Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Please Don't Try To Understand

What I think is that being Nice is Overrated in India
~ Mayank , said while talking to me over a beer .

I belong to a middle class family in Rajasthan, a provinces of Northern India . my early childhood was spent in a joint family . like every thing else in world, there are many good and Bad aspects of growing up in a Joint family too . which is fine with me as long as we acknowledge it as such . if we can tell a Bad thing a Bad Thing . where things get unbearable is when we know something to be bad and we try to present it as a Virtue .Long term consequences of such thing is very damaging .

One such tendency which is subconsciously drilled into our head by society is the importance of being Nice . we always love the kid who is obedient , who is not adamant , who is ever ready to make peace with everything and don't make you uncomfortable . whenever i go to a family gathering , wedding or some Pooja i see some kid who is too grown up for his /her age . who speaks politely and who can always be bullied by his cousin from metro city or Atomic family .

i once saw a kid who was being bullied by his cousin brother from
Big City. This kid was asking for his Leo Gun which was his Birthday present but the Metro Brat simply refused and humiliated him . later in the day when i saw him sitting sadly at stair i asked him "why didn't you fight back ? why did you simply listen to Sonu's Nonsense ? " .

His reply was "I am elder than him, They are our guest and Good boys don't act like that " .

This kid was 5 Year old , only 8 month elder to the other Kid and his parents were elated and proud of him when i narrated this incident over dinner table .
[ i told them bluntly that if they think its healthy for a 5 year old to talk like that than they are wrong ] .

I think his parents don't have and idea what they are setting him up for . They are preparing him for a life of Nice submissive idiot who will find it very hard to stand up for what he think he deserve and will always feel ripped off by other .

"You just can't make every one happy . How far would Moses have gone if he had taken a poll in Egypt?” : ~ Harry S. Truman

This Question by Harry S. Truman is very insightful . It shows power of acting on what you think is right without thinking much about the comfort or approval of others . sadly most of the time in India we teach our children to adjust . because their mind is very impressionable so a child learn to adjust very soon .

Growing up in a joint family I had my share of conflict between my interest and that of people around me . like the kid I mentioned above i was also not able to express my anger most of the time . I used to be upset with my parents when they didn't supported me even when I was right and I used to complain to my parents. They were always there to listen to me , but their advice was always the same . Learn to adjust .

I grew up believing that saying No is bad thing and whenever i said "No, this is not acceptable to me " i always felt a strange guilt as if i had failed to live up to the expectation of people around me . It was impossible for me to convince myself that you can not say "YES" always ,i had the example of my parents right beofre me . they were taken for granted , exploited , misbehaved and neglected by so many of my relatives but i never saw them expressing their anger or resentment to the concerned parties. they are epitome of patience . but i know that they were holding the anger inside . [i won't get in to the specific of it , as i believe that it happens in every family and all of my indian friends can relate to it "] .

so i was a nice guy all my child hood . i never argued,i was never stubborn , i was a bit too grown up for my age , many families used to give my example to their kids .
Now things are somewhats different. Its been 12 years since i am living away from home . i learned a lot of things during this time . if you asked me what was the hardest thing to learn i would say it was "Learning to be assertive " .

I always used to wonder why i find it so hard to stand for what i feel is right. why i m not assertive like people around me . Why can't i say No ?
My years in sales taught me to be assertive to certain extent when it comes to professional matter . but when it comes to personal matter . I still find it very hard to be assertive toward people round me .Even when I know I m right .

I am not the only one facing this problem . i am [perhapses] the only one to talk about it . i know a lot fo guys who find it hard to negotiate a good salary with their employers . i know a lot of guys who don't want to spoil there relationship with their Boss so they put up with his non sense . list is long.

looking at the incident like that of KID gave me the perspective on why i feel like that . why i am not assertive , and what is the root cause of it ? so sometime back i decided to find out some tips on increasing my assertiveness , i googled for it and find out a lot of good stuff . some article were plain academic crap , some were rants on how world is unfair ,but a few of them were really good . I read an article on this subject by Phil Kerslake . its very well written in layman's language . Phil says
"If you let yourself be pushed around by people, you'll resent them and yourself for it. Internalizing your feelings is unhealthy for you and your relationships. Asserting yourself is an effective way to take control of your feelings." .

He goes on expalining why you feel like that and how you can avoid it . its really worth a read . you can read it here . some other usefull stuff can be found here here and here .

Epilogue :

"When it came down to it, I guess my life was more important to me than his"
~ Catherine Tramell in Basic Instinct 2

"The evil of the world is made possible by nothing but the sanction [that] you give it."
~ John Galt In Atlas Shrugged

Bad effect of submissiveness and lack of assertive apporoach is not limited to porfesstional life . it effect us in our personal life also . all around us we see people who are cribbing and whining about their spouse , girlfriends , family and whole world in general . they want the whole world to make them happy . what they actually need to do is to stand up and say what they can't withstand in life .

So very often
We read in business press that Indian executive are not natural leader . they lack the confidence to take decision . after 4 years of working in software industry and dealing with American & European clients i can safely say that this perception is not entirely baseless . Indian are competent but [most of the time ]they are not assertive . Why ??

may be its because of our upbringing and the emphasis our society puts on being nice . sometime its hard to be assertive and nice at the same time . its a fine line and we are too afraid to cross it even at the risk of damaging our own chances .

So my advice to all of you is "Please Don't Try to understand and care for everyone around you at the cost of your own happiness ". If you are right don't give up just because it may hurt the guy who is wrong. in the long run it will be good for all of us . i will try to do it my self now onward .


Catholicon said...

Beautiful take on the indian upbringing and its consequences.


@ catholicon: Thanks

Mayank said...

Very well thought out and written. One of your best posts ever. Had a very good time reading it.


Thanks Mayank

Manoj Awasthi said...

Beautiful post. You are a captivating writer. Thanks a ton for writing and yes, to which (almost) everyone can relate.

Mayank's quote - "What I think is that being Nice is Overrated in India" is so true.


@ Manoj : Thanks for the kind words

Ramjee said...

Though not from a joint family.
I haver pretty much lived what you have written.
Still undergoing the process where I am unlearning to say yes, and learning to say no.!


@ramjeee: thanks for taking time to read and share your thoughts. Good Luck for your pursuit of unlearning.

Anonymous said...
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Rashmi said...

Very well written and very apt.. after a bitter lesson in my personal life, I've very well understood how it hurts us at the most... Also one of the feedback our client gave us was that though our engineers are technically too good and can come up with very good solutions, we don't participate actively in the discussions and question the clients even when we know what they are saying is nor right!!!


@Rahgmi:Thanks for taking time to comment and share your views . TI might be wrong but this lack of Leadership is a bigger problem for indian IT/ITES sector than impact of Rs Dollar Conversion rate . this is more problematic if you are a startup

the who said...

I can so relate to not being able to say no to people because you understand them or can't hurt them.. Often you end up short-changing yourself because you're being nice..
But then if the "Indian upbringing" is one end of the spectrum the "non-Indian upbringing", if there's a thing like that, is the other. There are times when i've felt good by saying no and being assertive but also times when i've been able to overcome some of my greatest setbacks by being able to genuinely forgive people. I am reminded of a kabir doha:
ati ka bhala na bolna, ati ki bhali na choop,
ati ka bhala na barasna, ati ki bhali na dhoop..
I just so wish there was a parenting way by which one could strike a balance.. judge how much is ok to understand and when to put a stop... but i can't blame my parents or anyone for my inability to do that.. Heck! if i were given a baby to take care of i wouldn't know what to do with it!!
Having said that, i do acknowledge the need to somehow intelligently and sensitively (God knows how) move from a sugary-nice- centric approach in parenting to a more healthily balanced one..


@ The_who
thanks for taking time to comment
"I just so wish there was a parenting way by which one could strike a balance...."
I guess there is a way , My flatmate JP , described it in the comment of my post about "Teacher & parents"