When a childhood friend suddenly lost her husband to Covid-19 last year, she stopped speaking to me. I have tried hard to break the ice, to comfort her, but to no avail. My phone calls go unanswered. I am deeply concerned about her well-being and our friendship.
I constantly beat myself up as she continues to ignore my calls. As time goes by, I have begun to give up on her. Even when I remind myself of her pain, it does not completely stem my hurt and resentment. ‘What should I do?’, is a frequent refrain in my thoughts.
My son, too, has recently been complaining of his distress at being ghosted, inexplicably, by an old friend. The hurt is mixed with anger, because my son has, in the past, supported this friend in a major way. My son is perplexed and wonders how to proceed with the friendship.
In such situations, how should we act? Would any action help the issue? Would some self- doubt and self-blame or criticism of the friend mend fences or our hearts?
Lately, it has been dawning on me that inaction is the best action of all. ‘Let it be’, as John Lennon immortalised in his famous song. Time will resolve the issue, the friendship, the communication; if it is meant to repair.
We are always extolled the virtue of prompt action, while procrastination is characterised as sloth and a major obstacle to success. So I have decided to call holding back, ‘deliberate non-action’.
This course of behaviour also works while shopping for a sought-after luxury item; delayed gratification can be advantageous not only for one’s bank balance but also for the planet.
A senior colleague has a very clever formula for inaction when faced with a contentious issue that cannot be resolved. The formula is ‘3Ds’: Delay, Discuss, Delete. The discussion, of course, is only a ritual, a pretence of action that satisfyingly leads to the endgame: Delete!
Inaction did not come naturally to me. My best friend, when I was in school, recently reminded me of how argumentative I was as a young girl. I would, like a dog with a bone, pursue a point to the bitter end, even at the cost of losing a friend or making an enemy. ‘Letting it be’, was clearly not the mantra that I lived by. I had to win at any cost. How reckless and foolish of me!
A win-win situation for all
Time has changed all that. Today, I acknowledge the error of my ways. Giving space and allowing diverse opinions is far more mature and leads to a win-win situation for all.
Even when I am convinced that I am right, I will, after a point, step back and let it be. This reticence has served me in good stead. The additional benefit of everyone retreating with their dignity and bonhomie intact is far more rewarding than the satisfaction of proving I am right.
But by far the most enjoyable inaction is, literally, to not do anything. Gazing into the night sky, looking at vast expanses of the ocean, lolling around in bed, channelling Rodin and thinking deeply, being a couch-potato; these are only a few of the illustrations of a most pleasurable non- activity.
I was born addicted to being a dreamer. Even as a child, my reveries were so deep that I would frequently not respond to my name. Only a shout, a loud snap of fingers would awaken me from my thoughts. My family would admonish me as it must have been very irritating to watch someone wide-awake, but in a world of her own. I never reformed though.
I have retained to this very day, the ability to block out everything and slip blissfully into a dreamlike trance. I like to think it through, I like to imagine possibilities, I like to create, I like to analyse situations, I like the answers my intuition throws up.
Well-being gurus, today, push the agenda of ‘me time’, where you have the leisure to do nothing or something entirely unnecessary, including listening to music or painting your nails.
It’s therapeutic for our mental well- being, they say. Meditation, the deliberate act of emptying one’s mind, is hailed as the best practice to refresh one’s mind.
I am delighted at this turn: now I can, without criticism or constraint, switch off. I can dream of something or think of nothing.
Rashmi Nandkeolyar is the Principal and Director of Delhi Private School Dubai and the author of several books for children.