Saturday, August 18, 2012
Besides the Lofty
He had the right argument but then, he did not know when to refrain from presenting it.
At the slightest provocation he would start arguing, politely enough of course – but on a point that I had just dropped casually on my way to another subject, a point I had no interest in. Or, an interesting point I was too tired to discuss at midnight over phone.
But in his enthusiasm, he would not relent until he had said all he had to say or until we would reach a consensus.
When it became a pattern, I began to think him self-righteous.
It turned me off so completely, I had difficulty explaining to people when they wanted to know why I wasn’t in touch with him. You see, there was no major fault in him I could put my finger on.
But isn’t it these little things about people that annoy us more than the important things about them?
That episode was actually a revelation to me.
I realized how important it was to relent. (At times). To let go. To nod your head or shrug as if you weren’t sure, even when you were dead sure inside your head you disagreed.
To keep mum even when you have all the right arguments. To be sensitive to other people’s moods. To relent, when they don’t want to listen to what you have to say. Or when they have listened for some time but want to change the subject now. Or when you know they subscribe to an ideology totally opposite to yours and will never understand your viewpoint. In short, to refrain from saying the right thing when it is so warranted...
Which parent would consciously encourage their child to cultivate the discrimination to ‘relent’? Which child in its formative years would consciously learn the habit of relenting?
Isn’t it the loftier ideals at the other end of the spectrum such as assertiveness, self confidence, outspokenness and competitive spirit that are preponderant, that everyone is promoting? Who ever talks of ‘relenting’ as a positive attribute?
Yet, when someone argues or asserts without a care for your exasperation and you wish he would stop, that’s when you begin to see what a precious ‘little’ attribute ‘relenting’ is and how you never thought about it and whether you were making the same mistake in conversing with other people?
At times, when we are turned off by certain traits of people, we see, often with wonder, the value of certain attributes nobody taught at school, attributes that awed no one, that won no special praise and no life transforming courses or books professed.
These are not the lofty attributes, yet their lack could make someone so unbearable.
There was another incident like this which made me see another important ‘little’ quality; it was to be partial in dispensing justice.
I had phoned my friend to come to a cafe as I was in distress and felt like sharing it with her.
When I told her about this guy who had hurt me, irritated me with his pushiness, and then said morbid things about me to someone else, she, my friend gave a response I was totally unprepared for.
Instead of comforting me who was on the verge of crying, she told me with a cold shrug (without actually knowing the details of what had transpired) that I was making a big deal, that the guy had a right to ‘express his opinions’ before someone he chose, that I had been in the wrong in so many instances...and so on. Her sympathy was entirely with the guy and none at all with me.
I left the cafe feeling sorry for myself that I had tried to share something with her.
I knew that in this particular case, my friend was completely wrong in her assessment but even if she wasn’t, did she have to listen to me the way she had? She was someone who actually took pride in being a good listener.
But good listening, among other things, included one little thing that is not as popular as other qualities that make it up – being on the side of an agonized person even though he or she may be in the wrong.
If I want impartial justice, I will go to a court. Why do I go to a friend? Because I want to be understood. I want to be heard. Because I want sympathetic listening. Because I was some partiality. Not impartial judgment.
I could not help recollecting my many meetings with an old friend Shilpa. She had just been separated from her husband.
I had seen her growing up. She was a radical feminist. She had never had a male friend. She hated men unconditionally and was averse to sex.
Therefore, though I had never met her husband, I knew he definitely had ‘his side of the story’.
Whenever we met after her divorce, she would say things like ‘I want to see him in a pool of blood’, ‘pelt him with stones if you sight him somewhere’, ‘the bastard ruined my life’ and so on.
I could have shown off my superior analytical powers and told her, ‘you made a mistake in this particular incident’, or I could have been a truth speaking saint and dispensed impartial judgment and said, ‘it was your fault too’.
But seeing the agony she was in, I didn’t feel like doing any of that. I sympathized with her and even swore at him so it would lessen her agony.
Later, when she had cooled down, I told her very cautiously that she had hurt male ego in correcting him in front of his family, that she had not been right in insisting upon equal division of household chores, that she should have been more polite to her in laws and so on...
But I was partial, in her moment of agony and indignation.
For that was what she needed at that moment – someone on her side, a friend who would listen to her, someone who would step in her shoes, understand her pain no matter what the cause.
But whoever does advocate partiality? It’s one of those ‘little’ qualities...
Morality is taught by a few and followed by a fewer.
Survival is taught by many and acquired by experience.
Smartness is taught aplenty and over-smartness is actually becoming a nuisance.
But sensitivity? Wisdom?
Coming to think about it, wisdom and morality are clearly very different. Many times they are conflicting. But wisdom is as indispensable as the other loftier ideal.