We aren’t taught objectivity in school, unfortunately. It is a vital personal skill.
This one skill alone can save countless instances of depression on one hand and varying degrees of megalomania on the other.
Considering how many life skills one is compelled to learn- after many a humiliating fall- after one passes out of school, it is a wonder one doesn’t ask the school for a full refund. I mean, who cares about math and biology? I never studied biology (praised be the Lord), but you know what I mean, don’t you? And please don’t get me started on math. It still gives me nightmares.
The simplest definition of Objectivity I found online is: The state of being fair, just, unbiased and not influenced by either by emotions or personal prejudices.
No wonder it is difficult to practice. How on earth are we to suspend not only our biases but also our emotions and prejudices? If we could do all that we’d either become robots or saints. The thing seems impossible.
Our prejudices are as intrinsic and unique a part of our personality as our finger- prints. It is a pair of glasses through which we look at the world. Frequently, our prejudices ARE our world view.
Over the years, every experience we have gone through has added a drop of color to a lens already colored by similar additions. At any given point of time, our lenses are a unique color made up not only of our life experiences, but also our core nature. No other lens in the world can have the same coloration. Which is why conflicts happen between people. I say the ball is blue and you say it is red. Neither of us realizes that we are arguing about a white ball- me wearing my blue lens, you wearing your red ones.
Setting perceptions, emotions or prejudices aside when evaluating a situation is not easy. This does not mean that you can’t try being as objective as you can. It also doesn’t mean that being fair is something you do to other people. It means being fair and objective to everyone, including yourself.
Sticking to the definition will certainly land you into trouble, accurate though it is. It is easier to take away the ‘subject’ from the situation and replace it with another subject. For me, this is how it works:
– When I am evaluating myself I ask myself if I would have admired/ criticized if someone else had done what I have done. Would I have been impressed if someone had told me that they ran for a marathon? Yes? Then I am free to be impressed with myself.
– When evaluating other people I ask myself if I would have admired/ criticized if I had done what they have done. Would it have annoyed me if someone had plonked their unwanted self on my feet as I slept on my reserved berth on the train? Yes? Then I had better not get offended with the other person’s reaction.
I am not saying the thing is fool proof, but it works satisfactorily enough.
This simple ploy has enabled me to be fair to other people. In times of conflict, I have tried to remember that the color of the other person’s lenses is different from mine and I have made the effort not only to take off my own colored glasses but to persuade them to take theirs off as well. It has let me imagine how it would feel to ‘wear their shoes and walk a mile’. Sometimes the ploy works, and sometimes it doesn’t… not right then. I tell myself that it is better than nothing and try again.
This simple strategy has allowed me to pat my own back occasionally. It has also ensured that I don’t put too high an estimation on myself and pump myself so full of air that my feet leave the ground.
I have learned to remove myself from a situation and become a uninvolved observer and evaluator. In the Vedic tradition, this is called having a Sakshi Bhaav.
Sakshi – (aloof) Observer, someone who is observing someone else going through an experience.
Bhaav– The emotional state of an observer.
When you become an observer of your own experience, you are emotionally distant from it. You are able to see yourself going through the experience as if the you going through the experience were someone else. This inner distance protects you from getting caught up in the emotional storm generated in the situation. With that sense of detached balance, you can evaluate the merit/ demerit of all words and actions unfolding as part of the experience. You are able to evaluate the events impassively and without bias.
I was once told by a senior client that I was unreasonable, arbitrary and had too quick a temper. He probably expected me to be provoked into an outburst- thus proving his point. I smiled and asked him if he could cite instances when I had come across as arbitrary or unreasonable to him. He hummed and hawed a bit and looked sheepish. I then asked him if he could tell me when I had lost my temper. I admitted to being very quick tempered in the past, but I assured him that it was no longer true. Again, he wasn’t able to relate a single instance. To save face, he said, “Just because I am not able to give you examples, it doesn’t mean you haven’t done those things.”
I agreed with him instantly. Then I quietly told him, ” Please take your time to recall any incidents that show me to be the kind of person you say I am. When you do, you will find me eager to accept my errors and to make an effort not only to make amends but also to change myself. However, until you are able to find real examples supporting your assessment, I feel free to reject your evaluation as inaccurate.”
After three years, he is yet to get back to me.