“But she is a really nice person”

That is the reply I usually get when I tell someone that someone else is dumb, or is an imbecile or is boring. And now I think I have some insight into why people who are otherwise idiots or irritating or boring are also extremely nice people, with “big hearts”.

Basically I’ve found that whenever I’m low on confidence or self esteem I end up being more sensitive, both with respect to myself and others. I display greater empathy, I care more about how people would feel and react to things I would do, and my usual buffalo skin disappears and I get affected by any adverse comments or remarks or incidents. Actually, I’ve seen a two-way implication here, but again you need to remember that I’m extrapolating from one data point here. Back in 2001, I had received extensive feedback (from various parties) that I had become too arrogant and self-centered, and that I needed to make an effort to be nicer and more sensitive towards people. I did make that effort, too successfully I think, for though I consequently became more popular, I entered into a prolonged period of low self esteem. Anyway, I digress.

So, based on the one strong data point that I have, which is myself, I hypothesize that low self esteem leads to greater empathy. People who you are likely to normally consider to be “boring” or “stupid” are likely to know that people think of them as that, and are consequently more likely to have low self esteem. And going by my hypothesis, that means they are more sensitive, have greater empathy, and “have big hearts”. And so, the remark “but she is a really nice person” in the context I mentioned largely holds true.

The buffalo and the donkey

They are two much-abused animals but I think we can do well by adopting certain characteristics of them. The buffalo has a thick skin, and the donkey has the ability to kick (jaaDisi vadi as they say in Kannada), and I think these are qualities that one would do well to have in order to deal with society.

So there are people you care about and people you don’t care about. And then there are people you are forced to care about because people you care about care about them. And there are people you are forced to care about because people you care about care for people who care about them. And so forth. As you can see, in a few links (maybe a median of 6), you are forced to care about everyone on this planet because someone you care about cares for (someone who cares about)^n someone who cares about someone who cares about them…

So you need to put a stop to this somewhere, and that’s where a buffalo skin helps. It helps shield yourself from people who you don’t care about who might make snide remarks about you. After all, whatever you do, there are people who are bound to be negatively affected by that, and when they make snide remarks you are forced to care about that because of the chain I described above.

The donkey skills are good pre-empts. Once employed, they’ll stand you in good stead for a long time and make sure people won’t mess with you at all. But along with this it is also important that you have buffalo skills, else you will find that you have to employ donkey skills way too frequently and lose reputation. Sparing use of donkey skills is best, else it’ll dent your reputation severely and increase your need for buffalo skills beyond your means.

My father used to say that I was a good donkey. My mother used to say that I was a good buffalo. So I guess I’m not too badly placed when it comes to such animal instincts. Now if only…