On 14th February 2019, a ghastly terrorist attack claimed the lives of 44 Indian soldiers.
A bunch of standup comedians followed it up with a video discussing how it’s timing was perfect for Narendra Modi. The elections were right around the corner and this could swing the sentiment in his favor, they reasoned.
From a purely logical standpoint, this probably made sense. But people had died. And the comics were discussing the timing of the attack, seated comfortably in an air-conditioned studio, with one foot resting on the other knee.
How would somebody related to any of the martyred soldiers feel if they saw the video?
Was stating the “facts” more important than being sensitive about a tragedy that had sent the entire nation into mourning?
Social media has allowed us to turn more brazen than ever with our words. We share strong and insensitive views, post crass comments on updates we oppose, and call anyone who doesn’t agree with us an “idiot.”
Not just because we can get away with it (thank you, freedom of expression), but also because such thoughts attract a lot of attention — shares and views, broadcasts in mainstream media and publications, and vicious verbal volleys from people in the opposing camp.
This attention further asserts our feeling about being right. We feel we’re sharing something important, and by association, feel that we’re important. For a few moments, we have our time in the sun as experts and influencers.
The proof is in the massive number of opinions with justifications like “this had to be said,” and “the truth always hurts.” After all, shouldn’t the truth get precedence over the feelings of others, especially “idiots”?
No Longer Online Only
This behavior is no longer exclusive to the online world. It has also seeped into our face-to-face interactions. Aggression has become the new assertive during conversations, and debates are no longer healthy.
I’ve suffered from this syndrome for long. Stating my opinion mattered more than how others felt. I expected them to toughen up and accept things. It was for their own good after all.
Yet, the harder I pushed, the harder they pushed back. Nobody wanted to hear the damn truth!
But who decides the truth? All of us know just a fragment of it, whether at work or about events at a larger scale.
My truth is my truth. Your truth is your truth. And you believe your truth is the truth. I believe my truth is the truth. And that’s why we argue. – Devdutt Pattanaik
Yet another question begs answers: What is the goal of a conversation? Is it to share something meaningful, or to convince others that we’re right?
This realization made me pose some compelling questions to myself.
When I don’t know the complete truth, can I thrust my thoughts on others?
Does knowing more than someone else give me permission to impose my opinions on them?
How do I know whether my opinion is right if I don’t listen openly to the other party?
Is it fair to ignore how others feel just so I can feel heard? How will I feel if someone dishes out the same treatment to me?
I discovered that in prioritizing my views, I forgot the difference between “contact” and “connection.”
Contact Versus Connection
After Swami Vivekananda delivered a speech at a seminar in New York, a journalist asked him to explain the difference between “contact” and “connection.”
Swami Vivekananda asked the journalist about his family. The journalist said that his mother had passed away and that he had a father and four siblings. Upon further probing, the journalist confessed that he hadn’t spoken to his father in over a month, and his family hadn’t been together in more than two years.
Swami Vivekananda explained that the journalist had contact with his family, but the connection was missing. A connection is “between hearts… sitting together, sharing meals and caring for each other; touching, shaking hands, having eye contact…”
Social media has amplified our lust for contact. The more brazen we become, the more attention we get, and the more important we feel. But in the process, we lose the ability to empathize, and the desire to work hard in order to make friendships and relationships work.
This loss of connections creates a void in our lives which we try to fill with mindless entertainment, meaningless relationships, spewing hatred over petty things outside our locus of control, and substance abuse.
Compassion is what makes a violent species like ours evolve into human beings. It lets us understand others better and in turn, gives us deeper insights into who we are. It lets us fill the void which we currently fill with external things, with something more meaningful.
For the last few months, I’ve been working hard to be more open while listening to people. I’ve also learned to care about their emotions more than my point of view. Not out of a feeling of superiority, but because I learn more when I do so. When I share my opinions, the intent is to get the point across in a way they find acceptable. Instead of trying to win arguments, I try to reach a point of discussion.
Maybe they’ll accept my views today, maybe they’ll take a few months to accept it, maybe they’ll reject it. That’s okay. Their journey is different from mine.
Not everything needs to be said. Not everything you want to say needs to be forceful. Being human is an end in itself, not a means to an end. Now more than ever, we have to rein in our primal instincts and stop behaving like beasts.
Compassion (and connection) will remain one of the most underrated yet important traits in the 21st century and beyond.