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. 



Anonymous said...

I saw that video Ram...I can't believe yes that you got it after 23 yrs! Only video of him?
Yeah even I loved that whole typical veshti cricket Tam Brahm scene...
You know sometimes there is so much sadness in this world that I just want to gloss over everything that feels like needless emotional pain inflicted by people on each other...and just hold on to the lighter moments in life just to preserve sanity and retain some joy for all the many blessings we have...
Enjoy the moment! :)

Anonymous said...

Ram, God has been ever so kind to u.
Your thoughts come from the innermost atrium of your heart. It's almost a veritable slice of yoU and it's always a stress buster for me to read and go back to my work. Don't ever stop. These are dots strewn in your path, ultimately one fine day when u least expect, God will show you the kolam meant for u and only u:) rekhs

Zola said...

Ram : There are some things that I enjoy doing in a super slow fashion.

I just returned home after having some great food at an excellent restaurant.

It was totally impromptu and relaxed me a lot after stressful week after week.

I was really poring over the food hen my wife asked sarcastically "Naalaikkulla saaptumudippiya ?"

The other thing I like doing super slow is reading this genre (wrong word but conveys what I want to convey) of articles from you.

I enjoyed chewing over some of the phrases and sentences and relating it to my own experience. But I have to say I'm a lot more thick skinned. Bu yes - my approach is pretty much the same. I find I have much less to say to certain people including some who are close to me because my interests have radically changed over the last two years and at the very least they would definitely think I've gone bonkers.

Your observation on your non-confrontationalist approach is probably common sense. why cast pearls before swine ?

Anonymous said...

Ram, God has been ever so kind to u.
Your thoughts come from the innermost atrium of your heart. It's almost a veritable slice of yoU and it's always a stress buster for me to read and go back to my work. Don't ever stop. These are dots strewn in your path, ultimately one fine day when u least expect, God will show you the kolam meant for u and only u:) rekhs

Uday Senan said...

As simple as differential equations. It is so true Ram. I couldn't help but relate to almost everything you wrote with what i have been through lately. Vulnerability may separate people and also get you intimate with someone. So true. I totally get your response and the one month phase of emotions after you saw the video. Something similar had happened to me as well. My mom had hidden away all photos of dad, after his demise. It had been more than a decade. I only got to see them in a surprise video gift she made along with my close friend. The video, just induced a sudden rush of emotions and dears that i couldn't stop for a few weeks. Yes, they were happy memories. But it's just that... I guess you know what I'm trying to say. Vulnerabilities are really the attribute that make us who we are. It defines us better on the scale of being human. It is more about the us inside. Lovely blog ram. Love- uday.

newmomontheblock said...

Really touching post. I am very happy you got hold of that video and were able to watch it.

Coincidentally, over the last few weeks, I have been thinking of asking my cousins if I they can send over portions of their wedding videos where my mom is seen. I have not watched my brother's wedding video yet. She passed away a few months after the wedding. Maybe, I could watch that first and show my son his Patti. All these years, I couldn't bring myself to watch any videos of hers/ pictures etc. Even now, maybe I would not be able to watch after a few mins. But lately, I have been trying hard to visualize her and for some reason I am unable to. I remember random stranger's faces/ voices but not my mom's and I don't know if it is because you can't remember the faces of people who are always around you, because it forms sort of a background image. I don't know. I remember the line from Randy Pausch's book where he went dolphin swimming with his kids because he realized that the only way his kids would have any memory of him only by creating some sort of extreme experience with them.

And I have been thinking of ways to create memories with my son. Memories that would comfort him when I won't be around one day. As you say, I feel like vacations are one of the best ways to create memories. Pictures can bring back so many fond memories/ experiences. I have tried to think of things that I did with my mom and I hardly remember any of the everyday things but I do remember our vacations.

Sorry about the long comment. Maybe, I need to dust up my blog and write some posts.

Ram Murali said...

Anu - many thanks for reading. Some lovely thoughts in your comment. Really appreciate you sharing your perspectives.

Ravishanker - thanks a lot! And let me just say that I am glad you had food for thought in more ways than one :)

Rekhs - so kind of you to leave such a sweet comment amidst your frenetic schedules. Mikka Nandri :)

Uday - thank you for sharing your thoughts on your Dad. Yes, I can totally relate to your feeling of having to through a gamut of emotions evoked by the memories of your father. Do read "Option B" when you get a chance. A fantastic read on recovering from adversity of all kinds, most notably the passing away of a loved one.

newmomontheblock - thank you, as always, for sharing such tough memories. I really appreciate your willingness to do so. You are absolutely right in that images, still or moving, can bring back a slew of memories. But I also feel the need to tell myself that these images are akin to a mirage. There is something very disconcerting when spending even a few extra seconds dwelling on these. At least, that's how I feel about this. Please don't apologize for a detailed comment. Your perspectives are most welcome. Having said that, your blog is something that I would absolutely read, should you choose to dust it up and resume writing. Do send me a link if/when you get to that. And as I recommended to Uday, do read "Option B" if you haven't already done so.

Anonymous said...

We all have a shell around us and open only to people close to us; my standard of closeness is when I can be vulnerable and know that the feeling is understood and appreciated. I have also been blessed with good friends who share their vulnerabilities and are willing t share mine. Of course there are others who have hurt me and I have put on my protective shell with them with the once bitten twice shy approach.
As usual very well written Ram and as usual brought tears to me eyes reading the opening lines about my father.
I had been in a management training where they said that an effective team had to show vulnerability with each other and not wear a protective shell.

Unknown said...

As always I am lucky that you share your wonderful, great writings with me! I love reading your blog ๐Ÿ™๐Ÿป As a photo lover I enjoyed this post a lot ๐Ÿ™๐Ÿป๐Ÿ™๐Ÿป

Ram Murali said...

Awaz - thank you so much for your kind words. I am glad you liked the write-up. We must meet up sometime soon - do visit us!

Ram Murali said...

Awaz - and where was this marvelous snap (in your DP) clicked? Details please!

Anonymous said...

Been trying to read about vulnerable leadership, its interesting and important- dinesh