07 January, 2012

On being straightforward

Happy New Year to everyone. Hope the year has started off on a good note. May all your dreams come true.

When I was penning down the 2011 wrap-up post and was running up things-to-do for this year, I saw that I had spent significantly less time on things I had wanted to write about, most of them being still in the draft stages. Sometimes I felt I'm going overboard for myself or at other times I lost some of those thoughts on the way. Some of the posts make me wonder where I picked up those crazy thoughts from, and make me consider the prospect of writing less number of posts on confusing and fleeting ideas, lest I should drive away the few merciful souls who take the time to read all that I write and comment religiously. But ironically, you're all the people who are there to bear the craziness I bring forth in all my thoughts! In that way, you're all my inspirations! Thus I welcome you to this year with the first thought-post!

I'm no fan of adages, and I find myself in no need or abundance to quote anything to others on how to live life, how to learn lessons etc. Anything I experience I'm sensible enough to keep it to myself. That applies to judging people in life too, and learning from them. That said, I do have opinions of people and their character, generally, but no one in particular. One such case of opinion is on being straightforward. I do not have any personal experience or lesson for me in life from being simply straightforward. But I think, the quality of straightforwardness is not being given its due recognition; as that of the base for two other qualities, namely integrity, which is a virtue, and honesty, which apparently is a virtue. (but who decides what is a virtue and what is not?). Though both are used interchangeably, I still hold my opinion that there is a world of difference between honesty and integrity. Here again is a conflict on two different and widely held opinions; one, that honesty is the best policy (Anon), and the other, that One should never be too honest, straight trees are always cut first (Chanakya). So, I leave it to the discretion of the reader to choose what suits him/her best. I only intend to opine on straightforwardness, which according to me is neither a virtue nor a vice, but simply a characteristic, unique and distinct in degree, in each individual.

By and large, there does not seem to be a majority for straightforwardness being perceived as a virtue or as a vice. The case for straightforwardness is one of 'brought up' from childhood, and may be of 'human instinct' too. The former I can talk a little about, but not the latter, since that requires a psychologist's opinion. I personally think there is quite a lot of social conditioning and conditioning through education on a child's mind about being straightforward. But beyond education, society conditions a child in numerous other ways also, which put together are weighed against education. Ultimately, what the child believes in and eventually wants to be, depends on which of the two has the most influence on him/her. I, for one, was influenced by the society, and still continue to be done so. And I wasn't spared of the troubles of the mind and the heart in choosing one way over the other. The question is not on the universal agreement that it is primarily a matter of perception, but it is one of 'perception in whose eyes'? It is essentially asking oneself 'Am I characteristically, and by nature, straightforward in my own eyes, or am I wanting to be perceived by others as straightforward or not?' And consequentially, 'Am I holding my integrity, or am I just wanting to be honest?'. This is the typical situation most siblings find themselves in, when it comes to protecting their little one from their parents for some misdeed or the other, and the situation extends itself into friendship during the growing years of adolescence and eventually in all relationships into adulthood. While protecting them or not is a matter of self-righteousness (Why should I feel bad for saving/not saving him/her this way?!), the trigger for that is the effect of moral education and social conditioning on the upbringing of that child.

From another prominent angle, I think most often straightforwardness is perceived as rudeness. I'm not sure whether being straightforward is characteristic of the heart or the mind, but it is generally not considered a good thing to speak openly what one feels/thinks. Some flavoring is always desired irrespective of the audience.This again is driven from the early years of conditioning in the name of social manners. This takes the most common form of gossiping or backbiting about someone to someone else, but pretending to be good to him/her in person. Thus, from the point of view of society, there is no definite answer to 'what does being straightforward lead one to?'. It's largely a matter of individual preference towards a society of either active, spirited, like-minded people, or a society of dead-men-walking.

Secondly, on a smaller scope: beyond a point in life, once the trust radius of people is definitively set, it doesn't really change things in any way by being blunt and straightforward to both the trust radius and the outsiders, i.e. those outside of the trust radius. In such an environment, being straightforward does maintain the vitality of the individual in terms of active agreement/disagreement with the insiders and outsiders alike, and thus toward a spirited defiance of one's freedom of choice. Simply put, as some say, "Be yourself. For those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind".

Having considered the society at large, and then the smaller trust radius, it is apt to talk about the individual and the ego. We are all egoists. We are all selfish. We are all simply human, after all! Uniqueness, being the universally unique character of each person, grants everyone unique and distinct ways of protecting the ego! One such is being straightforward, where the individual is 'as-is' and shuns any degree of relatedness and connectivity with others' thoughts, feelings and actions. In that way, I believe it is rightly helpful to be straightforward, for in straightforwardness there is a degree of opacity for an ego to protect itself, rather than being a mirror to others' thoughts, feelings and actions, by aping and imitating others, particularly their ways of social behavior. But does being a mirror help in any way to maintaining the independence and freedom of one's own conscience?

I agree this is sounding more like a principle of individualism. But, whatever be the case, being straightforward does boost the self-esteem in one's own eyes. If one cannot be straightforward within, one can never be straightforward without! And if that isn't the virtue of integrity, what is?

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