Only defeatism

It is only defeatism. You can live your entire life giving up before you’ve even tried, die the same way, and not know the baloney of any of it. The bubble you breathe in helps you masquerade as a simple-minded, undemanding, reasonable person. But you’re not that, are you?

Defeatism — an attitude demonstrating the acceptance of or resignation to defeat without a fight — takes time to besiege, and then to vanquish your natural instinct to better the challenge. Oh yes, it takes time. It isn’t like many other emotions that can steal into your soul overnight. It tramples the first tissue in you, deliberately and with an unsurpassed finesse, then moves on to the next, then to the next, and continues for years, until you say (but never openly), “I lose.”

We’re not looking at defeatism in war here. We’re looking at coming down on knees against the other challenges life throws at us. But before you begin to think of what is termed as fear of the adventure or danger, let me steer you towards the mundane, every-day demands such as social interaction, do-it-yourself tasks, changing routine. With time, a defeatist becomes adept at illustrating just why the particular demand is not worth fighting against. Or for.

To make the distinction slightly clearer between fear and defeatism in real life, allow me to become the scapegoat to exemplify the two.

Danny was my first ride. He was a white mule with liquid black eyes and a kohl-lining around them that would make Rimmel the Eye Make-Up People die in shame. I was eight. He was two arms taller than me. He was mulish (no surprises there). I was hopeful. The first rule of horse-riding classes was to feed the equine partner, and then pat him and then mount him. I did that with an expertise my parents would be proud of. Danny was trained to first walk with the beginner, to let her get the bearings of horse (in this case, mule) riding. But he had some tricks to boggle a little girl’s mind. He traced half the circuit, then walked to his favourite corner of the bamboo fence and just stood there, looking out towards the pastures beyond. And refused to move. Everyone around implored one by one, politely hiding their amusement, but Danny didn’t oblige. Only when I got off him did he agree to budge. This went on day after day after day. My skilful feeding and patting continued through all this. I was hopeful.

Just when he was getting to know how sweet a person I was, Vanita, the station’s best rider, fell down from Koel, the station’s best mare. She, Vanita, came the next day to school with a fractured ankle and fifteen other broken bones. (I am sure it must have been fifteen. Or perhaps eighteen.) And oh, a black eye. My routine? It continued as before, with just a slight change. I went to Danny, fed him, patted him, and went and sat down against the bamboo fence, refusing to ride again. Ever. I have kept my word since. One Vanita was enough. That’s fear for you. Fear of a black eye and fifteen broken bones. Wouldn’t you say?

Defeatism, on the other hand, is a subtler killer.

I spent a lot of my early childhood picnicking with friends and parents’ friends and extended family. I wasn’t easy to spot, because I would usually stand or sit in one obscure corner, looking at nature’s wonders. Now looking at the leaves dripping the last hour’s rain, now letting the flower over there show me an entire universe inside it. These were surely more interesting than those silly people laughing over nothing! And eating unnecessarily. I haven’t picnicked in a long time, but my interaction with people largely remains at the same level. I no longer sit in an obscure corner, never fear. But I am normally in my own universe, or in the one I saw in that long-ago flower. The reason, to a romantic reasoner, could be that I am a dreamer. Or a painfully creative person. To a neutral analyser of defeatism, I am perhaps an incorrigible recluse, who believes it is not worth attempting to explain the universes in my mind to anyone because no one would understand anyway. That I have accepted my defeat without trying to open my heart. That I choose to remain un-merry, and hide it under the various garbs I select as the situation demands — snootiness, boredom, superiority.

But why just talk about me? Let’s see what Vanita did. She got healed in a few months and went on to ride more rides, and won many awards at regional and national level. And experienced many more painful falls from horses. Fool. Look at me. Never had a broken bone in my life.

And yet, the idea of giving in without trying is anything but simple-minded. I see it as nothing better than living without life. Like being in a tiny, safe bubble with transparent walls that show you the world outside and add rainbows to people’s view of you, but continue to keep the air stale.


25 thoughts on “Only defeatism”

  1. Another brilliant piece of thought-provoking writing Priya.

    I was sorry to read:
    “I am perhaps an incorrigible recluse, who believes it is not worth attempting to explain the universes in my mind to anyone because no one would understand anyway.”

    Don’t just accept defeat and hide behind various garbs. I think you should give us a chance, and explain what you see… we’re waiting.

    Fantastic ending:
    “…nothing better than living without life. Like being in a tiny, safe bubble with transparent walls that show you the world outside and add rainbows to people’s view of you, but continue to keep the air stale.”

    What did your mother think when you stopped the lessons? My daughter went to riding lessons for about five years and at each lesson and at each competition I’d hold my breath hoping she wouldn’t fall because I’d listened to the dreadful stories the other mothers told us about falls from horses. I never told my daughter of my fear because fear breeds fear i.e. if you think you’re going to fall you will fall. She never did. Whew!

    I love the picture of the bubbles

    1. The riding story doesn’t end there, Rosie.

      I continued to go back home, tell my parents fantastical stories about how Danny was improving, how we’d begun to trot now, and then canter. How I would soon be allowed to graduate to a horse. My parents had been sure that I’d be a good rider, especially my mother because she’d seen me riding a horse with confidence once before. They did not suspect anything. My brother’s friend used to come for the lessons as well, and one day he asked my brother as to why I came when I wasn’t riding at all?! My brother came home and asked me, sadly in front of my parents. That was the end of it. They listened to my fear, and let me retreat back to a safer world of inflorescent mushrooms.

      I love the picture of the bubbles, too! They kept swaying with the breeze and it took me a lot of time to get a non-fuzzy picture of them.

  2. My Dear Priya,
    What an excellent post!
    My thoughts on the ‘Danny the Mule’ tale are that getting up on the back of a great strong and not very bright quadruped isn’t the most sensible thing to decide to do. I’m happy to say that I’ve never done it, nor do I ever wish to do it…
    To paraphrase Spike Milligan, of whom you may or may not have heard – us outsiders don’t really fit in with everyone else, but we do see brighter colours in the sunset than they seem to…
    Well done P!
    A kindred spirit…

    1. A kindred spirit. That’s all we look for! Thank you, Dave.

      But shh. What if Danny hears you and feels bad about being called a “not very bright quadruped”? We wouldn’t want to offend him, would we? What if we needed him to, say, escape the sunset?

  3. Recently, after decades of avoiding riding horses, I finally rode two – two! Defeatist thoughts are the cruel bully who wants us to fail. It’s difficult to ignore the bully if you grew up with parental protectiveness and their own defeatist beliefs, transferred to their child. Then it can take a lifetime of sending the bully away. Keep trying. You’re still young and can win this battle. Giving in without trying is defeat telling you that you can’t live your life the way you want to. Wonderful post, Priya.

    1. Did you ride them at the same time? That is brave, Jean!

      I was out on a bike ride with the Cheerier Half today, and saw an advertisement of a paragliding club just 10 minutes away. The bully tried to visit. I told him to knock another door, thank you very much. But sadly, the momos at Doma’s were more inviting, so we gave paragliding a skip.

  4. The fact that you continue to explore your inner and outer worlds, and write about them with such rich description, is proof that you haven’t surrendered to defeatism. The universe you inhabit may not be densely populated, but the people who share it are touched, repeatedly, by the openness of your heart.

    I hate it when you write these brilliant posts, and I have no choice but to be nice to you.

    1. I haven’t surrendered to defeatism, Charles. I am still writing, despite ideas from within and without to thwart my shaky confidence. YooHoo!

      I am going to oblige you yet, and write a shoddy one. Or to make things convenient, just browse a little here. You’ll find many. I am waiting for the un-niceness.

  5. I echo Charles’ comment. (Though not the hate part.) I also echo Rosie’s appreciation for the last sentence.

    Seems Danny fought with defeatism, too. Assuming his rider would only cause problems, get injured, etc. He figured he’d just stand at his fence and remain alone. Why bother.

    I recently spent a weekend away with my husband and two other couples. While I truly enjoyed the weekend and visiting with the close friends, I found I preferred sitting alone and observing my world rather than taking part in it. Listening to the river, watching the leaves shake with the breeze, listening to the rocking chair hit the same board over and over again …. Yet by observing my world, I was taking part in it. I just wasn’t par’taking in the world like the other couples.

    I so enjoy your writings, Priya. I look forward to your next one.

    1. You’ve understood Danny well, I think. I never gave his thoughts a thought. Or perhaps he didn’t wish to think of us at all. All he wanted to see was the greener pastures beyond, and daydream about a chance to run out to them. Who knows?

      Taking part versus Partaking. It’s a beautiful description, Lenore. You might have something there! Explore it. And let us know!

  6. What an amazing post! The third to last paragraph really struck a chord with me, Priya. Something that I’ve always felt, but could never put as eloquently as you did! I also love what Lenore wrote above, “Yet by observing my world, I was taking part in it. I just wasn’t par’taking in the world like the other couples” I completely agree. I’m not sure that observing or spending reflective time within one’s own world is a negative thing–Of course, you need to learn how to balance that with actual living and interacting with other people. Something I continue to struggle with every day.

    1. I find it wondrous that many can relate to the third to last paragraph. When one explores people, one finds many, who want to be explored, and return the favour, but never really get around to doing it — for one reason or the other. I am glad I found you, Darla.

  7. Hi Priya. This is the first time I’ve read your blog and what thought provoking writing! I have a poem that has given me hope and courage to forge on despite many trials in life. I don’t know who wrote it, but it seems to me you may like it.
    If you think you are beaten you are
    If you think you dare not you don’t.
    If you like to win but think you can’t
    It is almost certain you won’t

    If you think you’ll lose, you’re lost
    For out of the world we find,
    Success begins with a fellows will
    It’s all in the state of mind.

    If you think you are outclassed you are,
    You’ve got to think high to rise.
    You’ve got to be sure of yourself before
    You can even win a prize.

    Life’s battles don’t always go
    To the stronger or faster man,
    But soon or late the man who wins
    Is the man who thinks he can.

    1. I like it a lot! Thank you.
      I have read this poem before, but it is the kind that can hold a lamp to the lost any time. Why this poem is timely in my life is because I needed a confirmation of what I am doing, where I am at. After reading it, I realise that what I require from myself is to reassess this aspect in me “If you like to win but think you can’t
      It is almost certain you won’t” The rest will come.

      You’re doing a fabulous job with your blog, Chris. And I must say it again, I simply adore those ladybirds.

  8. I know the feeling, Priya. There are many things I’ve avoided doing – and still avoid doing now – out of fear and the essence of defeatism keeps those fears going. Nevertheless, at some time or other one has to say “Okay, I’m scared of doing it. Okay, I’m not doing it. Okay, there are other experiences I can have instead” and then get on with life by altering ones perception to take in different things to try, different things to enjoy.

    I still have moments like this – when I feel that I’m running away from things, but then I remember that it’s really, truly, not done me any harm. And the me to whom it’s never done any harm, is the me on her own unjudged by other people.

    Think about it: if you lived alone, truly alone, nobody else in the universe but you: would it really matter?

    1. I have never had to think of this question, Val, because I know the answer even before I have to seek it. Which, obviously, makes the seeking pretty irrelevant. I wouldn’t be able to be myself if I were the only one here. To be who I am, I need everyone to be around me, walking in their own universes.

      The choices we make to do or not do a thing are largely because of our natural instincts. Which is quite a blessing because we’d find it difficult to go from one day to the other, if we didn’t listen to them. Decisions made on the basis of acquired instincts, however, are something else altogether — they can make you live in a bubble, or help you create little windows in your world.

  9. What a great post, Priya! There have been lots of activities that my friends were wild about and I had no passion for them. I’ve championed many Lavitas who excel at stuff that makes me yawn. My passion takes me in different directions. I confuse people because while I am an extrovert, I need lots of my own space and down time. I really give when I’m “out there”, but when it’s time to refresh, I am the person, adoring ‘aloneness’, staring into your mass of bubbles marveling over every piece of universe in that coagulation of rainbows.

    As for Danny – he was following his true nature being a mule! Mules know they are supposed to be defiant. How is a young person to learn to ride on a mule who hates to move? When I learned to ride (picture a kid in a field in Western Canada where you walked up to a horse and jumped on – bareback) with nary a lesson, I was lucky to have strong bones and a well cushioned bottom!

    Your photography (love the clouded, back-lit sky!) and your writing contain a dose of passion. Can’t hide in a bubble from me, my creatively unique friend.

    1. Thank you, Amy. Will it be too much of a repetition if I said your layered comments are just the kind of thing one can keep thinking of for a long time? In fact you do sometimes remind me of a wise old witch with a glass of grog in her hand and a twinkle in her eyes.

  10. Given the apparent lack of proper instruction with stubborn Danny, who obviously knew exactly what he could get away with, you exhibited common sense in refusing to clamber up on his unappreciative back. I find it sad that Danny was such a poorly trained and undisciplined beast and that there was apparently no one at the stable to be your advocate and instructor in negotiations with the mule.

    I disagree quite violently with your self-description of being a “recluse, who believes it is not worth attempting to explain the universes in my mind to anyone because no one would understand anyway. That I have accepted my defeat without trying to open my heart. That I choose to remain un-merry, and hide it under the various garbs I select as the situation demands — snootiness, boredom, superiority.” Instead, I’m always amazed by how in tune you are with the inner ramblings and turns of your mind and your heart. You are fearless in facing what is inside and eloquent in your articulation of what it’s all about. I always feel richer for having read your posts. (And more simple-minded in my own journies)

    Fortunately, I was raised by a woman who would never allow me to give up, to back down, or to sit on the sidelines. I always had to get back up on the horse, no matter how badly hurt I was…except the time the ambulance hauled my unconcsious body to the hospital. So I keep trying to escape the bubble of my simple mind.

    BTW: I loved your last line and the image of the bubbles….not an easy one to capture!

    1. Oh, Linda. Danny was sweet. I wonder if it was well within a beginner’s capacity to make him walk. Others had no problems with him. At any rate, it was Vanita’s injuries that made me want to make excuses to not ride again.

      Like I said in the other comment’s response to you, you fill me up with such warmth for myself, and consequently for you, it makes me grin like a moron for hours. Thank you, Linda.

  11. I love the air bubble and its message. Like being in a glass house of our own making. I also love all the wonderful discussion the air bubble has brought forth. Good going, Priya.

    1. I appreciate your time and interest, Shil. It is always a pleasure to write for people who like to read and acknowledge their experience. Thank you.

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