Sunday, June 29, 2008
Rand and I
A friend had once asked me, "Why haven't you read Ayn Rand yet?" and I had replied, "Because I am forming a philosophy of my own. Something about Ayn Rand unsettles me and hence, I wanted to read her once I have steadied in my thought and understanding of the world."
I had said this when I had not read more than a few words from her books. I really mean that these words were but few. I later understood why I held in my heart a trepidation for her works and it dawned on me once I read her works a couple of years ago. It is not to do with what my sister and some friends call a sharp resemblance to some of the main characters in her work (and orange-head I am not!). It is to do with the fact that you cannot use logic to argue with her. What she says is absolutely right if you think that the life is simply a sum all that you know and enact on a daily basis. If like several scientists, you believe that food is a sum of all its nutrients, then you can't argue much. There are people who don't believe that and go on to live a happy life and there are people who do not view their life as a bunch of logical theories and have enjoyed life too.
But there is one thing I have gotten to agree with Ms. Rand. I realised this way back in 1996 but Ms. Rand has been solely responsible for putting it down in the clearest set of words. When Ms. Rand says that relationships can only be between equals, all my life comes up ahead of me. This how she employs John Galt to summarise it for her:
"The symbol of all relationships among such men, the moral symbol of respect for human beings, is the trader. We, who live by values, not by loot, are traders, both in matter and in spirit. A trader is a man who earns what he gets and does not give or take the undeserved. A trader does not ask to be paid for his failures, nor does he ask to be loved for his flaws. A trader does not squander his body as fodder or his soul as alms. Just as he does not give his work except in trade for material values, so he does not give the values of his spirit—his love, his friendship, his esteem—except in payment and in trade for human virtues, in payment for his own selfish pleasure, which he receives from men he can respect."
I still recall the way a manager recoiled under the suggestion of objective passion (or as I call it, dispassionate passion) as a work culture.
I once believed that sacrifice and compromise were the key to keeping relationships intact. In my personal evolution (which is far from complete) I realised that that approach only creates deeper disrespect between the individuals in the relationship.
I have always held that one cannot and should not claim a right before delivering what one is supposed to. While at work, one cannot claim to be best employee before delivering top quality software. My manager considers it easier to ask me for what rating he should give me. I invariably give him a value based on my objective analysis of what I have done that year and it works fine with him.
I do not agree with what Ms. Rand says about logic being everything, because I have personal experience and knowledge otherwise. But in relationships, I agree with a lot of what she says.
We, who live by values, not by loot, are traders, both in matter and in spirit.
People who wish to live parasitically should be treated as parasites. My theory on love has always been that love is a decision. When people decide to love someone, there is a sense of rightness that prevails. There is a sense of beauty that stays like the love one feels in watching a beautiful sunrise. Neither the sun is aware of itself and neither am I while enjoying it. The enjoyer and the enjoyed aren't disjoint and in that there is equality and in that there is love.
Relationships can only exist between equals. The minute it is established between a giver and a taker whose roles never reverse, it is pure evil. When there is but one person who is taking disproportionate to what one gives (and I do not speak in terms of Ms. Rand's materialistic offerings) then there is a parasitical relationship. The existence of several samples doesn't justify such imbalanced relationships. If one brings in a lot of care and affection then the other needs to bring in a lot of stability and security. If one brings in a lot of labour and hard work then the other must bring in a lot of thought and planning and resources. To have one always the provider and the other always as the enjoyer is utterly vulgar.
A trader is a man who earns what he gets and does not give or take the undeserved.
Most importantly claiming rights is a vulgar act. Claiming rights and privileges based on sentimentality and emotions is even more so. This is what I was referring to earlier. A person cannot claim to be an expert until one has demonstrated expertise and proven it time and again. HBR had a wonderful article called "The Making of an Expert" where they outline the following as essential to characterise someone as an expert:
1. It must lead to performance that is consistently superior to that of the expert's peers
2. Produces concrete results
3. Can be replicated and measured in a lab
The last one seems to tackle cases of freak brilliance and capabilities. I will not go into whether these are right or wrong, but expertise is different from genius or creativity.
Back to the point I was making. Claiming any position in a relationship is vulgar. Positions need to be earned and commanded not demanded with threats and/or sentimentality. If a person wouldn't grant that position to another, then there is no honesty in claiming the same. If I feel that for such a pathetic service I wouldn't give so-n-so any tips, then I cannot expect my boss to give me a bonus for doing just what he wanted. Similarly, if my mother hasn't bothered to sit with me and sort out my personal problems in life she cannot claim the title of confidant as much as I cannot claim the same of anyone reading this post. She can make sentimental statements about "Is this how you will treat your own blood? Your own mother of decades?" but she still wouldn't be my confidant.
Recently a friend's mother expired. He was amazingly close to her and was most dedicated to her. I have learnt so much from him in the past few months and haven't met a truer son than he. He has every right to claim the title of a dutiful son. Not he who doesn't even bother to be there for his parents and runs off to far away lands just because his wife wanted that for herself.
If one cannot give, one has no right to take.
A trader does not ask to be paid for his failures, nor does he ask to be loved for his flaws.
Treating the other person in the relationship as an equal is vital. If one wishes to be treated as king/queen then they should be willing to bow low to the other person's whims too. If one wishes attention from the other, one must be willing to grant that too. If one wishes to be pampered then one must be willing to mollycoddle the other person too. If one wishes to hawk their pain and sentimentality in public, then they should be willing to treat other's pain and difficulties with the same eye and respect too. If someone doesn't trust you, build it. If someone doesn't consider you a good worker, demonstrate. But if someone wants to use such ploys to simply keep gaining what they want because you are going to build it or demonstrate it, what are you doing with such a person?
When one's whim, one's wants, one's anxiety and one's life is more important than the other, that person has automatically lost all rights to a relationship. This creates a demand for being treated as one wishes in spite of whether one is even capable of that treatment or not. It is like asking for a promotion whether I delivered anything or not. It is like asking to be loved whether I have been a good and considerate lover or not. "Whatever be my inadequacies I must get what I want". That is the sickest way to treat another person because the other person is pulled into the quagmire of a vulgar relationship.
...he does not give the values of his spirit—his love, his friendship, his esteem—except in payment and in trade for human virtues...
Honesty and respect are vital to a relationship as well. Not everyone is perfect but one who is not interested in perfecting themselves as a genuine offering to the other person in the relationship is not fit to be in a relationship. One who refuses to learn because they are too proud to admit that they are wrong, is not a good human being and a misfit in a relationship. When one receives genuine care and respect, it is vital to give in return the same or something that is of value to the other person. To stand up and say, "Of course I deserve all of that, why should I have to move a finger?" is parasitism personified. If one can't respect the other, there is automatically no relationship. People don't relate to looters and knaves. I know of a relative who takes whatever his wife says and doesn't open his mouth for anything. She treats him like dirt and embarrasses him in front of everybody. I feel sorry for him because he is a man with a heart of gold. I would say that he has had on of the most miserable marriages I have ever known. I know of another person who tries to be honest and genuinely believes in the truth of people, but he has had a horrible deal with his near relatives. He is only dealt with twisted lies meant to bleed him off all humaneness. Such people are unfortunate to have entered into such relationships. It is more so that they wish to stick to them even after recognising them to be utterly evil.
For relationships that are based entirely on the beauty of the Divine element (like the love of Radha and Krishna or the devotion of Tyagaraja and Sri Ramachandra), there is no trade as there is nothing to give or take between one wave and another in the ocean of love.
But life goes on. People will continue to make demands, will continue to lie, will continue to fall in love, will continue to believe that honesty can survive, will continue to be parasitical and will continue to write blog posts.... :-)
But to those who are in a relationship or planning to enter into one (be it business, blood or voluntary), I would advise you to think and honestly figure out why you deserve to be treated the way you want to be treated. Why are you so important in the grand scheme of things? What do you bring to this relationship? How honest are you? If you can find answers to these, please bear them in mind and don't fake things. Relationships are beautiful only as long as there is a rightness to it and honest respect.