“Simple living and high thinking were slowly replaced by simple thinking and high living.”
This one line by journalist Suresh Menon best summed up the sheer tragedy of cricketer Mohammad Azharuddin’s career and his role in the match-fixing crisis of the late 1990s. In my own personal and professional life, I have encountered people on all ends of the spectrum encompassing the different combinations of quality of thinking and standard of living. In some instances, the same people have, at least in my mind, gone from one part of the spectrum to another.
I have had my share of growth, stagnation and dips in my life. These have had a direct bearing on the level of confidence that I experience internally as well as the comforts that form part of the externals. (Although in the case of confidence, or lack thereof, and its relation to success or failure, it’s hard to gauge what is the chicken and what is the egg.) I would be lying if I said that it is only the ineffable minutiae of interpersonal interactions that have mattered to me. There have indeed been material possessions such as watches and cars that have given me much joy.
There are times when I do set my sights on the next ‘best’ (I am using that term loosely) thing that I want to acquire in due course of time. I am certain that there have been instances (hopefully few and far between) when I may have come across as boastful or appearing incapable of having my head connected to my shoulders or my feet rooted to terra firma. Over time, upon reflection, I have felt compelled to find ways to internalize and compartmentalize the joys that I derive from material possessions. Successes are best shared with a small set of trustworthy people. In this day and age of social media overexposure, there is constant pressure to advertise and amplify moments of happiness for public consumption. In the tradition of most life lessons, the crucibles of character precede the lessons learned. I have passed on some occasions, failed on others. But the lessons have mostly stuck. And arguably, the most important learning has been around the currency of relationships.
Several social science papers and articles have characterized time, trust, words and gestures as reliable currencies of trusted relationships. Based on the relationships that I have had, be it family or friends, respect is the most reliable barometer of a relationship. Respect is the currency that appreciates in value in relationships that flourish. And I think of respect both in terms of the self and respect for the other person. Both are important. I sincerely believe that we need to have a healthy amount of respect for ourselves in order to develop a quiet confidence that, in turn, enhances our relationships. A healthy amount of self-respect eclipses the odious effects of insecurity that can incapacitate a relationship. And an inherent respect in the other person can reduce differences in lifestyle choices (or ‘quality’, again defined loosely) to a mere fact, not a factor. Deep-rooted respect is what makes us genuinely savor the ingredients that make the other person happy, not what we define as the recipe for happiness or success.
The benchmark for a relationship that existed indelibly despite socioeconomic differences, tastes, interests and tangible comforts, was the friendship that my maternal grandpa – a lifelong employee of Reserve Bank of India- had shared with his best friend, the chairman of a conglomerate. (Neither of them is alive.) Pretty much everything that I have written above are the result of introspection through observation (and many an anecdote) of what I reckon to be the gold standard of a relationship. A kinship where equality was defined in terms of the amount of respect, affection and security afforded to one another.
I do hope that in the autumn of my life that I would get to relish and reflect on relationships like the one my grandpa and his friend shared. Thanks to them, I know that it is possible to let the quality of “high thinking” co-exist peacefully with the elements of “high living.” The odds remain high as long as the currency of respect does not get demonetized.