize with my friend’s experience. Given our situation, (read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal), Vaani and I are consistently prone to public perception, scrutiny and judgment. But we don’t fear perceptions. We respect them as sentiments of people that we are answerable to; we remain true to ourselves and these people. Even so, we have realized that if we live in fear of anything, or anyone, we will not live, we will merely exist. So we deal with perceptions as they come along – head on, in the face!
What we have learnt is that a perception is always the viewer’s, observer’s, seer’s view of reality. So, it is totally relative to the point of view that someone, who’s looking at a situation or person, is holding. In most cases, perception is not reality. When someone has a perception of you, if they are merely misinformed or misguided by their imagination, they will accept a clarification and change their point of view. Such people are intrinsically honest and worth clarifying to. Others are not just holding a perception of you, but are also judgmental. Such people are best left alone. If you must, clarify, but don’t expect any understanding from them. And then there is the third category – people who are totally unconnected to you, but who will pass judgment in social circles, social media and even write your epithet. Such people and their opinions are best ignored. So, you see, in any of these cases, there is no point in fearing perceptions. Clarify to the best of your ability, and if you fail to convince someone, don’t let that affect you. Just move on.
In any situation, particularly when you are answerable to people circumstantially or emotionally, remember that you cannot prove your integrity to anyone – unless they see it or realize it themselves. In fact, there is no point in trying to prove yourself. Those who trust you will not be led by perceptions of you. And those who don’t trust you – or don’t want to trust you – will not let go of their perceptions of you, no matter what evidence you bring up in your favor. This is the way Life is. No one is to be blamed here. And there’s no need to grieve and sweat over your inability to erase ill-informed perceptions of you. However, always ensure that none of what you do disregards the integrity of your relationship with the stakeholder you are answerable to or are responsible for.
Bottom-line: Perceptions can derail you only if you allow them to. The only person you need to be true to, in the whole world, is you. If you are that, then perceptions won’t matter; they won’t haunt you.
In any situation, stay with the truth.
In a workshop session I led recently, a young manager asked me if speaking the truth was worth it at all. He said, “I feel most comfortable saying things as they are. I prefer being in-the-face. But I am soon discovering that people don’t like it. I am losing friends and relationships.”
The manager raises an interesting question.
We too have been told, or have sometimes experienced, that staying with the truth can be a competitive disadvantage. Sometimes, we wonder if speaking our mind will make others uncomfortable or even hurt them. We desist from speaking the truth also because we want to cover-up. But let me tell you, from my experience, that truth is a liberator. It is a healer. It is a very deadly weapon, a brahmastra, in our arsenal. I believe we fight shy of using it only because we are worried about becoming vulnerable in this ‘big, bad, cold and merciless’ world.
Fundamentally, our world view has to change. The world is not made up of hypocrites, cynics, facists, corrupt folks and terrorists alone. They are but a small part of humanity. There is a lot of goodness among the rest of humanity. You will be able to relate to this perspective only by making yourself vulnerable, by clinging on to the truth, irrespective of the circumstance. This alone will fetch you the love, compassion and warmth of like-minded people around you. If someone deserts you because you spoke the truth, then they really were not worth being in your Life. Period.
Here’s an excerpt from my Book (Fall Like A Rose Petal) that details one situation (among many) when I have seen the truth work to our advantage (my Book is a collection of letters addressed to my two children Aashirwad and Aanchal; Mom here refers to Vaani):
For example, a year ago, a government department slapped a claim of ₹14 Lakh on our Firm. Our auditor refused to represent us to meet the authorities because we had not paid the audit firm their fees in two years. Mom and I decided to meet the officer in the government department directly and explain our circumstances. The auditor, whose son studies in the same class as Aanch, warned us against ‘putting our hand into a snake-pit’ but we decided to go ahead. Our reasoning: it was better to deal with the issue head-on than live in fear.
We met the official concerned and while narrating our story, concluded by telling him that we were not even contesting the claim because we were not qualified to do so. We asked for his understanding and for time to pay up. We said we can’t pay now and we can’t bribe.
The official, in whom were vested sweeping powers to slap claims and effect collections, was surprised at our candor. He said that in his 30 years of service, he had never encountered such an honest and proactive approach or heard such a moving story.
“My heart goes out to you and your family, Sir. This is a department where people like you come to bribe people like me only after they have been coerced into submission by the department. When we forcibly summon people, they seek both illegitimate, and often unreasonable, waivers. We allow them the waivers because that’s how the system works. We threaten people and they cough up. But here you are, proactively coming and meeting me. I am moved by your story. Just leave. Forget about this claim. You have bigger things, like saving your family, to deal with,” he told us, flinging the claim file for our Firm to a pile beside his desk.
Telling the truth as it is, however impractical and unbelievable it may seem, and by always choosing to wear my Life on my sleeve, has always worked for me. And for us. It has taught us that people always respect the truth and revere honesty.
Besides, when you stay with the truth you don’t have to remember what you said! Most importantly, having embraced the truth, you will sleep well. When you can sleep in peace, you are truly blessed. Nothing else, believe me, matters!
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.
Right and wrong arise only from social – or religious – definitions!
As we drove through Poes Garden yesterday, my Uber driver asked me: “Sir, do you see the irony of it all? The working class keeps slogging away harder and harder; the looting class keeps stashing away more and more and yet they get away scot-free. She (Sasikala) may have gone to jail; but our state is in the hands of her clan…so that the looting can continue and the looted treasures can be hoarded and protected. Why do wrong-doers always have it good in Life? And why do the honest always suffer?”
Although these questions have been asked with respect to the murky political scenario in Tamil Nadu – as I write this blogpost the Sasikala faction has won the Trust Vote in the State Assembly – they apply to all contexts and scenarios, to all people, in Life. Why do wrong-doers always have it good in Life? And why do the honest always suffer?
First, let us understand, there is no right or wrong in Life. On a spiritual plane, all actions are equal and are made by individuals basis what drives them, what inspires them and what possesses them at any given moment. Society, for reasons of regulating large masses of humanity, prescribes guidelines that have, over time, led to the classification of some actions as right and some as wrong. Religion has invited itself to this party and has given what it deems right, a God-stamp, a blessing; and whatever it deems wrong has been labeled sinful. So, for instance, a man having sex with a partner outside of his marriage is merely a “normal action that satisfies a physical craving in him and his partner”. But society labels this very basic, physical, need as wrong, brings in a definition of polygamy, prescribes punishment by way of social ostracism and religion labels it adulterous and, therefore, as sinful, punishable in the “eyes of God”. So, right and wrong arise only from social – and, if you will, religious – definitions. In Life, everything, when viewed objectively, dispassionately, is only an action.
Now, let’s get back to my cabbie’s questions. If you look at those that are pissing on democracy in their lust for power, you will realize that they are doing it only because they are very clear this is what they want out of Life. They want money. They want property. They want control. They want position. And they see nothing wrong with the means they have chosen because it is the end, and only the end, that matters to them. The conscientious common folk though want governance, want basic needs met, want some money to eke a livelihood, want peace of mind and, basically, a good night’s sleep. They see their righteousness alone as right and everything else as wrong. To this class, the means is often more important, and sacrosanct, than the end. None of what the common-folk wants is causing them any misery except two things – one, a desire for good governance and two, a desire for Life to be fair to them. Now, what is the point in desiring governance while refusing to participate in the political process actively? By active participation I mean going beyond exercising your right to vote alone. I mean getting involved in the process of citizen activism, contributing to the political process and to democracy as an institution. I mean that just as once upon a time, families sent their children to serve the country through the armed forces, the time has come for us to groom our children to be national leaders and honest politicians. The second desire to want Life to be fair just because you are a class of sloggers, good natured, ethical, humans, is misplaced. Life never promised anything to anyone. Life just keeps on happening. You bring in an expectation of fair-play and so you are responsible for inviting suffering into your Life. Bottom-line: on both counts, you have an option to end your suffering. Just drop this right or wrong debate. If you want to fix the system that is holding you to ransom, go down to work on it. Your suffering, and your ranting about it, is not going to fix any system!
Here’s the nub: those that lack scruples are clear that values don’t matter to them. It is only those who are scrupulous that are confused about wanting to hold on to their values and also wanting all that which comes from being unscrupulous. This confusion is what is causing all the turmoil, the suffering, in them. I sincerely believe in this – if someone can walk without any sign of remorse over being self-obsessed, why shouldn’t the self-righteous walk equally freely – with their head held high? They surely can – if they can resolve the conflicts in them by choosing to be non-suffering!
Personal integrity is unlike a social rating – it is deeply personal and is not dependent on what others think of you.
At my Fall Like A Rose Petal Talk in Mysuru recently, a man in the audience, asked me, “What is the definition of self-respect?”
I replied: “The ability to look into your own eyes in the mirror is self-respect.”
He repeated the question, a tad aggressively: “What is self-respect?”
I replied again: “The ability to look into your own eyes in the mirror is self-respect.”
He demanded one more time: “….the definition of self-respect!”
I repeated myself: “The ability to look into your own eyes in the mirror is self-respect.”
He was now visibly charged. He said gruffly, “Okay, what is ability…”
I said, “Ability is ability…what you can do…when you are able to look at yourself, face yourself, that, to me, is self-respect.”
He then stated impatiently: “Oh! So, you will borrow money, you will say you don’t have the means to repay and you will say you will learn to be happy despite the circumstances, but what about those who lent you money, what about their happiness?” “I disagree with your whole Talk, your perspective,” he added, laughing crudely.
“You have a choice to disagree. And I respect that,” I said. Vaani added that, happiness here is the ability to be non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering, despite the excruciating circumstances we are in. I made my point again, that to me, self-respect is the ability to face yourself – despite what you have done, what you have caused.
The gentleman nodded in disagreement, got up and left.
At all my Talks, even as I open, I tell my audiences that they are free to disagree with what I have to share and with the choices Vaani and I have made in our Life. So, I neither had a discomfort with the question the man asked or with him leaving in a huff. In fact, we do have people who tell us they would not have done what we have done – which is, stay on, dig our heels in, and face up to Life and the people who we owe money to, stoically. It is fine if people have a different view of what they would have done in our shoes. To each one their own. Vaani and I have chosen to be happy, despite our circumstances, so that we can keep facing this enduring crisis, keep making efforts to turn our business around, so that someday soon, surely, we can repay all the money that we owe people.
This is where self-respect comes in. Let me explain.
I feel that in any situation, three perspectives are possible: what you, the person in the throes of a situation, feels you can and must do; what the world wants you to do; and what the world thinks you are doing. Maybe there is a fourth. Or more. But these three ring as immediate possibilities to me just now. Among the three, from what Vaani and I have learnt, only the first one appeals to us. Which is doing what you can and must do in the situation. If you have done that, then no matter what the outcomes of your efforts are, no matter what the world thinks of you, you can sleep well, you can look into the mirror and face yourself. This, to me, is self-respect. Self-respect is really about you. Any other perspective that is not your own is a mere perception. If you engage too much with your perception value, chances are you may be very unhappy. Because you are not true to yourself. When you are unhappy, when you are suffering, you cannot function with focus and efficiency. So, self-respect is very important, crucial, in fact, to progress and to endure a difficult, or apparently no-go situation.
Which is why I am sharing this experience and this learning here. I have understood, and experienced, that no matter how “worldly-wise” someone’s point of view may be, how suicidal it may be to do something that may be perceived by the world as wrong, if you feel like doing what will never make you feel ashamed of yourself, go do it. Personal integrity is unlike a social rating – it is deeply personal and is not dependent on what others think of you. It is about what you think of yourself, how much you value your inner peace. To be sure, you can never prove your personal integrity to anyone. Either people relate to you and “feel” your honesty, even when there’s no material evidence, or they don’t. Period. Your personal honesty is your sense of conviction and your ability to face yourself in the mirror. If you can do that, you can last any crisis, endure any situation, no matter how long it takes!