A STORY OF VALOUR

A story of courage that I had read and heard in my childhood, has stayed with me over the years and continues to inspire me even today is the account of David and Goliath. Call it a slice from Israel’s history or a portion of literature, a shepherd boy without formal training in warfare or the weaponry daring to fight a well-equipped giant and defeating him has always been an awe inspiring narrative for me.

It was during one of those times when the Philistines used to attack Israel intermittently, that a giant from the Philistine side came out to openly threaten the Israelite army. It was quite natural for the valiant of all Israelite soldiers to quiver in fear at the sight of a well-equipped more than nine-feet tall giant. No one dared to venture out to face the champion of the Philistines because a defeat was imminent. Day after day the Philistine army led by Goliath continued to threaten the Israelite army. It was at this juncture that David, a shepherd boy who had gone to the Israelite army camp to enquire of the welfare of his brothers who were in the army, got to know the details of what was going on.

David dared to do a few things.

Firstly, David dared to take the decision to fight Goliath.

Secondly, David dared to go before the king and declare that he desired to face the enemy army whom the king’s warriors hadn’t been able to.

Thirdly, being a non-army man he was uncomfortable with the weapons of warfare and the attire that the king asked his men to equip David with and so dared to venture out to the war zone in his shepherd’s clothes.

Fourthly, dared to trust God to be his power-giver.

Finally, David dared to proclaim victory on the face of the giant even before fighting him.

This isn’t merely a story of exemplary courage. On the face of it, it may seem unwise or cowardly for an unarmed lay man to be daring enough to face an equipped army. But, what makes the difference here is the source of David’s courage. David’s courage did not arise from his extraordinary abilities or expertise at warfare or a profound sense of confidence or an adrenaline rush. But, his source of courage came from his deep faith in God who he knew would ensure him victory in this venture.

The account of David and Goliath is a constant reminder that no matter how tall the giants in our lives may be and no matter how ill-equipped to face those giants we may be, with God’s power, we can have the courage to put them flat on the ground and lead victorious lives.

HONEST LAPSES OF COURAGE DEMAND HONEST CONFESSIONS

The courage to be fully honest – tough one!

Much of what we do or refrain from doing is determined by the consequences involved. Having the courage to be fully honest comes in either of the two circumstances – when the consequence is so much your sole objective that you don’t mind the costs of being honest or when you don’t bother about the consequences at all.

In the year 2012, I got sick with dengue while my stay in Delhi. It had just been a couple of months since I had started working there along with pursuing other academic interests. Colleagues were worried since I didn’t have my family near me to take care of the sudden fluctuations in platelet counts. I was advised to have someone from home come over to be with me. “Platelet counts dip suddenly and people die. Don’t take the risk”, I was repeatedly told. However, I did not have the courage to break the news to my family members that I was sick. The daily phone conversations went pretty normal with me telling them that I was well and good. Why did I lack the courage to be honest with my family members regarding my health? I didn’t want them to be anxious for me from over the miles! “Families are meant to be anxious for their loved ones”, I was told. Eventually, I shared the piece of information with them after I got a little better with the assurance that I was completely out of danger.

There was a similar repeat of the above episode when I got infected with COVID-19 last year. My family members kept thinking for a week that I was probably getting too tired from work and hence was sounding exhausted, till I shared with them about having tested positive for COVID. Yet another instance of lacking the courage to be fully honest!

I would neither recommend anyone to do as I have done (since it involves immense risk to one’s life accompanied by the deep anxiety and regret of loved ones lest anything untoward happens), nor would I attempt to justify my lack of courage in being fully honest in the above situations. Rather, I would agree with the fact that there are instances in each of our lives in which we fail to muster the courage to be honest.

Does that make us cowards?

No. It simply defines us as having lacked courage to be honest in such and such situations.

Does that make us liars?

Yes. Anything other than the truth is a lie. There are no colours to lies!

Should there be a phase of owning up?

Definitely yes!

Yet another instance . . .

A granduncle of mine, grandaunt and their son were hospitalised in three different hospitals with COVID around two months back. Grandaunt passed away after a brief battle. With the granduncle and his son still in hospital requiring immense post-COVID care, the news of their loss hasn’t been shared with them yet. A lack of courage to be fully honest fearing the consequences! The news would be shared once they recover and reach back home. Till then, they would continue to think that she is alive.

I wouldn’t outrightly put such and other similar instances into a box with the label ‘lack of courage to be fully honest’. Rather, I would include situations such as these as ‘wisdom in decision-making to manage circumstances and get the best out of them for good’.

However, these do not in any way incorporate deliberate dishonesty or suppression of facts with malafide intentions.  

Honest confessions after sincere lapses of courage are must dos! Yes, God knows the heart. But, He hates deceptions!

VULNERABILITY GONE WRONG – VIII

Shaloween kept tossing and turning in bed for a long time before she finally fell asleep.

She woke feeling a bit relaxed yet quite disturbed. She looked at the Cuckoo-clock that hung on the wall in her hall. It was 7 A.M. – a little late than her usual waking time. However, she didn’t mind much. Just after she had finished her morning prayers, her phone rang. As she picked up the phone from the table to answer the call, she was perplexed to see the name of the caller. Shekhar Chandra it was!

A few seconds went by with the mobile still ringing in her hand before she took the call.

“Hello . . . Good morning, Sir”

“Very good morning . . . I hope you are awake or did I disturb your sleep?”, came the voice from the other end.

“I’m awake, Sir”, said Shaloween politely.

“That’s good! I need you to work out certain things before I reach office today. I will mail the details to the official email id so that you can access them”, said Shekhar Chandra as he went on to explain the nitty-gritties of the work before hanging up.

The urgency of work soon took over Shaloween as she rushed into her household chores in an attempt to leave home early that day.

“Shiva, I need piping hot ginger tea today . . . a lot of work . . . and my mind is in shambles”, she said to the office boy as she opened the door to her chamber.

“By the way, for how many days have the supervising officers been deputed to our office . . . any idea?”, she asked a seeming-to-know-all type subordinate who had just come in.

“They’ll be here for a couple of days more, probably. Earthquake assessment is almost over and with not much damage, there isn’t really a lot that they have to do here”, came the reply.

“C’mon, just focus on work Shaloween! Shed off your baggages . . . you have to perform for your office . . . Shekhar Chandra would leave . . . your work will stay . . . don’t let anything bother you”, Shaloween pepped herself as she started working.

It was a sultry day and with the air conditioning not working, Shaloween was sweating profusely as she worked. With no one in her chamber, she let her hair hang loose to the left side so as to let some breeze from the ceiling fan pass through the damp hair roots. She was so engrossed in work that she got startled when the door to her chamber was thrown wide open and in walked Shekhar Chandra.

She fumbled a “Good morning” as she hurriedly fixed her hair before he would get a chance to look at her properly.

“Is the report ready?”, asked Chandra matter-of-factly.

“Almost done, Sir”, replied Shaloween.

“Well, then I’ll wait in Mr. Sikdar’s room till you are done with it”, said Shekhar as he left the room with a bang of the door without much expression.

Shaloween heaved a sigh of relief. Alone in her room, she could focus better. The events of the last few days had been extremely unsettling for her.

“What do men think – single women are easily available for their perversions? Being single doesn’t make a woman an easy game for men to entertain themselves with. Doesn’t this fellow feel remorseful behaving the way he does? Huhh!!”, she had thought a while back in between the work.

Interactions with Shekhar Chandra had been purely official that morning. She thought to herself victoriously, “probably this fellow has realised that he cannot get his way through to me!”

It took two more hours for Shaloween to complete the task. She got up from her chair to show the report to Sikdar, Mahem and Chandra carrying her mobile and the pen drive with the data.

Walking her way along the corridor, she flipped open her mobile to view the unread messages. She hadn’t got the time to check any messages since the time she turned up to work that day.

“You look gorgeous with your hair open. I hope you won’t disappoint me!”

“Not again!”, yelped Shaloween in her mind as she stopped short of her steps, feeling weak in her legs.

That was a message from Shekhar Chandra.

VULNERABILITY GONE WRONG – I

It was one of the usual days at work for 33-year old Shaloween. A dedicated workaholic, she was engrossed in scrutinizing the pile of files before her on yet another hot May day. With not many performance parameters in public workspaces, she always felt her work to be less challenging. She was a go-getter and an eager learner with a hunger for achieving a lot. But, she had adapted to the work culture and had decided to give her best even if her work went unnoticed and unacknowledged.

A knock at the door made her look up from the files. The door opened. It was Rama, the office peon.

“Madam . . . Sir wants you in his chamber. Some higher officials have come to supervise the earthquake restoration works. Sir wants you there”, said Rama.

“I’m coming”, said Shaloween. She put her pen down, closed the files after carefully marking them with post-its and got up from her seat.

“Come Shalu”, said her superior officer Arvind Sikdar as she entered his chamber. How she hated it when someone shortened her name! But, by now everyone in the office referred to her as ‘Shalu Madam’. So, she had stopped correcting them.

Shaloween greeted the three men in the room and seated herself in a chair to which her superior gestured. She presumed from the appearance of the two other men in the room that they were probably the higher officials that Rama had referred to. They seemed to be in their mid-fifties. No introductions were made by anyone. Either it was assumed that each one in the room would be knowing the other’s rank and position, or it didn’t matter much to anyone. She set to work as Arvind Sikdar kept directing her, with the other men interjecting in between with their suggestions and proposals.

“So, Shalu where are you from?”, asked one of the officers after almost two hours had passed away. “Sir, Shalu is from Lojigarh – the same city as you belong to”, replied Arvind to Shekhar Chandra before Shaloween could answer. Shaloween nodded with a smile.

It was busy day with not much conversation beyond work in Arvind Sikdar’s chamber. Shekhar Chandra had given a few assignments for Shaloween to work on. The other officer, Ankur Mahem was passively present all through. Work dragged on till late evening, when all four of them got up to call it a day.

Exhausted from the day’s work, Shaloween skipped dinner that night and just threw herself on the bed and drifted off to sleep as soon as she had freshened up. She woke up around 3:30 A.M. and was unable to go back to sleep again.

“I might as well have an early start today. There’s anyway much to do at work. Boss should get a good name before the visiting officers. I need to perform well. They have entrusted so much responsibility on my shoulders. Probably, these senior officers would recognize my work too!”, thought Shaloween to herself as she sat up on her bed in the wee hours of the morning.

She reached office before anyone else did and started off where she had left the previous day. She called for some of her subordinates after a while and delegated certain tasks to them. After an hour, Shekhar Chandra and Ankur Mahem reached and assessed the work that they had assigned the day before. Shekhar seemed pleased with Shaloween’s work, much to her delight.

“Mr. Arvind, I am a good observer. In these two days, I have noticed that of all your staff here, Shalu is extremely sincere. As you know, a dedicated worker is often entrusted with more responsibilities. You could make use of officer Shalu’s dedication for many more works”, said Shekhar Chandra in the midst of all the work. It was a light moment, as both Shaloween and Arvind Sikdar smiled in acknowledgement.

Lunch break was just a formality. With a mountain load of work in front of her and a desire to make a mark with her competence, Shaloween took just fifteen minutes off to quickly gobble up some food and stretch her arms and legs a bit. She was back to her working desk in Arvind Sikdar’s chamber before the others could come in.

“We need the report on the number of casualties in an hour, Shalu. Start working on it immediately. Gather all the information and compile it”, said Arvind Sikdar as he entered the room after a while.

“Sir, I have been collecting information on this and we don’t have any casualties in our region as of now. I am yet to get information from three other sources, after which we can compile the data”, replied Shaloween. By then, Shekhar Chandra and Ankur Mahem had come in and gave Shaloween some indices to work on.

Soon it was evening and Shaloween excused herself out of Arvind Sikdar’s chamber to supervise the tasks that she had entrusted to some of her subordinates. After a while, her mobile beeped and she found a message from Shekhar Chandra –

“You look so different in office . . . for a moment I thought it is someone else.”

She was taken aback! Momentarily distracted, she was unable to comprehend what to reply.

WHY DO WE BOTTLE UP?

When 12-year old Srestha* walked into my Counselling room, she had a stubborn demeanor. She refused to open up. She had been referred by her teacher for a few Counselling sessions owing to certain behavior issues. However, the girl’s deliberate attempt to bottle herself up, made things difficult for me. It was only when I told her in straight words, that her deliberate decision to remain obstinate wasn’t helping either of us, that she revealed her mother having told her not to cooperate with the Counsellor. Reason – ‘I don’t have any mental disorders!’ The girl continued to be referred for Counselling sessions for the next five years. Though I did succeed to get a breakthrough, it was a bit late, I would say. Erroneous preconceived notions are big barriers to vulnerability in professional set-ups.

Females won’t understand the stress we men undergo each day. The only thing they do is whine and crib about a whole lot of things all the time.’ This statement came from 38-year old Sunil*, a father of three boys. His long absences for supposed business trips were impacting the mental health of his wife and sons. Yet this man was under the impression that as long as he was providing for his family, they need not complain. He refused to open up and sort things out. Much later, my co-counsellor (being a male), succeeded getting through to him. Gender is often a barrier to vulnerability.

Vivek* is a 47-year old man with Mood disorders. Though he has made a mess out of his family life, he refuses to admit that there is anything wrong with him. Consequently, he and his family continue to struggle. Denial is an obstacle to vulnerability.

Ritu* turned up late to work every day. Her boss often reprimanded her as being lazy. Her colleagues knew that she wasn’t lazy. In fact, she was quite hard working. But, they were unable to know why she turned up late to work. She refused to open up. She was reluctant to make herself the topic of grapevine gossip.

23-year old Seema* kept her story of child abuse hidden deep down her heart for ten years, before opening up. Possibility of social stigma kept her from being vulnerable.

When 39-year old Susi* shared her ordeal about her husband seldom giving her a hearing ear about herself, I asked her if she has tried talking to her mother-in-law about it (some sons listen better to their mommies, even after marriage). She had. Only to be told by her mother-in-law that she has to learn to adjust and that that’s what good wives do. As a result, Susi* shut herself up. Role stereotypes are often obstacles to showing up.

25-year old Romil* had been battling with depression for long. He didn’t speak much with others. Fear of being judged and labeled was of course there, but he also didn’t want to be a mere storyteller entertaining others. He wanted workable solutions. Till he was sure that a person would really help him without simply being amused by his battles, he closed himself in a box. Lack of perceived genuineness is a barrier to vulnerability.

There are enough reasons why we all bottle up. The list above is an addition from my experience to all that has been written through the week.

At times, it is simply because a person is an introvert by nature, that s/he chooses not to show up. We may face such barriers that stifle our vulnerability. Yet, let us not be hindrances for others to open up and be themselves!

*Names are changed to preserve anonymity.

UNDERSTANDING VULNERABILITY

If you’ve ever played the game ‘TRUTH or DARE’, you can well imagine how caught up it feels to be between the devil and the deep blue sea! Those less daring ones who choose TRUTH are often tested with questions that make them vulnerable. That momentary jostle within – to speak up the truth or settle for a half-truth or lie altogether – can be quite unsettling for some people.

In this blog post, I won’t go into the reasons why people hesitate to be vulnerable. Rather, I’ll talk about when and why do people make themselves vulnerable and how their vulnerability needs to be handled.

WHEN AND WHY DO PEOPLE MAKE THEMSELVES VULNERABLE?

Vulnerability is the pathway to intimacy. When we share our hearts out with someone, there develops a sense of bonding with that person. However, this heart-connection cultivates when one is naturally vulnerable. Making oneself vulnerable is a conscious decision. Forced/ simulated vulnerability create insecurity and discomfort. That is why most of the Truth-tellers in the game TRUTH or DARE report discomfiture.

THE WHENS

  1. People make themselves vulnerable when they trust. The trust might have been developed over the years (i.e., a familiar person) or might be instant (i.e., a stranger). A husband is vulnerable before his wife when he opens up about his infidelity. A passenger on a railway platform on a dark night might be vulnerable when s/he asks a stranger for a lift home.
  2. People make themselves vulnerable when they face crises. Making oneself vulnerable is one of the survival mechanisms of the human brain. No matter how introverted a person may be, crises are natural forces to make him/ her open up and seek help.
  3. People make themselves vulnerable when they are happy. A person winning a hefty sum in a lottery makes himself vulnerable when he shares his happiness with his family, friends, neighbours and acquaintances.
  4. People make themselves vulnerable when they are in dilemma. To do or not to do, this way or that – when the mind gets clouded with such thoughts, one makes the self vulnerable.
  5. People make themselves vulnerable when they feel to. Natural vulnerability is largely intentional. And so, there are certain people who make themselves vulnerable at all times irrespective of circumstances.
  6. People make themselves vulnerable in love. A person’s best guarded secrets are often with the people s/he loves. It may be a parent, a friend, a sibling, a spouse, a child or a romantic interest.  

THE WHYS

  1. Genetic predisposition – There are some people who are prone to making themselves more vulnerable than others by virtue of their genetic endowment.
  2. Venting pent up emotions – Unspoken words stifle the mind. Making oneself vulnerable helps unclutter the mind. A victim of abuse makes himself/ herself vulnerable by sharing his/ her emotions to a friend or Counsellor or social activist.
  3. Seeking suggestions/ advice – Often making oneself vulnerable is all about seeking suggestions/ advice. For instance, a lone explorer in a foreign land makes himself/ herself vulnerable by sharing with the localites that s/he is a lone explorer from another land while seeking directions to tourist spots, currency exchange counters or hotels.
  4. Socialization – Being vulnerable comes easily to gregarious people. They do not build walls around them and are adept at handling the consequences of their vulnerability.

Vulnerability researcher Brene Brown says, “Vulnerability is about having the courage to show up and be seen.”

HANDLING VULNERABILITY

When someone makes himself or herself vulnerable before us, how do we handle it?

  1. Keep the trust – Most people make themselves vulnerable before those whom they trust. Hence, confidentiality is an unspoken clause that accompanies vulnerability. Gossip and spreading tales leads to breach of trust and might compel the vulnerable person never to express vulnerability before others.
  2. No blackmailing – Taking advantage of vulnerable persons victimizes them. Just because a person expresses his/ her vulnerability gives no right to the confidant to intimidate, threaten or victimize the vulnerable person for emotional or financial gains.
  3. Respect personal space – Though respecting personal space applies to all relationships, it is crucial when a personal is vulnerable before you. A foot in the door need not mean forceful entry indoors.
  4. No scathing criticisms – Criticisms taken and given in the right spirit build up the self-esteem and shape the personality of people. When a person makes himself or herself vulnerable, the least that is expected is scathing criticism to be heaped upon him or her. Vulnerability gives no license to criticism.
  5. Don’t judge – Judging vulnerable people often does more harm than help. It makes a gregarious person recoil, a happy person question happiness and a victim question self.
  6. Help or connect to a helper – Be a keen observer to notice if the vulnerable person needs help beyond being just vulnerable. Act smart and connect to professional helpers.  
  7. Don’t feel jealous – A person who is being vulnerable before you might also make himself or herself vulnerable before certain others – either because s/he is too open or because there is a desperate need to vent out. Hence, it is unwise to expect that you are the sole respite for the person.

Vulnerability is not a sign of weakness. Internalization of thoughts, emotions and feelings might prove detrimental in the long run when a person resorts to repress them. To be agents of healing for people around, the art and science of being effective handlers of vulnerability needs to be mastered. If you feel you are a person who can handle vulnerability, create the ambience. Don’t impose vulnerability. Forced vulnerability is hedonistic! 

RAGING BULBUL

The sea so serene and cool

Roared and raged with the storm Bulbul

Lashing upon land and ocean

Causing untold commotion

The trees that Fani left

Away Bulbul fiercely swept

Parts of poor men’s thatched roofs

Were blown away with whoofs

Leaving gaping holes

That welcomed in the heavy downpours

No man or beast ventured out

Fearing the fury of nature’s pout

The groan of nature is not its own

Behind it is the Creator’s leading tone

Havoc and destruction however are not His purpose

To amuse Himself with such gory circus

He calms the storm with His words

His majestic power rides over the waters

Who should men then fear – the storm or its Master?

(Written on the cyclone BULBUL that struck Odisha in November 2019.)