Death to my 2020-self

Yesterday, I was watching the Netflix show Death to 2020. It’s a funny mockumentry with a stellar starcast about a horrible year that will be over soon. Watch the trailer here. It is up to anyone’s guess what 2021 will be like, but by all means it is very difficult for the coming year to be worse than what it was.

Personally, it was a horrible year for myself too. With the pandemic spreading, I joined Twitter to keep up with all the developments and quickly developed opinions about Indian politics and climate change, some of which I will consider quite radical now. This was a very bitter phase, where I grew overly argumentative and radicalized. Those who were close to me started to find me annoying at my constant insistence and advocation to them to change their lives, to become vegan and avoid flights, etc. I will talk about my thoughts on climate change and anxieties in a separate blog post sometime.

Other than that, this mental imbalance and all the work-from-home took a toll on me. Wearing headphones constantly to do teaching duties over distance made my tinnitus flare up to unbearable levels, to the point where I would just not be able to sleep. Unable to cope with my continuous emotional turmoil, my long-term romantic partner became disinterested in me and broke up. There were other reasons too for the separation, of course, some of which I will write about in the next section.

I would like 2021 to be different for myself. I want to be able to grow and learn from what went wrong and become a better version of myself again, and to become wiser from adversity and better prepare for the future.

What I feel I should change

I will attempt to list some of my personality flaws that I would like to change. I would say that this is a confession, but it is also a list of my new year resolutions for the year 2021. I am writing this publicly so that those who know my identity can remind me whenever I start to revert back to my 2020 version. Of course, it is not objectively possible to completely delete these attributes, but just by writing about it I might be able to throw more light at it and make things better. Many of these points are inter-related to each other; indeed they exist in me in some sort of a mutual balance.

Some of the points may be in the list because of being repeatedly mentioned by my partner before my break-up and it is possible that I am overthinking about it and mislabeling a mutual incompatibility as a behavioral error. But as of today, I do consider them worthy to be called out as flaws that I have been either dismissive or under-concerned about in the past. Also, not all of these are unique to the particular year and may have been carried over from the past, but I would definitely like these attributes to die away with 2020.

  1. Negativity bias

I feel that I have a propensity towards easily falling for negativity bias. While following current affairs and politics, in the guise of individualizing my consumption, I tend to follow news that hurts me more. Continuous consumption of story after story of news events often makes me highly opinionated and passionate about it. It gets me into long arguments where I am often the one taking cynical or hysterical positions.

  1. Being needlessly argumentative

I have a tendency to invite arguments and to expose my opinions and defend them strongly. Often my line of attacks goes over personal relations where I start to ridicule my opponent’s position and make it sound absurd or stupid. When I do this with people that I care for, it creates relationships sour. The worse thing is that I have often enjoyed doing this, being ignorant of what the other person really feels.

  1. Inconsideration towards loved ones

Sometimes, we must consider the opinions of those whom we care for above all opinions. Even if they’re slightly outside what one agrees with, just by being someone we value, we must respect what they say more and try to shape our minds to accommodate what they desire to keep up with and preserve their affection.

I think I have been lacking at this, because I would cross-question everything due to my argumentative nature. Once an argument has been invited, I would just push the other person to a stalemate and more than being able to win them over, it would just tire or annoy them. I have seen some close people who care about me getting disaffected with me by this.

  1. Not being a good listener

I have a low attention span. I don’t know why I have it, perhaps it is how my brain is wired or perhaps I’m just not so fond of interpersonal communication. I constantly zone out during conversations that are not interesting to me (or perhaps, interesting for me is something in which I do not zone out?). When someone is talking to me and when this happens, it makes it appear that I am either slow, cocky or just plain inconsiderate depending on who I am talking with.

Whenever, it is pointed to me that I am not listening, I try to be dismissive of this allegation. I do not know how I could fix this, perhaps it’s just how I am and no improvement can be made there. In this case, what I may do is be upfront about this and declare this as a flaw since the very start of knowing someone.

  1. Not remembering promises, losing special items, being disorganized

My memory capacity is small and I am quite disorganized. I am often forgetful and lose important information, items, papers, gifts due to mismanagement. I even forget important promises, special days (like birthdays). I end up sometimes missing important meetings, appointment with doctors. I keep postponing some important tasks for months!

  1. Being loud, arrogant, too talkative, disrespectful

Often, I feel that I talk a bit too much with a loud voice. This happens when I get passionate about something or slightly lose my temper. I also have a tendency to make fun of almost everything and while doing this I go a bit overboard to the point of being a jerk and being disrespectful to someone. Often, I do this in a way that is loud and daunting, while talking over the other person. This is particularly impolite towards women, who may have a feebler voice than me.

Of course, this makes an unhealthy combination with my overly talkative nature. Without meaningfully engaging my listener to the conversation, my loud explaining makes me sound like someone who takes their audience for complete imbeciles. When the listener is a woman, this makes me the Mr. Mansplain in the room.

Being a mansplainer is something that is very difficult to apologize for. Just like farting in an elevator, apologizing for it is not going to make the bad impression go away.

Apart from bad mannerisms, I even feel that my own loud voice triggers my tinnitus. This is another reason why I should do something about it.

  1. Forgetting to credit someone

There have been incidents when I just casually incorporated someone’s remark, funny statements, even anecdotes or some longer projects as being my own. In a bid to grab attention, I just put myself ahead and overlook the contributions of others involved in something I do.

None of this happens during research work, of course. I always add citations to all research work that I learn from and do this very carefully and meticulously. I think the lesson here is that I should show the same discipline that I show in academia in real life as well (as my ex used to say).

  1. The toxic IIT culture left within me

I have a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from one of the premier institutes in India called Indian Institutes of Technology (I won’t name which). Getting selected to study in one of these places is very tough (due to a highly competitive entrance exam) and once selected, it comes with enormous societal status and entitlement because of the hype.

From a gender-equality perspective, the undergraduate life in an IIT is quite a nightmare. Almost all the students live inside a secluded campus, away from the city life, in hostels. But the gender ratio is (or was, when I was there) very skewed and typically there is roughly 1 female for every 9-10 males (with almost no openly non-binary students). India is a country of a highly patriarchal and oppressive mindset against women and being a highly entitled privileged male student in an IIT will probably reflect on an average person there even more!

From my experiences as living in male hostels of an IIT, when I reexamine myself from the past, I feel that I was a typical representative of this culture and accepted this as some part of my identity. A lot of the traits written above is something I have developed during my 4-year stay in an IIT. The atmosphere was replete with certain characteristics, some of which are:

  • Extreme toxic masculinity, especially during ragging.
  • Non-stop vulgarity, cussing (in Hindi), misogynist and sexist humour often personally targeted towards women directly.
  • Arrogance, entitlement and just being condescending and constantly making fun of people or ideas that one does not agree with.

If I could describe all this in one word, I could call it dick energy. My ex had come up with this terminology (she was also studying there with me) and I think it fits this description very well.

Of course, this is not unique to India and neither in an IIT, but the societal pressure on the students in the campus, the gender situation and India’s regressive conservative values makes a unique poisonous cocktail. I can write more about all this on request.

After, I finished my bachelor’s degree, I moved to Europe to study more mathematics. Living in the ultra-polite atmosphere of Europe, I started to lose that toxic IIT culture behind me. But sometimes I feel lot of it is still carried in me. Time to time, it comes out during social interactions like skeletons from a closet. At such moments, it disappoints me when I see this malaise living in me even after several years since I have left this place.

The way ahead

Time for a couplet by Jaun Eliya from this amazing ghazal.

किसी सूरत उन्हें नफ़रत हो हम से

हम अपने ऐब ख़ुद गिनवा रहे हैं

Somehow she might begin to despise me,

I am listing my own vices myself.

I am sorry if this blog post seems too melancholic and makes me sound like I am terribly depressed. Just the fact that I could write this write-up with a stable mindset is a big improvement in my situation. Trust me, I have accepted my previous self and I am making great improvements already at correcting these aforementioned parts of my personality. But if I start to write them here, it will become a very long post.

So let me just end this post with a promise that I will be soon be writing a sequel, one that will contain details of my path towards change and transformation. If you are one of those people who know me personally and think that the above list is incomplete, feel free to suggest something that can be added to the list! Yeah, really. Hit me up.

EDIT: I have written a follow up. Read my post here.

EDIT 2: The third point was suggested by my good friend SS.