“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”

― Oscar Wilde, De Profundis

Has it ever happened to you? You ’re done with a book, but the story keeps playing in your head for a long time after that? Just out of the hangover of a mighty book, I pen this article which resonated plural chords in my mind during the twenty-nine hours of listening. Barack Obama’s book ‘A Promised Land’ first caught my attention due to a news article on an insignificant, blink-and-you-miss part of the book. This is the part where Barrack talks about his state visit to India in 2010.

It was what the former US President wrote about the congress leader Rahul Gandhi that made it to the news. In a brutal takedown of Rahul Gandhi, the former US president mentioned in the book: “Rahul Gandhi has a nervous, unformed quality about him, as if he were a student who’d done the coursework and was eager to impress the teacher but deep down lacked either the aptitude or the passion to master the subject.”

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 Subsequently, there were no tweets or comments from either Rahul or the Congress party. However, Barack’s comment antagonised a lawyer in Uttar Pradesh’s Pratapgarh district so much, that he actually filed a civil suit against the book for defaming Rahul and other Congress leaders.

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“If someone isn’t what others want them to be, the others become angry. Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.”

― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

When I read the book, I realised that Barack not only commented on Indian leaders, but also on many other world leaders whom he met during his stint as the US president. Before I delve further, let me clarify: this article is not about the book or on Rahul Gandhi. I read the book because I admire Barack for his leadership, oratory and diplomatic skills. He is truly one of the most inspiring world leaders recent times have seen.There are many other examples of books released in recent times, which have drawn attention and controversy for similar reasons: opinions shared by the author on other people. These include ‘To The Point’ by Herschelle Gibbs with Steve Smith, ‘The Paradoxical Prime Minister’ by Shashi Tharoor, ‘Let Me Say It Now’ by Rakesh Maria, ‘Overdraft: Saving the Indian Saver’ by Urjit Patel. This article dwells further on the what is the impact of these opinions and how they influence our thinking and more importantly, our actions.

Why does it matter to us what people say?

We all have our own inner circle, those few people with whom we are very close, who know us in and out. What they say (about us) matters, because they matter! But, for the ones who do not form part of this ‘inner circle’ do we really care who thinks what about us? Actually we should not, but the reality is different.

Also, when we form an opinion about anyone, to share the opinion and if we do, when we do is very critical and we need to be very careful about it. Because when a third person hears our view on someone, he/she may not have a background and things can be completely out of context. Like in case of Barrack’s book, he shared his opinion on Rahul Gandhi based on the hour long meeting they had, clearly not significant enough to form an opinion, leave alone write about it in his memoir. So I pity the people who made a hue and cry abt the same in his book.

“People can tell you to keep your mouth shut, but that doesn’t stop you from having your own opinion.”

― Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

How strong are you?

If a person agrees with you, you feel strong and confident. However, if one disagrees, then you try to defend yourself, even rethink your choice. So in the case of Obama’s book, lot of BJP supporters did not miss the opportunity of sharing the bit on Rahul Gandhi on their own social media pages and feeling great that their opinion of the young Congress leader was, in a way, being endorsed by the Obama as well. Since, I am quite neutral when it comes to politics, it was easy for me to dismiss the same. But for a Congress supporter, it was a matter serious enough to file a case for defamation.

If one is super-clear on what one believes in, has had past experience, done some research or is based on some personal experiences, then to argue on any counter-point is justified. But in today’s busy world, we are all living on second hand data and just going by what we have heard, or worst, someone’s second-hand opinion on something.

Influence of Internet and social media on our opinion:

With more than 600 mn users in India alone and each user spending more than two hours on social media every day, its quite clear where the bulk of opinions are being formed. Social media has become the guiding point on our social, political, ethical and cultural opinion. Virality of the nature means we are bombarded with the same wrong information from different sources at the same time, thus influencing our thoughts permanently. And many people who share their opinion for a living, happily call themselves ‘influencers’.

“Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are incapable of forming such opinions.”

(Essay to Leo Baeck, 1953)”― Albert Einstein

How are we making things worse?

Words, when articulated in the right way have power to make or break an opinion. What we learn over social media stays in our mind and we pass it forward and before we realise we are contributing to spreading the malaise. The key here is to pause and think. Hear what’s been said but don’t get overwhelmed by what we hear. Make our own judgement on facts, counter-check on the points that sound ‘odd’. 

People will always have something to say – positive or negative and it can strengthen or weaken what you believe in. Base your opinions on truth and you will know what you identify yourself with. Nothing is more liberating!!

In conclusion, I am prompted to cite the song from the famous Hindi movie of 1972, Amar Prem, the wordings of which went like this “Kuch to log kahengey, logon ka kaam hain kehna.” (People will always say something, because it is their job to say). While we cannot stop people from sharing their (uninvited) opinion, we can definitely try not getting influenced by the same and more importantly, not trying to influence others with our own.

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