Not for nothing did our elders advise us to rise above likes and dislikes to attain a sense of equanimity. We may be tempted to think that liking something or someone as being positive, while associating disliking with negativity, but it would only take a little thought to realise that even the seemingly positive ‘liking’ has many hidden emotions, some of which could be termed ‘negative’ in intent.
In a world where narratives rule and binaries reign, we are expected to either like or dislike everything, starting with social media posts, to people, events, ideologies, and things. Being neutral is no more an option and overt and covert pressures are exerted to make us choose one or the other alternative. Big tech has helpfully created a whole host of tools to help us in this quest. There are emojis galore to express every emotion under the sun. No more verbalising, no more personal interaction. All we need to do is to click one of the zillion emojis and we are done!
It is not an automatic action as would appear from the speed with which it is done. You see, we have a mental checklist that is ticked off in the wink of an eye: Is the post by someone who is only a social media ‘friend’ or a real friend? Is the picture accompanying the post worth taking note of? Is the post/picture of the person’s child? Does it have political/controversial content? As the mental boxes get ticked off, the appropriate emojis get stamped on the posts. As simple and quick as that! The sad thing is that real-life situations are no different. We don’t know if offline behaviour influences the online behaviour or vice versa.
Coming from social media posts to real life, how many of us can honestly say that we don’t ‘judge’ a person when we meet them for the first time, and about whom we know nothing. Yet, we form an opinion, some opinion, at sight, don’t we? If nothing, we at least make a note of their appearance, often with positive or negative connotations.
Are we actually judging and slotting them or just noting the features and other details? If it is just taking note, why do we base our instant likes and dislikes on that first ‘impression’? It is because of the mental narratives we have that are stored in our brains, which define certain characteristics as pleasant and others as unpleasant. Even as we greet the person, our brains are busy sifting and slotting them into those boxes. Not unlike the social media posts that we ‘like’ or ‘dislike’, we stamp the people we have just met with the appropriate mental emojis, never mind that we have hardly spoken a dozen words to them. It would come as a surprise that such a mental activity applies to casual acquaintances and even passers-by. It is all because the mind is on an overdrive most of the time.
Why do we do this? Perhaps my post about the chattering mind will provide some answers to this question. Do check it out.
Coming to conversations where likes and dislikes are discussed, they often remain confined to the quadrant belonging to each participant without intersecting that of the other(s) to make any kind of meaningful discussion possible. Let us look at one:
“I like jackfruit very much. It is the best of all fruits, leagues ahead of the likes of mangoes and apples.”
“Ewww! That awful smelling fruit! What a weird taste you have!”
“Hey, come on! It is so divine. Come taste a piece and then talk!
“Na baba! You can’t make me do it at gunpoint!”
Now, this might seem like a normal conversation between two people who have strong feelings about jackfruit, but just take a minute to analyse the sentiments behind it and pay attention to the vocabulary and the tone.
You will notice that there are factors that have nothing to do with the taste but a whole lot to do with other factors – bias towards the fruit against others, preconceived ideas, prejudices that preclude tasting it, intolerance towards another’s preferences, and above all, super egos. It is normally assumed that liking is a positive and disliking is a negative emotion. But in the above conversation we can see shades of both on either side.
This is the reason why when one likes something or someone very much, the darker side or drawbacks are seldom seen, the adoration effectively masking them from view. And when confronted with evidence to the contrary, one can still say, ‘Oh, I made a mistake,’ and carry on, that is, if the object of adoration is not a person. It is more difficult to accept one’s misjudgement when it concerns another human being, because it is difficult to accept that the person we had put on a pedestal can ever be fallible.
Is it possible to keep our minds neutral about things/people and accept them as they are without colouring them with preconceptions? We could if our ego weren’t to butt in with its own biases. The ego decides on what or who is right/good/bad depending upon how they react to it. Flattery is the first weapon that defeats it and makes it instantly give a thumbs-up to the flatterer! And if the person seems reserved or does not pay any attention to us (the ego), he or she is consigned to the bin labelled ‘haughty’.
This might seem too simplistic, but if we look at various factors that project a person favourably in our eyes, they would all be pandering to the ego directly or indirectly. If these impressions are shattered for any reason, at any given point of time, the ego gets a blow and immediately dislodges the object of adulation from its pedestal. A lot of broken friendships and marriages, job dissatisfaction and a general sense of restlessness are products of such disillusionment.
A tall order, but it would be infinitely kind on us, if we could bring in a modicum of moderation in our instant judgements and haste in stamping our ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ on people and things we come in contact with.
Somehow or the other all my posts these days seem to boil down to the ubiquitous ego. Maybe it is a sign from the Divine to remind me to keep mine in check, lest it began running my life!