In my 60+ years of living, 40 years of marriage and 35+ years of working there have been many thousand occasions when I have wondered whether the other person is listening? Am I making my point understood? Are we understanding one another? or are we seemingly together, but really on totally different planets?
Am sure you all have also experienced this sheer chasm…and wondered who is to blame? Am I not able to explain properly? or am I speaking to a blank wall? Communication, by definition, should enable transfer of meaning and sharing a common understanding. But actually, the mind maps and pictures of the speaker and the listener are so diverse that we might as well be sowing seeds in the wind. Even when we are going through a common experience together, your experience and mine, your reality and my reality are the proverbial East is East and West is West and Never shall the Twain meet!!!
It is not by chance that Javed Akhtar wrote that beautiful song: ये तेरा घर ये मेरा घर, किसी को देखना हो गर, तो पहले आ के मांग ले, मेरी नज़र तेरी नज़र. I am always taken in by the irony: the movie is Saath Saath, so we are supposed to be together, and yet Deepti and Farooq realise that if anyone else has to see my reality (my house, in the lyrics) then they must give up their own नज़रिया , their own perspective, their own sight – if you will – and be willing to see with my eyes, my perspective, my नज़र.
In today’s times, we all have our own weltanschauung, our own world view and … as the Bard says, “Ah!..Therein lies the rub!”. Can you identify 2 people or 2 groups or 2 communities or 2 countries who see eye to eye on everything? Do people have the same reality? Dr Raghuram Rajan resigns…media erupts with opinions and interpretations. Dr Urjit Patel is appointed…the same. Urjit Patel resigns…nothing different…millions of contradictory opinions… Mr Das takes over….even his graduation and post graduation specialization is up for scrutiny. History will bear me out, when Sir C D Deshmukh took over as the first Indian RBI Governor in 1943 there were enough detractors who questioned that appointment. Look elsewhere, you see more of the same.
Is the Prophet’s birthday to be celebrated as a holiday and an Eid or not? You will get different answers if you ask a Sunni or you ask a Shia. Leave aside festivals, the fact that Shias and Sunnis have been at loggerheads for generations is because they do not share a common worldview. Lenin, Stalin and the Bolshevik Revolution. Chairman Mao and China’s Great Leap Forward campaign to aggressively move China from an agrarian society to an industrial one might have been driven by a positive vision of Mao for his countrymen. But how can we forget, it resulted in the biggest famine in history between 1948 and 1952, resulting in deaths of 20 to 45 million people. Even these numbers differ, depending on whose reality you trust?? All the Wars & the Crusades, Hitler’s genocide, today’s terrorist attacks are living examples of how everyone’s reality is different, and how far a human being is ready to go to champion and profess his own point of view. Against these backdrops, we must also acknowledge the Gandhis and Martin Luther Kings and Nelson Mandelas and Aung San Suu Kyis who drove a positive weltanschauung for themselves and for their brethren being driven by their own reality, marching to their own different tune. And yet all of them have been opposed in their times.
So I conclude that we all live in our own worlds, surrounded by our own realities. There is precious little that we can share because we just do not share the same space, the same reality, the same worldview. And the classic thing is : we are all Hitlers and Mussolinis and Steve Jobs and Jack Welchs in our own right!! We believe our own “reality” and believe our “reality” is the best interpretation of the Absolute, (मेरी साडी तेरी साडी से सफ़ेद कैसे) and all must follow our “reality” and those who don’t, well….!!!! Our efforts to convince others of the “real reality” (of course, our pet version) increases and that to me is the genesis of all the violence; whether in thought or in acts, between individuals or teams, between groups or communities, between religions and countries.
It would be good for all of us to understand quickly and then remember…. there is NO objective reality out there!!! We all are really like the famous five blind men who are trying to “see the elephant”. We all have our own different perspectives and small “pieces” of reality and have convinced ourselves that we know it all. But the fact is none of us have really an overview of the entire elephant…objective reality is much too larger for us to grasp. This would still be alright, were it not for the fact that we are too full of ourselves, too much in love with our own experience and too dismissive of the others’ perspective. and not sensitive enough to the others’ experiences and their own brand of “reality”.
I heard from SN Goenkaji an anecdote that helped me see this conundrum in a new manner and clarified many a confusion. Let me end by recounting this story. There are 2 friends – one blind and one lame – who would beg together to fill their stomachs. Comes a day when the blind beggar is very sick and cannot go out to the village with his lame friend to beg for their dinner. The lame friend moves around alone seeking alms. He is not lucky till he reaches the last house, where the lady tells him, she had made खीर ( sweet rice porridge) the earlier day and can give him the leftover. She asks him if he has any utensil to receive the खीर in? When the beggar says he has none, she asks him to make a bowl by cupping his hands together and pours the खीर into his cupped hands. The lame guy cannot carry the खीर in his hands back to his friend and so he eats it from his cupped hands and finishes it all. When he reaches back to his blind beggar friend, he confesses that he had only got खीर and since it was dripping out of his hands, he ate it all.
The blind man has never seen or eaten kheer before and so asks ” What is खीर?” The lame friend replies it is white and sweet. “White? what is white?” Now how does the friend explain white to a blind man. Fortunately the man sees a swan fluttering around. He catches the swan and thrusts it in the hands of the blind friend and says, “this is white.. the kheer is like this”. The blind friend feels the curved back of the swan and gets a flash of brilliance, and says, ” Now I understand. तेरी खीर टेढ़ी है !!!!”
We all are alternately playing the role of the blind man and the lame. Unfortunately the lame is NOT leading the blind. Each is stuck to his own reality. And wonders why it is difficult for the other person to “see the obvious”!!!
The earlier you understand, तेरी खीर टेढ़ी है the better off we shall be: vikas