Well, honestly, there’s nothing you can do about it!
A follower on Instagram asked me this question: “What do you do when someone refuses, despite your best efforts, to understand you – and what if that someone happens to be a close family member?”
I had a few relevant learnings to share. One is that honest conversations are critical for divergent views to be expressed and for close relationships to thrive. At least one member of the family must be allowed to play the role of an objective arbitrator to facilitate constructive confrontation in specific contexts. Second, it is futile to convince people who don’t want to understand you, despite your best efforts. If there is a misunderstanding you can present evidence, you can sit down, clarify and seek an understanding. But what if there is a concerted, sometimes even manipulative, effort to not want to understand you? Then, the best approach is silence. When you don’t stoke an argument, when you don’t try to prove anymore that you are right, when you let others hold on to what they believe is the truth, then distances may prevail alright – but there won’t be any further acrimony. Third, don’t hold on to what has been said about you, to judgments that have been passed. You can’t always erase the memory of a hurt, but don’t hold on to the hurt itself. Set it down, let it go. You don’t have to either pretend to be close or be awkwardly cold to people you can’t relate to anymore, but letting go of what they did to you can dissolve all hostility. And that contributes big time to your inner peace.
My own experiences (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) in Life have taught me that it is perfectly fine when you can’t relate to some members of your family. I have come to realize that no one person is right or wrong. Each one is entitled to their view. The key question is whether you are able to relate to the view being expressed. When you are not, just move on. Don’t try to challenge, or convince, or change the other person. There really is no point grieving over a situation which requires more than just your integrity and intention to bridge the distances. Such is Life. At best, when an opportunity arises, you speak your mind. Be detached, be dispassionate. Just say what you feel is important for you to say. Don’t expect anyone to be convinced. And leave things as they are.
It is the lack of empathy that makes our world a cold, unfriendly, place.
Since I am a public speaker, and I do often get invited to address audiences, I have been asked by my doctor to nurture and protect my vocal cords. So, I have now begin carrying a collar mic with me. This mic runs on 9V battery power. I have to carry spare 9V cells so I am never short of one.
Yesterday, at the airport, a CISF (Central Industrial Security Force – mandated with airport security in India) Inspector disallowed me from carrying the extra cells. We got into a discussion over the matter. Although I was upset, and initially angry too, I let it pass. I heard what the gentleman had to say. He patiently explained to me that he didn’t have a problem with me carrying one cell in the mic, but he would not be allowing the “extras” to go with me.
We spoke over the matter for about 10 minutes. We spoke in Hindi. At the end of it, he thanked me for my “badappan” – magnanimity – in understanding his point of view. And I thanked him for his courtesy and patience with my situation. All through the conversation, he wore a bright, friendly, look on him. He was calm and never intimidating. We parted ways shaking hands and wishing each other well.
This Blogpost comes close on the heels of an unfortunate episode where Indigo staffers allegedly manhandled a passenger – a story that continues to be shared virally and debated across India. Even otherwise, I have often found people at airports, across the world, being particularly uncharitable to security personnel. Both in terms of opinion and attitude, most passengers tend to consider security folks painful to deal with. In the past, I too have been grumpy whenever I have been ‘randomly’ selected, isolated and ‘patted down’ by TSA staff in American airports or when CISF people have asked for my laptop bag to be re-examined. But, over the years, thanks perhaps to my personal evolution and given the high-risk and vulnerable environment that prevails globally, I have learned to understand – and not interpret or imagine – the motives of airport security people. They have taught me empathy.
For instance, Siddarth, the CISF Inspector I dealt with yesterday, told me this: “Hamari koshish bas yehi hai ki hamari nigrani mein koi negative episode na ho jaye. Aap sab bhale logon ki suraksha hamara zimma hai.” – “Our endeavor is to ensure passenger safety and that nothing negative/untoward happens under our watch. We want to protect all you good people out there.” He added, “When passengers get upset with us for doing our jobs diligently, my staff do feel demoralized. But I tell them – forgive them. Keep calm and keep treating every passenger the way you like to be treated!”
I loved that lesson in empathy and Buddhahood. Treat others the way you like to be treated. The essence of empathy lies in understanding – and not in interpreting or imagining. Not just in the context of airport security and dealing with people in uniform, who are merely doing their duty, but in all situations, empathy is a great quality to nurture. You don’t have to necessarily agree with everyone’s point of view, but you can surely see that point of view, and understand the rationale behind the other person’s choices and actions.
It is the lack of empathy that makes our world a cold, unfriendly, place. What we need today is global heartwarming – more patience, more understanding, more empathy. We need more Buddhas, like the CISF Inspector Siddarth!
A couple came to us wondering how they can separate while ensuring that their children are not affected. I shared how my friend and his wife worked out a win-win arrangement, based on my advice, that has helped them both immensely. On this Podcast, I talk about how it is possible for a couple to set aside their differences if they choose to keep their children at the centre of their Universe. Any fight that is ego-driven is not worth it. Focus instead on a “working arrangement” when the relating between two people goes out the window.
Listen time: 5:31 minutes
What do you do when, sometimes, people don’t want to understand you? And you have stopped relating to them? Move on… In today’s Podcast I champion that you must protect your inner peace – because that’s all you have got and only you are responsible for it! Listen time: 4:03 minutes
Choose to be amused, curious, bewildered about people’s behavior – and not bitter!
“Why can’t some people understand us? No matter what we say or do, why is there only an effort to misunderstand by them,” asked a reader on FB Messenger yesterday.
My answer: “Such is Life. That’s just the way some people are.”
Indeed. I see no other explanation for the way some people behave. In fact, personally, I have even reached a stage when I don’t even want to understand – or explain – why some people behave the way they do. Ultimately, everyone does what they think is right. If they thought otherwise, they would not be doing what they are doing! Simple.
The other day, members of my estranged, fractious, family were trying to reach me for a reason. I was preoccupied for a while and so I did not respond immediately to any of them. But the number of messages they pounded me with on WhatsApp, SMS, FB Messenger, e-mail, the number of calls they made, and the tone of their messages indicated that they felt I was deliberately avoiding them. We haven’t been in touch for several years now. Nothing much has changed in the equation among us. But to assume, within an hour of sending someone a message, or after calling them, that they are avoiding you, I believe is being, unfortunately, judgmental.
I wasn’t angry with the tone my family employed. I was amused. And I guess that’s a good way to deal with people that don’t understand you or perhaps that don’t want to understand you. Respond with amusement, not anger. If you look at it objectively, people know what they are doing. If they are saying something nasty about you, or to you, or if they are doing something irrational, illogical, unkind and unjust to you, they are doing it only because they want to do it. I have realized that you can’t stop someone who’s determined to do what they want to do. So, I just let them be. I live in the comfort that the opinions they hold of me, the way they choose to express themselves to me and their actions cannot affect my inner peace.
Actually, it is equally fascinating to see how different people look at the same situation or at the same person differently. This variety makes for an interesting study of human behavior. I am eternally curious to see how people imagine or think up plots, sub-plots, theories and conspiracies in plain, mundane situations. Without such colorful imagination, I believe, Life will be boring. So, I have learnt to let people’s machinations and manipulations, their interpretations and misuderstandings, keep me entertained. I don’t crave for being understood anymore. If they are choosing to be the way they are, it is only appropriate that I remain the way I must really be – unruffled, curious, bewildered, and never bitter!
Investing all that time in yourself is a far more meaningful thing to do.
I watch helplessly as the world shreds and probes the Life of acclaimed singer Suchitra Kumar. Her husband, who is an actor and stand-up comedian, is a close friend. Despite his fervent appeal that Suchi be left alone, as she is going through an emotionally challenging phase, the Twitterati and the Page 3 media junta are dissecting the lady’s online activity and behavior. They call it #suchileaks! WhatsApp forwards are simply propagating unfounded information – sheer nonsense, that’s truly avoidable! A few of the couple’s colleagues in the entertainment industry are being uncharitable adding to the media frenzy. Here’s a situation, I believe, that can happen to any of us. Someone’s going through an emotional catharsis. And avoidable content is emerging from her Twitter handle. The family says they are trying to make sense of this. There’s a theory too that her account could have been hacked. Where is the need to rush and pronounce judgment on this? Why engage in frivolous commentary?
When I look at the #suchileaks drama, and society’s response to it, particularly on social media, I can only say that it is sadly reflective of how much our culture has degenerated. Just because we have access to social media platforms, just because we have an opinion on a matter, must we rush to put it out there? Critique is ok. But look at what we are doing, consider how we are behaving. We almost always only criticize, often without any rationale; we chastise, we ridicule, we mock, and what’s most vulgar, we pass judgment ruthlessly. If you sit back and reflect calmly you may perhaps agree with me here. If we invest the amount of time, that we waste on obsessing over the lives of other people, on ourselves, we would not just make progress by being more productive at whatever we work on, we will be happier!
If there ever is anything sinful in Life, it has to be this despicable act of judging others. Unfortunately our society is steeped in this sin, it in fact thrives on it! Most judgment these days happens on social media and almost all the time it is never based on facts or evidence. It is driven by baseless opinion and an angst to prove to the world that you too exist. For instance, if you didn’t post a comment on what you think of Suchi, the moment #suchileaks surfaced, why would anyone even look at your Tweet or post? Or if you didn’t leverage Suchi’s emotional turmoil and give her an ignominious epithet, how can you stay relevant in the dog-eat-dog marketplace?
But there is hope. If each of us can make a small beginning. Clearly, what our world urgently needs is global heartwarming. So, each of us must cultivate understanding and compassion and learn to drop the urge to judge others. We can do this if we can pause and ruminate before making online utterances, specifically in contexts concerning others – not just of celebrities, of anyone. We may like to ask ourselves: is it the truth, is my opinion in the matter relevant, isn’t offering the opinion avoidable; when uttered, will my comment be fair to all concerned, is my Life going to be any better because I commented on this subject or person? I have been employing these questions every single time I have a craving to share an opinion. To be sure, I too have opinions, almost on everything – and everyone – around me. But when I chew over my opinion and subject them to these questions, I find my opinion dissolving. It is a beautiful process – an avoidable urge to judge, opinionate or comment arises and then I throw the questions at that urge and the urge simply capitulates and disappears. Try it! It works!!
I believe the biggest value that choosing to be non-judgmental delivers is time. When we stop obsessing over others’ lives, we have a lot more time to reflect on our own. And it is only through continuously investing in yourself that you can live a fuller, meaningful, happier Life!
A lot of our suffering comes from our desire to be understood by others.
I was treated shabbily by an autorickshaw driver the other day. He mocked at me and said that I appear to be well-off; so I must give him the full hundred rupees (post-demonetization, a Rs.100/- note has trophy value!) I held in my hand. I was willing to pay him Rs.80/- for a ride that possibly may have cost only Rs.50/-. But the man was impertinent. I was low on money (not just on physical cash, but low on funds itself!) and so I wanted to economize. Rs.20/- may not have mattered to me on another day. But just now, as I stood in front of this man, it did matter a huge deal to me. But before I could say anything further, the man, perhaps so used to such situations, made an uncalled-for remark, “You rich people must understand the plight of us, the poor, and not exploit us!” I was livid. I thrust the Rs.100/- in his hand and walked away fuming.
For about 15 minutes after that episode, I kept thinking about what the man had said. Here I was, I thought, struggling for over 10 years, to fix a business and Life situation (read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal). And there he was making a totally erroneous and unwarranted assumption about me. The remark was now beginning to chew me up, it kept hitting me where it hurts the most, my debilitating financial situation. Then, thanks to me training my mind through mouna (daily silence periods) over the years, my awareness stepped it. And it helped me reason with myself: What does this man know about me or my story? Therefore, isn’t it futile to expect him, a Chennai autorickshaw guy, to be understanding?”
The autorickshaw driver is just a metaphor here. And my experience in this episode too is reflective of the human craving for being understood all the time. This is what happens to all of us in most contexts and this is why misunderstanding creeps into relationships.
It is normal for communication to be misunderstood and misinterpreted by others at times. Just as a spelling mistake is possible in a simple word, so is a misunderstanding possible in relationships. And all of it is caused by how someone wants to interpret what is being said or imagine that something else, than what is being said, is being implied! In a situation when there is repeated breakdown of communication, or even aggravated, angry, violent expressions, it is best to remain quiet. And, more importantly, it is best to give up the need to be understood.
Yes, as it happened with me, you may lose your cool, your inner peace momentarily. But if you have trained your mind, your awareness will step in help you overcome the turmoil. Deep, silent, private reflection always helps.
Sometimes, in some irreparable situations, you may also require to remain quiet and detached from the people involved for long periods of time. Maybe even for years at a stretch. This is true in all contexts; with parents, children, spouses, siblings, extended families, friends, neighbors or workplace teams. Time and the truth alone can heal such situations. On the other hand, when you try to force, often in vain, an understanding and try to get people to see you the way you want to be seen, you will undoubtedly suffer. But you have a choice not to suffer in the throes of the pain that such misunderstandings can cause. Just stop feeling pity for yourself, stop demanding that you are understood, and your suffering will cease. The pain may still be there, and so will the factors causing the pain, but you will not suffer.
Accept that this strained situation is the current reality that you have to live with. Give the situation love by practising forgiveness – forgive yourself and the others involved too. Who started a fracas or misunderstanding first is immaterial, just accept being a co-creator of the situation and forgive everyone. Slowly, surely, you will find yourself becoming peaceful. When one person is at peace, the entire circle of influence of that person, even if people are estranged, benefits from the peace. Be a peace champion. Begin with yourself.
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If you cannot get along with someone, so be it. Try to understand that someone. If you can’t, don’t force yourself to and don’t grieve. Just let things be.
At the core of all human conflict is a lack of understanding between people. Now, if two people develop a lack of understanding between them, they can first – and must – attempt to understand each other. It is because each sees their point of view as right, as the truth, that there is a stand-off.
A good way to begin a reconciliation is to see the other person’s point of view, her or his truth, and review your own. Can their truth be a part of yours? Can yours be a part of theirs? If neither approach works, just agree to disagree and move on. Bottomline: don’t feed the negativity that the difference of opinion has created in the first place.
But what do you do when the other person is close relative, a spouse, a child, a parent, a friend, a colleague – someone who you must (or have to) interact with on a daily basis? What if the other person does not even want to resolve the issue, does not want to understand you, your point of view or your truth? Well, I would advise that you make the same effort: try to either erase the negativity or try not to feed it anymore. But despite your best intentions and initiative, if nothing is working out, just let it be. Be operationally available and cordial. And stay away from any additional interactions.
In a third scenario when the person’s presence itself is a source of negativity in you, when you feel that each time you are in her or his company, you see your inner peace being destroyed, well, try to work on a physical separation from that person. This may seem improbable as a suggestion often only because the relationship you have with the person may be too complex to afford a physical peeling off. Even so, if something has to be done in the interests of protecting your inner peace, you have to do it. Nobody can do this for you. What must be done, must be done. Here’s the moot point: either you do what you must do about protecting your inner peace or you stop complaining about a situation that ruins your inner peace!
Always remember this: our lives are too short for us to dwell on the pettiness of things that some people drag us into. If you want inner peace, you must be willing to do whatever it takes to ensure it arrives in your Life and it stays protected. Besides, if you actually pause and examine all the relationships in your Life that require repairing, people who are genuinely interested in you, in them and in positivity, will see your truth. Or they will invite you to see theirs. Those who do none of this, those who want the negativity to fester and breed, really don’t deserve your respect, attention or time. Let them wallow in their ruinous machinations. You just move on!
The reason why you have a child is not for you to worry yourself thinking about getting him or her married.
A friend and I got together after several years. His daughter is now doing her final year in law school. She wants to be a sports lawyer. And wants to go abroad to pick up a Master’s degree in that field. But my friend and his wife want to get her married. “In my community, girls cannot go out of the country without getting married. Besides, what is the need for my daughter to do a Master’s when she has to actually focus on raising a family,” explained my friend. I was both shocked and disturbed by what my friend had to say. We had ordered a drink and in silent protest I cancelled my order. I felt very uncomfortable calling a man who had such primitive, regressive thoughts on parenting, my friend. I pretended I had an urgent call from home and said that I had to leave. But before I left I told him this: “This may seem like unsolicited advice. But please don’t come in the way of your child’s dream. You have not brought her into this world for her to only marry and raise children. She has the potential to make this world a better place. Please allow her to do that.”
I have no idea if my well-meaning appeal made any difference to my friend’s thinking. But what he had to say left me very, very concerned for what’s happening around us.
I just don’t get this. Why would parents want to interrupt – and how could they – their childrens’ Life plans? I see so many parents around me vexing over the marriage of their young adult children as if the raison d’etre of these young folks is to have sex and procreate. If this sounds crass, let’s learn to live with it. Because that’s precisely what parents of my generation continue to do with their children, of course, they camouflage it in a socially acceptable framework called an “arranged marriage”. In fact, nothing seems to have changed. For they continue to perpetrate the same crime that’s been going on for generations now. I can’t quite understand why parents need to “worry” about their young adult children? Why not just let them be and allow them to figure out Life for themselves? Let them marry when they want, to who they want to live with. If they want to live in, and not marry, so be it. I would much rather that parents hoped that their children found true love, companionship and understanding than rush to get them married.
For a change to come in social outlook and individual actions, the younger generation needs to speak up too. In the name of respecting their elders, many are unwittingly letting regressive thinking prevail. But there seems to be some hope. Yesterday, my son directed me to a Facebook post by a young gentleman called Dhruv Deshpande . Google him and check out his post of June 13th – it has gone viral!!! He invites people of his generation to work on making the world a better place, one parent at a time: “…Today, the biggest propagators of the notion of rape culture, caste system, racism, Islamophobia, homophobia…are your parents’ generation, however latent it may be. Do not ignore it because you think you’re respecting your parents…If you trace it, squash it. Let it be an argument, a fight, a stand-off, but don’t give up on your parents by silently letting them be carriers of social evils…So, stop preaching online. Look behind your computer screens at the wrinkled little lovable bigot you’re living with. If you love them, tell them they’re wrong. They’re wrong a lot…” I feel Dhruv’s said it. And said it well. To the list of social evils he has there, I will add the scourge of arranged marriages in the name of “performing duty”, “keeping the honor of the community intact” and “in order for parents and grandparents to die peacefully”.
In my humble opinion, it is a grave mistake for a parent to not know what his or her child dreams of. It is a graver sin, of course, to come in the way of that dream, citing as an excuse, of all things, an arranged marriage!