1 Be firm but kind: Be clear about what you want, but also be mindful of others.
2 Have clear intentions: Know within yourself what you need to do and think of ways of doing it without hurting anyone.
3 Set personal boundaries: Personal boundaries are silent but strong assertions in themselves.
We are all on a personal journey towards fulfilment. Thus, it is inevitable that our desires brush against the desires of someone else, and so, create conflict. We must remember that such conflicts provide us with an occasion to empathize with our fellow traveller, and not see this as an opportunity to engage in anger or any negative emotion. We can still get what we want, and we don’t have to hurt or put anyone down to get it.
Boundaries are something I find very hard to execute and live by in my own life. By nature, I am a kind person who can be firm, but too often I am swayed to help others beyond my real personal capacity. This has caused me a lot of stress, as it has often been hard for me to say ‘no’ when people have reached out with their problems.
Other people’s expectations make saying ‘no’ a little harder for me. Being CEO of the Giving Back Foundation, I have experienced some non-thinking people say things like “You are a giving back person, how can you say no to me?”, or “Why are you telling me that I am late for an appointment?”, or “What, can’t you help me?”. I have to calmly explain to myself and then to others that I don’t often have the bandwidth to help. Sometimes it is as simple as starting a meeting on time to help complete the meeting in the given time. The latecomers have been annoyed by this but over the years I have realized that the best way forward is to stay on the path of truth. It is the correct path.
I have set certain personal boundaries for myself. They are silent but firm. For example: if I have been up since 5.30 a.m., have worked a full day and am exhausted, and after dinner my friends say it’s only 11 p.m., let’s go to such-and-such new place, I politely decline and go home to rest, no matter how much I am pushed. I definitely feel that I made the right decision the next day!
Boundaries are not about upsetting other people; they have more to do with making the correct decisions for ourselves. Once we know and understand this, it’s both a joy and an easy process, and usually, all parties gain through this process.
When I think of being assertive without being unkind to others, my thoughts go back to New Delhi in 1984. Padmini Lulla was the leading agent to scout amateur talent for print and movie ads. I had done a number of projects with her successfully, including Pan Ketchup and Hero Cycles. She called me up one day and said that she had a very lucrative modelling campaign for me, and the four people she had picked had to meet the sponsors at her office.
I got there quite excited, but I did not know the product. When I arrived, they explained that it was for a popular Indian brand of cigarettes. I immediately said, ‘I am sorry. I cannot do this ad as I believe that smoking is very harmful to our health.’
Padmini looked at me, smiled and said, ‘Are you sure? This job pays ten times more than the other assignments you have done.’
‘Yes, I am very sure,’ I said.
‘Okay, then. No worries, we will try to get another model here to meet the sponsors today. Here is your travel fee and thank you for your time.’
This is how I have set my personal boundaries, and Padmini Lulla, being a real professional, totally respected that. So will others in her place. Padmini, as I have been told by my friends, has
spoken to others about this incident and said that she has always respected me for my decision.
(Excerpts from 3 TIPS: The Essentials for Peace, Joy and Success by Meera Gandhi)