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.
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!
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…!
|Cartoon Courtesy: India Today/Internet|