Years ago in my early days of blogging, I used to write against religious superstitions and blind beliefs. Needless to say contempt had been my biggest tool in propagating reason. I used to be pleased by a good number of comments and likes for my posts from people who supported my perspectives. Then one day I wrote a really explosive and extraordinarily contemptuous post against a particular religious superstition and there were really violent reactions. Believers attacked me with the same contempt in the comments section and then non-believers came to my support. Then the both groups left me out and were vulgarly stabbing each other with their sarcasm and violence. I was aghast at the whole proceedings and went back into my shell.
It was one of the turning points in my perspective on communication and the beginning of a journey. I went back and looked at all my blog posts and realized that all my posts had failed to impact the way I had intended to. I was hoping to change the fundamentalistic upbringing of children and reason-less adherence to rituals for the sake of it. But all the comments on the blog posts proved that those who appreciated my writing were already people who had similar perspectives, not believers who saw reason in my writing. Those who did not agree with me simply avoided my posts or blasted me as they finally did.
The reason was simple. My posts had been over-sarcastic. Contemptuous. Non-empathetic of those who I wanted to read my posts in the first place. I was constantly saying ‘you’ are doing this and ‘you’ are doing that. My contempt was my sword and shield. Reason was buried deep under contempt.
I then radically changed my writing. I decided to be empathetic not for the sake of simply writing or putting a point across, but to genuinely understand another person’s perspectives and beliefs. It became a constant in my writing. The ‘you’ became an ‘I’. And my posts started being about what I learnt in life rather than what I want others to learn.
Unfortunately back then, I was satisfied by this surface examination. I didn’t see the long roots contempt had put into the depths of my being. Sarcasm was, for me, just harmless jokes we make on each other. I continued to use it in my daily life without even realizing its presence too much. I had a couple of people tell me I was being contemptuous when I was joking around but none of those comments registered into me. I thought they were simply misrepresenting my words.
Years passed by, and very recently I had the good fortune to visit Ramanashramam in Tiruvannamalai. While meditating, out of nowhere I got this feeling that it’s time give up my contempt. Somehow sitting there, I did not even question the randomness of that thought. I just quietly agreed.
Once I was out of the ashram, the first question that popped in my head was ‘What is contempt?’. I had no definitive answer. I decided to simply watch myself everyday till I discovered answers to the question. Life had turned very busy soon after that and I was meeting loads of new people. So there was a lot of social activity and conversations everyday. It gave me the canvas I needed to paint a picture of my contempt. Though there were many moments when I was totally lost to the awareness, there was still something shifting in the back of my mind. It was busy painting.
What is emerging is not a nice picture to look at. I was appalled at the ease with which I used contempt in my daily conversations. In fact, there are a few persons in my life with whom there would be no conversations if I really gave up contempt. All we did when we got together was to make comments on people and prejudices – nothing else.
I realized that this was my shield primarily. The moment I felt hurt and had to withdraw into my self, I would turn sarcastic or contemptuous. When I am unable to see another person’s perspective, I would become contemptuous of that person or their beliefs. It is also my sword. I would use it to lash out my violence upon others with it the moment I felt hurt or intruded. Somehow, the more ‘intellectual’ I feel, more the contempt seeping out the corners of my lips.
I have also become aware of contempt as a social norm. We love sarcasm so much that there are pages after pages on it on Facebook with millions of likes. Cynicism is an extreme of that habit. The question is what goals are being achieved out of contempt!
Is our communication effective? Yes, but in the exact opposite manner to what we intend. Is our daily life being enriched with this contempt? On the surface it looks like it keeps us in good mood and spirits, but then we are forced to ask the question what is it that we are hiding behind our contempt? Who is the child within who was so ignored that he had to grow this thick shell of contempt? And what happens when we lash out at others with contempt? Does that strengthen our relationships?
Contempt, for me, has become that metaphorical lashing tongue that cuts all cords with everyone and everything and finally takes us back to where we began and what we’ve been avoiding all our life – isolation.
So how do I break this shield of contempt? For now I am simply watching. For experience has shown me that awareness and recognition are the most important. I see the ebb and tide of my inner violence. For contempt cannot be seen without seeing the violence in me. It can become painful at times to watch but the journey is worth it. Let me see where this leads to. Will keep you posted.