Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Newton’s third law of motion. Eeth ka jawaab pathar se dena (answer a brick with a stone or more plainly – tit for tat). A popular proverb and dialogue in Hindi films. What goes around, comes around. You reap what you sow. English idioms, albeit slightly aggressive ones with parallels drawn to the karma theory.
I could go on with these examples, but before things get further convoluted, it only makes sense to get to the point. The entire aim of this charade is to highlight the fact that whether an action, a conversation, an event or any of the stuff that happens in life, results in or elicits a reaction, a response, a consequence or a certain impact. As they say - Taali ek haath se nahi bajti (you cannot clap with just one hand). (Okay, I promise that was the last one!)
Humans are social beings. Anyone who did not concur with this opinion, would have surely switched sides after these testing periods of the lockdown/quarantine - realising that there is a constant need of conversation, communication, connections, or just about any form of to and fro exchange. This has been so since the time we never even had a formal language to converse with, nor the most basic mediums or tools to help us do it. While conversations take several forms - relevant information transfer, gossip, or a simple venting out of pent up emotions, it is evident that we cannot do without them.
However, with the passage of time, evolution of mankind, advancement of technology, our ways of interaction and more importantly of response and feedback mechanisms have undergone a sea change. Starting from the simple form of initiation of a message and thereafter a response to the same, the evolution has seen it go into argumentative discussions, debates, fights, venomous comebacks, silent treatments of conscious ignorance or even physical clashes. Digging deeper, we find several factors responsible for the same. Some of these include:
· Decreasing tolerance levels, whether due to lack of empathy or just plainly with life getting a whole lot faster and attention spans shorter
· Increased competition and scarcity of opportunities leading to the dog-eat-dog mindset which leads to the ideology of wanting to win a larger share of the pie instead of working together to increase the size of the level playing fields
· With the advent of Social Media, practically everyone has been handed a smoking gun at their disposal, with which at any given moment, anyone can target, criticise, publicly shame or attack anyone, without having complete knowledge, lacking maturity, hiding behind anonymous masks and thereby causing major disruption, without taking ownership of the consequences
The phenomenon in question is known by multiple names, but by far the most popular being – Outrage! Literally speaking, outrage is an extremely strong reaction, often in anger, shock or indignation. Only explanation of this could be that the sensitivities of people have been heightened to an extremely high level or there is a severe drain of emotions like empathy and humanity due to internal or external circumstances prevalent! Just like any other form of revolt, rebellion or revolution, outrage too could be a positive tool, whether to incite emotions and appeal to people’s dormant feelings, & thereby be a uniting force or simply to keep the ones with disproportionate power, in check, so that they do not start taking that power for granted.
Unfortunately, the sad reality is the negative usage and thereby the connotation now attached to outrage, where people have been going around like mindless chooks, acting on half baked information and venting, often with drastic outcomes. Simultaneously, outrage has turned into this ultra-cool, customary thing that one must do to belong, to fit in, to appease and to not be left out as a misfit that did not join the herd mentality. It ranges from the smallest thing such as having an outburst verbally, to aimless and nonsensical things such as death or rape threats, burning of buses, damage to property etc.
It might seem like a recurring theme, but I come back to the start to say, the diminishing cohesiveness, the growing intolerance, whether on an individual, group, organisational or nationwide level, coupled with the lack of accountability and falling moral compass is making life extremely suffocating, highly toxic and not letting anyone feel alive. Without singling out specific instances, there have been more than enough cases of intimidation, bullying, threats and in some cases outright aggressive acts leading to physical injury, mental trauma and emotional breakdowns.
In times where we don’t stop shrieking our lungs about our country shining, being the world’s biggest democracy, flex about having a freedom of speech and expression, every other day there’s a reported case of attack due to something uttered, something worn or not worn, or because of someone supported or gone against. A joke cracked or the cracking of the one who tried to crack the joke. Lynching of someone without one pair of eyes flinching. Eve teasing, name calling, slut shaming, for no particular reason, other than the egoistic habits of taming. The face masks may have become mandatory only recently but breathing free and easy has always been tough and only increasingly gets tougher.
The walls and ceiling seem to close in, the drowning feeling never leaves, the quick sand like floor, just does not seem to reach absolute rock bottom. This is not just any visual aid, but a very real and personal deep-seated experience due to the shackles tied in almost every aspect of our being.
· Work professionally, righteously - there are people to ridicule you, make life hell for you, as your honest work could land them in a soup. Thus, be labelled as an activist, an outcast or an inflexible, incorruptible person, who is apparently “difficult” to work with
· Immerse yourself in either fine arts or performing arts – it activates people’s offence taking sensors, which creates a ruckus and leads to the micromanagement of affairs which utterly stunts the creativity of the bright minds involved
· Try to loosen up a bit to forget the worries in other compartments of life and crack a joke, make a comment or choose to express freely whether satirical or not – be labelled insensitive, a troublemaker, a nuisance and almost be put on trial for some sheer light hearted humour
If the direction of this boat we are traveling in has made you believe that this outrage exists only outdoors - in the public domain, while one’s home or office is a safe hub, a safe haven for a person, let me adjust the sails so the wind takes us to the right direction and clearly showcases the hidden outrage behind closed doors that no one talks about or bothers to think about. While one must think that the clashes, conflicts or friction behind closed doors, whether with colleagues, seniors or at home with family or friends may not be as serious or as damaging and pain inflicting, it could not be any farther away from the truth. It is in fact the outrage behind these closed doors that at times affects as hard, if not worse than the public outrage, owing to its more personal nature, proximity to the people involved and the lack of an escape option.
Quite intuitively, the first thought in context to outrage behind closed doors would have been that of domestic violence, relationship troubles or family disharmony & you are not wrong. The brutalities and peculiarities of these things are a whole discussion in their own regard, but one thing we can all agree on at this point is that it too has its roots laid deep into a sense of dislike, disgust, lack of patience, intolerance and apathy towards the other person. Whether the spirit of acceptance of others’ flaws and imperfections or the approach of making things work - no matter what the cost, via accommodation, adjustments or sacrifices – both these things are making an exit in most households if not all (giving a benefit of doubt to the others). Take a pause and think about the fact whether it exists in your own den or not and while at it, remember that the signs or symptoms does not have to be physical or abusive, they could very well be destroyed self-confidences, emotional trauma, nervous breakdowns due to managing a broken interior but a sparkling exterior. It could be in the jibes or taunts or the undercurrent of the overall vibe and environment of the house, which is either already outraged or a ticking time bomb, just ready to explode at any given point, with the smallest of triggers, and more often than not, the triggers are the faintest of things, but unleash a can of worms that have been suppressed within.
Another form of outrage, even if left for last, but quite easily could be the most important bit of this entire piece - behind closed doors and yet possible from any nook and corner of the world, any time of the day, via any tool capable of it, is the corporate email warfare. An absolutely unexplored segment of outrage, sometimes dismissed as office politics, at other times as power dynamics, but certainly on most occasions sugar coated and window dressed in the most sophisticated manner with great vocabulary, prim and proper etiquette, fake and hollow pleasantries. Now more than ever, not just because of the growing work-from-home lifestyle that we are stepping into, which will increase the barrage of emails manifold, causing these ping-pong like exchanges to be the call of the day instead of interpersonal meets or sessions, but also the flailing mental health of people, the uncertainties of the entire environment, the freaky job securities – making people ready to accept anything and everything they are loaded with and braving the shoddiest of treatment meted out and even after that, feeling that they are blessed to even have a job. It is exactly in these times that this underlying beast, the cause of so much stress, anxiety and resultant furore, if instigated or fear, if rained down upon, needs to be brought into the limelight and collectively, diagnosed, treated and finally eradicated to the best possible levels.
To illustrate what I am referring to further, here is Exhibit A from personal experiences, minus the intricate details to avoid inviting further outrage, but putting forth the point clearly to have a desired impact which is that of a more positive, healthy, non-venomous working atmosphere. After all samajhdaar ko ishaara hi kaafi hain (sorry, but could not help using another proverb, which translates to – a hint is sufficient for the clever/intelligent person)
This is what a normal cycle looked like working on an assignment as a junior member in the team – starting off with very fancy emails, with best possible words, graphics, not quite authentic, but promising looking data to get the client in the bag. Instead of under-promising or being realistic and over-delivering, doing the exact opposite - over-promising and not even delivering to a satisfactory level. There, that’s the exact point where the downward spiral begins, putting into motion so many evils such as – toxic work environment for the teams working on the assignment, extended working hours, not because they are needed, but to put on a show that we’ve clocked in the hours, padding up presentations with quantity over quality to naively fool the client with quantum, over actual effective results. All of these things happening over a flood of emails, with each party involved, not just putting a linearly increasingly pressure with the passage of time, but also using this blessed tool as a means to shirk of responsibility or pawning it off to other people or departments. With zero regard to verbal agreements, or being true to one’s own word, the godforsaken emails become the be all & end all and instead of being just the documentary trails for better coordination, understanding and progress mapping, become weapons of mass destruction if intended or the most crucial piece of evidence to be used in one’s defence if accused.
One can argue that this is a norm or a generally accepted practice, so why the hue and cry over it, however what goes by unnoticed is the sheer callousness that comes into picture, the moment things start going south. Whether the blame game, the escalation of complaints with the senior most people being tagged, the frustration of repetitive, non-value adding work, the absolute frenzy that juniors are put to being sandwiched and squashed between the tug of war between the clients and their own seniors. The shameful reality is that all of this is glorified as being ‘part of the grind’, ‘part of the experience’ and more of such casual banter, without seeing the critical damage it does to the actual person (again insensitively called a ‘resource’) on the floor. Ironically, none of this even amounts to anything substantial, as this circus goes on for a while, with each performer performing their set of tricks based on their skill and domain, while at the end, like an anti-climax, the ring-masters meet up and come to ‘mutual agreements’ painting a substantially different picture than seen through the process.
You can very conveniently shrug this off thinking of it as a personal vendetta or do the right thing by sitting aside for a few moments, interact with your colleagues, juniors, or reminisce your own similar experiences and self-validate the aforementioned practices. Mature enough to know that this one blog post, or this expression to a very limited set of readers won’t change a thing, maybe not even make a dent, but if we start in our own capacities, in our own positions, wherever that is, howsoever high or low in a system, we can make a positive difference to not just our own levels of satisfaction, but significantly improve the lives and experiences of people around us or junior to us and who knows, even make an impression on the seniors and cause them to step up. In case my words fall short for it, John C. Maxwell puts it across perfectly – “Leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts (& emails if I may add), it is about one life influencing another.”
I am aware, that it has been a lot to take in together, especially due to the nature of the topic at hand, whether the evolution of communication, of reactions, outrage in the public domain or privately, relatable instances of outrage at home and at work which we often do not even consider or realise, but need to, as they are as serious and critical as the underlying tones of sexism, racism and misogyny once were and went on unnoticed for ages. I wish to call out for real kindness, genuine acceptance and some soft-heartedness to come to the fore and not just be restricted to occasional outbursts of emotions on the happening of a big event or just become an inanimate hashtag on our social media feeds.
Hoping this not so comfortable discussion takes you back to instances where you’ve faced one or more of these things or seen it happen to someone, that it makes you think, reflect & act and does trigger a range of emotions, outrage not being one of them, but certainly a lights a fire within to make life a lot more liveable, not always on the edge, welcoming and inclusive in any and every way, so people can think, write, paint, joke, perform, live and breathe free!