“Often those that criticize others reveal what he himself lacks.”
― Shannon L. Alder
This particular evening, the political mudslinging was on overdrive. The TV news-anchor mentioned a Donald Trump tweet: “If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband, what makes her think she can satisfy America?” I was hoping they would move on to the next topic but the TV channel wanted to discuss all aides of this sensational story on screen for as long as they could keep people glued to their station.
“Why do they bring up personal issues? I thought Americans liked their privacy. You always complain when ask someone their age; but I would much rather give my age away than discuss such private matters on TV.”
That was my dad talking to me over the din of the debate on the TV channel. He lived in India for most of the year and visited me in Colorado over the summer months. A few visits over the past ten years had gotten my father somewhat comfortable with spoken English in the US with its unique slangs and phrases and to some extent with the culture. He would pick a topic, ask me the background and get me to put it in perspective for him, whilst trying to draw some parallels to an Indian event or situation. As an outsider to the US political and cultural arena, he had an interesting takeon the news and always asked questions. Watching the television news with him gave me a different perspective on events and happenings.
On the Trump tweet that was being talked to death on TV, I replied: “But he is not reflective of actual American culture and values, Papa. He will say anything to ensure that he gets discussed on TV.”
“But, is he an expert on marriage? Some kind of a, how do you say, hmmm, marriage counselor? “
I burst out laughing.
“No, he is not a marriage counselor. Actually, he is on his third marriage himself. He is running in the US presidential elections”
“Oh, a politician. As they say, crows are black everywhere. Politicians are the same, anywhere in the world! But, that is funny. A man on his third marriage is talking of awoman not being able to satisfy her husband. He must know a lot about that. Wonderful!!”
“Wonderful!!” with its unique tonal style was my dad’s favorite phrase for sarcasm or disapproval. As a child, my mistakes were often summarized in three simple syllables of disapproval, “Wonderful!” with the tone indicating he meant everything other than me being wonderful.
It was getting close to 8pm and it was time for me to leave. I told him I need to meet up with a friend and headed out.
Maya had called earlier that day to say she would like to meet up to get my inputs on her situation. When we finally caught up, it was obvious that Maya had not slept well for a few days. Despite that, she looked elegant. A light gray colored knee length, A-line skirt with a fitted blue blouse with a classy blue-and-cobalt dew drop shaped earrings to go with the long necklace with matching style and colors. Her long blonde flowing hair added to her style. However, the tell-tale signs of stress were unmistakable.Her eyes were downcast with black rings around them. She was fidgety with her fingers tapping constantly like she wanted to be elsewhere.
After exchanging pleasantries, she revealed “Chad told me last week that he has a three year old son from the previous relationship. And just when I thought he is the one!” her voice trailed off. Maya had been in a previous relationship with someone who had an 8 year old daughter. I remember her confiding that she had always felt like a third wheel and after two years realized that she would never be an integral part of that family. Now, three months into this relationship, she was not sure if she wanted to continue down the same path again. She was spending a lot of sleepless nights over the dilemma. She was looking for my advice. We discussed it at length. I was definitely bothered by her concerns but I was a little concerned about Chad keeping this secret for so long as to string her along. “If you had told me you were thinking of going out with this guy who has a three year old, I would have encouraged you to follow your heart. But I am concerned by this deception for the past three months. To me, it reveals a deep character flaw with far reaching implications beyond this one situation” I observed. As we continued to discuss, my concern about this aspect of Chad continued to spiral upwards and I shared that with Maya. After a prolonged conversation, she thanked me for being her sounding board for the past several years that we had known each other.
The next day I had an early dinner with dad and helped him prepare for his visit to LA. I will definitely miss these evenings with him. I thought to myself. I had begun to look forward to getting home from work and sitting down in front of the TV with him and listening to his views and opinions.
But, I was also excited because his visit to LA would allow meto spend more time with my girlfriend, Liya. For the next few weeks, she did not have to be my “concealed girlfriend,” as Lia calledher situation during the time my dad was in Colorado. I met Liya after I had dropped my dad at the airport. We had not seen each other for nearly 3 weeks. She seemed charming in that white shirt and blue denims with a short pearl necklace to go with matched earing. I had planned for a dinner at her favorite restaurant followed by a newlyreleased rom-com that we had talked about watching together.
After the movie, we went to our favorite coffee place, discussing random things just to be in each other’s presence. Without naming names, I brought up Maya’s situation and the deception by Chad. She agreed with my perception that there must be deeper issues when he had not revealed such a major aspect of his life to Maya for three months. Once again I realized we were so much in-sync, reading each other’s minds, having similar values and concerns.
When we were driving back, Liyaremarked, “You know we have been together for eight months and your dad does not know about me,” and smiled at me.
“I didn’t realize it bothers you”
“It doesn’t, I am just saying, you know, after that conversation we had about deception and not revealing oneself fully. I am sure when the time is right you will talk to him about me” she tried to reconcile and reassure.
“Yes, and in our case it is a cultural issue, you know” I once again talked about the cross-cultural relationship, generation gap, etc. Liya had always been a good sport about it and once again reassured me that she was fine with it.
However, I continued to ruminate on the issue for the next few days. I recognized that I had been pointing fingers at Chad while living the same deception. I remembered a phrase in my mother tongue, “ek angli beja ne tren potana taraf” meaning point one finger towards the other, and the other three point towards oneself. I had definitely missed the mark on that. It is very easy to find the minor differences between a situation one is advising on and the situation one is living. At such times, it is very tempting to make an argument that “My situation is different” but I realized that this may just be a cop out.
I soon found out that finger pointing and hypocrisy are ancient arts. There have been many examples of great thinkers of the past falling prey to “do as I say, not as I do” type of behaviors. Even a progressive thinker such as Rousseau, opposed to the strict, authoritarian education style of his day, advocated for children to be free to discover the world on their own, play, and explore. He advised fathers to be ever-approachable and present to answer their questions about the nature of the world. So, what kind of a father was Rousseau? Tough to say, since he left all his children in an orphanage just as fast as they were born!
There are other examples of schism between creed and deed. Al Gore, the former US Vice President and a fervent environmentalist uses private jets. Citizens from the British empire, on which the sun apparently never set, because they anchored their ships on every continent and island, and plundered every possible place on the planet, now complain of immigrants destroying their way of life. The list goes on and on.But, once again, I have to worry about the fingers pointing at me, when I look for hypocrisy in the society.
Thinking back, I realized that among my close circle of friends, I was definitely considered to be the go to friend for advice on professional and social issues. I had built a reputation probably because I had been a good listener. However, it seemed to me now that I was actually not that good of a listener since I had stopped listening to the advice that I had been dishing out. I needed to come around and listen to some of my own advice.
Just like meditation and being in the moment, the more one practices this art of listening to one’s own advice, the more naturally it comes. To become a good listener, I should be able to connect to my own voice. I need to become a better finger pointer who is keenly aware of where all the fingers are pointing. If one points at the other, three point at me. I should examine the three that are pointing at me as well.
With practice, one needs to get to the Dalai Lama state of mind:“I always tell people that religious institutions and political institutions should be separate” he quoted. Almost reflexively, as if observing the three fingers pointing to self, he continued “So while I’m telling people this, I myself continue with them combined. Hypocrisy!”
Two weeks later, I called Liya: “Hey, you want to come over to my place for dinner?”
“Sure, we can eat and hang out till you have to go get your dad at the airport. I will be over in 10”
She hung up the phone. Ten minutes later, there was a knock on the door. I made sure I opened it wide enough for her to notice my dad sitting on the couch.
Hey, Liya! Come on in. Dad, this is Liya, my girlfriend I talked to you about. Liya, this is my dad.
Liya had a shocked look but dad had been prepared and was unfazed. After the initial pleasantries, we settled in front of the TV. Another media favorite, Ted Cruz, was reacting to recent events by mentioning that Syrian Muslims fleeing persecution should be resettled in the Middle East in majority Muslim countries. When asked about Christians fleeing from Syria he said,“Christians who are being targeted for genocide, for persecution . . . we should be providing safe haven to them.”
I was keen to see if either Dad or Liya would react to it. Dad went first.
“Well, Obama rightly criticized India for acts of intolerance by people of one faith towards people of other faith purely for their belief. But then, doesn’t what this guy says count as religious intolerance”
Liya chimed in. “The funny part is, earlier in the year, Ted Cruz himself had lamented that never have the threats to religious liberty been greater than right here and right now. And now, he hasbecome a threat to religious liberty”
While those two went on feeding into each other’s arguments, I wondered about all of us pointing fingers at these politicians. Aren’t politicians a part of the same society? Are they not reflective of our society and us, the voters? Should we not wonder about the three fingers pointing back at us when we point one finger at our politicians?
I hoped to examine the three fingers that were pointing back at us in the room. I pray I practice this art of finger pointing well.
“We are all hypocrites. We cannot see ourselves or judge ourselves
the way we see and judge others.”
― José Emilio Pacheco, Battles in the Desert & Other Stories
© Jignesh Shah, 2016
Icon: Finger pointing. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Finger-pointing-icon.png