C’est exclusif

As a lifelong student of human behavior, I am perpetually intrigued, and alternately saddened to see absolutely average (and significantly normal) people put on airs of exclusivity. They project a manner emulating “to the manor born”. They want to prove to their audience, and indirectly to their own selves, that they are special! Their effort is to project themselves as better than they are, above their “level”, superior!!! Often this attempt is farcical and immediately seen through by the audience they try to impress. And thus, they end up coming across lower in the eyes of the beholder.

The simplest example is the people who try to put on an accent. I do not mean the Punjus who want to speak “English” after a drink or two; but rather, the seemingly normal folks who suddenly speak different, when they are in front of an audience or when they are on phone. We all know some folks whose vocabulary or diction changes when they are in the public eye. This desire to project exclusivity is, in my opinion, deep rooted and widely prevalent in today’s times, when supplements like Bombay Times are read more assiduously than the main TOI newspaper, when Page 3 overtakes all!!

Historically of course this disease is old as the hills. There is an apocryphal story about the first English settlers to America on the boat Mayflower. Apparently the people on the boat were so status conscious that it was said “The Cabots spoke only to the Lodges; and the Lodges spoke only to God!”  Heaven help some of the hoi polloi who tried to interact socially with the Cabots and the Lodges!! In social dos today we all see such behavior. There are those who would desperately try and enter conversations with the movers and shakers: getting badly mauled in the process. Yet they would steadfastly ignore some others, seemingly below their level, who were trying equally hard to converse with them. What creates this social pecking order? Who makes these hierarchies? Is it not the innate desire to be exclusive?

Those of us who have had the fortune of working in MNCs have seen the deference with which even mechanics and technicians are treated just because they are German or American: while we gleefully ignore our own brown skinned brethren. Correspondingly the technicians belonging to “Vaterland” will look down on even General Managers of the host country merely because they are from the HQ country.  Those of us who had had the misfortune of travelling to Europe have experienced first hand the twisted egotism of the French who would disdainfully look down on anyone who dares speak in Queen’s English in their hallowed land. Their attitude is speak French or be damned. C’est exclusif!

One expects religion to be the most inclusive, and the least exclusive. But is that the reality we see reflected all around? Rather, in the name of religion, we see the most deep lines drawn between people. While all accept that at the fundamental level all religions teach love and brotherhood, it is in the name of the selfsame religion that we see maximum groupism and claims of exclusivity. We have forgotten Thomas Keller who avers ” The Gospel is an exclusive truth but it’s the most inclusive exclusive truth in the world”. We had  first Protestants who claimed Roman Catholics had lost the plot. And then came a bevy of Lutherans, Orthodox, Pentacostal, and many other variations: all claiming exclusive knowledge and grasp of the Good Word. We forgot Prophet Mohammed’s teaching :  there are multiple ways to reach the Allah. Rather in Goa we keep debating Shiva or Vishnu : who is Supreme? Do the Shwetambers have the right path or is it the Digambars?  Nirgun or Sagun : both claim they define Godhood better.

All this debate and claims lead to David Mitchell’s insight:  ” Faith, the least exclusive club, has the craftiest doorman. Every time I have stepped through it’s wide open doorway, I find myself stepping out in the streets again.”  The desire to be exclusive finally ends by showing us how non-inclusive we become. The Gods look down in pleasure on repentant sinners as ” it isn’t what we say or think that defines us but what we do” per Jane Austen (Sense & Sensibility).

Have you not seen people who wear their educational qualifications and alma mater as plumes on their head? They just cannot forget they are from IITs or IIMs or have a PhD and all their interactions are through this looking glass. They distance themselves from others, casting a long shadow of exclusivity. The qualification, college or “club tie” becomes their ‘nom de plume’; a high gate they erect to keep the “aam janata” in their place. But actually they end up as prisoners in their own fence!!! As Theodore Adorno put it “the specific is not exclusive : it lacks the aspiration to totality”. And the real world is glorious and entertaining only because of it’s rich diversity. Which in turn, can be understood  and enjoyed only if one is inclusive.

Are you only the IIM or PhD? Or are you wider and deeper than that? “To use for our exclusive benefit what is not ours is theft” warns Jose Marti. I was a Bombay University topper in BA and in MA. I had the privilege of studying in IIMC. So what? I always hid it as I reminded myself that every year there is topper in BA and one in MA. Hundreds study every year in premier colleges. But that does not define me. If it distances me from others: I would rather hide the Gold Medals I won, and not use them as the proverbial “third eye” of Shiva to judge and evaluate and destroy others.

In today’s times we can learn a lot from the entire journey of the LGBT community to get their rightful place under the sun. Stuart Milk a LGBT activist puts it brilliantly: “We are less when we do not include everyone”. Elsewhere our own Bapu cautions: “No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive”.  So ubiquity is the new exclusivity. And the faster we understand this, the better human beings we will become. ” I am large. I contain multitudes” as Walt Whitman sang. To which I will only add what Sant Chokhamela  taught me :

उंबरठ्यासी  कैसे शिऊ आम्ही जातिहीन
रूप तुझे कैसे पाहू त्यात आम्ही लीन
पायरीशी होवू दंग गावूनी अभंग…                                                                                                                    ( I cannot come to the temple as I am an outcast:                                                                         I cannot even see your face as I am so helplessly enamored;                                                        so I will stay at the steps and sing your praises)

Don’t threaten me with love baby. Let’s us just go walking in the rain: vikas

15 Replies to “C’est exclusif”

  1. Dear Mr. Shirodkar, A Very pertinent point, indeed, The burning desire to be exclusive. To my mind, the reasons could be 1) A feeling of inner void, emptiness and insecurity. The feeling could be so terrifying that an outer protective armour of’I am something is required. If an individual is joyous no such defenses are required as there is what Eric Fromm says’rational authority’ Authority not based on power and position but authority based on inner strength and resources of one’s being.These present, no outer defenses are required. Carl Rogers has established a fact, through empirical restart, that more insecure counsellors try to mould the behavior of their clients as the counsellor deems fit, whereas, more secure counsellors encourage their clients to embark upon their journey discovered by themselves.
    As you rightly pointed out, such people end up being inauthentic in the eyes of others but they, too, pay a heavy price. Emotional disturbances are experienced as there are perpetual conflict between inner and outer selves. Tremendous energy is expended in keeping up these defenses. Secondly, genuine interactions from genuine people could be missed as genuine individuals will keep away from these facades.
    Alan Watts quote comes to my mind “more security you seek, more insecure you will be. More justifications you give more unconvincing you will be”

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  2. So true. I also believe that exclusiveness or exclusivity is a way of building barriers. Of excluding people. Not wanting others to share our uniqueness so that it does not become ” common”. And it is done through various means, economic, social, religious and what ever suits the guys who are in it.You have to be “invited” into it. Unfortunately, it is creating a fragmented and divisive world today.

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  3. Suresh
    I think the world is full of insecure small and petty folks.
    that is where the desire to prove superiority springs from.
    This whole thrust for branded clothes and accessories. When I start to prove “Meri saadi teri saadi se safed kaisi” I have already created a chasm. Unfortunately even in the Communist countries the Communist Party bigwigs want dachas to distance themselves.
    This can change only if we truly value brotherhood and equality. Most political and corporate experiments have failed achieve this. But a la Sahir Ludhiyanvi I feel : wo subah kabhi to aayegi…

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  4. You exactly bought out a point that was always in my heart to which I always asked myself as to why they behave like this.
    I always felt that even our appraisal system does not value senior managers who connect and freely speak to all strata of employees. It is expected that we remain exclusive and ‘maintain our position’ . You are then considered not reliable in management eyes.
    I really wonder why this world is moving in this direction. Can we change it ??

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  5. I remembered an incident where I was asked by a family friend how come I married a person who has the same educational qualification (and salary) as me! As per him, my husband should have been a Master’s or PhD 🙂
    And another incident, wherein I was asked by a fellow colleague (I had moved to Pune for my first job) why I interacted so much with another colleague. “He’s maratha, you know” This person had already “guessed” my caste from my last name and felt that being new to Pune, didn’t realize that I should not be hobnobbing with a Maratha.

    Also, remember my MIL telling me, you must learn to speak Marathi like a Puneri! But why? Are non-Puneris of a lower class?

    Yes, we are certainly used to classifying people into compartments and always striving for “first class”. But fact of the matter is, being part of the masses gives much more security and happiness.

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    1. Great examples Nilu which support the point I am making that we all want to be considered different and exclusive. People seldom realize that everyone is different then that is new “normal” . Basically there is a deep inbuilt desire to prove I am better I am superior . To me that builds walls and not bridges.

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  6. Formidable! You have brought out very well an important facet of human behavior. Remembered the french saying (just as in english) “L’homme vient dans ce monde sans rien et part sans rien”. It means man comes into this world with nothing and leaves without anything. So, what then is the hullaballoo about???
    We are like butterflies that flutter for a day and think its forever. There’s a lovely Zen saying: “Man stands in his own shadow and wonders why it is dark?”.
    Discord, divisons and dissonance stemming from exclusivity are the least we need in an already complex and competitive world. Being humble and modest are values that seem to have vanished.

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    1. Thanks Deepa for your comment. I love the simile of a butterfly. But with due respects (and excepting the present company) some people are not butterflies but rather water buffaloes who are plonk themselves in the middle of the river of live and do not realize what a splash they are making. My objection is about such folks who should ideally know better.
      Possibly your Zen quote explains it all: they are standing in their own shadow.
      We can only hope for the world where humility and modesty ( rather than exclusivity and proving oneself) abound. Possibly that is why I put the pic of John Lennon.
      Remember the song “Imagine”? Lennon sings: Imagine a brotherhood of man. I wonder if you can.
      That would be the day when all this pettiness would end forever.
      Let us hope Wo subah kabhi to aayegi….

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  7. Sir
    Tres’ bein ..excellently written.Somehow we never seem to get over the fascination of trying to be different.Right from the way we say hello on the phone.Have you ever notice how people say hello to an unknown number!!!..Then they become ‘normal’ .We seem to get a pleasure out of putting down someone,of looking down upon someone.Sadly we don’t realise that we are not here forever.The only thing that matters is self respect and dignity for all creatures around you.We can make a huge difference by just being polite and courteous..
    Regards and respects
    Sree

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    1. Thanks Sree. No one can quarrel with what you are saying. It is sad that we forget these basic courtesies and then end up making our life more complicated. Human being are most complex. And so they end up making lives of all others in their life also very convoluted. If we learn to simplify our lives we will be doing everyone around us a great favor

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  8. HCP you hit the nail on the head. Whose story gets told matters. Till the lion learns to read and write, all stories will talk of the triumph of the hunter. The ego keeps us separate and away from reality. Many wrongly think of this as exclusivity and they fall in love with their prison and prisoners. The freedom that openness and inclusiveness brings is missing in their lives. We can only hope and pray that their eyes open soon and they escape the captivity of their egos.

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  9. Excellent article sir. Is not the result of one’s ego, the story that one creates for himself, to become special by excluding the lesser mortals?

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    1. Kanubhai thanks for your kind words. I am always surprised how we let our egos create prisoners of our own selves. Hopefully if we see this reality dispassionately we may change. I live in that hope.

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