Tuesday, May 1, 2012

1. Know Your Limits

Know Your Limits
Sometimes I wonder whether people realize that there are limits to their behavior. Even if they are aware, do they take care to ensure that they don't cross these limits?

Lakshmana set a limit to Sita by drawing a line and asking her not to cross it. (Though this incident does not find a place in the original version of the Ramayana by Valmiki, this story is popular among people and the term 'Lakshman rekhaa,' meaning 'the Laksmanaa Line' is a popular expression in India.) But sita crossed the line (as the story goes) and got herself and others into trouble. It would have been understandable if she had questioned the limit set by Lakshmana. But after accepting it, she shouldn't have crossed it.

This is what many of us do. People cross the limits but when confronted, they challenge the very limits.which they had accepted all along!

People who are close to big people try to take advantage of their closeness and when snubbed, accuse the big people as having become arrogant with money and power. 'He has no consideration for friends' will be the sweeping judgement passed by them! They don't realize their own folly in crossing the limits.

There are several instances quoted from the lives of famous people illustrating presumptuous actions of people close to them causing embarrassment to themselves and the luminaries in the process.

A man who boasted himself to be a close friend of Napoleon told a friend of him that he could even light his cigarette from the cigar of Napoleon. When his friend didn't believe this, he challenged his friend to prove his claim and bet hundred francs.

During a party, the man went near Napoleon and told him about his bet and asked him, "Can you help me/" Napoleon said, 'yes,' with a smile and handed him five hundred francs! The 'friend' would have got offended but he should blame only himself for this humiliation. He had crossed his limits and paid the price for his indiscretion. Anyway, I would think that the man was lucky in that he lost face but at least didn't lose money! 

Another man was not so lucky and lost both his face and money over a similar misadventure. He boasted to his friend that he would make US President Roosevelt speak to him at least three words. When he got a chance to meet the President in a party, he went to him and said, "Sir, I have a bet with my friend that you will speak at least three words to me. What do you think of this?"

His expectation was that  Roosevelt would flare up and shout at him and in the process, would have spoken more than three words. But Roosevelt was too smart to oblige him. He kept his calm and said, "You lose!" By speaking just two words, he made the adventurist lose both money and face.

What we witness everyday everywhere is the sight of so many people crossing their limits, some knowingly and some unknowingly. Look at the traffic. When you are on a road, just observe how many motorists and cyclists cross the yellow line.

Many people just don't bother about time limits. No limits exist for them. They will ignore the deadlines for paying various bills and rush just before the due date or end up paying the bills with penalty after the new date. Not that they had no money or couldn't arrange the money in time. They just don't bother to stick to time limits.

The tendency to cross limits is a symptom of indiscipline in our society. It is also a reflection of our scant regard for other people's rights. Renowned writer A.G. Gardiner sites an example in one of his essays. A lady was walking on a busy street in London with a walking stick. She was freely swinging her stick in all directions as she was walking, causing nuisance to other pedestrians. A gentleman politely requested her not to swing her stick too wide. She protested, "This is a free country. Don't I have the freedom to  swing my stick as I walk?" The gentleman replied, "You do have the right to swing your stick, madam. But that right ends at the tip of my nose!"

So, let us realize that our rights have common borders with rights of other people. We should take care to see that we don't trespass into other's territory.

But there is a limit for crossing the limit too! If you cross that limit, it will lead to destruction. This is what the Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar says, "If one climbs up to the top branch of of a tree and tries to climb still further up, it will lead to one's end.'

Well, I think I have said enough on the topic of crossing the limits. I am aware that there is a limit for preaching to others and I shouldn't cross it. There is also a time limit for speakers set by the organizers. I shouldn't cross that limit either. So I here I am standing near the limit and take leave of you with the message, "Know your limits."

(Gist of speech delivered at the Alumni meet of Ramanathan's Public Speaking Institute in 1988)