By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee
I sometimes think that the greatest mistake we might make is in thinking that we can change the ture of a person, whose mannerisms we may not like. Actually we often try to do it. Yet the person whom we try to change may not submit to our persuasions or to our incessant gging. In fact, it may bring just the opposite result. The person may be stiff-necked enough to toe the line of another’s making. It also sometimes lead to unpleasantness and suffering. And how can we say that we are right in our behavior ? Perhaps our mannerisms are also disliked by somebody else. Shall we submit meekly to another’s command and change our behavior ? Then how can we expect others to do that?
I suppose none of us try to correct our mistakes, as we think ourselves to be infallible. In our own assessment we are right and never fall into error. Yet a little introspection may tell us how wrong we are. I think that every one of us have some fault or other. After all, we are finite and imperfect human beings. So it is only tural for us to make various mistakes. But due to perhaps arrogance, we never admit that we have as many faults as another has. We never admit our own faults, though we are quick to condemn another for any little fault he/she may have in behaviour. We have to realize the fact that no human being is perfect. Everyone has some defect. Unless it is something grave we may overlook it. People have their own unique way of talking or behaviour, some of which we may not approve. After all they are minor defects. Hence though we may not like somebody’s foibles, we should not try to change the person concerned, though it is admissible to do so in case of our children before they reach majority in age. But if they are adults it may be beyond our powers to change their peculiarities. I think it is much better to find out our own mistakes and try to correct ourselves. Self-criticism is the best method to correct our own defects to make us better human beings. Unfortutely very few of us recognize our own faults.
This kind of thought of changing another person’s ture and habit is much in evidence in case of newly married couple. I believe that it is a grave mistake on the part of one contemplating marriage to think that he or she can reform his or her partner after they have plighted their troth. They probably know each others’ weak points, but think that it will be different when they got married, since the weak points will have to be elimited. But the chances are that he or she would remain the same. One should never think that the other person can be changed, because it is just not possible. Many a woman may find at odds with her husband for his hobby which she may dislike. Conversely a husband may dislike something which his wife does. But to make a happy home they have to accept each others’ idiosyncrasies.
The idea of changing a person’s habits often leads to needless controversies, sometimes even to bitter quarrels and excessive suffering. Recently I met a young girl, the daughter of a friend, who was going to marry a young man, known to her for a long time. The parents fortutely approved her choice and the wedding was to be held after a couple of months. She is a very nice girl and freely talks to me about any problem she may face. The other day she told me that the man she was going to marry is a very nice person, handsome and considerate. But apparently there is one thing about him which she dislikes. She said cheerfully, “you must meet him. He is a very nice person and very kind. But there is one thing I hate about him. He eats very noisily and can’t hold the fork and spoon in a proper way. I think his table manners lack finesse. But I will correct the bad habit after marriage. There will be no problem”. She looked quite confident of her power over her prospective husband. I wanted to advise her never to make the attempt to reform him. But I knew that it would be an unwarranted interference on my part to butt in. After all, she had not asked for my advice and giving unwanted advice amounts to officiousness. So I kept quiet. But I devoutly hope that she would not try to correct her husband, when she got married.
Our fault is that we are too aware of other peoples’ fault without ever taking care to find out if we have faults as well. Our conviction seems to be that everybody is at fault while we are faultless. But a little amount of honest introspection would clearly bring our faults into open. So many heart aches could have been avoided if only we had accepted the truth that none in the world is perfect. I have as many faults as the next person. I may dislike another person’s behaviour and he or she make dislike mine. If we can take an objective look at ourselves, we would realize how hateful some of our talks and behaviour might appear to another. gging or scolding does not help even the slightest bit. After all, who are we to criticize other people, unless their habits and behaviour do not affect us seriously? What right do we have to condemn another’s behaviour, if it does not have any harmful consequence? Half the world’s quarrel arise, because we refuse to accept that we are not in the least justified in trying to change other peoples’ ways simply because they are not our ways.
It is not really right to think that our ways are the best. Something might irritate us, but opposition merely leads to innumerable arguments and unpleasantness. We may also have some faulty manners, which could irritate others. If we dislike something in another person, the solution of the problem, I think, is to give the same loving tolerance to another, as we would like to be given to us. We have to accept the simple truth that there are weaknesses in all of us and it would be wiser on our part to deal with these little irritants with tact and understanding. I think that we must allow for differences of interest and differences of character and must discard the notion that only we are right and all others are wrong. Self-criticism is very necessary at such times.
I believe that the best course of action to take in order to emerge out of bitter quarrels and thorny tangles is to take recourse to that excellent principle of “give and take”. There is no other altertive course of action. So many marriages end in disaster, simply because the marriage partner refuses to deviate even an inch from his or her point of view. It will be a terrible mistake on the part of one partner to imagine that the other one will toe the line chalked out by him or her. This kind of attitude brings nothing but quarrels and suffering. One lady told me that her husband is a taker and does not lift even his little 1nger to assist his harassed spouse. The husband pompously retorted that he gave his whole month’s pay packet to his wife—and what more could she want? Curling her lips the lady told me, “He thinks that his responsibility is over the moment he gives me the money. Of course he is not mean like some others. He never questions me about my expenses. But money is not everything. I need some appreciation as well for my hand work. I try to keep my home tidy and family happy. Don’t I deserve some praise for my hard labour ? Do you think I am being unreasoble?” I did not think her to be unreasoble. Perhaps everybody needs appreciation for doing a job well. Yet it is also true that some people lack the ability to bestow praise on others and I have also noticed that men are less demonstrative than women. A man may recognize the hard labour of his wife in making a happy home for him and the family, but he may not be able to say it. It is not a fault, but it is just his ture.
I think that in life we must go through giving and taking. The givers and takers are mutually related. One should not be a giver or a taker all the way. To make a successful conjugal life both the husband and wife must give a little bit. They must not think that they will only take and not give. Many husbands take the wife for granted. She makes a happy home for him—she looks after his needs and sacrifices quite a lot for giving happiness to the husband and the children. Yet many of them have never a good word to say about his wife’s good work. A little appreciation, one single flower might do wonders to her sagging spirits. Some people are born givers and some are born takers. The golden rule is to take the middle path. I think we should not only give, but also should cultivate the art of taking. I have a friend, who is a giver all the way. But she does not like to take anything from others. Strangely enough, in spite of being a very kind and generous person, she never realizes how much her attitude hurts her friends. turally they feel humiliated because of her refusal to take what they give and it also leads to lots of misunderstanding.
One of her own friends told me in an injured voice, “what does she want to prove? Possibly she likes to demonstrate that she is lady bountiful. She has given me many things despite my protests. Yet when I went to give her a gift, she refused to accept it. She perhaps thinks that she is a great lady and we are inferior people. Her refusal to accept my gift really hurt me. I am not going to take anything from her any more”. I think that the lady is too generous to think of anybody as her inferior. I have noticed that she treats everybody in the same way. But she has not realized that taking a gift gracefully is as important as giving.
1 believe that to lead a happy life the attitude of “give and take” is absolutely necessary. There are some people who bear grudge against others for any little thing. Recently I heard about a feud between two neighbours, which arose because one of them had moved a boundary two inches into the other’s territory. They went to the law and spent thousands of rupees to settle the dispute, which could have been settled amicably in the shortest possible time without hassles, if only they had adopted the attitude of “give and take”. For harmony and peace of mind this kind of approach is essential.
If we take things in their proper perspective, we would be dismayed to find that adults can display such lack of common sense. But many of us do lose our sense of perspective at certain times. We may be very sure that we have ‘right’ on our side and so we just do not want to give in. But why not ? I think that in the long run it is wiser to be on the losing side than to pursue the battle. Is it not an awful waste of time to embark on a bitter and sometimes a costly dispute just to prove that we were right? Of course if we suffered some serious injury or indignity due to some deliberate and malicious action of another, then we have to fight back. But usually it is found that the longest and the bitterest grudges stem from some comparatively minor aggression. I think that in this context we may mention our epic “Mahabharata” as a shining example of the importance of giving and taking.
The Kaurava prince Duryodha wanted to take everything and refused to give even an inch of land to the Pandavas. The avaricious Duryodha even cheated the Pandavas of ir rightful kindom “Indraprastha”. As a consequence the great battle of Kuruksetra was fought and it was a bitter struggle for power. According to the legend thousands of men were killed ad many animals too lost their lives in the great battle. Filly the Pandavas won the battle, because the right was on their side. The Kauravas were annihilated, but there were many tragedies on the Pandava side as well. They also lost many of their near and dear ones. Apparently it was a hollow victory, as the winners were also not happy. Hence we can say that even in that ancient era, the application of the principle of “give and take” could have been of great use. If only the Kauravas and the Pandavas had done so, many tragedies could have been averted. Then there would not have occurred so much devastation and heart aches and both sides could have lived happily. But even after so many instances showing the evil consequences of covetousness we have not learnt our lessons. That is the great tragedy of human life.
Leaving aside the epic era we may concentrate on the present. We face the same problems even today. Any quarrel can be sorted out with a little bit of giving and taking. And if it demands more ‘give’ than ‘take’, so what? I honestly think that even if we feel that we have a real cause of bear a grudge, we should first think whether it is worth fretting and losing friends on that account. What is the use of feeding injustice, bitterness and hate? It is an unprofitable way to live and there are other better things to do with our lives.
We often forget that we have come to the earth on a temporary basis. Every person knows that birth and death are the inseparable facts of life. We have to realize that nothing is permanent and it is no use bearing a grudge against anybody. In the Bhagavad Gita it is stated that anger is one of the doors to hell. In anger we say certain things which should not have been said, do certain thing which should not have been done. Afterwards we may fall into bouts of remorse for our misbehavior. But what has been said cannot be unsaid and what has been done cannot be undone. Hence we should be very careful and should think calmly before we say or do something, which may hurt somebody. It is easy to find faults with others. Human ture is such that we never think ourselves to be wrong, but are quick to find faults in another’s behaviour. Introspection is very necessary to find out true facts about oneself To err is human, as they say. We have to admit our faults before condemning another.
Philosophy states that none is perfect. Only Absolute Reality is the perfect being. Human beings are finite and hence limited. turally every person has some fault or other, including ourselves. It will be much wiser to correct ourselves before pointing accusing finger at others. We cannot take everything without giving any. Such an attitude will only bring heartache and misery. We have to discard our faultfinding ture. I think it would bring happiness if we concentrate on the good points in another, ignoring the bad ones. One cannot be thoroughly bad, because good and bad go together and we have to accept it. We may be surprised to discover many good qualities in a person, whom we wrongly condemned as a bad person. We have to take humanity in its essence and not at its face value. I think that if we learn to give and take peacefully and generously, our lives would be much happier and more rewarding. It is worth giving a try. Shall we do it, dear reader?
(The writer is a former Head, Department of Philosophy, Cotton College, Guwahati)