My time at the ashram is usually extremely busy. On any given day, I meet tens of people on an individual basis. The other day too, like most times, over forty private meetings were scheduled from morning till afternoon. I was pressed for time and therefore we were only giving five minutes to each person.
In one such meeting, a man came up to me and said, “Swami, they are spreading false rumors about you.”
“That’s fine,” I said. “I don’t mind.”
I wanted to focus on his issue than waste time on hearing what others had to say about me.
“No, Swami,” he persisted, “they are saying bad things.”
“They are spitting in the sky. Let them.”
I thought this would close the chapter so we could get to something more relevant and productive. But, this gentleman was determined.
“They are even saying—”
“Wait!” I raised my hand signaling him to stop. “I don’t want to hear. I don’t comment on rumors.”
He got upset that I didn’t let him finish his sentence.
“We are short on time,” I continued. “If you have no question to ask then maybe you can sing a song.”
He sat quietly for the next two minutes before leaving the room, somewhat flustered. I felt sorry for him and for me too that we just wasted five minutes. That’s how life operates as well sometimes, I thought. We want to share rumors with it, we want to make a point but life refuses to listen because it considers it irrelevant. We sit there brooding and disgruntled, and before we know it our time is up.
If you pay attention to your mind, you’ll discover that most of the time your thoughts have other people in them. An untamed mind forces you to think about other people. Not out of compassion or care, but more out of compulsion and attachment. What’s even more tragic is that the mind is often thinking negative things. Not necessarily bad, just negative. It’s pondering over why others view you a certain way or why don’t they see the goodness in you, or why they badmouth you behind your back and so on.
I have a simple philosophy to deal with all this. Here: firstly, an opinion is a personal matter. It’s like hanging a painting on a wall in your home. You can put up whatever you like. Similarly, their mind is their home and their opinions are the paintings they have chosen to hang there. Which paintings adorn their walls is at their discretion and I can’t let it bother me because it’s their home. Secondly, what they say to you about me is a piece of information that is meant for you and not me. If it’s for me, let them tell me directly, I say.
I only give my reaction to a statement that’s made directly to me with the intention of getting a response. As a matter of principle, I only reply to questions and not statements or opinions. Most rumors are false statements. All the other times, I like to ignore any remark and not respond. This is the root of my peace of mind in dealing with hundreds of people on a regular basis. And, this is also the crux of my post today: choosing what, how and who to respond to.
I once read an interesting quote attributed to multiple people. It said, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” A lot of people belong to the last category: they only discuss others. They don’t have any questions about their own future or life, they have no great ideas to explore or insights to share, instead, they are only concerned about what others have to say about them or other people.
Those who walk their own path, those who shape themselves for success have little time to worry about others’ opinions though. It’s only an idle mind or an unproductive one that is vexed by rumors (false or otherwise). If you believe me then know this: no matter how great you are, you can’t make everyone happy. Whenever anyone approaches you to say something they heard about you from someone else, simply stop them from sharing it with you.
If you can’t stop them then just remind yourself that this “bulletin” is not meant for you because if it were, it would have been conveyed directly to you. Further, we don’t even know in what context it was said. Therefore, in my view, it defies all sense and logic to react to such information.
A lot of our emotional baggage is created by hearsay or out-of-context messages we accept without ever finding the real truth behind them. Besides, very few will share with you to know or find the truth. Most have already made up their mind. There’s little point in trying to change their opinion.
The royal barber was trimming the beard of the king when he commented, “His Majesty’s beard is starting to turn gray.”
The king was livid at the remark and ordered that the barber be jailed for two years.
“Do you see any gray hair in my beard?” he asked a courtier.
“Almost none at all,” the courtier replied hesitatingly.
“What do you mean by ‘almost’!” the king yelled and had him thrown behind bars for three years. Everyone in the palace was terrified.
Not done yet, he turned to another attendant and asked the same question.
“Gray?” the attendant exclaimed. “Not at all, my lord, not at all. Your exquisite black beard is darker than the darkest night.”
“You liar!“ the king shouted.
“Give this man ten lashes on the back,” he ordered, “and put him in jail for four years.”
Finally, he turned to Nasrudin and said, “Mulla, what color is my beard?”
“Your Excellency,” Nasrudin replied, “I am color blind, and cannot answer that question.”
It doesn’t matter how true or intelligent your answer, if the person across has already made up his or her mind, there’s no point in changing their view. Let them hold onto their opinion because ultimately your inner strength is not dependent on what others think about you but on what you think about yourself.
If you believe in what you do, so long as you are true to yourself and your purpose, rumors and opinions can’t shake you even one bit. Besides, most people don’t mean most of what they say — good or bad. Everyone has a talkative mind and often this chatter comes out in the form of words without any underlying meaning or intention, just as a small child talks while playing with her toys.
When you are waiting at the airport, for example, people around you are constantly talking. You learn to ignore it as noise. Similarly, when they make you a party to rumors, let it go for your own peace of mind. Remind yourself that any information not specifically addressed to you is not for you. Something about you doesn’t necessarily mean it’s for you.
Why strain yourself in deciphering noise when you can create music?