Sunday, November 19, 2017

Vulnerability, c/o The Self

“Why did they have to wait 23 years to send this?”  That was my instantaneous reaction when my grandma told me that my grandpa’s best friend’s nephew had sent her a clip from a home video that featured my grandpa, who had passed away in 1994.  We did not own a camcorder when he was alive so, in essence, it had been 23 years since I had heard his voice.  It felt surreal, to see this clip.  His square, black glasses, the neatly ironed dhoti, that thicker-than-good-filter-coffee Brahmin accent and the faster-than-Usain-Bolt manner of speaking.  It was all there.  Of course, I knew that this rush of emotion was going to be fleeting.  But as with the many wondrous surprises of life, I wanted to zone in on that.  I wanted to zoom in ever so slightly, ever so carefully into this handful of moving images and drink in that happiness that I was experiencing.  A strange feeling occurred then - I felt a little vulnerable.  Suddenly, that well-meaning but hard-nosed friend called reality woke me up and said, “Get over it.  He is gone.” 

Right, he was gone.  No one is denying that.  But at the moment, I did not want to deny myself my vulnerability.  I did not feel the need to yank myself out of the mixed feelings evoked by that video.  I once read in a Time magazine snippet that taking pictures during vacations do not really distract us from experiencing the moment; rather, they help us encapsulate the joy of being at a particular place and make us want to transport all our positive emotions into a frame.  (Of course, if the purpose of taking the snap is vanity of any kind, that is different.)  Similarly, I was recording in my mind the myriad emotions that I was going through after watching the video.  All of the emotions deserved their place. 

I felt the need to share my vulnerability with people that I picked from my near and dear.  The prompt reactions from two people in particular were wonderful to see and hear.  One said that she was happy for me that I had seen this, that it was a perfect ‘gift’ for me for having written the “In Pursuit of Meaning” write-up, which I published on the blog that day.  Another reaction was from a dear friend who said that he experienced similar emotions when someone dug up a video clip of his grandpa, who had passed away recently.  Kindred spirits and empathy – these are beautiful things.  The fact that it taken has taken me a month after watching the video to write this was because I am over that vulnerability now.  Making these feelings public does not seem to be a big deal now.  But on that day, when I was feeling a certain way, trusting a few people with my emotions and having that trust vindicated by some genuinely sweet reactions felt nice.  But there is corollary to this.  When it comes to expressing vulnerability, you have to choose, you have to guard.  Why?

The reason is simple.  It is utterly unreasonable for one to expect everyone else to be sensitive and empathetic to every little thing that crosses your mind. To counter that, one has to keep in mind Sheena Iyengar’s magnificently eloquent words, “Be choosy about choosing and you will choose well.”  By identifying a few core values or things that you are sensitive about, you free yourself to even have jokes cracked about other things.  If you communicate it clearly, most people will understand that apart from a few topics, that you are a good sport and that you are not touchy about everything under the sun.  But by the same token, if you are sensitive about something, it behooves you to guard that like a precious jewel in a locker.  By trusting the few people that I knew would react sensitively to my emotions around my grandpa’s video and by not sharing it with all and sundry at that time, I was guarding myself and my emotions.  But have I always done that?  I wish! 

My writing is something that I hold very dear to me.  I do not have illusions of being a great writer or a perfect one.  But it is something that I relish greatly.  I used to share links to my write-ups with a much wider set of people than I do now.  A few people used to take great pleasure in needling me and making fun of the fact that I felt the need to share links to my write-ups even when they were not interested in reading them.  I even tried hard to explain that certain write-ups were on topics close to me but no amount of explaining made an iota of difference.  Fair enough.  So, I stopped sending them the links.  After all, if they were interested, they would take the effort to read my blog.  Maybe the links were an annoyance so, why bother them.  As simple as differential equations!  But after I had stopped sending out the links, when in a group setting, one of these people interrupted a conversation that I was having with someone else (who likes my writing) and made an insulting remark.  It was intended to be a joke.  But as much of a sport that I can be for many things, this was not something that I wanted to let pass.  So, I politely turned and remarked that I was talking to someone that was genuinely interested, who actually wanted to talk to me.  The conversation ended there without anyone feeling hurt.

At the other end of the spectrum was a well-wisher that respected my skills but wanted to offer me some constructive criticism.  She told me that she had equivocated because she knew how passionate I was about writing.  But I told her that I was actually overjoyed to receive feedback, because she had earned my trust.  I assured her that as much as I enjoy writing, what I enjoy even more are meaningful suggestions to help me write better and thereby derive even greater pleasure out of it. 

While in the earlier instance, I was able to politely let the interrupting person know what I felt and continue to have a healthy relationship, there have been other instances where I have distanced myself from a person or a group because I either felt that I was being taken for granted or I had made the mistake of trusting someone with my vulnerabilities, naively and prematurely.  Since I have become increasingly non-confrontational by nature, I resort to just moving away.  But what I have realized over time is that vulnerabilities can be the cause for separation but they can also be, in a delightfully sweet manner, the reason for intimacy. 

It is one thing to share your vulnerability with a close one.  It is yet another, more fulfilling, aspect of relationships that you end up becoming closer to someone because you appreciated their thoughtful response to you sharing something personal.  I have fortunately been blessed with both types of relationships.  Especially the latter kind also makes people want to share their own sensitivities that are dear to them.  Of course, I am no saint and I have, on occasion, been insensitive to people during times when a little more understanding on my part would been a lot more apropos.  But I have, over time, tried to learn and love my loved ones deeply, unconditionally, non-judgmentally.  After all, the common ground that is fostered by sharing is a fertile one for the growth of a relationship since it is sowed with the seeds of trust, empathy and unconditional affection.