12: Should we use the word ‘love’ sparingly?

I have always had a great fondness for people. People bring out my best spirit (and sometimes my worst). I love the kindness, tenacity, and spirit of people, I love their talent and zeal for life. I find something to love in everyone I know; and when I say ‘love’, I actually mean love. My heart swells with joy and I am struck with admiration and respect for them. I never hesitate to tell people when I love something about them. Very often, people are unaware about their own qualities and I like to remind them that they are special. A lot of people have difficulty believing it when they hear their own praise. It’s because they don’t believe those things about themselves and they struggle to figure if I am being genuine in my praise or merely trying to flatter them.

All this changed when I first fell in ‘love’. The experience was so overwhelming for me, that I started questioning every other time I used the word love in my life. The feelings of joy and other emotions associated with it were so intense, that everything else seemed bland and not worthy of that label. It was the kind of selfless love which makes you cherish everything about the person, the good and the bad, and prompts you to be a better version of yourself. I decided then that I would not use the word ‘love’ for anyone, unless I come close to experiencing similar emotions. In doing so, I was also trying to ensure that, that one particular love remained special. I wanted to give that relationship its rightful place in my life, the highest one, so I demoted every other one in my life. I would proudly say, I love only a few people in my life also meaning my love is rare, cherish it. But, reality does not always play out as we like and things do not always remain the same, so when the dust settled on the ‘one love’, I found myself at a place where I felt that I wouldn’t ever be capable of producing love for anyone else. Everything from here on would just be a game of charade and pretence.

But, I was wrong. All this while, it was I who was stopping myself from finding joy in the world and people. The world never ceased to exist and be beautiful, it was I who was looking the other way. The moment I let myself fall freely in love with anybody and everybody, I gradually started to fall in love with the world again. I thought I had just one heart to give to the person who deserved it the most. It turns out, I had a thousand more from where the first one came from. The more I give it away, the more I feel complete.

3: Is selflessness a dying virtue?

When I was a kid, I had difficult older cousins who would try to annoy me by destroying my personal belongings or even on some occasions trying to physically hurt me. It wasn’t that I was unable to defend myself, but, my mother always stopped me from retaliating. She encouraged me to treat them kindly and avoid seeing them instead. When I would angrily ask my mother how she could ignore what my cousins did, she would remind me of an old Hindi adage, which would roughly translate to, ‘those who lay thorns in your path, return them the favour by strewing flowers on their way; the thorns in your path will turn to flowers, and the flowers that you have laid for them will hurt them like a trident’. I learnt forgiveness and selflessness from my mother. She still reminds me, “When you help others, the universe sends out ways to help you” and “If you have only lived for yourself, is that really living?”

As I grew up, all around me, the focus grew on taking care of oneself first, to the extent that I felt that selfishness had gained social acceptance; to the extent that I began to question the merits of selflessness and whether people meant the same thing when they claimed to be selfless. My gender studies class showed me how women have been subjugated through centuries by glorifying self-sacrificing behaviour. Prominent feminist movements were based on challenging this notion by encouraging women to claim what they had been shamed to seek, viz. their own bodies and from society. Personal development coaches will tell you the same thing, focus on your life, go ahead, and follow your dreams. It made me challenge what I erstwhile accepted without much questioning. When I went back to my mother, during college holidays, I asked her, “Why did you make me do the things I did not want to do? I tolerated your relatives only to make you happy.” As angry as I was back then, I would do it all over again. My mother’s life is a testament of selfless acts done for me, each of which has made me what I am today. Doing these little things, like helping her family, even if it was unpleasant, was my turn to return the favour.  The happiness accompanied by it was not illusory but left me feeling warm and satisfied, just like when you feel after a tough round of working out.

When we care for others, we are taken care of by others. It need not be the same people that we help, who come to our aid but there will always be someone. After all, we are all part of one big cosmos. That’s how society should function. There are certain things to keep in mind, though. You may become a source of giving only, if the people around you are merely interested in receiving help. Genuine needs also must be distinguished from constant neediness. Both these conditions are difficult to attain in real life. But there are ways to work around it. If you feel that there is someone (anyone) who genuinely needs your help, then go ahead and do it. If you feel that there are certain people, who have established themselves in your life, as people whom you can trust and that they would sacrifice as much for you as you would do for them, then go ahead and do it. It won’t hurt you.

I would like to end, by mentioning my friend, who recently tried the Pottermore sorting hat ceremony. He got Hufflepuff, the house which represents the helpers. Most people would be sad for not getting Gryffindor, the house which represents people who seek greatness, or Slytherin for people who covet exclusivity, or Ravenclaw, for people who seek knowledge. My friend took it in his stride, and retorted if given a choice between helping someone and seeking greatness, he would choose the former. If his college tenure were to be examined though, it is nothing but a testament of greatness. That’s what comes around when you imbibe selflessness in your daily life, and everything else follows.