I am assessing a pile of answer books, when the thought first occurs to me. I find some answer sheets where it appears as if the student was born to be a doctor. Letters are scrawled across untidily. I decide to give it my best shot and try reading these papers completely- word to word. I catch some students who have first written the questions and dropped in some profound appearing words like ‘prognosis’, ‘pathogenesis’ and ‘morphology’ after every few lines to look intelligent. The answers however make no sense in any language and are not remotely close to anything on the topic asked. They could have written song lyrics from a Karan Johar film and gotten away. The script was indecipherable in any case. Strangely teachers tend to give these students the benefit of doubt. They might not score terribly high. But it is difficult to write them off, simply because you cannot decrypt their handwriting codes.
On the other hand, there are some papers with beautiful handwriting, where you have to compliment the student’s organization skills and presentation. These are the ones however, where the wrong answers stand out clear and vivid. Even tiny errors are magnified and my red pen pauses, wondering how many marks to deduct. Isn’t this unfair?
It set me thinking about how every strength could be a weakness, depending on the circumstances you are caught in.
I look at the pile of papers on my desk, ready to tumble down even if I shuddered a bit. In my quest for perfection, there is so much valuable stuff languishing there. If I ignored the quality and simply rushed past some of them, they would have been done years ago. But I cannot handle the thought of sending out manuscripts with errors. I need my space and time to reflect and revise until I am satisfied with the outcome. And so my papers go into hibernation until I forget all about them.
I think of people I know. A leader who is hard working, erudite and dignified. Revered by the people around him for his wisdom. One who respects other people’s opinions. On another day, I see the same man criticized for not being able to take things to fruition. Simply because accommodating other people’s viewpoints means being stretched in all directions and slowing down. Because being decent translates into being unable to handle the vultures.
On the other extreme, I see another man in a hurry. Dominant and communicative. Someone who looks like a man with a vision. But who in a few months time, tears down democratic decencies and functions like a dictator. Systems are forgotten. People’s wishes are trodden over.
I think of a couple I know. They were so much in love until they parted in such ugly circumstances. What looked like magical and romantic in one partner, looks like unpredictable, unreliable behaviour after a few years. What went wrong in all these cases?
Every strength has an inherent weakness as the other side of the coin. So what looks like determination or strength of purpose, manifests negatively as obstinacy. What looks like raw courage in one snapshot, looks like recklessness in another situation. The power of discrimination turns into cranky critical behaviour if left unleashed. The tendency to balance different perspectives can be construed as argumentativeness or procrastination.
Weaknesses are part and parcel of strengths. Perhaps understanding the downside of strengths is what makes the so-called faults and failings of others tolerable. And at every juncture, you need to keep asking yourself if your strengths have morphed into their negative avatars. It is a tightrope walk.