Would you rather be liked or respected?

Would you rather be liked or would you rather be respected?

Of course, they aren’t mutually exclusive. There are plenty of people who are both liked and respected, and more on them later. Yet for the general populace, the balance normally tips one way or the other. I’ll wager that most of you reading this will be opting for ‘respect’. After all, it seems to be the more respectable choice, pardon the pun. Who wants to be just liked? Respect has weight behind it, a certain gravitas. Puppies are liked, as are rom coms and cupcakes. World leaders, Chairmen of companies, United Nations envoys – now these are respected. But I digress.

We all think we want to be respected, while in reality, what we really really want is to be liked. Earning respect is a process that involves principles, scruples and sometimes swimming against the flow. It involves saying what you mean, and meaning what you say. It involves a moral compass that cannot be compromised. It is an unflinching stance and it is a lonely place.

Being liked, on the other hand, is so much easier. Agree with everyone. Don’t have too many opinions, and if you do, hide them well. Be prepared to walk away from confrontation and controversy. Bury your head in the sand, align yourself with stronger personalities and as much as possible, sit on the fence.

Harsh? Possibly.

Not all likeable people are cowards. Not all outwardly respectable people are morally upright. And why choose between one or the other?

Because, as one gets older, it’s important to have a belief system in place. It’s important to use one’s voice and one’s conscience to do the right thing, to champion the causes one believes in, and to do it without compunction or fear.

If the casualty to all this is being disliked, then so be it. Life cannot be lived by other people’s opinions of you. Therefore, if it is respect you aspire to, then be prepared for a little side dish of dislike too.

If all you wish for is to be liked, beware that it comes with its own set of pitfalls. In being universally liked (if such a thing is at all possible), you have no doubt bitten your tongue more times than you can think of, been walked over, been ignored and overlooked when it came to important decisions, and been put upon and/or taken for granted.

So, is there a way to straddle both? After all, as I mentioned before, some people manage both, to be liked and to be respected. How do they do it?

It’s quite simple really. They don’t care. They follow the path their heart and conscience leads them on. They crave neither popularity nor power. If they acquire these along the way, then it is an embellishment. It is by no means their raison d’être. These path breakers have their own share of people who dislike and disrespect them. The difference is that it doesn’t stop them. It barely affects them, and even if they register the negativity, they carry on regardless.

To these I doff my imaginary hat. For the rest of us, being respected and being liked is a sub conscious see saw. Approach with caution and handle with care.

Veritas (Experiment Series 2- Part 1)

I drew the gauzy covering aside and stared into the mirror. At first it’s aged surface revealed nothing but the mist that swirled around me. As I leaned in, however, the mist parted to reveal her heart shaped face. Her copper tresses flowed down her shoulders, covering nearly half her body. Her wide spaced green eyes stared right into mine. There was but one question in them. I shook my head quickly, ashamedly. A flash of scorn and she turned away.

“No!”, I cried, “Please don’t….”

She turned back and looked at me again. She was beautiful, powerful, and all knowing. She stretched her arm out, beckoning me towards her. Wonderingly, I stepped into her world. All at once I was in a verdant netherworld, a vetiver land of moss, grass and lichens, trees that stood tall, but with branches that reached down to caress, retreating shyly at a glance. Bushes that grew in a tangle that moved and swayed to invisible chords. Wildflowers that grew in thickets, roses that ambushed the senses with their heady perfume. She stood amongst them, a tiny figure that held me in her thrall. Her body was ivory, the skin translucent enough for me to see her network of blue veins. It was I who felt naked under her gaze.

“Tell me”, she whispered, her voice sending a ripple through the leaves of her Kingdom, “tell me why you return with the task undone?”

“I…I…it is too hard. It would break his heart.”

Something coiled around my ankle. I looked down in horror at the serpent that wrapped itself on my left leg. A serpent that looked like a chain. Serpent. Chain. Serpent.

“That is for your cowardice”

She turned and walked away. I limped behind her, dragging my chained leg.

“No…please….your Majesty….I need time….”

“You have had time. Enough time.”

“Yes, you have been kind and patient. It is I who is unable…”

“Unable, or unwilling?”

She stood near enough for me to touch her. Her beauty was cruel, and mocking of my weakness. Her eyes blazed with a fury that set me trembling. A rose branch reached out towards my arms, and suddenly, brutally wrapped itself around my wrists, imprisoning them, the thorns piercing my skin, drawing blood. Tighter and tighter, while I swayed and moaned with pain.

“This is for your betrayal”

Still I followed her, into the darkness, as the mist dipped and swelled and eddied around my slight form.

“I promise…I promise….”

She laughed then. Her laugh echoed around me, carried upon the waves of droplets that laughed along with her. A thousand laughters. A million.

“You promise! What of your promise to him? The one you took when you wedded him? What of that?”

Her face was near mine. I could smell hyacinths on her breath. I could see my reflection in the irises of her merciless eyes.

She had a dagger in her hand. I fell to my knees, no longer capable of any further supplication. The dagger hovered above me, as though waiting for one last admission of guilt.

I looked up at her, and murmured, “Yes, it is what I deserve. My infidelity cost me the most precious thing in the world: my peace of mind. I carry the burden of my guilt and betrayal like a rock around my heart. What I hide from him, eats me up from the inside, daily. What I am unable to confess, poisons every act of love and repentance. I am a sinner. I have fallen in the court of my own judgement. Your punishments are nothing but the manifestations of my own castigations. Do with me what you will. It cannot be any worse than what I do to myself every day”

Head bowed, I waited for the dagger to plunge into my cheating heart. A lifetime passed. A moment elapsed.

I raised my eyes to the hem of her blue dress. The dagger had been replaced with an olive branch. Veritas by Clementia. She reached down to me, gently pulling me up. My shackles fell away as I stared into her pools of mercy.

“There is no sin, my child, that cannot be atoned for. Veritas demands truth and honesty. However, she does not take into account the damage that such truth may do. I offer clemency and salvation. It is a path that is paved with humility, kindness and compassion. It is not for the faint hearted. Upon this path, you will have to discard your ego, and enter upon a contract of devotion and fidelity. You will never forget your transgression, yet, as days pass by, you will view it as a distant memory. Something that happened once upon a time.”

“Now, are you willing to journey back to your land?”

I nodded, still incredulous of the benevolence I was receiving.

We walked, arm in arm, through carpets of bluebells, an orange glow, precursor to dawn, suffusing the air with warmth and life. Hummingbirds and butterflies and sweet lavender soothed my bruised soul till I reached the doorway of my Purgatory.

Clementia took my face in her hands. Her lips brushed my forehead softly.

“Be kind to yourself child. You will only begin to heal once you forgive yourself ”

I stepped back through the looking glass into my world. The portal to my conscience was already disappearing. Yet I knew that I carried that world within me. Truth, honesty, mercy, forgiveness and salvation were all inside of me. I was both Goddess and supplicant. I was both judge and criminal.

Slowly, I got into bed with my sleeping husband, wrapping my arm around his torso. As my eyelids welcomed sleep, the night whispered its last message to me, Dilectio Sanat Omnia.

Love Heals Everything.

©Poornima Manco 2017

Abstinence

For those of you who know me personally, this has been a year of experimentation. I did not plan for it, but somehow that’s the path I have undertaken, with interesting results.

After the excesses of December, Dry January was actually a relief. Abstinence from alcohol is almost de rigeur at the start of the year, and I was in good company as most of my friends and acquaintances were also abstaining. Barring a few social occasions, I did not miss the wine or the rum and coke quite as much as I thought I would. A chamomile tea served me just as well, and helped more with a good night’s rest than the wine ever had. I had more energy and realised that aside of a social crutch, alcohol’s only other purpose was that it was a mild de stressor. A combination of fatigue and alcohol nearly always brought out the worst in me. On it’s own I handled fatigue far better than before. Result: a more rested and balanced me.

Sugar free February proved more challenging. Cursed with a sweet tooth, nearly every meal has to end with some sort of dessert. Could I stay off all sugar for an entire month? Dr Michael Mosley’s ‘The eight week blood sugar diet’ certainly helped. Having read it in one sitting I was determined that no refined sugar would cross my lips. I almost succeeded. I could not entirely eliminate sugar as it is added to nearly all kinds of foods(shockingly), and I had neither the inclination nor the will power to be a complete anti sugar crusader. I also carried on eating fruits, Nature’s own dessert, as I reckoned that natural equated to healthier. Result: clear skin and weight loss.

March was comparatively the easiest month. A simple banning of coffee just meant excluding the 2 mugs I had every day. I substituted with tea, which some people advised had more caffeine in it than coffee. Upon researching this I found it to be partially true. Yes, tea leaves have more caffeine in them than coffee beans. But post brewing , the caffeine content in a cup of tea is substantially less than a cup of coffee. Either ways, I suffered no coffee withdrawal. In the end, all I did miss was the aroma, and the ritual of nursing my first mug of coffee. Tea did not have quite the same romance to it. Result: Coffee dependence was all in my mind.

April is my vegetarian month. It started with a bang as I declared to all and sundry that I had sworn off meat, poultry, fish and eggs. Then promptly forgot and popped two sausages on my plate at the breakfast buffet. Cue lots of guilt, and a re avowing of former pledge. Having to survive on vegetables and lentils has been no great hardship. I have enjoyed discovering new recipes, and revisiting some old ones too. For instance, Avial, a South Indian preparation that I remember from my childhood, made a surprise appearance at a new restaurant in my village. Impressed I decided to prepare it at home, and now it’s a firm family favourite. Unfortunately, travelling has severely limited my choices to pastas or salads. Even so, there is a growing awareness of the advantages of vegetarianism and increasingly, chefs and restaurants are experimenting with newer combinations and meat free options. Result: Too early to say, but hopefully better health.

Friends and colleagues have questioned the sanity of my methods. I have in turns been declared mad (in jest) or a killjoy. Why am I doing this I have been asked time and again? Is all this elimination necessary, or is it just another fad bandwagon I’ve jumped on?

The answer is murky at best. I have, for a while, wanted to see how my body reacts to certain foods, or the lack thereof. I have also wanted to test my will power and my dependence on said foods. So, in a way, my body has been a laboratory of sorts. I am enjoying the process, and although not free of pitfalls (sausages!), it has been a fairly smooth journey up till now.

What next then?

The start of May will be a bit of a breather. Then I will launch into a combined elimination of all four things listed above. Will I be able to sustain it? I certainly hope so. Although, I’m guessing it will be a lot tougher this time around.

With the first half of the year focussing on the body, the second half will focus on the mind. Yoga, meditation and control over an explosive temper will be the next challenges I’d like to tackle. Tacked to that is a challenge that I will not reveal yet, but once accomplished, will share the results of.

I hate leaving things undone, so, in the midst of all these things, I am also trying to get ahead on my Experiment series 2. If I learn nothing else from all this, I hope it teaches me a bit more about self discipline, and an application of myself to that which I truly love: my writing.

Have you tried anything similar? I’d love to hear about your experiences. Please comment or inbox me. And bonne chance with all your endeavours.

What lies beneath

We live in interesting times. Social media has given us a voice, a platform and an audience like never before. We are all armchair analysts, foaming at our mouths over social inequities and perceived injustices. Each of us has an opinion on politics and current affairs, and boy, do we air those opinions with glee. Our moral duty done, us fickle activists of the lowest order, move on with the more mundane business of living our fairly boring suburban lives. Till the next cause that tickles our fancy comes along. It is a moveable feast after all, with no dearth of succulent meats to sink our proverbial teeth into.

What lies beneath all this moral outrage? A desire for change? The seeds of a revolution? Or, a mere positioning of oneself at the epicentre of social recognition. This is a person with his/her finger on the pulse of what is important. Never mind that the frenzy over what is important changes from one minute to the next. The irony being that, that which is truly important is not sensational enough to warrant attention from the social media parasites.

Perception is King. If the appearance of giving a damn is enough, then why really bother to give a damn? If the headlines are eyeballs grabbing enough, why bother with the facts? We are shallow people with shallow agendas. Our motives are to lynch and demonise. To bring down, not build up. We hide behind our screens, trolling those whose opinions are different from ours. Mocking, laughing and sniggering at the people who are doing the real job of effecting change. Ignorance, impotence and ire are the rungs of this particular ladder.

Eschewing truth in favour of the flavour of the day, we jump on our moral high horses, and are surprised to encounter opposition. After all, isn’t the popular opinion the right one too? No? How dare anyone interfere with our version of the narrative!

The pitfalls lie in believing that whatever we are espousing this moment has no other variables attached to it. Cause, effect and circumstance have multiple facets and complexities, and in downplaying certain aspects to lend credence to others, we put on the blinkers of our biases.

So perhaps, in the midst of spouting all this wisdom, we need to take a moment’s pause and check ourselves. Check our facts, check our sources, check our thoughts, check our prejudices and check our knee jerk emotional responses. Check whether our outrage is rooted in principles or the shifting sands of social media’s topic du jour.

For, in refusing to do any of the above, we are in danger of becoming the very thing that we despise.

Lone Wolf

So what makes them do it? What makes an ordinary, quiet, seemingly normal teenager fire an automatic at his school friends and teachers? What makes a man drive his car into innocent pedestrians on a sidewalk? What justification is there for these lone wolf attacks?

Wolves are pack animals, just as humans are by nature socialised beings. Lone wolves on the other hand, prefer their own company. They live and hunt on their own. They are outcasts by temperament, by circumstance and sometimes of their own volition.

Nearly always after another chilling attack, emerge the clues that led to it. A social misfit, a dysfunctional background, a lack of love, a propensity for violence, vulnerability to ideological brainwashing. Taken alone, each of these qualities may perhaps lead a person to a solitary existence, a criminal career or even a mental institution. Together, however, they become so much more dangerous.

Can we, as responsible citizens; parents, neighbours, co workers, pick up on any of these clues, and report them to the relevant authorities? Do we, as a society, have a duty towards these social outcasts? Is it possible in any way to intervene and diffuse a potentially fatal situation from developing?

These are amongst the many questions that lie at the heart of the modern dilemma of home grown attackers. Are killers born or made? Are terrorists just victims of circumstance and conditioning?

Reflection and responsibility. Two things that might lead us to answers. Uncomfortable truths of the part we play in marginalising these peripheral pariahs, whose only moments of recognition and glory lie in death, terror and destruction.

Then, and only then, will we vanquish this multi headed Hydra.

The Great Leveller

Prince or Pauper. Young or Old. Death doesn’t distinguish.

Rarely do we acknowledge that with every moment and every breath, we are moving towards our own ends. If life is a miracle, then death is its unsung companion. It lurks at every bend and fold. It stalks us with every near miss and illness. It laughs grimly as we celebrate birthdays and anniversaries and milestones. After all, we have to walk into its arms eventually, and feel its lips upon us.

Does that negate the meaning of all life? On the contrary, as anyone who has had a brush with death would attest, it reinvigorates you into living better, and puts into sharp focus that which is really important.

I lost a friend and colleague last week. As memories and tributes have poured in, one fact has stood out in glaring contrast to the others. People have spoken time and again about his kindness. His generosity of spirit was the trait that distinguished him from all others. Not to say that he didn’t have his share of faults and weaknesses, as we all do. However, the overriding narrative has been about his selflessness, his need and ability to help.

The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones, said William Shakespeare. For once, I am in disagreement with the Bard. The good does live on. This is not canonising the dead. This is accepting that each of us has a choice in the legacy we leave behind. Our legacy could be little or large. It could affect multitudes, or only a handful of near and dear ones. Yet, it would be the one thing that we would be remembered by. Choose wisely.

Having seen how quickly life can end, it makes me examine my own self, and ponder whether disagreements and resentments, and standing on points of principle are really as important as I thought they were? I could never be a doormat, and let people wipe their feet all over me. Yet, I need to inculcate forgiveness and empathy, and an awareness that each of us views life and relationships differently. I need to be honest with myself about my own legacy. I don’t want it to be one of anger and hatred.

In his illness my friend reached out to those he had wronged, and those who had wronged him. He set the record straight, and if nothing else, he died with his conscience clear. Perhaps this is a life lesson for all of us.

We do not need to be looking at death in the face to realise the importance of telling our loved ones how much they mean to us, forgiving those we have perceived as our enemies, building bridges that we have allowed to fray, and choosing to live each moment to its fullest capacity.

Live well, Laugh often, Love much.

A trite phrase that contains a pertinent universal truth. Do not wake up to it when it’s too late.

Patriarchy, Feminism and Women’s Day

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, I received various messages in the form of inspirational quotes, funny memes, cartoons, jokes and videos, each with a spin on how women had to be celebrated on the 8th of March. Amongst all of these, I also received a short clip in a regional Indian language, with English subtitles. Obviously this video has been doing the rounds, as it came to me from three different sources.

In it a young, simple but not unattractive young woman is shown waiting hand and foot on her husband, who ignores her, treats her like domestic help, seems irritated by her neediness, yet does little to promote independence or encourage her talents. She is servile and eager to please. He is unkind and dismissive to the point of callousness. The video ends with a message to men to appreciate their women, love them and give them the time and attention they crave.

No doubt this is the plight of many women, not just in India but the world over. Yet it seems especially poignant that on International Women’s Day that women are still pleading for attention from menfolk like that would be the pinnacle of their life’s achievements. Two of the three sources that sent me this video were women themselves. In all fairness, we often forward things without reading too much into them. In this instance however, it felt as though this myth of the all sacrificing woman was being perpetuated and propagated. The irony being that all pervasive patriarchy was being shrouded in a message that on the outside seemed to be pro woman.

In a month that celebrates women’s achievements ( Women’s History Month) and a day that honours womankind, it is doubly ironic that we are unable to recognise patriarchal undertones in how we are portrayed in the media. A gun toting, scantily clad Lara Croft is no more the flag bearer of feminism than my previous example was. These are men’s fantasies upon which we try and superimpose our own agendas of freedom and equality.

Emma Watson is a young outspoken feminist whose recent Vanity Fair photo shoot caused quite a stir. The problem was two fold. It was her breasts. She chose to expose them partially in an outfit that covered her shoulders, but not so much her chest. The world cried Foul! How can she be a feminist when she is subscribing to objectification? Yet her pose was neither sexual nor provocative. As she said in response to being labelled an anti-feminist, “What do my tits have to do with it?”

This was a young woman who chose what she wore, and how she presented herself. That in no way dilutes the essence of her feminist ideology any more than the fact that Malala Yousafzai chooses to cover her head, yet is a staunch advocate for female education. Choice is the difference between patriarchal strictures and the freedom to expose or cover one’s own body.

Yet, paraphrasing Emma once again, feminism is often used as a stick to beat other women with. Instead of solidarity and sisterhood, there is jealousy and a need to disparage and diminish. For every one woman who supports another, there are five waiting for her to fall. Instead of being mentors and cheerleaders of one another, we resort to back biting and compartmentalising. Instead of seeing ambition and principle, outspokenness and drive as positive forces that will move us forward as an entire gender, we feel threatened and seek to destroy that which we are unable to emulate. It is a miracle that feminism still thrives despite such toxic conditions.

Sophie Gregoire Trudeau is being slated in the press for wanting to celebrate her ‘male ally’, her husband, the Canadian PM, Justin Trudeau. She is said to have ‘missed the point’ of International Women’s Day. Has she really? Her husband has championed women’s causes, has famously called himself a feminist, and has truly been a partner and ally in more ways than one.Yet she is not allowed to praise him? That feminist stick again.

In my experience, men; free thinking, educated, liberal and fantastically confident men have had just as much to contribute to feminism as women have. They have subverted patriarchy. They have understood the need and the desire of women to be equal contributing members of society. They have encouraged, they have opened doors, they have created opportunities where none existed before. To sideline or marginalise these men is tantamount to shooting our cause in the foot. So, acknowledge and praise these ‘allies’, keep them close for in the times ahead it will behove us to swell these numbers, particularly as the opposition swells.

2186. More than a hundred years is what is predicted for the gender gap in health, education, economics and politics to close. More than a hundred years! Don’t you think we need a few allies along the way?

As the world changes around us, and a right wing fervour grips the West, changes that pioneering women like Marie Curie, Amelia Earhart, Frida Kahlo, Gloria Steinem and Maya Angelou amongst so many others effected, could so easily be eroded by backward looking administrations, and our own complacency and divisiveness.

On International Women’s Day, and Women’s History Month, let us be the proud torch bearers of the legacy of these incredible women. In solidarity let’s take this movement forward so that a century from now, patriarchy and feminism will no longer be combatants. On a level playing field, only equality will flourish.