“…that was my first lesson on how what you feel inside is less important than what you show to the world.”
In a recent write-up of his, film critic Baradwaj Rangan recounted the passing away of his paternal grandpa. On that day, to get away from the immense sadness, he and his cousins had gone to a movie theater. In no way was the act meant to be disrespectful to the departed soul. But in recollecting the harsh reactions from his family, he wrote of how he might not have been judged as negatively had he chosen to go to the beach. In the write-up, he also described the overdose of social scrutiny as bothersome yet inevitable. I found myself nodding for a few reasons which I shall explore further, but not before I share one more quote with you.
“I like me. My wife likes me. My customers like me. Because I am the real article.”
These lines were uttered by the great comedian and character actor John Candy. Watch the clip below at the 46-second point. Notice how tentatively he utters the, “I like me” line. It is a poignant moment because not everyone will have the disarming honesty that it takes to utter that line. In this sublime acting moment, Candy conveys pain for sure. But listening to his monologue intently, we realize that despite the hurt caused by Steve Martin’s abrasiveness, Candy would rather remain true to himself. The tenderness of tone and softness of voice stem really from his inner tranquil.
The thread that stitched these two disparate thoughts in my mind was that of quiet assurance. While the notion of ‘perception is reality’ is sometimes hard to shake off, what should matter more to us is our own perception of ourselves than that of an external force. As I grow older, the people that I observe as possessing that quiet assurance are those that take the time to look at themselves in what I would like to call the sanity mirror!
Indulge me by imagining yourself staring into a mirror. You are the only person in focus. Now imagine yourself staring into a mirror – the difference now is that there is a bevy of people that are standing behind you. The second mirror is arguably more representative of the overexposed world that we live in. While there are myriad joys that technology affords us, the increased connectivity may not always equate to meaningful connection. But even if that were the case, it is an uphill task to look into the more sane mirror all the time, by blocking out the surrounding crowd.
For me personally, a happy middle ground is a mirror where I allow not a crowd but a select set of people to stand beside me. These are people whose opinions of me, I care about deeply. I seek to emulate their way of life but in an authentic manner. I seek to synthesize what I like about them and distill it into a version that feels true within. Amidst my imperfections, faults and follies, the limited set of trustworthy well-wishers help me calibrate myself to an equilibrium.
Truth to be told, I didn’t come to this middle ground that easily. I used to worry considerably about how the entire world perceived me. As a result, I tended to come across as overtly sensitive. There had been times when I would struggle to find inner peace because the harder I tried to make myself understood, the tougher it seemed to please people around me. With benefit of time and age, I do feel like that having the feedback loop restricted to a carefully chosen set of people, I am able to do two things. I am able to silence the dins that detract from my efforts to seek an internal quiet. I am also able to come across as more assured to those that mean the world to me. I realized that as long as I am true to myself, the happiness I can possibly share with others comes organically rather than painstakingly. To borrow Candy’s words, the more “I like me,” the more I will like others and vice versa!