I am good friends with a septuagenarian. Despite an age gap that exceeds 30 years, I have often found that he and I can strike meaningful conversations about family, friendships, films, politics and so on. But most importantly, there is a kindred spirit, shared values and similar perspectives on the relationships that matter most. I have shared his anger against hypocrisy and his lack of tolerance for unprincipled people. When I would sometimes reflect on my conversations with him, I would sheepishly grin at myself. For sensing loads of righteousness in the way he spoke and wondering whether I was seeing a bit of myself in him and vice versa! Three decades on, would I want to be perceived by a 38-year old the way I perceive him now? The answer is certainly more nuanced than a simple yes or no.
A double-edged sword that I take out of my mental scabbard often is my inflexibility with certain core values. Just like how obsessive-compulsive people get a comfort out of a certain routine, I find tremendous inner comfort with the familiar rhythms of my mind. There are certain beliefs that I have on topics like honesty, gratitude, empathy, relevancy and priority where I haven’t quite changed with age. I embrace change, ambiguity and uncertainty in my professional life in an equanimous manner – I know that and have received enough positive feedback on the same. But there are things in my personal life that I value so passionately and guard so vociferously that the ‘comfort’ I mentioned earlier comes at such a great cost that any inward-facing victory would seem pyrrhic.
As I have mentioned in several write-ups, professor Sheena Iyengar did me a great service by urging me to “be choosy about choosing” in order to choose well. As a result, I know that my obsessions are few but deep. I have seen some people admire the constancy of character that they have witnessed in me over the years. I have equally witnessed others - or sometimes, the same people! - driven to frustration that I have stayed put when the sizes of the circles of trust and relative positions have evolved over time. And I find that okay because I know that for my part, I am making an effort to “choose” my priorities or inflexibilities in a reasonably thoughtful manner. And there are several elements of personal development such as anger management, listening empathetically and acting with purposeful awareness where I know that constant evolution is a must. I don’t let mental inertia stymie personal growth in those aspects. So, a refusal to change, in essence, is something that I restrict to a few areas. And I am almost certain that the elderly gentleman thinks of himself this way!
I am sure that he wonders, in silence and aloud, why people begrudge his occasional refusal to budge when in fact, he moves with much mental alacrity most of the time. But having interacted with him, I know the one area where I want to be different from him. I want to be happier with the choices I make. I don’t think he quite is at the level of peace where he wants to be. As he takes gingerly steps in the twilight of his life, he looks back at the path traversed and the people that have disappeared from sight with a mixture of sadness and anger. As a result of looking back too much, his steps forward are a lot less surefooted than his intelligence deserves. In essence, a corollary to what Professor Iyengar says would be, ‘Be choosy about choosing. Once the choices are made, be choosy about how you react to the consequences of those choices.’
When I reach his age, I hope to make the world brighter in a small way for the ones that have trusted me enough to spend time with me, listen to me, share my pains with generosity and theirs with graciousness. And along the way, we hopefully share some laughs too. After all, a soul rests in peace only when the life that preceded it is lived with inner harmony.