Stubbornness is a virtue, insists a friend. I disagree- especially when faced with a toddler who insists on putting on his too-small blue shoes by himself (as I grow increasingly late for work) or when my husband insists that he ‘knows’ his way down the mountain rather than asking for directions. A strong streak of the stubborn stuff runs through the family, despite most of us being, on the whole, quite rational people. Bapuji, for example, does not appear to have the angel and the devil sitting on his shoulders, advising his actions. Instead, he has the monkey of stubbornness.
Once Bapuji has made up his mind, egged on, no doubt, by said monkey, it is very difficult to unmake it. Take the example of his daughters’ education: he had decided that they should all continue higher education, in opposition to the then widely-held belief that women should learn little more after completing school than to cook and keep home. Apparently, he had several conversations with men in the local community regarding his decision. I imagine they went something like this:
Local man: ‘So, I hear that you are sending Indira to India, for study. Why do you do this? First Usha, now Indira.’
Monkey of stubbornness whispers in Bapuji’s ear.
Bapuji: ‘I think it’s a good idea.’
Local chappie: ‘But what use will it be? Once she gets married all of that knowledge will be wasted, just like your money.’
Bapuji and the MOS: ‘We shall see.’
Local bloke: ‘Talking of marriage, I know a boy. Comes from a good family.’
Bapuji: ‘Which boy? What does he do? Is he educated?’
Local geezer: ‘His father has a small factory, so he will start there soon.’
Bapuji and the MOS: ‘Still, she wants to go. I will keep him in mind.’
Local guy: ‘It is so expensive, to educate them, and you have two more after this.’
Bapuji and the MOS: ‘Yes, it certainly is.’ Polite smile.
Local man changes the subject.
Bapuji did educate all of his girls. Usha attended the High Reach Teacher Training College, Indira completed a degree in Home Economics and became headmistress of a college, Ila did a BSc in Microbiology and Kailash started an accounting course. Not all used their additional qualifications but all undoubtably gained from the experience. They remain strong, independent, capable women.
So, are there benefits to sticking to your guns, to digging in your heels? Stubbornness can indicate self-belief. Bapuji knows his small-business onions, so when he decided to use up much-needed space in his tiny shop for bicycles instead of toys he was eventually proved right. It can signal determination and motivation, both necessary for success. Sometimes it is generosity or kindness masquerading as stubbornness: for example the insistence on paying for everyone’s meals or drinks when out, despite protests.
In my experience, it is when the advice of the MOS is taken despite knowledge of limitations that things start to go wrong. Clearly, when lost and evening is approaching, asking a local for directions is preferable to stumbling on regardless. Stubbornness can leave you stuck following a single, well-worn track while others race past you. Sometimes stubbornness and a staunch inability to give room to other ideas results in failure- both of relationships and of the task in hand. It is then necessary to accept the consequences of your decisions- worse, still, if those decisions have affected the lives of others. All of us who carry the obstinate primate have felt the bitterness of regret occasionally. I have come to the conclusion that, should you find a monkey of stubbornness perching on your left shoulder, it would be advisable to balance him with the stoat of reason on the right.
Do feel free to imagine the MOS on that left shoulder. I have not yet been able to figure out how to draw one on there using
photo-editing software but give me a spare 10 minutes and I shall.