Have you felt like you are sitting inside looking at the world outside? Like everything that is going around you outside of your body is like a movie? It is like you are wrapped up in your own little capsule and you are merely a spectator. Just like you have no control over a movie you’re watching – how it will end or what the characters will do to each other, for example, but you cannot do anything about the movie that is Life. But then you say – “Surely, there are a few things I can do? If it is a whodunit, then I can try to guess who the murderer is. If it is a romantic comedy, I can expect the movie to make me laugh and/or cry. If it is a fantasy, then I can prepare my mind for willing suspension of disbelief.” In a movie, then, we are already prepared to experience a whole gamut of feelings before we even begin the viewing. That is where Life is different. Life throws us challenges and surprises all along the way and we are always caught off-guard and we react. Our reactions are mostly based on our belief system and our principles. But perhaps, sometimes, the best thing to do is to do nothing. Let the Universe take charge and let Life unfold in its own way.
Sitting on my hands does not come naturally to me. If there is something wrong, I have this intense, uncontrollable urge to make myself heard. If someone I love is going in the wrong direction, it is hard for me to zip it up. I feel that if I truly love someone, then I should help them to see things from a different perspective. Time and again, I have been told that I do not need to volunteer advice. Time and again, I have been faced with the dilemma—to speak up or not to speak up. Here’s what I have learned (and still learning) about the subtleties of speaking up/not speaking up.
Be a passive observer?
This is perhaps the most difficult thing for me to do – to do nothing. Immediately, my brain revolts. ‘But why should I do nothing? When I see someone doing something wrong am I supposed to be quiet? Why can’t I raise my voice?’ That’s one part of my brain ranting and raving while the other part is trying to pacify it by saying ‘There, there, calm down. Would you like some tea?’ Sometimes my mind is easy to handle and it might say ‘Tea sounds good. Ooh, can we have a cookie with it?’ But sometimes, like an intransigent teenager, it goes, ‘No, I don’t want tea. I am furious. Why can’t I say what I think is right? Do my opinions have no value?’ And then, it is time for some tough love. ‘Actually, no’, I say. ‘Your opinions do not matter.’ Then there is a meltdown and I have to be the parent who stays calm while hurting inside because the child is hurting. Most of the time, I let the meltdown pass. Sometimes it takes hours, sometimes days, and sometimes, well, it never goes away. Like a bad tooth, it returns to torment from time to time.
Needless to say, being a passive observer is hard. It is hard to accept that our opinions might not have any significance because self-preservation is one of our most basic instincts. We want to protect our ego and our self-esteem and we cannot let anyone or anything treat us like we are nobody. I read this blog about how to cope with passive aggressive behaviour and it says that one should not react because when one reacts, the behaviour escalates. So, we are supposed to simply accept that the person treating us like dirt is the one with the problem. We are asked not to personalise. And what about parents of teenagers (or sometimes even irresponsible adults)? Are we not supposed to condemn their wayward actions? Is it not our responsibility to guide them back to the right thoughts and actions? Or are we to simply watch as silent spectators because it is after all their life and they have the right to lead it the way they want and make mistakes and fall flat on their faces? Are we not supposed to tell them of the obvious consequences of their actions because surely, as parents, we know which action will lead to what consequence? Although instinctively, we try to protect those we love, there comes a time when we have to learn to let go and let them make their own mistakes. And we need to do this gracefully, without telling them “I told you so”.
Should we or should we not speak up?
If anything, as intelligent, sensitive human beings, we know that we should raise our voice against wrong-doings around us. If we all decided to be quiet in the face of misgivings, then what would the world be? If we are to only play the part of a passive audience, then what is the meaning of the existence of intelligence, emotional or otherwise? I have grown up in a family that has often quoted Tagore’s line — “Anyaya je kore aar anyaya je shohe tobo ghrina tare jeno trino shomo dohe”, which means, those who commit injustice and those who forbear it, let them blaze like hay in the fire of your indignation. It loosely translates as ‘someone who commits injustice and someone who tolerates injustice should be treated with equal measure of disdain’. Can you make your peace with your conscience/the universe/higher power/Almighty or whatever it is you believe in, if you tolerated injustice or wrong-doing? Or is this subjective and selective? For example, we can tell off our friend but we can’t tell off our boss? Can we confront a passive aggressive person? I have come to realise by getting burnt several times, that whether we can speak our minds or not will depend on the person, situation, time, and content.
Location Location Location
Like in real estate, in Life too, ‘location’ is very important. Society constantly urges us to speak for ourselves, to voice our opinions. There are studies which point to how speaking up is good for one’s mental health, and yet, every day, we are confronted by situations where it is almost impossible to do so. Perhaps, we need to question why we want to say what we want to say. If it is simply about raising our voice against personal injustice, then one should speak when the time is right and in the tone that will be heard because nothing can be worse than saying something without paying attention to one’s body language and tonality. It quickly turns into a ‘failure to launch’ situation. Also, one needs to gauge the acceptability factor of what one is about to say. If I feel that what I will say will not be taken in the same spirit of compassion and understanding that it is meant to be with, then I refrain. I have, on several occasions, not listened to my inner voice and gone ahead to express my views. But I am wiser now. I dial the friend who will be my external voice of reason instead. However, this is not as straight-forward as it seems. If, there is a social cause that one is passionate about, then one should not hesitate to raise their voice against the societal injustice. There are several ways one can and should do so.
Who do you think you are talking to?
Contrary to what I tell my inner child sometimes, opinions do matter but having said that, everyone has an opinion about everything. How does one go about deciding which ones are pearls of wisdom and which ones are tabloid trash? I believe it depends upon whose voice it is. We believe in some people and value their opinions. This can be because of our association with them and how we perceive them. Sometimes we may value someone’s opinion/thought/idea because of the respect for the relationship, their wisdom, or their station in life. Whatever your reason, you get to choose whose words you will value and whose you won’t. Similarly, others have the right to make the same choice. It is only fair that you expect the same from others. Whatever you will say will not be accepted just because you are saying it. Sometimes it might so happen that we do not agree with what they are saying but nevertheless, we lend our ears to them because we respect the person or the relationship. But, then again, there are times when we should decide not to listen to others because of how they make us feel. If someone is constantly trying to undermine our self-esteem and confidence, then culling out these toxic people and their caustic comments from our lives is the best gift we can give ourselves. In most cases, this might be a tad impossible. In such circumstances, ignoring them is the best possible alternative. So, the next time someone is ignoring your precious advice, you know that either your opinions are not important/relevant or you are not important in their life. It is time to protect your self and leave, and make sure you close that door behind you when you go.
Content and Intent
One must be open-minded, introspective, and self-loving enough to understand whether what is being said is in our best interest. This might seem obvious but in my experience, the ability to discern is not common. You might be saying something out of love and concern for the person but like I mentioned earlier, if you and/or your advice is not important to them, then it can only result in breaking your heart. When that happens, I ask myself the reason for my desire to voice my opinion. But sometimes, even the best of intentions may not be acceptable to others.
This is a useful key to keep in our emotional line of vision but to be honest, I haven’t been terribly successful in remembering this. It is perhaps, because I am not comfortable ‘not talking about my feelings’. I am learning to be like water – taking the shape of the vessel I am in. This is way outside my comfort zone and it isn’t easy and most days, I am an emotional wreck. But I keep telling myself to focus on the bigger picture and the question I ask myself these days is ‘Will talking make the situation better or worse?’
“If the person you are talking to doesn’t appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.” — Winnie the PoohA.A. Milne
Find your safety net
I believe in ‘talking things out’, clearing the air, and moving on. Thankfully, I can bare my soul to my trusted group of friends and family. They help me keep it real, keep it simple, and keep me going. They are my espresso shots for my emotional hangover. So, keeping it together becomes much easier because I know that I have my emotional safety net in place. I believe that every one of us should have that ‘3am friend’. They are not the ones who will pass you a bowl of ice cream when your life is topsy turvy due to your inability to learn from your mistakes. No. They are the ones who will splash cold water on my face, run with me a mile ‘to sweat it out’, and yell at me for being a wuss when I collapse breathless. I need them to give me a reality check every once in a while. I cannot imagine life without my army of brave soldiers who keep me alive during my everyday battles. I have my own ‘sanity kit’ filled with paraphernalia to keep me fit for the road. But sometimes nothing works and then there are tears that can wash the pain away. I still struggle with the dilemma about whether to speak up or not but like I always say, “I am work in progress”.