While sharing your thoughts is a risky art — no work is worthy without respect
Few Decembers ago, during a holiday party dinner with colleagues and ex-colleagues, one of my conversations veered around what we do in our free time. I enthusiastically shared that I have started blogging.
One of them shared their thought openly, “I do not know how you put your thoughts for the world to see, I do not think I can do that.”
I raised my brows and we had a good discussion on trolls, being scrutinized and many more. The parallels between work meetings and written words in blogs were many. That statement from my friend stayed in my mind. My thoughts are more evolved now. Some thoughts to stir your thoughts.
Trolls and Gandhi Philosophy
In the 1980’s, the multi Oscar winning movie, Gandhi was in vogue in India. The Indian state owned television (“Doordarshan”), had one very predictable routine –the movie, Gandhi, was screened every Oct 2nd, his birthday. There are certain imprints of the movie that I remember. One scene came flooding back, when I faced the trolls. Read this clip below, some interesting conversation on gaining respect — granted it is a hard approach but a thought provoking idea about human behavior.
JOHANNESBURG SUBURB IN SOUTH AFRICA
This incident happened somewhere between 1893 to 1914 in South Africa when Apartheid was prevalent.
Gandhi and a young priest Charlie were walking side by side and reached a turning. Ahead of them three youths (twenty, twenty-one) in working clothes, carrying lunch boxes, lean indolently against a building directly in their path. They react on seeing them. Here is the subsection of the script
“FIRST YOUTH: Hey — look what’s comin’!
SECOND YOUTH: A white shepherd leading a brown sammy!
CHARLIE: Perhaps we should go back — Gandhi restrains him and shakes his head.
GANDHI: Doesn’t the New Testament say, “If your enemy strikes you on the right cheek, offer him the left”? He starts to move forward.
CHARLIE: I think perhaps the phrase was used metaphorically . . . I don’t think our Lord meant –
GANDHI: I’m not so certain. I have thought about it a great deal. I suspect he meant you must show courage — be willing to take a blow – several blows — to show you will not strike back — And when you do that it calls upon something in human nature — something that makes his hate for you diminish and his respect increase. I think Christ grasped that and I — I have seen it work.
He starts forward again, he is almost on the youths.
GANDHI: Good morning.
FIRST YOUTH: Get off the pavement, you bloody — As he is about to hit him, a woman’s voice calls him.
A WOMAN’S VOICE: Colin! Colin! What are you doing?
A woman is leaning out of an upstairs window, looking down at her son.
FIRST YOUTH: Nothing. We were just cleaning up the neighborhood a little.
COLIN’S MOTHER: You’re already late for work. I thought you’d gone ten minutes ago.
The moment of crisis has passed. Gandhi steps back on the pavement, addressing the first youth.
GANDHI: You’ll find there’s room for us all.
As they stride on, Charlie glancing back –
CHARLIE (relieved): That was lucky.
GANDHI: I thought you were a man of God.
CHARLIE (wittily): I am. But I’m not so egotistical as to think He plans His day around my dilemmas.
Gandhi laughs as they turn the corner.”
If watching it as clip excites you — here is the clip 1.35 seconds.
Wish I was as chivalrous as Gandhi in handling trolls
In my approach to handling trolls, I wish I was as chivalrous as Gandhi. Nevertheless I did find ounces of reality in my limited world. The good news about trolls, based on my experience, they are far and few. Even then, the experience can leave a bitter aftertaste. I found some interesting patterns within a small minority of trolls. They commented in similar fashions in a series of blogs. If they reeked negativism irrespective of topic, I left them alone. The other cheek was not worth their time nor mine.
Majority of other “trolls”, the very act of offering the other cheek thoughtfully, with a passionate two way discussion, created miracles.
I learned something about human nature — their style of writing is prone to misinterpretation and they form great relationship with people who can see through their self-inflicted wounds.
The best way to describe those first interactions are like handling kids- bend your knees, meet them at their eye level and acknowledge them as people before debating their ideas. I have had a chance to form some great bonds with these folks.
Aha Moment — Parallels with Sheep Dogs
In my pursuit of conversation and coping mechanisms, I forgot something more rudimentary. A lunch conversation with a friend of mine gave me my aha moment. He shared a story about three types of people. I chuckled when I heard his characterization — simple in thought but profound in the parallel world of speaking up. He said most people are like sheep, go about their lives in peaceful fashion. Very few are wolves — preying on the weakness of the sheep (dismissing thoughts without due consideration etc). There is a small subset of folks who are like sheep dogs who come to sheep aid and chip in.
At that moment, it hit me, whether you are sheep or sheep dog, there is comfort in knowing there are other sheepdogs in the room. I connected the dots. Their responses to trolls always brought a warm smile to my face — they ensured that the beauty of humanity bubbled up. It is not strength in numbers, it is the strength in knowing that you are not alone when it matters.
They make the belief in humanity grow stronger. There may be many sheep in our conference rooms, few sheep dogs speak up for the right ideas irrespective of who presented them. In our daily world, we know them, we may appreciate them at that moment of calling. Do we do more than that? Do we seek them out, know them and thank them? They are rare and many rare things are precious.
You may be an earnest worker with a cocoon of comfort for getting things done. “Speak up” brings your internal turmoil or external trolls to the forefront. Showing the other cheek, Gandhi’s way, is one way to address it — a difficult moral high road for most of us. For the rest of us, there are sheep dogs- they are rare, if they are around, they are easy to spot, just look out for them. They are the first responders, who think about things and act on those moments when most of our lives flow by.
Around them, your faith in humanity to express yourself can only grow stronger- in your career and even in written prose. My digital experience is ample proof. My heartfelt tributes to my first responders who show that life is more than a zero sum game and make it positive in all directions. A thank you today and everyday for your gallant efforts.