The many-sided self

She had had no intention of cheating I told myself, ready to overlook the single rupee she owed me. Just a little later, weaving her way to me, she pressed a rupee into my hand. I was pleasantly surprised—what an upright person she was! When the bus was about to reach my stop, she said, ‘I am sorry, but the fare to this place is eight rupees. I gave you a ticket for six.’ Hastily delving into my bag, I gave her a two-rupee coin. She made no move to have the ticket changed. It made me wonder again. Had she pocketed the change? Was she really honest?

But this apart, I was amused to see that my opinion of her had changed no less than four times.

It is common experience to find our assessment of people undergoing see-saw changes. A friend you trusted suddenly proves unreliable and unhelpful; a constant grumbler shows unusual courage when confr-onted with a crisis or a teacher you thought was cross-grained proved extremely sympathetic to a child in distress. Like the camera, our eyes can capture only one facet of an individual. It is nowhere near the sum total of his personality.

Does this mean that we are wrong in forming impressions and that it is unfair to pass judgements? How then do we interact with each other, go ahead with transactions and indeed move on with this difficult business called life?

At the best of times, we perceive very little of another person. A great deal of him lies hidden out of sight, not just from others but even from his own self. We cannot, for instance, predict with accuracy or with confidence how we will react in a particular situation. We have to accept the fact that human nature is unpredictable. This highlights and teaches us one thing, we need to develop and maintain a sympathetic attitude to the human condition.

This is not to condone bad behaviour and actions. It is rather to refrain from condemning and striking back at a person in horror, anger and revenge. Gandhiji declared, ‘I look only to the good qualities of men. Not being faultless, I won’t presume to probe into the fault of others.’

No doubt, it takes a Mahatma to practice this noble concept all the time, but the rest of us can, with some determination, be more forgiving to what may be called ‘the many-sided self’. 

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