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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Every beating heart has a story to tell

Know someone’s story before you comment on them. Better still, look at yourself in the mirror, and appraise yourself, before you pass judgment.

The gravest mistake that we make as human beings is to comment on other people’s lives without knowing their stories. Yet we do it so often. Because it is a free world. Free for interpretation. Free to comment. Free to opinionate. Free to pass judgment. So we all exercise that freedom with complete, often reckless, abandon. And with impunity.

Therefore, a person who has never paid taxes or voted or managed a team or led an organization, will gleefully opinionate on how the country’s Prime Minister must lead and govern. A wife beating husband will talk about morality and women’s rights. Someone who downloads and watches pirated movies online will support a questionable movement against corruption and champion honesty in public. A woman who has been through a divorce and living single will be seen as ‘available’. And someone following his bliss, and therefore standing his ground by not running the corporate rat race, will be seen as ‘wasting his youth and messing up his career’. Each of us is guilty of this crime. I too have committed it in the past. We see someone drive up in a big car, we say, “Filthy rich fella…” We see a man in rags on the street, we conclude, “Beggar.” We don’t pause to think. We don’t care__or even__want to know these people. We only want to presume and opine. And what about the people we know? We don’t want to trust them. So, if someone is saying or doing something we don’t like, we don’t want to know them better or understand them. We just want to opine again. Randomly.

Some years ago, owing to all the frequent travel that I has to undertake, I found myself being upgraded to business class, at the boarding gate, on a domestic flight by the airline’s loyalty program. It so happened that a friend that I had borrowed money from__those were the years early on in the bankruptcy of my Firm__also was on the same flight. And he was in economy class. My friend who was chatting me up prior to boarding refused to see eye to eye with me once we boarded. Upon arrival at our destination, he walked away pretending he didn’t see me. I sent him a text saying it was good seeing him. He didn’t reply. A few weeks later I received a lawyer’s notice saying my friend demanded that I pay back his money. The crux of the argument was that ‘if I had the money to spend on a business class ticket, I surely had the money to repay him’. I did not even engage a lawyer__I could not afford one__but replied to the notice saying a client had paid for my economy ticket and the upgrade had happened as a matter of rote and circumstance and not by my engineering or special design! My friend proceeded to sue me in a court. And I said the same thing in court as well, breaking down as I said it. The judge implored us both to settle the matter out of court. My friend was appalled. He met me outside and I pleaded for his understanding. I showed him documents that demonstrated how bad the business had gotten. And how we were even struggling for our living expenses. He listened to me patiently. He apologized for his conduct and walked away. Now, had he cared to understand me even when we were boarding the flight together, we wouldn’t have needed to be in a courtroom.

That episode has led me to transform and to resolve never to judge or comment on anybody. The learning is two-fold for all of us: 1. We all behave like my friend some time or the other. 2. We all must realize that we behave so because we don’t trust people around us. The only way we can and must live our lives is by never passing judgment or opinionating on someone or something unless we have to and only if we know the full story. We must learn to understand and appreciate people’s stories and predicaments first. Accept that people, despite what we see as apparent, can be going through a difficult or challenging phase in their lives. Love people for who they are rather than for what they should be or will be or were. Remember: every beating heart has a story to tell. Know that story before you shoot off your mouth! 

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