“Where’s the toilet paper?” hollered the husband from inside the bathroom.
“Where it always is,” I hollered back, busy with my early morning household chores.
“It isn’t in here,” he said irritably.
“I just put a fresh one in there yesterday,” I called back.
“Where is it, I can’t see it,” he roared.
“Look around, you’re blind to such things,” my voice rose in exasperation.
We bickered on and on for a while until I finally handed him a new roll. Later, I confirmed it for myself; there was no toilet paper in there. But I had put one there just the day before!
Later of course I figured one of the kids must have come in when we were sleeping and taken it; that was the only logical explanation, since toilet paper isn’t designed to vanish into thin air. But for that brief moment of marital discord, the fact remained: We had both been right. I had put in a roll a day earlier; it wasn’t there when he needed it.
When I was 12, my father and I had once been arguing about morality and righteousness and ‘doing the right thing’, when my father said, “Everyone is always right. If you put yourself in the other person’s shoes, in their circumstances, given their upbringing, you’d do the same thing.” Many years later, I would read books on sociology and human behaviour that would confirm in more erudite terms that at any given moment and especially in a crisis situation, people are coded to behave in their own best interest, and do what they think is right given the circumstances, even if they may repent their actions later or may be ostracised by others for their choices. We are designed by nature to survive; to behave in self-interest, to fight to live. That is probably why heroes are lauded; they go against apparent self interest to rescue someone else. (But in a cosmic sense, we are all instruments of nature and nature is designed to behave in its own self interest too.)
The word ‘right’ is subjective; morality is man-made. Humans too came up with these ‘social rules’ in self interest; if everyone went around indulging in negative harmful behaviours in the name of self preservation, society would perish. In one NLP class I attended, we were asked to take up any human behaviour we judged ‘wrong’ and put it in another context where it may be deemed ‘right’. So consider the Nazi officer who committed unimaginable acts of cruelty on a Jew prisoner, the terrorist who blows innocent people up, the troops who plunder villages, kill babies and rape women. They are also just following instructions, or are indoctrinated or brainwashed into believing these to be the ‘right’ behaviours if they have to survive in their world. They have no other available choice; if they don’t follow their orders, they’re finished. In a karmic sense, what they sow, they will reap — if they sow violence, they beget violence. But in an earthy sense, given their particular circumstances, they’re ‘right’ too. It’s the rest of us who label them ‘wrong’.
For this reason, I have always been slow to judge people. And whenever I forget, God reminds me of this lesson yet again. The teenager who shoplifts; the husband who cheats on his wife; the wife who cheats on her husband; the beggar who steals your wallet; the shopkeeper who overcharges; the driver who absentmindedly crashes into your car. I may get annoyed or upset when I come across such instances but very soon I step back and stop judging. How do I know their compulsions? Who am I to call them ‘wrong’ when I have ‘wronged’ so many people so many times in my life too? One of the most definitive actions of my life was done in self interest and self preservation; to ensure my life, wellbeing and safety of my children. But it led to the destruction of someone else’s happiness and ruined their life forever. It was so horribly wrong for them. It was so unequivocally right for me. Who am I to judge anyone when I am so imperfect myself?
None of us are pristine enough to label others dirty.
Even in the Mahabharata, there are innumerable instances of the ‘wrong’ means being used, and by Lord Krishna himself, to achieve the ‘right’. All’s fair in survival. You’d even kill someone if they were attacking you or your child — and then of course you have to face the consequences of it. Yes, there is punishment for certain actions and reward for certain others depending on where you live at what point of human history. But at all points, your actions are pre-decided for you based on your biological coding and, I must add, the grace of God. Arjun fought a righteous war at Krishna’s behest, and lost his son, his teachers, his friends. He didn’t even get to go to heaven. So was it all ‘right’ or ‘wrong’?
These are questions of karma and destiny, questions that belong to another realm of existence that we humans do not yet fully understand. But what we can do at the moment is to understand the other person’s point of view before we jump to judgement. To apply love instead of hate before labelling someone. To give thanks for every moment that we aren’t required to make a difficult choice.
To check the location of the toilet paper before pronouncing the other stupid.