A few weeks ago, a woman named Shilpi A. Singh messaged me, as she was doing a piece on acroyoga (a blend of acrobatics, yoga and Thai massage) and wanted to speak to some practitioners and members of the community. Those of you who know me, know that I have practiced this on and off for a few years. Last year I became, what they called a jambassador, with the goal of promoting and facilitating jams, and helping build a community.
A little wary of how people may perceive the practice, and hesitant that it might be misrepresented, I encouraged her to speak to teachers and to attend a jam.
Yesterday, when the article was published, a discussion began on our Delhi community group about the merits and demerits (largely the latter) of the article. Among our conclusions: someone who had asked not to be quoted was quoted, my own quote had been edited down in a particular way, there was a photo with no names of the people depicted in it, and little nit-picky things like that.
I’m ashamed to say that when this started happening, I did not stop to think that this woman, who had no ulterior motive or reason to do so, spent time, effort and energy to interview people and write an article that benefitted our community as a whole. It was free exposure in a pan-India newspaper and website, that we couldn’t have paid enough for. Instead, I jumped on the bandwagon and started complaining myself.
Why was I examining the way I had been quoted? She hadn’t written anything that contradicted what I meant, and the way she had presented the whole pursuit, was true to what it actually was.
As writers we often have to edit down extra-long quotes, it is what we do. So long as the meaning stays true to the original statement, it is accepted. She hadn’t lied. She hadn’t cheated. She was doing a nice thing for us, and in return she got yelled at and threatened, in a series of events I will not describe here, because it is besides the point.
Though I did not know that it was going to get to the level of escalation it did, I am guilty of adding fuel to the fire. I did not take a step back and think for one moment, that maybe I was taking myself too seriously.
Acroyoga teaches us levity, it teaches us how to leave ourselves behind and lose ourselves in play. It teaches us not to take ourselves too seriously. Yet all of us, this is what we did – we took ourselves way too seriously, got over-sensitive about the way we personally were portrayed or quoted, and didn’t remember the compassion that the practice teaches us.
The thing is words once spoken cannot be taken back, so we must use them wisely. It’s not enough to apologize after making someone feel worthless, and causing them pain, because it does not undo the damage.
It’s not enough to feel bad, and tell them you feel bad, because at the end of the day they feel worse than you. Words can be daggers, and they can cut deep. Those scars take much longer to heal than it does to cause the hurt.
I had no words for Shilpi. There was nothing I could say that would take away how she felt, and there was no way I could absolve myself of my responsibility in adding to the chain of events. I had no excuses, simply myself to blame.
I messaged her, then spoke to her on the phone for about 40 minutes. My heart broke when I realized how truly lousy we had made her feel. I have written articles and put my words out there, and I know how difficult it is.
Interviews, transcription, writing, editing, filing – these things are painful and time consuming. Then there is the backlash of everyone depicted and their series of issues around the articles. If not as a yoga/acroyoga practitioner, as a writer, I should have known better. She has a 16-year career behind her, and nobody has ever treated her this way.
I’m thankful to Shilpi A. Singh because despite not practicing yoga or acroyoga, she taught me how blind I could be to my own shortcomings. She taught me that I could do something for so long and still slip and forget what is correct and what isn’t. She taught me that, as much as I pride myself on my self-deprecating humour and not taking myself too seriously, I do sometimes fail, and my ego does take over.
I can only hope that the terrible things we’ve said to her, will fade, and one day we will be able to laugh about them, in a way truly devoid of any bad feelings. We ended our conversation on a good note, and I’d like to say that there are no bad feelings any more, at least between the two of us. For me, I don’t want there to ever be a next time for these types of mistakes.
I want to be better.