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Soothe, don’t seethe!
“What’s happening?!” I whisper, bewildered. “There’s been a situation. Just show them your ID. Let’s see what happens.” a colleague replied.
“Naam bataiye, madam?”
“Malavika …” I said, barely, as I fumbled for my ID. The cop gave it a look-over, consulting his list of pre-vetted lawyers who would be permitted into the court that day. I gulped, surrendering myself to whatever this was.
The next moments were a blur. I was patted down, verified and then herded inside the courtroom, in a cloud of khaki. Heart racing, I texted my husband cryptically about what just happened, half-wondering if I was worse off now that I was inside. The air felt thick and hot.
With only some minutes to go before the hearing, I attempted to refocus. But my palms broke into a renewed sweat as I looked over at my colleagues - each more fidgety and flustered than the other.
Except one. He was unfazed, seemingly living in a parallel reality of rainbows and butterflies.
He was our lead counsel, and the tallest of us - both literally and otherwise. He had four decades at the bar under his belt, and the rare ability to distil a dry and complex brief into its essence. He was not one of India’s best for nothing.
As the judges arrived and took their seats, he got up from his. He moved with intention and ease, straightening his back, dropping his shoulders and bringing himself to full height. He took his time with everything, adjusting his mic, getting his notes out, and flipping the brief open, as if it was perfectly normal to put himself together on everyone else’s time. “The issue before the court today is a simple one…” he began. Each word was uttered carefully, each sentence landed with precision. His pitch was a near baritone, his cadence at half his normal. With his slow deliberateness, he knitted an invisible blanket of calm for the room.
On my side were my other colleagues - brief in hand and battle-ready. They were listening to him with rapt attention while keeping step with the bench. As for myself, it was almost as if his tone had reduced the temperature and his lilt had lowered my heart-rate. I found my hands flying across the page taking notes of our unfolding hearing, my morning from a few minutes ago forgotten.
Our energies feel inter-connected in this way because emotional regulation is social. Dogs get stressed when their humans are stressed, and children co-regulate their emotions in the care of grown-ups who self-regulate theirs. My colleagues and I had fuelled each other’s anxiety earlier that day, but our lead counsel extinguished it for all of us in minutes. As professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences, Brandon Kohrt argues, when our anger or panic passes from one person to another like a contagion, we get mob violence. But mobs are rarely our reality, because we soothe each other more than we seethe at each other.
This basically means that we all have a superpower. Just by being together - whether through our presence or through conversation - we can calm each other.
So the next time you are in a room with someone, I invite you to consider how you can tap into your superpower.
Because calm people calm people! And we can all be calm people.