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When A Stranger Called Me Idiot

by Priyanka Narayan

It was a laid back weekend afternoon, a perfect day for home shopping. I was walking with my extra-large cart, through the aisles of Ikea. Blinded by the colors of the pillow covers, I was oscillating between looking at the items on display and my way ahead. Maneuvering through the narrow bends, I pushed my cart cautiously. Just then, a lady (middle-aged), engrossed in picking between the two pillow-covers in her hand, stepped backward and appeared right in front of my cart. Obviously, you guessed it - We crashed!

My instant reaction was "Sorry". Sorry because, firstly, most probably just like me, she was blinded too, by the colorfully tempting cushions on display. Secondly, it was a mishap. No one decks up and leaves home planning to accidentally hurt someone at Ikea. My "sorry" was not an expression of regret. It was an expression of sympathy. I do understand, English can be complicated. Maybe something the East India Company left for us Indians to decipher and use. Some of us do make a genuine attempt to do so too. The expression behind the language can be interpreted differently, as each of us is programmed.

At Ikea today, the stranger understood my "sorry" as an apology and immediately flung an "Idiot" at me (In case you are having doubts, last time I was called an Idiot was probably decades ago by my father before the math exam). I was appalled and dumbstruck, not by the insult but by her confidence. Since people were watching, I had to pretend to be angry and get even with her. I yelled a befitting word back at her and we both moved on to the next aisle. But truly, I was taken aback by her overconfidence.

Since then I have been thinking, about the human tendency to jump at any opportunity to prove that we are right and assume that the other person must be wrong. We are generally intolerant of other beliefs. Imagine a difference of opinion with your colleagues or differences with your partner. How do we deal with it? We approach any of this with an urge to prove that we are right simply because we believe in it. If there are general biases involved, then our reaction is more aggressive. At the moment, we no longer want to know the relevance of our belief but just want to prove its correctness.

People who think their opinions are superior, tend to think their's is the only correct opinion. They tend to overestimate their knowledge eventually blocking learning anything new. To top it all their self-confidence is the most fragile because "superiority" in general is relative. It's a tough and vicious cycle to maintain.

Let me explain where I am going with this.

When someone believes that they are superior they must also be knowing that "Superiority" is relative. Hence they must be feeling insecure that their self-belief could be shattered and often need to protect it. The urge to protect their superiority makes them avoid situations where it could be challenged, barring them from learning. God forbid, if they encounter a situation where involuntarily their superiority is challenged, they find themselves in a fix.

How do we avoid getting affected by such people, or more importantly, how do we not be one such person?
Its no rocket science and only needs a conscious and genuine effort inwards. Open your mind to opinions, don't consider your opinion as your symbol. Listen to the other views and don't be afraid to change yours if you think you want to. By no means is changing your opinion any less heroic than keeping a strong one.

It has been passed on to us that the fabric of our society includes power and influence. But as the saying goes "Loudest voice in the room seldom belongs to the most intelligent mind". Maybe if we stop wanting to shout and prove that we are right, our energy will be channelized towards something that's in our control and that is SELF - IMPROVEMENT and PROGRESS.

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