Friday, 10 May 2013

One Shoe Doesn't Fit All

Swami Gulagulaananda recounted the old saying:
"Before you judge me walk a mile in my shoes"

A great thing about being in India is the myriad colourful lives that you get to see around you. Different people living their lives in their own ways. And every single person has different qualities that define him or her, their own personal idiosyncrasies and peculiarities that make them what they are, that define them. Some are logical, some are cold, some are jumpy, some sensitive, some optimistic, some pessimistic,  some balanced, some depressed and some ecstatic... You get the picture.

But it gets interesting when you try to analyse why people are the way they are. As in, we are aware of what qualities are desirable and what are not. Like, optimism in general is considered a good quality while pessimism is not. I say 'in general' because there have to  be certain negative inclinations at times too, for it helps us prevent pitfalls due to over-enthusiasm. But in general, a positive mindset is good. We similarly prefer a warm jolly fella to a cold logical person who weighs everything in terms of profit and loss, including relationships and what he can gain out of becoming your friend.

But despite knowing what's good and what's bad, we are not all good all the time. For instance, we know that in times of a stressful period or emergency, we should not react in a knee-jerk fashion. Instead we should ruthlessly priortitise and work according to a virtual flowchart. We know this in theory, but how many of us can put it to practice? Many, in a fit of panic, forget what should be done next. "My mind went blank" they say. And events such as these clearly indicate that different people are very different. Some of these qualities are inherited, genetically or sub-consciously, some are developed through training - either by self or professionally, some are developed in you due to situations around you that mould you to become what you are.

I like to think of the last one as policies. Take an example of a person who gets betrayed by his friends each and every time he got close to one. The first time, he probably takes it as misfortune. The second time he might blame his luck or general decadence of society. But if it happens multiple times, irrespective of whom he blames, he develops a wall around him, and tries hard to not be friends with people. If you are not friends with someone, you don't trust them beyond a certain level and therefore, you cannot be betrayed - This is a policy he adopts for himself. This probably is good for him. But what happens when someone new meets him and likes him and genuinely wants to be friends with him? No matter how hard he tries, he cannot get closer than a certain level, for an invisible wall separates them. The second person simply cannot understand why beyond a certain level, overtures are no longer entertained. In fact, there are subtle hints of rebuffing. The reason for the rebuff is not clear to him and he probably concludes this as some kind of introvert behaviour, a peculiarity or an idiosyncrasy. He does not realise that there was a history of betrayal that made him the way he is...

And this is true about a lot of things. There are some who are fiercely independent, there are some who don't want to fall in love (again), some who insist on going back to their home towns all the time... Perhaps Mr. Independent was let down by people on whom he relied on. So he concluded that if you rely on someone, you will be let down, it's better to do things yourself instead. This could result in further policies from being developed, such as - 'I was let down, I should not let others down' or 'I was able to do things myself, perhaps he should learn to do it himself too...' The first case results in a good quality - a helping nature. The second results in a conscious refusal to help. Understand that the refusal is not stemmed from dislike or Schadenfreude. Au contraire, the person thinks he is doing you a favour because it worked really well for him. But again, all people are not the same. Perhaps Mr. Independent was a talented person and it worked for him, but for the help-seeker, it is not a possibility to learn and do it by himself which is why he was seeking help. A refusal comes as a blow to him (resulting in policies of his own)

In fact, much of what I have said in this post is already known to most of you and are found in various forms in proverbs. Here are a couple I was reminded of... "Once bitten, twice shy" and "Before you judge me walk a mile in my shoes"

We are all, in a way, a product of our environments and people over time. We shouldn't hastily judge other people. At the same time, we should be perceptive to environments too. Like for example, a person who is accustomed to getting his way all the time tends to expect it in a new environment - and he doesn't see that he is annoying other people in the process. (In the work context) He tries to push his agenda all the time, the others get annoyed and go out of their way to push his work down the priority list resulting in the pusher getting miffed. Environments are different all the time, and people should adapt accordingly.

A very interesting fact though, is that the same situations result in entirely different opinions being formed in different people - Of course, it is because the cumulative policies till then are different due to different environments in the past. An interesting question raised by Ramesh Radhakrishna was - "If there are twin brothers who have gone through the exact same experiences all the time, will they be thinking the same all the time?" An extension question would be, given the same situation, would their reactions be exactly the same? Something to think about...

To summarise, don't judge others hastily... You perhaps know how he is, you don't know why he is the way he is.

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