‘Are you sure you want to take this case?’ The supervisor in Thane mental hospital in Mumbai asked us interns. ‘The patient has been convicted for multiple rape of many women and has a provisional diagnosis of schizophrenia’. Without batting an eyelid, I said ‘ Sure.
Soon enough, I stood outside the building which housed the criminal psychiatric ward. I rang the bell, a little nervous. The movie – Silence of the Lambs, had released a few years ago. Emboldened by the characters of the movie, I said to myself ‘I can handle this’. The guard opened the creaking metal grills of the door and let me in. As he closed the grills after me, I thought’ If I have to run, will have to push these grills open’. Ok noted. I walked through a long corridor which had been freshly swabbed with phenyl. The patients indifferently looked at this new girl with a white lab coat walking in. The nurse asked me to sit in the common room. I told her whom I was due to meet, Mr W. In a couple of minutes, a small, thin man walked in and sat opposite me. In my professional tone, I spoke about he could feel free to talk to me and we could see how he could be and feel better. I would have to ask him a few questions. Would he be willing to answer? He said ok. And I started the Rorshach projective test – which are a series of inkblot, colored pictures. For each picture I showed, he would only mention that he saw female genitals. I would ask – Anything else? He said No. This kept on repeating card after card. I was seething with anger. It was my job to note down his responses and that ‘s what I did. While talking about his life and recent incidents, I asked – You do know why you have been brought here. What are your thoughts about what you have done?
He replied – There is nothing to think about. I felt like doing it. I did it. That’s that!
In my head I was thinking, ‘how come there is no remorse, no guilt, no shame at having raped women.?’ And in a not so-professional moment, I asked a leading question – Do you not have any regret for what you have done? He said – No.
Soon after completing my set of questions, I walked out of the grilled door with mixed feelings. Seething anger, sadness for the girls who had been violated, frustration that he felt no guilt nor shame, helplessness for such a waste of a life, appreciation of myself for taking on a case like this. For a few days after I was only reacting to the memory of the conversation as it stirred up further memories of friends who had been abused. Since case submissions were coming up, I started to write up the case history based on data. The professional role required me to understand Mr W objectively as a person, his psychological condition, the influences that shaped him as a person, his current psychiatric symptoms, the crimes committed, his support system so that a way forward could be planned.
What he had done was wrong. No question about it!
Could I still understand him? Yes.
Did understanding him on the basis of data condone or justify his violation of Dharma. ? No.
I had just learnt a valuable life lesson.
Understanding is a necessary pre-requisite to agreement or disagreement.
Understanding is NOT equal to agreement.
And so, I was free to understand anyone and everyone from the frameworks available to me.
I was free. They were free. I was free to agree/disagree/to do/to not do/do things differently.
Although this is an extreme example I have deliberately shared this to show that in gross acts of adharma, where there is much injustice and suffering, one can still seek to understand first before deciding anything else.
We are awake to our functional reality. We are not afraid. We face it. We learn. We grow.
Many of our conflicts in close relationships arise because we mistake understanding for agreement.
A senior citizen couple were explaining how they felt bulldozed into accepting to pay for an exorbitant destination wedding for their son. The son felt that he had explained the situation – It would be an epic, once in a lifetime occasion, his friends from around the world and all relatives could have the time of their lives. It would also be a sort of payback for the many destination weddings that he had attended. The son thought that if his parents had understood, they would agree. The parents thought that if the son had understood that the budget was 250,000 dollars, he would agree and be grateful. Both needed to get that Understanding is not equal to agreement.
Sure the parents understood the son and wanted the very best for him. At the same time, they had a cap on wedding expenses and so I suggested to them that they articulate their position clearly. Let the son bear additional costs, if indeed this was so critical to him. We could understand each other and disagree while still retaining care, warmth and respect for each other.
We could find common ground.
Wanting our loved ones to agree with us is a natural human tendency influenced by several factors
Validation and acceptance: Agreement from loved ones can validate our beliefs, choices, and opinions. It provides a sense of acceptance and reassurance that our thoughts and values are shared and valued by those closest to us. We are so closely identified with our thoughts and values that I is equal to my opinion. Being objective to reality involves being awake to the raga I have for my opinions and dvesha for a contrary opinion.
Connection and belonging: Agreement can foster a sense of connection and belonging within relationships. When our loved ones agree with us, it strengthens the bond and creates a shared understanding, reinforcing the feeling of being on the same page.
Avoidance of conflict: Agreement can help avoid conflicts or disagreements that may strain relationships. It feels more harmonious and comfortable to have shared perspectives rather than engaging in prolonged debates or clashes of opinions. We have yet to learn that we are different people. Just because I like apples and you like oranges does not make me superior or inferior to you. We can coexist with differences just like trees in the forest do.
Support and encouragement: When loved ones agree with us, it can serve as a form of support and encouragement. It signals that they are on our side and will stand by us, providing emotional reassurance and bolstering our confidence.
Shared decision-making: Agreement is often desired when making important decisions together. It allows for smoother decision-making processes and reduces the likelihood of conflict or resistance to the chosen path.
However, it is important to recognize that seeking agreement solely for the sake of agreement can have its drawbacks.
Insisting on agreement to all my values and opinions, can stifle independent thought.
Insisting that the other agrees with me always discourages open dialogue, and a possibility of a larger perspective. I could understand someone without feeling the pressure to agree or disagree. Initially this may make people around you uncomfortable. That is ok. You extend the same mutual respect to them like you would rightfully expect them to extend respect to you.
We learn to be objective to our ragas and dveshas towards our own beliefs and opinions.
We learn to have Kshama, accommodation of the other as our heart expands to include people who are different from me but not necessarily opposed to me.
We learn to be free of our ragas and dveshas and won’t cross the line of Dharma just because someone does not agree with me.
We are open to Ishvara Vibhuti, the glories of Ishvara that is present all around us.
In some situations, agreement is not always possible nor necessary. You could love Hindustani classical music and I could love heavy metal. This does not mean either of us superior or inferior to the other in any way.
How do we increase our understanding of the other?. To agree or disagree is another matter altogether. Let us start by increasing our understanding of the other.
Common ground – We see that we are standing on common ground. Literally and figuratively. We have a shared humanity with similar needs and values. Everyone has a need for connection, need for autonomy, a need for fun and a need for achievement. Everyone has a value for Dharma which may or many not be followed through. Human beings are both extraordinary and flawed and we learn to okay with human nature.
Seek understanding: Ask questions to gain a deeper understanding of the other person’s viewpoint. Tell me your concerns. What are you looking for? How can I help? What can I do to understand you better? Encourage the other to explain their reasoning, concerns, and desired outcomes. Show empathy and try to put yourself in their shoes. The common complaint of most people is ‘No one understands me’ . This is an irony despite 8 billion of us on this planet. Can I be one of those people who says that I will seek to understand the other before I am understood?
Focus on the purpose of the relationship: The purpose of most close relationships is to show care, support and commitment to the happiness, well-being and growth of the other person. The specifics may differ, at work or with family and friends. If this bigger picture is kept in mind, then a disagreement on one or two matters will not overshadow and consume the relationship. Do not reduce the entire relationship to an agreement or disagreement of a topic. And so, keep the bigger picture in mind and prioritize the collective interest of understanding each other over individual differences.
Maintain an ongoing dialogue: Recognize that understanding the other is an ongoing process. It may require multiple conversations, adjustments, and compromises over time. Keep the lines of communication open and be open to revisiting the topic if needed at a later time. Speak about other topics other than the areas of disagreement.
People are prasaada – Prasaada is not just what you get from the altar in the temple. Prasaada are all the people we bump into, whom we relate to and whom we need to learn from. Oh come on? How so? The laws of karma which determine the people we meet are shaped by Bhagavan. Since, anything received from Bhagavaan is prasaada, people are prasaada too. In seeing that all people and situations are Ishvara prasaada, both Dharma and Ishvara come alive for me. Knowing fully well that I have a tendency to hurt the other, mask the truth, do whatever I want, whenever I want, I make a deliberate effort to uphold samanya dharma by practising ahimsa, non-hurting, daya, kindness, satyam, truthfulness and tapas, discipline. The tendency to be dismissive and harsh with the other person is kept in check.