The Awfulness of Forgiveness

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Photo courtesy: http://www.zazzle.com/

To forgive is divine, yet many do not seem to find godliness that attractive, really. And I think I can understand why. The act of forgiveness asks a lot of the victim – a lot more trust, understanding and an ability to let go of a grudge. All the while promising nothing in return. Indeed a lot of times it boomerangs back on the trusting soul that seeks to forgive.

 When someone commits a mistake – or a crime, or a sin – there are three things he/she must do to ask for forgiveness. To apologise. To accept that it was his/her fault. And to make it right – and most people tend to forget this one. I wonder if this is one of the main reasons people find it difficult to forgive: the absence of signs of atonement. Ok, so may be sometimes the crime (or the mistake) seems too big, too heinous to forgive. Cheating of a spouse. Betrayal of a friend (or country). Murder. Rape. Especially the last one. It’s horrible isn’t it? Because forgiveness has to start from the victim, and it seems so unfair to ask more from you, when so much has already been taken from you. Some people can do it and may want to, some may not. Some may seem unable to. Some may try and fail. Most of all, every one of them might feel, at one point or the other that it is so unfair to expect them to forgive.

 Is it scary? Hell yes. They do say that sometimes, giving a person a second chance is like giving them a second bullet for their gun because they missed you the first time. But then, the only things worth doing usually involve taking a huge risk: declaring your love, following your dreams, forgiving a betrayal – all metaphorical stepping off the cliff. And need an ironclad faith that you will land on your feet. And when you do, you realize it took nothing more than taking that step, and everything else was taken care of. Is it difficult? Nerve wracking? Seemingly impossible? Damn right it is. Forgiveness is not for the faint hearted.

 Real forgiveness – not the one that secretly hopes justice will still be served – involves letting the pain go. It takes trust, all the more difficult when you are vulnerable. But this is the thing I realized over my attempts at forgiveness – it has nothing to do with the perpetrator, and everything to do with the victim. To forgive never means that justice will not be served – they’re NOT mutually exclusive. To me, it simply means that you are willing to attempt to move on. It is closure to the victim, not the perpetrator. Every attempt at forgiveness – even the failed ones – takes you one step closer to liberation. Because I feel that’s what it does. Forgiveness liberates you. It lets you live your life without the betrayal defining it, or the person you are. It frees you from the cycle of chasing justice, which for most people is really only chasing revenge. 

But THAT is another post altogether.

  

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.

Mahatma Gandhi

Relationships – they are just like venture capital investments

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photo courtesy:http://www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk/p/keep-calm-and-build-relationships/

I recently had a masterclass on one of my failed investments – a personal relationship with a family member. As a woman, I would say I’m a natural at investing in relationships – it’s who I am. Some build on themselves (parents), some you put in a lot of effort because they are too big to fail (children), and some you nurture throughout (or through phases of) your life (friends, colleagues, extended family).

 And really, building a relationship is just like making a venture capital investment. Or maybe like investing in stocks. Some you may inherit – like parents, but mostly you get to pick your own – childhood friends, favourite colleagues and the like. Sometimes (I’m an Indian woman) a spouse. And with every person you want to get to know, you invest in nurturing some semblance of a relationship. Though science talks about the many benefits of personal relationships – alleviating depression, sense of belonging, stronger hearts and whatever else – I feel that most people don’t recognize the one thing that makes it your biggest reward for having invested in it. 

Some relationships one tends to take for granted. Parents, for example. My father used to say that one can never divorce their parents after all. But other than that (and for some people, even that), most of us build and work at our relationships for thirty to forty years before we see the real fruits of our labour. The one big crisis that threatens to blow our lives apart, and the people that stand by our side, helping us weather the storm. All of us are aware at some level that, even though we have a complex network of personal relationships, very few of them survive the test of time. And the ones that come through at a moment of crisis are even less. And those, my friends, are the ones that any VC would call a 10-bagger. While all the daily benefits of nurturing relationships are like regular dividends from well chosen stocks, the true friendships, the family that surround you and protect you when things fall apart, are the true jackpot. 

You may not realize it at the time, but sometimes people work on these for years. It could be the goodwill your parents built over a lifetime, or the shadow effect of your spouse’s excellent relationship-building skills. Call it the power of compound interest, but the thing is, one never recognizes the significance of the role these relationships play until it is time.

 Do relationships never fail? Duh. Of course they do. Most of them. Almost all of them, in fact, if you look at the sheer numbers, and depending on your criteria for labelling a relationship as a failure. So do most venture capital investments, as any VC would tell you. The truth is that, with full awareness of this fact, they go ahead and invest in many ventures, in the hope that few would break even and one would be a 10X. That’s an investment that makes ten times its money, and makes the whole thing worthwhile, including the failed ones. 

For most of us – the lucky ones anyway – this is usually one relationship. One person we can count on, which is usually more than some people have. And as for the ones that have the good fortune of having two or more such people in their lives – please don’t reveal it, you might jinx it 🙂

WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE THE MEN?

photo courtesy: https://twitter.com/EVAWhd/status/313017235314724865

It seems now we all can talk about rape without eliciting incredulous gasps. Apparently, some people are even willing to acknowledge it as a crime. Progress? Yay! Does this mean we can talk about how this affects the men too? Gasp! Oh well, I’m going to try anyway.

 So Assaram Bapu said that the horror that was the Delhi girl’s rape & death in December could have been averted if she had implored them to have mercy on her, to treat her as if she were their sister (and also chanted the Saraswati Mantra – but let’s not go there). Because obviously, Assaram Bapu believes that brothers do not rape their sister. Or fathers their daughter. Because sexual abuse of women & children is only committed by people not related to them, or those not responsible for their safety and their wellbeing. Right.

 But you know what? Apart from the blood pressure spiking, puke inducing statement (and more scarily the belief system), what got my goat was the way men were branded. Not the monsters that walk among us in the guise of humans, but the honest-to-God good men, the ones that actually try to live a decent, dignified life. To me, it felt as if Assaram Bapu’s statement, in one fell swoop, absolved all men everywhere of accountability – if she’s not your sister, she’s fair game – and brushed off – with supreme indifference, if I may say so – the need for decent men in daily life. As if men are not only not expected to be honourable, but woe behold a man that tries to.

 And where does THAT leave the men? The good men. Like the one that fought tooth and nail, endangering his own life, in a futile attempt to save that girl on the bus. Or the thousands of men everywhere in the country that look out for the safety of women in extremely unnoticeable, but significant ways? What of the man that raises his voice against roadside romeos, may be in the hope that someone else somewhere is doing the same to his sister/mother? Even though, yes, men in this country need decades of conditioning before they truly understand the vital importance of the emancipation of women, what of the men who are already on a journey to such a state of mind?

 And really, do we really expect so less from our men? I hope they are offended, even more so than women. Because in my eyes, Assaram Bapu cast a slur on men everywhere. He tells me that the only thing preventing my father & brother from turning on me like animals is not their inherent integrity, but my relation to them by blood. That my husband is not bound by the honour of matrimony, that I cannot expect him to be faithful. He does not believe we should give men a chance at a more honourable life. Worse, he does not even believe them capable of it. Unless they are prevented by blood from maligning a woman – as if that would ever stop a truly heinous mind – they wouldn’t be able to help themselves.

 We do claim that women are our own worst enemies; but truly, here is a man who is intent on besmirching his own gender. One that makes the battle of the decent soul even more difficult. 

THE VIRTUES OF AMBITION

 

 

“Ambition is all very well, my lad, but you must cloak it.”

 

– Jonathan Stroud, The Amulet of Samarkhand

 

 A man’s worth is no greater than the worth of his ambitions – that was Marcus Aurelius’s claim. And yet, every day, people are willing to relegate the significance of ambition in their lives. This is nowhere truer than in the lives of significantly successful people. I’m not saying they lack ambition; I’m saying that they simply refuse to acknowledge its importance to them. Ambition gets cloaked in responsibility, as if that somehow makes it more acceptable.  “I’m only doing this for my family.” “I’m doing this to secure the future of my kids”, is a favourite refrain of people of my acquaintance. That’s the excuse (I refuse to call it reason) people tend to use to explain away their 18-hour working days and interminable trips.

Why? Is it such a crime for people to work because they are ambitious? Because they want to get better, they want to get ahead, and their work is where they would rather spend their time?

It makes me wonder if the shame is brought in by the money factor. After all, beyond a certain level of success, monetary rewards tend to shoot through the roof. Subsequently, workload increases – the more money you make, the more you have to work for it – and consumes you. The question rattling around in my bewildered brain is this: so what is wrong in dedicating more time to that which you are obviously good at? Or at least, what is so wrong that one feels the need to pass it off as responsibility?

 A spouse of my acquaintance once claimed the same, and got shot down by his wife who declared that she never wanted so much money anyway. He carried around the “hurt” like a badge of honour for years. What she wanted was time with him. What he wished to give was money; his time was reserved for more worthy pursuits, like career. My question (which did not go down well, obviously) was this – if it is about the family, why not give them what they want, instead of what he was willing to give? I’ll tell you why. Because time, a person’s most valuable commodity is reserved only for things that light their fire. And for most people – especially true of but not limited to, men – their work is it. They just refuse to declare it in public.

 Ambitious men and women push the limits of possibility further and further; they, in short, change the world. And it feels slightly incredible to believe that every one of them did it in order to secure their family’s future. History has pointed out, time and again, that men (and women) advance because they wish to be ahead, to progress, and because they find their current state unbearable. So they get up and work to change it.

 Where is the shame in acknowledging that a lot of what you do is because you would rather be doing that than something else? And when something is worthy enough of your time, energy and commitment, why would you shame it by giving it another name? Somebody enlighten me.

 

“Ambition is not a dirty word. Piss on compromise. Go for the throat.”

-Steve Erikson, Gardens of the Moon

Equals in Marriage

I was intrigued the other day when, mellowed by a sublime biriyani, I landed up overhearing a discussion about the merits and demerits of marriage being a partnership of equals. Because obviously, what is THAT? As in, what on earth is equality in marriage? There is no such thing, is my “expert” opinion as a married person. It is one of those statements that sound funny by sheer virtue of not being funny at all.

As a point for discussion I would like to assume a relationship between a man and a woman – though I wonder how it could be different with spouses of the same gender. Realistically speaking, one of the spouses always does more. And it is not always the wife, even though it is mostly them. As clearly defined roles in every household undergo blurring, and then redrawing, it throws spouses – usually husbands into chaos. Because to me, it appears that even the redefinition of household roles is being taught differently, and in different degrees to different genders.

And the shock waves – I’m being dramatic here, but maybe not dramatic enough – usually wash over spouses of the male gender. The intrinsic genetic wiring of the male predisposes them to resistance to change. Especially when centuries of conditioning has made it easy for them to stay that way. So (in the words of some of my male friends) the tide of change sweeps them in and drowns them before they can adapt – which may take centuries, considering the male gender is not wired to change its behavioural patterns quickly, if at all. In simple English, they don’t know what hit them. And they still don’t. They may have figured out how to keep from drowning, but they haven’t yet learnt to swim to safety. So I guess it’s going to be a long wait for the women.

Now, the women. Objectively speaking, women fight for a change in their conditions only because it is not conducive for their survival, let alone emotional growth. Like I had (in order to drive the fact home) pointed out to a male friend, if men were treated the women are, all over the world, and have been for centuries, men would stand up and protest too. They don’t do it, indeed (even if maybe only passively) refrain from supporting gender equality groups because honestly, who wants to be equal when they can be superior? And so, how can they be surprised if now even the women want to be superior?

Because sometimes it feels like women will, after achieving equality – which will likely take a while – start pushing for superiority. Because it is human nature – gender difference not withstanding. History is full of prime examples of victims eventually turning into perpetrators. Maybe it won’t be that bad – women probably have agendas different from men – but the drive to establish one’s superiority is part of the survival DNA.

My religion is better than your religion, my gender is better than your gender, motherhood is more priceless than fatherhood, the breadwinner is more valuable than a housewife.. Equality is a utopia towards which we can strive, because it keeps us going. And we can only keep going on till we don’t reach there. Since I’m from the “journey is more enjoyable than the destination” school of thought, I hope to not reach that symbol of perfection in my lifetime. The only practical thing to do, as we live out our lives daily, is probably to respect the partner that does more, and accept that the balance will probably always be slightly skewed. Maybe the imbalance keeps things interesting?

PREGNANCY vs. MOTHERHOOD

Disclaimer: I write this from the precarious position of a woman who managed to get pregnant and deliver a healthy baby almost the moment I decided I wanted one. Having said that, as a person that has experienced both the circumstances indicated in the title, I also declare myself qualified to ramble forth on both. And why the inability to experience one should not stop one from experiencing the other.

That this conundrum existed in people, was a fact that struck me only when I got pregnant. While interacting on an intimate basis with women – dear friends, valued acquaintances – who couldn’t. And were struggling to. For years. I would safely guess that every one of us knows at least one person in that situation. I know many. And I could never understand why.

Not “why can’t they get pregnant? Why are they so desperate? Why is it so important?” Not even “why are they battering their bodies and making themselves miserable?”. But, “why are they giving up on motherhood just because they cannot get pregnant?”

Pregnancy is a temporary state of affairs. Motherhood is a permanent state of mind. An altered state of life. Forever. When women speak of motherly instincts, and rant about the difficulty in getting pregnant, and the biological clock ticking, I always wonder why they are mixing up issues. They are obsessed with pregnancy – rightfully so; after all, it IS a validation of one’s feminity – but overlooking the reality of motherhood altogether. We ALL know – one doesn’t need to get pregnant in order to become a mother. Everyday there are women – and men – who take up the responsibility, the challenge of parenthood with children not born to them. I am not talking adoption (though I’m heading there). I’m talking social workers, activists, even teachers who care.  Just as there is the reality of people who seem to get pregnant far too easily, and offload their duties and rights as parents far too easily on the unsuspecting public.

I have friends who argue that it is about a blood tie. Then what of the parents that abandon their children? Or worse, keep them and abuse them? And if you are incapable of loving people not related to you by blood, what of your spouse? Your closest friends? If one can learn to love their spouse – born to someone else, and having met you after you have gotten halfway through your life without having even known them, is it really so implausible to believe it would be far easier to love a child not related to you by blood? If one can learn to love adults, is it really that difficult to love a child?

This leads me to wonder if it is not simply a matter of ego. From where I am standing, it appears that women would rather batter their bodies and put it through treatments that are meant to defy nature, than to bypass the hormonal mess that is pregnancy or related fertility treatments and find a child to love. I have seen marriages disintegrate, families fall apart and conversations become landmines, all over a uterus’s inability to hold on to an embryo.

Motherhood is not for the faint hearted. It is challenging, frustrating, and fulfilling (though this last one I cannot personally vouch for; not yet). To me it just seems infinitely more efficient to bypass pregnancy and adopt a child. From an extremely shallow perspective – no weight gain, no mood swings, no post partum depression. You get straight to the awesome (and really awful) part – that of being a parent that carries the immense responsibility of bringing up a life to enrich the society in its own way. However a child may enter your life that is the one part that is going to be the same, right?