A couple of years ago, I was catching up with some old friends after a really long time. A lot had changed in our lives since we had last met, over a decade ago. Many of us had got married and a few even had children. There was so much to hear and tell that time just flew… as often happens when you meet your school-time friends. But amidst all the sharing of memories and updates, a realisation dawned on me.
It so happened that one of my friends asked me about my fascination for astrology. Now astrology was a subject of great interest and curiosity to me in my high school and college days. I had studied it in detail and my friends of the time knew about my interest and often made fun of it. This friend, a hard core student of science, and one who never believed in ‘esoteric’ things like astrology, carried in his mind an ancient image of me. What was annoying to me was that I could not do much to shake up that image, even though the present me had little resemblance to it. (Read No Fault in our Stars to know how I see astrology today)
Of course, the time we spent that day was too short to transform our perceptions of each other, which seemed frozen in time. But I realised one thing: just as others may harbour fixed perceptions of me, I too carry old and outdated ideas and perceptions about the others in my life. And, just like I have changed radically over the years, so may have others—for better or for worse.
When we judge other people in our lives—friends, family, co-workers, business associates—we refer to their past actions in order to predict their future behaviour. In other words, we expect people to live up to the image about them in our minds. What’s worse, most of us do the same with ourselves. We carry a self-image based on our past thoughts and actions, and then expect ourselves to repeat the same thoughts and behaviours, ad infinitum.
I have seen that our prejudices often come in the way of sorting out differences and strengthening our relationships. Somehow, we have convinced ourselves that people remain the same throughout their lives. But people can, and often do, change.
Ancient texts across all cultures of the world are full of stories of cruel-hearted, mean-spirited men evolving into compassionate beings, who dedicated their lives to the service of the others. In my opinion, the scriptures employed stories of dacoits becoming saints with the purpose of showing us hope. Upon reflection, you will see that these stories urge us to drop our prejudices—about self and others—and embrace openness to possibilities.
Drop your prejudices
We humans are gifted with an amazing grace of self-awareness, which allows us to grow and evolve. Using this gift, we change several times during the course of our lifetimes. By insisting that people are prisoners of their nature, we impose needless limitations on ourselves and our loved ones, suppressing the beautiful growth and transformation that each of us can experience, naturally.
Here’s a suggestion: how about trying a new, prejudice-free approach? Just for today, consciously drop all old perceptions. When you interact with others, see them with a new pair of eyes, and detect the difference. I have a feeling you might be in for a pleasant surprise.
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