It’s emotional wisdom
My mom was in a hospital for just under two weeks before she passed away six years ago. Those few days were not easy, with multiple trips every day to visit her, rush for medicines, discuss treatments with specialists and my dad, and everything else that this stage involves. One day I was leaving for the hospital and called my dad to say I would be there soon. He gave me some reason why I shouldn’t come, and I deferred my trip. Later I realised it wasn’t true and got pretty upset with both for keeping me away. I couldn’t understand why they would do such a thing. I was deeply hurt, especially with my mom, because she knew what my dad had told me. I vented my confused anger at them, and soon my mom told me gently she had been really low, unable to take even a spoon of food, and didn’t want to be seen like that. She was hoping she’d be better by the next day. I felt mortified for being angry with her at such a time. She died three days later, having given me the gentlest and proudest look a son can get from a mother when I last saw her the previous night, eyes shining from the frail body on her white hospital bed. You can imagine how much I’ve regretted my outburst.
Here’s another one from a few years ago. I had called up my driver to tell him I needed him to take me inter-city later that week. He told me he’d also be picking up my sister, who was arriving from abroad the previous day, which I must, of course, be knowing. But this was news to me as I had no inkling of her coming, which is an event that happens only once every few years. I changed the subject but was internally livid that I heard family matters from my driver and not my dad or sister. By the time my dad came home that evening, I had worked myself up into a foul mood and confronted him on why he hadn’t called or messaged me soon as he knew about my sister’s plan. He tried to tell me, but I wasn’t listening and accused him of secretiveness, carelessness, and so on. How could he have first told an outsider and not me! In a few minutes, he raised his voice and managed to get in that it was the driver who had called him about something else and my dad just took the opportunity to engage him to get my sister. He had no other intention and was coming home happy and excited to tell me that my sister was coming. I tried to calm things down between us, but he was pretty wild by then, and it took us a couple of days to reconcile. I can tell you this story because he, too, passed away earlier this year. I castigate myself even now for my lack of patience and imagination.
The lesson I’ve learnt from several such incidents is that even though it is emotionally intelligent for us to consider possible reasons for someone’s hurtful action, acting at first on the kindest interpretation is much better. It is emotionally wise in three ways.
- If the reason was good — There is a fair chance that the other person is acting out of insecurity, inattention or something unobjectionable we didn’t imagine. In many cases, it is nothing to do with us nor about deliberately hurting us. We save everyone a lot of unwanted misery when we bow to the kindest possibility.
- If the reason was bad — Even if it turns out to be the worst alternative, we’ll be happier until we find out, and we owe ourselves as much happiness as we can get in life. It is just practical good sense, not naivety.
- Growing irrespective of the reason — Trust is a powerful thing. Whatever the actual reason, conveying our trust in the other person’s niceness sustains or creates good behaviour, even if they internalise it. The opposite usually makes them defensive, indignant, and unlikely to improve. But trust is also delicate, and the chicken-and-egg metaphor applies to it. Let’s be the ones to propel virtuous cycles of trust.
This topic fed into one of the points in the chapter below of my book. There’s more in it, of course, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.
In a different but related vein, I’ve also wondered if we rush to judgement more quickly with our family members. I believe we do. It’s the subject of my story below. Have a squiz, and let me know if it makes sense to you.
Cheerio till we meet again, my dear reader. Take care and be well.
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