By Raju Mandhyan
SHE WAS all bent up and her bones screamed with pain every time she hobbled from one room to another, but her cheeks were always rosy and up in a smile. When kids and family approached her, they saw happiness, and felt truly loved and cared just by the look of her eyes. Whenever I watched her from a distance the song, “Close to You” would be playing in my head.
“You know I wasn’t always like this, Raju,” she said one day. I’d smile back and remember what a disciplinarian and quite a tyrant she was in her younger days. Thankfully, being the youngest, I didn’t suffer much of the wrath of her youth. “I should have long given up the anger that, for decades, lurked inside of me. I was angry at the difficulties life lays down in our paths. I was angry at being born and raised in a humble family. I was angry at all the people who had, seemingly, betrayed my trust. Today, I realize that I could have chucked all that anger long ago and lived a happy, love-exchanging life. I should have dumped all that useless grump a long time ago. It never did me and my life any good.”
It has been twenty odd years since that much-loved and loving old lady, my mother, has moved on to another world, but that little private confession of hers has stuck on to my being and soul ever since. I too have had issues with life’s challenges, and, with friends and family, I thought, had trampled all over me in life. Yet her wisdom-filled words “Dump the grump,” constantly pop up on my mental screen every time my brain heats up.
Psychologist Howard Kassinove, PhD, of Hofstra University, says an enormous number of anger cases comes to him but the literature on the remedies is very little. He also claims that a large percentage of people with anger issues never learn to recognize and heal the ailment. And, I bet, a large number of people who also indulge in induced anger, vindictiveness, mind games, condescending language and passive-aggression are just not aware of how much they damage and waste their own selves.
Now, if you are like me and want to build up a habit of dumping the senseless grump from your mind, body and soul, then let me share with you some of the tips my mother used to dole out to me every now and then in her senior but loving years.
Count to ten, backwards: Yes, you have heard this one all the time. When you count, the spread of time you allow yourself between stimulus and response can save you from tons of toxic, unwanted and headaches. If Holocaust survivor and neurologist Viktor Frankl could practice pro-activeness in Nazi concentration camps, then surely we can thrive with it in a Trump-driven world.
Years ago, at a five-star hotel in New Delhi, they were charging me a much higher rate compared to other Indians because I was a non-resident, therefore a Firang, Indian. I thought that was unfair. I lost my cool at the cashier who claimed, “It was policy.” I demanded to see the general manager and who, along with, his gel-stiffened mustache, claimed the same thing: “It was policy.” Just before I blew my top I chose to count up to ten backwards. In those few seconds my breathing calmed down, my face un-blushed and an empathy-laden smile took form on my face. Now, you do know how contagious mirror neurons can be. Soon they began to make the gel-mustached face also go up in a smile. It is like through his turban he was able to scan and smell the oxytocin that began to release itself in my brain. He and his five-star hotel implemented the “policy” for four nights of my stay and gave me the fifth night free. They said I was not a very responsible Indian but I was a good citizen of the world. Count to ten backwards, forget Trump and always dump the grump.
Take in the balcony view: The world of neuro-linguistic programming offers a technique of shifting perceptions. We are all aware of the phrase and the practice of “placing yourself in another person’s shoes.” That is quite challenging when under stress, and NLP stretches us to take up another, a third position. One mental position of not being in your angry skin; Two, not being in another’s hard-soled shoes but a third, being in the moccasins of a kinder, wiser person who gently watches you and coaches you. Like letting someone else take in a completely neutral and objective view of the problem.
In my case, at the lobby of that five-star hotel in New Delhi, I watched myself lose my cool through the eyes of a journalist from a local tabloid, Abante, and visualized his headlines for the next day, “Leadership Trainer from Philippines heats up in India!” That thought simmered me down at the speed of 100 mph, in seconds. You, of course, can observe and guide yourself from the position of a kindly, elderly person of your choice.
Zoom in on the white space: In his book, Focus, Daniel Goleman talks about how as a people we are obsessed with sensational, negative news. In fact, he claims, if we were to focus upon the billions of acts of kindness and compassion that take place across the world we will realize that all the percentage of negative deeds that occur across the world are but a small speck of dust on a large white wall. In interactions and relationships we are obsessed with, “What is wrong and who to blame?” Day in, day out, those are the headlines that thrive on the desktops of our minds: “What is wrong and who to blame?”
Thus, to learn to habitually dump the grump, we ought to spend time on looking for what is working and when we take our eyes off the speck of dust we will see that the rest of the wall and the rest of the world and our lives have a huge amount of white space. Our energies will flow, where our focus goes to what is working and who to credit, then you will know that dumping the grump will not just be a good habit but a natural trait of ours.
Hold up a mirror to yourself: Yes, things do go wrong. Yes, people do make mistakes, and, yes, we out to learn that I, too, am one of the people who make mistakes.
It is a rare and a very powerful leadership trait that practices the gentle and compassionate art and science of looking in and being honest about we see. It takes gumption to note that when we point a single blaming finger at the world outside the other appendages of our hand are pointing towards ourselves. Many a time, what appears to be the wrongdoing of others may just be a perception of our minds. If it isn’t just a perception then if we rewind the tragedy then we will discover that we too were part of the problem. Probably we said or did something that created the monsters that stand in our way and growl at us. You see almost everything is connected. When a butterfly flaps its wings in Batangas it can create a storm in good ol’ Bombay. Ok, Mumbai!
So become crystal clear about the shenanigans of your mind and behavior and when life unfurls results that you do not like then be man or woman enough to take the blame. “That, my friends, is called integrity,” said Col. Frank Slade in the movie, Scent of a Woman.
Choose your battles: Ah, okay, the world is a beautiful place and so are its inhabitants. But, sometimes, we do wrong things. Many may not agree but we all do wrong things either out of ignorance or out of fear. Nothing else. All evil roots from not knowing and being afraid of what we don’t know, don’t recognize and are unable to control. When we come to terms with these facts, we will also come to terms with the fact that we are, in reality, meek and timid and scared. This realization can fill our hearts and minds with compassion with living beings including our own selves. When we realize that we, in the world, are just human and so are all others we will not feel the need to be upset, annoyed or angry. We will be, constantly, in a forgiving, future-paced mode wanting to move on and live our lives to the fullest and the best possible way. This will allow us to, in the words of Reinhold Niebuhr, have serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can and the wisdom to know the difference.
And, in the short and long term, we will know where exactly to focus our passions and our energies. We will learn to change things that we can with calmness and serenity. We will know how to choose our battles and not be in constant war with the world like my dear mother used to be in her younger days.
Thus, dumping the grump will become a whole lot easier and the habit will become a positive trait.
Now, you might ask, what is so Indian about all this and you’d be right. The answer is yes, there is barely anything Indian about this except the fact that the story is about an Indian mother who learned her lessons late in life. Also it is about an Indian father who’d like his Filipino children to learn to dump the grumps much early in their lives.
Raju Mandhyan is an author, coach and speaker.