Are we too sensitive to what people say?

I have had the reputation of a controversial person, maybe even a scoundrel, for a major part of my life. I might have changed but the reputation about me didn’t. Only now, perhaps, are people beginning to treat me with respect (at least in Khar, Mumbai where I live).

Believe me it is not too difficult to lead that life. When I was younger, I told myself that as long as I have money in the bank and the cops don’t want to arrest me, I don’t care. Now I am older and have no money and I am beginning to respect public opinion and have a decent respect for the hypocrisies of mankind.

It is not difficult once you get used to it (not caring about public opinion that is). But I was definitely an extreme. The other extreme is caring too much about what people think of you. And I think that is what people in India and especially in the Saraswat community are guilty of.

The reasons for the Saraswat community being ultra sensitive are I suppose mainly financial and political. Our community does not have a separate state of its own. We have to attach ourselves to the majority community and that in Mumbai is the Maharashtrian community. There is the threat of harassment if people have a very bad opinion of us. And not just ourselves but also our families will be subject to ill treatment. We are also not a business minded community and need well paid jobs to support our families. And I can testify that your career can be ruined by being controversial.

But there is such a thing as being too careful and timid.

I was influenced by two philosophers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Bertrand Russell. I may talk about Russell’s view on respecting public opinion in a later blog article. His is a more balanced view since Russell was a rationalist. Emerson was a transcendentalist meaning influenced more by spiritual teachings. Mahatma Gandhi was of the opinion that Emerson reflected the teachings of Hindu philosophy. For the time being let me tell you what inspired me about Emerson’s teachings.

Quoting from Emerson’s essay on Self Reliance:

For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure. And therefore, a man must know how to estimate a sour face. The by-standers look askance on him in the public street or in the friend’s parlour. If this aversion had its origin in contempt and resistance like his own, he might well go home with a sad countenance; but the sour faces of the multitude, like their sweet faces, have no deep cause, but are put on and off as the wind blows and a newspaper directs. Yet is the discontent of the multitude more formidable than that of the senate and the college. It is easy enough for a firm man who knows the world to brook the rage of the cultivated classes. Their rage is decorous and prudent, for they are timid as being very vulnerable themselves. But when to their feminine rage the indignation of the people is added, when the ignorant and the poor are aroused, when the unintelligent brute force that lies at the bottom of society is made to growl and mow, it needs the habit of magnanimity and religion to treat it godlike as a trifle of no concernment.

(Sourced from the website – You can read the whole essay here. No need to buy a book)

I have inserted in bold the last sentence because I still remember jumping up and down with excitement when I read the essay for the first time. Oh, to be that young and foolish again.

Do I regret reading the essay despite my taking it seriously got me into so much trouble.  No, I don’t. Because Emerson’s words were the catalyst and not the cause of my eccentric behaviour. I was a troubled youngster and I needed professional treatment. That was the cause of all the mischief I got into. I would have gotten into trouble even had I not read Emerson.

Ever since I read Emerson I have never been obsessed by the fear of public opinion. It has its disadvantages but having a healthy indifference to what people are thinking of you is I think, a trait all Indians in general and the Saraswat community in particular need to cultivate.

I’ll end here. Please explore this site for more articles on Self Help, Spirituality and Politics. Please comment on the article is you liked it or even if you didn’t. Feedback from my readers keeps me going.

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