A Turtle, a Stranger & My Judgmental Mind

The Flapping Turtle

Several  years ago, my husband and I were in the heart of a jungle in a lovely wilderness retreat, having a meal in their open-air restaurant when all of a sudden I saw a man pass by holding a giant turtle tightly between his hands.

The poor thing was flapping about with its delicate looking limbs shaking to and fro! And the man seemed a tad uncomfortable when he saw us looking at him. He walked off in the direction of the kitchen.

To say I was appalled and furious would be putting it mildly. I was certain this fellow was up to no good and was in all probability going to cook the turtle for his dinner. He was a North-Easterner after all—from Manipur to be precise (in case you are wondering how I knew this precise state of origin—I knew this as he worked at the Spa there and I had met him when I visited the spa the previous day)

Anyhow, be that as it may, my husband and I exchanged our concerns and after considering chasing the guy and demanding that he release the turtle, decided against doing so.

The Confrontation: Where is the Turtle?

Later that evening, as we were strolling about I saw the same chap—empty- handed this time. So I decided to confront him—I quite casually mentioned that we had seen him with a turtle earlier and were wondering what he did with it.

Well, he looked quite startled and taken aback by my question. This is what he had to say – he said that he had been fishing in the local pond with a few guests when his fishing line caught onto a turtle. He reeled-in the line but could not remove the hook from the turtle’s shell. He was on the look-out for someone to help him remove the hook when we had spotted him. And after removing the hook—he had duly restored the turtle to the pond! I even made him point out which pond this was for my satisfaction.

The Insight: My Coloured View

Well, well, well—hmmmm. This was quite something and I was disturbed at how I had wrongly judged the intentions of the man. I reflected on the reasons and this is what I realized—I had jumped to the erroneous conclusion due to the fact that he was from the North-East!

Yes, quite unconsciously my pre-conditioning and knowledge of the fact that many people from that region eat all kinds of living beings, my mind just put two and two together and made it twenty-two! And this is when I have been on the path of mindfulness and self-awareness for over a decade now. As a counselor, I have spent a lot of time working on myself to remove biases and judgments so that I don’t judge people based on stereotyped impressions imprinted on my brain when they come to me.

Yet, there is always more work to do, isn’t there. And this incident served as a pointer that I needed to remove all this garbage in my head about North-Easterners. I was grateful for the insight …

What possible stereotypes do you have that could be colouring your way of looking at things, people or situations? Do share your thoughts and comments. 

(Also published in Speaking Tree, TOI in November 2014)

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