By Suma Varughese
The Sathe family explores ways and means of expressing their feelings to the other without losing their cool, says Suma Varughese
It was dinner time at the Sathes one Sunday night. It being winter, Mom had made some of their favourite winter treats, methi paratha, mixed veggies, and hot carrot halwa to follow. Absorbed in the good food, the conversation languished.
“Pass me the salt, Alka,” said Dad.
Alka did not respond. Dad looked over to see what had distracted her. She was looking at her mobile phone with an upset expression. Although the family had an unwritten rule that no mobile phones were allowed on the table, Dad did not demur. As the attention of the family focused on her, Alka looked up with a start.
“Sorry, Dad,” she said, and passed the salt.
“What’s up?” asked Dad.
“It’s Mohini,” she said, referring to one of her school friends. “Two days back, I invited her for my birthday party next week and she has not replied. I sent her a reminder on whatsapp an hour back, and she has still not responded. The message has been delivered but no response! She’s so mean!”
“Can you tell me how you are feeling?” asked Mom.
“I am angry, I am upset, I feel like hitting her. What does she think of herself? I feel as if I don’t matter to her at all. As if I am nothing. She does not seem to have any respect for me.”
She added, “And the worst is that although I am longing to call her and shout my head off, I don’t want to do that because then she will be upset and we will stop talking and there will be a whole big mess.”
“Good girl,” said Mom approvingly. “You are growing up. One year back you would not have exhibited this restraint.”
Alka looked surprised and pleased. “That’s true,” she said. “But Mom, what’s the alternative if I don’t want to yell and scream? How do I tell Mohini how I feel without losing my cool? I don’t want others to walk all over me just because I am being nice.”
Avijit and Nisha looked up, interested. This was a question they needed answered too.
“It’s never easy,” said Mom. “And although the rest of us are adults, there are times when we yell and scream too, especially among ourselves as you children very well know.”
“Well, not as much as everyone else does, Mom,” said Nisha. “So tell us how you rein in your temper when you are angry.”
“Well, the first thing I ask myself when anyone has offended me, like your friend Mohini offended you by not responding to your invitation, is if I have ever done the same thing to anyone myself. And the answer usually is yes!” Mom looked meaningfully at Alka.
Alka looked embarrassed, “Mom, you have just reminded me, I did the very same thing to Pooja when she asked me to see a movie with her a couple of weeks back.”
“Why did you do that?” asked Mom.
“I was busy writing an essay when she sent the message, and I thought I would answer it later and I kind of forgot. And when she sent the reminder, I was crossing the road so did not respond!”
“Do you think perhaps Mohini might be going through something similar?,” asked Mom.
Alka looked at Mom with a new light. “You are right,” she said, “That is what must have happened. I am not feeling so upset any more.”
Mom said, “It always helps to remember that everyone has their story for doing what they do, and for not doing what they should have done. If you can think of when you did something similar, you will have a better understanding of their action.”
“So true, Mom,” said Nisha. “I too have quite often forgotten or neglected to respond to invites because there is just so much stuff on whatsapp – you tend to not see some stuff.”
Mom said, “This is where you need to think of how you felt when you were let down. Look at how bad Alka is feeling. Remember that the other too will feel equally bad if you do not respond. Every time someone does something that makes you feel bad, just determine that you will not do to anyone else what they have done to you. The pain that you undergo should help you become more empathetic to others.”
Alka nodded soberly, “Yes, I don’t want anyone to feel as bad as I did, these last two days. I am going to make sure that I respond to all the invitations I get as soon as I get it.”
“There will be times when you may want to think about an invitation. In that case just ask for more time,” said Mom. “At least you will have responded.”
She added, “Not being saints, there will be times when you will commit the same offence. When that happens, be quick to apologise, and make amends. It is never worth it to hurt another human being.”
She added, “One last thing. Whatever may be the reason Mohini has not responded, Alka, you have an obligation to yourself to let her know that this behavior is not acceptable to you. This way, not only will she get a wake-up call, but you will also learn to express yourself.”
“What should I do?” asked Alka.
“Stick to facts as far as possible and stay with expressing your own feelings. Do not tell her what you think of her because that is reactive. Tell her how you feel instead.”
“So I should tell her something like, ‘I sent you two reminders to which you have not responded, and I am upset?’ asked Alka.
“That’s perfect,” smiled Mom. “That is good communication. ”
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