A friend, the RBI Guv and why nothing’s right and nothing’s wrong!

In any situation only do what you believe in and what you are comfortable doing.
Yesterday, I met my dear friend RU. We coincidentally ended up at the same coffee shop. We spent a few minutes like most good friends do – catching up and sharing notes. In a context that both of us have had to connect in the recent past, RU and I started talking about right and wrong. RU brought up an almost Osho-like perspective – one that I love, believe in, and live by – on right vs wrong. RU said, “Right and wrong are so relative. To someone something may appear right and to someone else the same thing may appear wrong. So, society sees it in a certain way. And the law sees it in a certain other way. In a legal context, you can’t debate much; you just follow the law. But in a social context, you don’t always need to keep debating right and wrong. You just do what you have to do. And do what you are comfortable doing.”
Interestingly, Raghuram Rajan, the Reserve Bank Governor too shared a similar perspective, more in the context of economic policy when he announced a 50 bps rate cut earlier this week. He said, with the air of someone who was not just a subject matter expert, but also a thought leader, these famous words: “Everybody and his uncle has a theory on how to run the economy and what the RBI should be doing. There are savants and idiot savants available to give you advice. So we hear a lot of advice. There are people who say interest rates should be zero. There are people who say cut your lending rates and raise deposit rates…I don’t know what you want to call me. Santa Claus is what Latha (Latha Venkatesh is an anchor with CNBC-TV18) called me earlier, you want to call me a hawk; I don’t know, I don’t go by these things. My name is Raghuram Rajan and I do what I do.”
There’s great value in the discussion that RU and Rajan bring to the table.
The whole world obsesses over what is right and what is wrong. If we get caught in splitting hair on this debate, seriously, no one will ever win. Because what is right to one may really appear wrong to another. And it is only because it appears so that people have differences of opinions and disagreements. It is this divergence in thought that leads to quarrels, fights, messy legal battles and often times a lifetime of acrimony. And it is this same right vs wrong argument that spawns crime, hatred and intolerance.
I have learnt from Life that the best way to live is to only do what you believe in – no matter what. If you don’t believe in something but have to do it to please other people – often, family, friends, bosses or colleagues – you will be very unhappy with the entire experience. Now, when the experience is as trivial as attending a family dinner with folks that you have poor chemistry with, you can get over it once the meal is over or, at best, you will put it behind in you a couple of days. But what do you do when you have to keep toeing the line in a work situation with an autocratic boss in an anarchic system? What do you do when you have to sell your soul in a relationship where you are treated like a doormat? Well obviously, being the nice person that you are, you begin by adjusting, accommodating and working towards making the other party see reason. But when you end up having to suffer day in and day out, at some time, you will conclude that you can’t handle it anymore. You will then do what you must do – like walk out of a relationship or quit a job or refuse dinners with family members that you can’t relate to. When you do take a stance, in your own interest, people will make it appear as if you have sinned. They will say you must “grow up”. And this whole debate on what is right and what is wrong will erupt – and rage on.

In any situation, four perspectives will be thrown at you. What is right, what appears to be right, what appears to be wrong and what is wrong. All four are relative. Simplify your Life. Rather than suffer yourself while pleasing other people, do only what you believe in, and what you are comfortable doing. This is the only way to inner peace. When you are at peace with yourself, magically, your world, and everything in it, falls in place!   

Be authentic, be true, to yourself, than wanting to be right all the time.

Being authentic means to do what you must, knowing that, sometimes, even if you have done what you believe is the right thing, you won’t be accepted as having done right.
Life will place you in difficult situations sometimes. In them, you will be always faced with options of doing what is right and what appears to be right. Now, this whole concept of right and wrong is very subjective and relative. Something may be right to some people at sometimes and the same thing will appear to be wrong to the same people at another time. Or something may be right to some people and appear wrong to others.
So, how do you act in such situations? A simple way to act is to not necessarily qualify your action as right or wrong. Because that debate will rage on __ both within you and among people who will have opinions to offer. The important thing is to act. And a simple framework to help you decide if your actions will be useful or not is available. Ask yourself before you act in any difficult situation:
1.     Will my action help all parties concerned?
2.     Am I acting out of care and concern or out of ego?
3.     Am I creating value in the given situation?
It is important you answer yes to all three questions before you proceed. If you answer yes, and you are willing to proceed, you must. It may well be possible that someone else looking at the situation may be answering the questions differently. So, this framework is purely for the individual intending to act in a difficult situation.
Having said that, be sure that any action will always attract attention, critique, criticism and often, unintended, equal and opposite consequences. When you act on something in favor and on behalf of another person, you will be questioned as to why you did it? The argument that it was the right thing to do won’t always work. Because the someone who you tried to help may never be seeing your action as right __ else, she or he may have done it themselves.
So, when you act, be prepared to face the consequences. If you are not, don’t act. Simple.
If as a consequence of your action, while you end up doing good in your view/eyes, you caused anguish to other parties concerned, because they don’t share your sense of perspective, then apologize. Beyond that, I also follow a simple visualization exercise. I seek forgiveness from the person that I feel I have caused pain, through my actions, by visualizing that I am touching her or his feet and giving her or him a hug. The other person may not still see it your way. She or he may not even see the apology as tenable. But at least you feel the power of your intention to have both acted with purposefulness and apologized with humility.
The bottom-line is to be authentic. You can be authentic with action and authentic with inaction, depending on what kind of a person you are. Either way, strive to be authentic, than wanting to be right and be seen as right. I for one know that I can only find peace in being authentic and prefer to have acted__ always acting with the 3-step framework__ learned and apologized, than to not have acted at all.

Indeed. Without doubt, it’s all small stuff!

Between wanting to be right and doing what is right, and what is best in a given circumstance, choose the latter.

Yesterday, while at a busy intersection, when the traffic light turned to green, I hung a right. My car was behind another. As I completed the right turn, a car coming from the street opposite, broke the red light (which was on for that lane) and rammed into my car’s rear. A traffic policeman was on duty. And he rushed forward. I stepped out and surveyed the damage. My car was dented while the other car only had a scratch as it had a huge metal guard mounted on its front. The gentleman driving the other car was wearing a tie. He looked like he was a senior management executive in a corporate; he had a blue tooth device on his ear and a smart phone strapped to his belt. I said nothing while I looked at both the cars. The cop, looked at the gentleman and asked him, “Couldn’t you see that you had a red light?” The gentleman retorted: “Of course not! I had a green light as I drove past the signal.” Pointing to me, he continued, “This man drove past the red light at his end.” The traffic cop was aghast. So was I. A couple of onlookers were surprised too. One of them, an auto-rickshaw driver was blunt. He said to the gentleman, “Sir, the least you can do is apologize.” That comment ticked off the gentleman even more. He became livid. He looked at the hapless traffic cop and declared that he knew senior officers in the police force. He looked at me and demanded an apology. I reflected on the situation. I considered that we were holding up traffic during rush hour. The dent on my car surely needed addressing. But, I concluded, I was not going to demand justice at the cost of my peace of mind. I apologized to the gentleman, shook hands with the traffic cop, thanked the auto-rickshaw driver, got into my car and drove away.

It is possible my choice is debatable. But that’s what, I believed, was the best thing to do in the circumstances.

As I drove away, I thought to myself: ‘How would I have handled this situation just 10 years ago?’ Surely, I would have stood my ground. I would have been seething with rage. I would have insisted that the gentleman was at fault. And the episode would have dragged into a saga – involving an accident complaint, an insurance claim and a burning desire to prove myself right and the other man wrong. And then I thought deeper, would my being right in a street brawl, have really mattered 10 years later, to this New Year’s Day of 2014? Certainly not! I guess that’s what evolution as an individual is all about. I felt good that I had evolved, even if marginally, over the years!

Often the biggest hurdle to individual evolution is the desire to want to control outcomes, to prove oneself right and to hold on to opinions. Focusing on the merits of each experience is perhaps a good way to ascertain and convince yourself if such clinging on is really worth it. I have learned that answering three questions really help making an intelligent choice in any circumstance:

  1.       Will what you are fighting for really matter some years from now?
  2.       What is best for all parties involved – letting go or proving yourself right?
  3.       Which stance – letting go or clinging on – will help preserve your inner peace?

Several years ago, I remember reading Richard Carlson’s fabulous book “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…”. It makes so much more sense now than it did then. I particularly like the second line of the book’s title that says – “…and it’s all small stuff”. Indeed, in Life’s grander, larger, design, everything – absolutely everything – is small stuff. And any fight to cling on to anything is bound to affect your inner peace! Ask yourself, each time before you launch into an ‘I-am-right’ mode if it is really worth it?


Silence is a great option

Walking away from a futile, distasteful argument, which is unnecessary in the first place, is not cowardice. It is intelligence.

Sometimes, being silent, and walking away, is the best response. People trying to prove each other wrong, which is what arguments are all about, leaves no one any better. Let’s remember that people do things their way only because they feel what they are doing is right. To an observer, or to someone who is at the receiving end of any action, it may well be possible that the action is questionable or inappropriate. When an argument follows, reviewing the merits of the action(s), it will always be a case of who was right than what was right. So, in all such contexts, when you find yourself in the midst  of such an unwelcome, pointless debate, exercise your option to not say or do anything. Just let things be. Don’t even opinionate in your mind. Don’t even console yourself or justify your actions. Just choose to be silent. And that is not an act of cowardice.

This does not mean you must not fight for what is right. It does not mean either that you must not make your point strongly. What it means is that if belaboring what is evident and must be understood upfront is going to cause people to experience each other badly, then such a reaffirmation or reiteration is futile. Silence is a great option. Try using it! It always ends the spiral of negativity and suspends hostilities even if it immediately does not deliver a resolution.

A moral, if you like, on Morality

There is a big public outcry in India demanding the resignation/ouster of BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) chief N.Srinivasan, following the revelations and ongoing investigations into the IPL spot-fixing scandal, in which his own son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan has been arrested. While I don’t wish to comment on the politics of the specific episode, I do wish to share some thoughts on the whole aspect of “moral” responsibility that has been thrust into focus.  

How do we decide whether we are accountable or not in cases where we make mistakes, errors in judgment or take ruinous decisions or allow the unacceptable to happen in our circles of influence? What then is the significance of “moral” responsibility in everyday Life?

The whole idea of morality is over-dramatized, often skewed and is tailored to our convenience each time. We allow our children, at least in India, to watch pirated movies or used pirated software because it is convenient, free and because ‘nobody will ever know’. In effect we are encouraging and allowing the next generation to thieve because pirated content is nothing but stolen Intellectual Property. Yet we spank our children, when as young teenagers, they do transgress and lie or cheat, out of a spirit of adventure and nothing else. The whole debate of right and wrong, good or bad, is futile. Because all these are evolving and depend on who’s doing what, at what time and where. It is unlikely that we will find an Indian who has not bribed a cop to avoid a traffic ticket or a train ticket checker to confirm a reservation out of turn. Yet each Indian will vociferously complain and champion against corruption in high places. So, morality, is different to different people, as it has come to be! A Rs.200/- (USD 4 approx) bribe is fine but a Rs.1 crore (USD 200,000 approx) one is not!

The simple way forward is not to kill ourselves with self-imposed definitions of what’s moral or amoral. Let us be continuously, totally aware. Let our awareness lead us onward. To stay aware, let us ask ourselves the following questions before we act each time:

  • Is what I am going to do useful to me?
  • Is what I am going to do useful to, and will it create value for, all other parties connected with my action?
  • Is it at the cost or expense of anyone concerned?
  • Is it in violation of a law or even the spirit of the law?

Obviously, you must answer ‘Yes’ to the first two questions and ‘No’ to the last two to proceed with your decision. Finally, of course, examine whether your action will make you feel good or feel miserable. And be guided by what will make you feel good obviously. These are not the only questions and this may not be the only way to make more aware choices in Life. There could be many different ways. But this one is among the simplest. The idea is not to vex yourself with a dilemma that cripples you each time. The idea is to be aware, be conscious, be alert to living and doing things happily. Endless debates on what’s right, what’s wrong, only lead us to more confusion, stress and take us farther away from living fully. And it’s never worth it if you can’t live feeling peaceful, wholesome, and aware, within you, in every single moment that you are alive!