Do you always act consistently with your deeply held beliefs and values? Stuff that you pride yourself on thinking? On consistently being the person that you think you are? Have you ever had to question yourself on this, and come up with answers that you don't quite like?
I certainly have. I do not think I'm better than anyone else, but I refuse to be shoved around by anyone. (Considering my size, I wouldn't be easy to shove around anyway, but believe you me, people do try. Did I tell you that I'm sometimes invisible? Or seem to be. Often when I'm standing in a line for tickets, like the railway reservation counter. By the time I'm finally at the window and about to hand in my request some random person, usually male, will barge ahead as though I'm not there. When I sternly remind said random male of my not inconsiderable presence, he will wave me ahead as though he's doing me a favour. What utter cheek.)
Neither a shover nor a shovee, that's me. And a bleeding heart liberal as well. Sympathy for the underdog etc. etc. But I had to question all these beliefs on one random bus journey, from my parents' flat in East of Kailash to Noida, several years ago. It was a journey I did often enough, there was a convenient bus route, and I was usually lucky enough to get a seat. Now, this particular journey involves two possible routes, either the speedy one over the DND expressway, or the circuitous route that goes via Mayur Vihar. You can't always tell from the bus number. Anyway. I was sitting next to a rather smelly young woman and her baby. The baby was also sitting on the seat, next to the window, so I was perched on what was left of the seat. After the Ashram bus stop I realised that this bus wasn't taking the DND route. At the Sarai Kale Khan stop lots of people got onto the bus, and even while sitting I was getting pushed. I politely asked the woman to hold her baby on her lap, but she rudely refused, saying that he would cry and who would quieten him? She most certainly did not seem amenable to reason, and I certainly did not want to get into a heated argument. I already looked like a 'memsahib' type, a potential oppressor of a poor slum/village woman. I looked as though I could afford a more exclusive form of transport, at least an auto, if not a cab. But for all my surface nonchalance, I was seething within, and actually hating that woman for the remaining half hour or so of the ride.
I think it was most foolish of me to expect what I think of as common courtesy from someone who may have received very little courtesy in her own life. Had she been of a visibly better off, educated background, she probably would not have hogged the seat in the first place, and would have quietly picked up the child if I'd asked her to. Most of my interactions with the socially disadvantaged had me in the role of some kind of benefactor- whether as blood donor or teacher or facilitator of some kind. There was courtesy, if not deference, built into the role.
My personal space was never invaded. I was not spoken to without courtesy. That was what I was used to- I had enjoyed working with children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and their parents were always courteous. I meant nothing to the woman on the bus, so she could be as rude as she felt like being.
I realized how thin was the veneer of my compassion. By the end of that bus ride, I didn't like myself very much.