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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Make up your own mind, part two

I was reading my 15-month old blogpost, 'Make up your own mind'. Read or re-read it, it won't hurt you. In the course of two days I have had to goad one person to get her tooth cavities filled before things get worse, another to decide upon which of several flats available to rent, another not to stay the night with me if he was unsure, another on whether he should make a job change right now or not, another to admit that it would be indeed much more convenient to have a car available for her work all the time... these are all reasonably intelligent and grown-up people, too, and while they sometimes clamour for me to decide things for them, they also sometimes resent my 'imposing' my decisions on them, despite knowing from long experience that I am most likely to be proved right (in their own interest, too, not mine!). Also, as a teacher/husband/father/mentor I have always insisted that people need to be able to make up their minds, and not after too much dilly-dallying, and it is my job to show them how, and persuade them why - not to make up their minds for them: not something I relish, really, even if some people believe to the contrary.

Are our lives guided more by circumstance/destiny or character? I have always said the two work together: as with the two hands of a pair of scissors, you can't say this one does the cutting or that. Of course, I am willing to grant you that one or the other plays the bigger role in different people's lives. Also this much I know - circumstances I cannot as a rule control, nor will they always be to my liking, but it definitely rests with me how I deal with them, and that says something about my character. I must be able to tell myself, at the end of the day, that I did all I could under the circumstances, decisively, diligently, sanely, farsightedly, and, if I am advising somebody, with her best interests in mind. Being decisive also has a vital time dimension - you hesitate too long and opportunity passes you by. It hurts and costs more if you delay going to the dentist, and starting to save when you are fifty isn't going to ensure a comfortable retirement! 'There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune/ omitted, all the voyage of life is bound in shallows and in miseries...' It is sad if not pathetic to see people in their late 20s and early 30s still looking for meaning and purpose in their lives. For heaven's sake, get a move on!

It has been well said that not taking a decision is itself a decision. In India, not only people as individuals but people as society and government, when they are not being guided by entrenched habit or custom, prefer to procrastinate endlessly instead of bearing the pain of having to take decisions and acting upon them, especially when the consequences are in some doubt (will the next job be 'better' in every sense? Will he love me back 'sufficiently' if I love him?  Will the public really appreciate the new law we are going to make?...) And so essential things never get done, or what is done is too little, too late: the filling is no good so you have to go for much costlier root-canal treatment or extraction, someone else gets that job or flat, love withers away, the new road takes ages to be built, the population explodes unchecked. All because people will not take wise and timely decisions on their own, and will always try to keep scapegoats available just in case their own decisions go wrong. I see little difference in this respect between teenagers and people in their fifties, for all the talk of 'maturing' with age. And from older people, all I hear is about regret, that most futile of all emotions: 'I wish I had done this, I wish I had done that... when there was still time'! May God spare me that, at least.

Making up your own mind also means having the resolution to stick to what you have decided, and not wonder endlessly about whether you are doing the right thing every once in a while after the decision is taken. People change their minds far too easily, I think. And it doesn't help that people have so many utterly contradictory desires. I have seen mothers who goaded their sons all through childhood to get into engineering college at any cost lamenting heartbrokenly, even to the kid's own extreme discomfiture, when it's time for the successful kid to go far away. I have seen ardent sweethearts vanish without a trace and without so much as a by your leave. I have seen marriages break up over trivial quarrels. I have seen 'dream jobs' souring up after just a setback or two. I have seen in my own professional life how people gush over you and how fast they forget - out of sight, out of mind. I keep dealing with people of both sexes who talk to me one day as though they adore me and another day as though they hardly know me at all... and blame it either on their being busy or distracted or my being moody, being offended because I express strong displeasure at such cantankerousness: me, 'moody', me, from whom so many have learnt to cultivate calm and steady self-possession in the face of all trials and tribulations!

One thing that often occurs to me is how greatly beneficial it is to have just a few strong and abiding desires. Socrates struck the keynote for me when I was hardly out of boyhood: 'The world is filled with so many wonderful things that I have absolutely no need for'. I know they are wonderful, I know they are without number, and I know I just don't have any real need for them. Be they rave parties or smartphones, fine hotels or closeness to celebrities, be it whether people are being impressed by my looks or 'exotic' locales which I have not yet visited. On the other hand, I have always been sure of things I need and want, regardless of what other people have to say about such things (and in this matter the opinions of parents and spouse and child are as immaterial as those of the most distant stranger). I have always hated to call someone boss; life has allowed me to do almost entirely without them (my father tried to boss me around, and the loss was his; two bosses I had I adored; one was an uncouth clown, I quit). I have always hated to get up early, and I have been able to survive and prosper without having to. Since my daughter was born, I was determined that no one will have higher priority when  she wants me, and I have  been able to convey her to the threshold of adulthood without having to break that promise to myself. I tried on a pair of jeans when I was ten and decided I didn't want to wear them: I have reached fifty without another pair. And so it goes...

People who are congenitally incapable of focusing on fulfilling a few clear, strong, permanent desires, people who cannot take firm decisions and stick firmly to them no matter what, can neither be real friends with me nor gain much from such a friendship. The sooner they accept that, the better. If it helps them to persuade themselves that I am not really worth knowing and keeping in their lives, so be it. I don't really lose much if I lose people to whom I am not indispensable. As I often say, I can die my own death, thank you very much. As far as I am concerned, I give people very long ropes, but if all they want with them is to hang themselves, there is little I can or want to do for them!


Subhanjan Sengupta said...

I am going to make my lists Sir. I have to get things down on paper. I need to define a plan of action and not keep on experimenting or questioning. Thank You for this post.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

I am glad that some people do admit that my goading helps a bit, if only to make them decide that they must decide...

ananya mukherjee said...

Dear Sir,
Thank you for this post Sir.Some of the older posts like Ten years of flying solo and Make up your own mind have always encouraged me and provoked me to think and act tactfully in difficult situations and now since I have to do everything on my own I understand how important it is for me to make up my mind and take proper decisions in various circumstances.Your blogs help me a lot Sir. I always try to maintain a balance in everything I do and I am indebted to you for everything you taught me Sir.Please do keep writing and enlightening us through your blogs.
with regards,