Ep. 20 | Ranbir Puar | The Kind, The True and The Necessary
~ Ranbir Puar
In this episode Author and Life Strategies Coach Ranbir Puar shares the story of her birth in India as the 5th daughter to parents who longed for a son. Growing up unseen and unheard, she saw herself as a victim in her home – a narrative she redefined in order to grow and flourish in her adult life. Ranbir’s work with clients of all ages, encourages self discovery, realizing “… relationships with others will be difficult until you have a good one with yourself.”
Ranbir PuarSpeaker, Writer, and Life Strategies Coach Ranbir Puar helps children and adults curate joy. She says, “When you speak to yourself with respect, it is impossible to be unkind to others.” Ranbir’s years of work and practice unleash the vibrant potential of kind, true and necessary conversations.
Ranbir uses the experiences of her childhood to gently guide clients, helping them recognize the thought patterns that lead to wisdom and personal growth versus thought patterns that lead to blame and victimhood.
Transcript – Ep. 20 | Ranbir Puar | The Kind, The True and The Necessary
Rachel Cram – Well Ranbir thank you so much for being here today. I’m really interested to hear what you have to share. I watched your TED X talk and I’ve been reading your literature and you’re a fascinating woman. I’m looking forward to this interview.
Ranbir Puar – Thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited to be here.
Rachel Cram – Thank you. I’m going to start with a question that we often open with. Aristotle stated, “Give me a child at 7 and I will show you the adult.” Is there Ranbir, a story or experience from your childhood that has shaped the adult that you are today?
Ranbir Puar – Wow, that’s a very powerful question and I think of myself at seven years old and I can remember feeling unwanted. I can remember feeling unseen because I was born in India, I was the fifth daughter in a row over a 16 year span for my parents. And from understanding the culture of the country, the culture at the time, generally people did want to have a son to carry on the family name. It was a very important badge of honor for a woman to bear a son for her husband. It just was kind of that requirement.
So when I was growing up I would hear stories about my birth and how my aunts and cousins and everyone was bawling; crying, like it was this inevitable sad scene in a Bollywood movie. I was told that some of them said my mum and dad to just throw me in the river. And my mom used to tell me this story that they were trying to tell her to leave me in India when they moved to Canada because why would they want another daughter to take care of in a foreign land. They shouldn’t have that burden. Just leave me there so someone else could raise me. And my mom said, “Absolutely not. I am not leaving my child here.” And even though my Mom loved me, I still never felt enough because right after I was born two years later my brother was born.
Rachel Cram – So this is the first boy into your family?
Ranbir Puar – First boy that survived because her first born child was a boy and he passed away during childbirth. So while my older sisters might have understood what was happening with the gender bias, when you’re two years apart it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Why is he having this birthday party? Why is everything about him? Why are they almost worshipping him?
I remember being around 6 years old and I really wanted to talk to somebody. I really wanted to explain how unfair it was because I felt like I never had any recognition. I remember this girl from my school, her dad used to just focus on her and care about her and call her things like Princess. That was so far from my reality. I was like a second class citizen. So I thought, “I’m going to run away. I’m gonna pack a couple things.” And I remember this vivid memory of standing in the cul de sac. And I could get emotional. I normally don’t. Wow, that’s a first.
Rachel Cram – That’s OK.
Ranbir Puar – Wow. I normally never cry at this story.
Rachel Cram – That’s okay. That’s okay. That’s totally fine.
Ranbir Puar – Yeah. Sorry.
Rachel Cram – Oh. Roy and I are both criers, so…. it’s a hard story. Which makes it all the more incredible how you’ve merged.
Ranbir Puar – I guess I feel safe.
Rachel Cram – I’m glad you feel safe. I think also, I find for myself, if you let yourself really immerse, like really
Ranbir Puar – feel it
Rachel Cram – Feel it. And be in the story. Then it catches me the same too.
Ranbir Puar – Wow.
Rachel Cram – And that makes it meaningful if you let yourself be like this.
Ranbir Puar – Yeah
Rachel Cram – like be in the moment.
Ranbir Puar – Clearly.
Rachel Cram – I love that. And thank you.
Ranbir Puar – No thank you.
Rachel Cram – Should we listen to where she just? Oh you know where you were at the cul de sac.
Ranbir Puar – OK so, I was ready to run away because I had a little bit of money for a few bags of chips or something. And I stood in the cul de sac and I stopped because I thought if I leave, my brother was my best friend, who was gonna look after him, who would play with him, what would happen to my mommy? All that kind of stuff. So I went back in and I understood what I had to accept in order to get through my life living in that house where I wasn’t as good as the son, no matter what I did. Even though I had excelled in school and athletics and academics. But it just wasn’t enough. I was still never seen. So that is how I started my journey. I felt like a very dark jungle.
Rachel Cram – How did you carry that over into the rest of life? It’s amazing to think that a child that is dealing with all that internally at home can go into an environment like school and thrive academically and athletically. Was there a dissonance in you when you were living in your school world as opposed to your home worlds?
Ranbir Puar – Yeah, I was two separate people. I used to go to school so early in the morning just to leave the house. I felt like the teachers understood me. They could see me. I felt like they were these parents so to speak for me mentors. So I lived two separate lives for sure.
Rachel Cram – Now we know that the first years of your life are so incredibly influential. In fact it’s been said that during those first seven years we formulate 90 percent of our values and our attitudes and our beliefs. Yet, perhaps in opposition to the quote by Aristotle, you haven’t actually been shaped into being unseen, invisible, who you felt your parents were making you into. You have taken a different path. How did you start to make that move from being almost a victim in your home to being someone who has not lived life like that and in fact really wants to help other people not live life like that either?
Ranbir Puar – Well, the first practice came in understanding I really celebrated being a victim. I think sometimes we forget how comforting that story is, and how it fits like a glove. And, oh my gosh, I used it to drive me. It was my driving force.
Rachel Cram – Can you describe how that would have looked?
Ranbir Puar – Oh yeah. I would sit there and think to myself, “If I don’t do this then I’m going to be similar to my mom,” who I love so much. She’s passed away but my mom didn’t have a life of her own. So I kind of used that as motivation to be ‘not like that’ but I didn’t naturally switch from being a victim to a victor. I actually met somebody in my 20s who started to challenge my victim mentality. And I would always look at how my past broke me. and he would say, “And so how did that make you stronger? So he changed the lens on me. And I found it very aggravating to be honest because I had to think about how my past built me, not broke me. And that was very very difficult to let go of my old sad story. And learning to reprogram how I filtered the reality of my life, to look for what was right and not what was wrong, shifted everything for me.
Rachel Cram – You made this really interesting statement. You said you spent the first half of your life as a victim, and I’ve heard you in your talks speaking about this as well. You’ve gone on to say it’s hard, it’s unusual, sometimes it’s even undesirable to just be a regular human being. You’re seeing in culture right now that many people cling to a victim status as almost a cry to be noticed.
Ranbir Puar – Mm hmm.
Rachel Cram – Am I saying that.
Ranbir Puar – Yeah it’s a really interesting concept because the race to victimhood is really fragmenting our society because everybody wants to be the victim and who has the loudest voice of the victimhood. And I understand people have been discriminated against. I have been discriminated against in my life. I experienced so much racism as a kid. But I don’t let the racism I experienced or the gender bias I experienced dictate the trajectory of my life and how I contribute and how I think and how I process the world around me. I’m always now trying to look for what is good or right. And there’s always a seed of that. And this race to victimhood I think, is very very destructive.
Rachel Cram – When we’re going down that path of victimhood there’s a lot of blame. We can choose how we’re going to nurture our roots. We can choose what we want to be built upon. And you’ve chosen not to be someone who’s built their life upon victimhood. You’re not building on blame.
Ranbir Puar – But I did. I used to. I used to blame my dad for everything wrong in my life. So if I ever made a mistake in my life, or if I ever failed at something, it was because he hurt me. And he put me down. And if I didn’t have him I would never have any problems. And I convinced myself of that until I realized what did he do right for me? And when my husband asked me that, because he’s the man that challenged my belief system when I first met him in my 20s. He asked me, “Well what did your dad do right?”
I couldn’t answer the question.
It took me a long time to really understand what my dad did right for me.
And when I was feeling like a victim, I could never have seen it because I wanted him to bear the blame for my hurt.
Rachel Cram – You’ve used your own experience to affect the lives of thousands of people now and you view your job as a way to help clients find their path their self self-image to reform to reshape their own inner dialogue. Can you explain how you start that with somebody that comes into your practice?
Ranbir Puar – Good question. It depends on what stage they are in their life and how old they are. But I think people have a really good instinctive reaction to truth. And if you can explain to them that you might not be responsible for what happens around you but you’re responsible for your reaction; the only thing you can control is you. And why is that important? Well, how you filter the world around you is so so important because we don’t always see things as they actually are.
I can tell you a story of a friend who worked in a bank and the bank was being held up and she said the gun was a couple of feet in size. It was this huge huge gun. And then when she went to court and they pulled out the weapon it was this tiny pistol. And sometimes we amplify what’s actually happening based on our life’s experiences and the panic and all the other things that are happening inside of us and we don’t see what’s actually there, outside of us.
Rachel Cram – So, how do you avoid that kind of amplification? How do you stop that when it’s based upon emotion and perspective?
Ranbir Puar – I think I have a formula that might fit in well here and it works for adults and children so it’s not limited to one group or the other and it’s very simple and it goes like this observation plus emotion equals insult.
Rachel Cram – Insult? I wasn’t thinking that was going to be the answer at the end. So, I’m thinking, like the gun story, our emotion affects our interpretation of reality. So how does that play out?
Ranbir Puar – Well the way that it works is that many of us will make observations. We all do it all day long and it’s the moment that the person that we’re observing adds emotion to something we’re observing that they might feel insulted. I have an example. I had a mom contact me and she said that her daughter came home from school in tears because somebody told her she had hairy arms. And my first question to the mom is, “Does your daughter have hairy arms?”
And she said, “Yeah she does. But how dare that child say that my daughter has hairy arms.”
And I said, “Let’s just maybe back it up a step or two and break this down. So the other child might have said, ‘Oh your arms are hairy,’ and then your daughter made the assumption that that was a bad thing and felt this emotion rise up that she was being judged for her arm hair and then she felt insulted. And truthfully, the child might have just been saying in passing, ‘Oh, you have hairy arms,’ and might have compared it to her arms which maybe didn’t have hair.”
We don’t know what the other person is thinking, we just know that they’re making an observation. So we always have this choice whether or not to add the emotion. And we have the choice to feel insulted because only we can choose that. We decide what the other person’s words mean to us. And if we can create neutrality by just looking at it as an observation rather than adding emotion.
Rachel Cram – That’s so difficult to do but it does make sense. Do you think frequently that is the case? That observations are made without an intended emotion behind them?
Ranbir Puar – It actually wouldn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what their intent is. It’s how you process it. That’s how you become resilient, by understanding that what another person observes doesn’t have to be your programming. So you get to choose whether or not you feel insulted or good or neutral. You choose that by adding emotion. So it’s irrelevant what they observe, it’s what you observe inside of yourself that matters the most.
Rachel Cram – I wonder if there’s another example? Are there things even in adult life that we experience?
Ranbir Puar – Oh adult life. Adult life is very colorful and there will be so many times in marriages where I’ll see partners disagree on just how household things are done. Oh you didn’t put the you know dishes in the dishwasher properly. Really small
Rachel Cram – So that’s an observation.
Ranbir Puar – Yeah. You didn’t do it properly. And so that’s partner number one and partner number two. The one that loaded the dishwasher might think, “Well they’re in there and what does it matter?”
And then that partner could add all this emotion to it. “How dare you judge me for how I loaded the dishwasher!” All this amped up feeling and anger and frustration over just how the dishes were loaded in the dishwasher. And these small things are actually what lead to daily stressors in relationships. So whether it’s how the dishes are done or whether it’s how the child is bathed or the vacuum is run on the hardwood floor versus the carpeted floor, all of these things; we’re just observing that we would like them a certain way and it would look better this way from our perspective.
And if partner number two just goes, “Oh that’s his or her point of view.” We avoid the insult. We avoid this constant tension and stress inside the household. Under the roof changes, by taking away the emotion and just starting to look at it as, ‘That’s how she sees it.’ ‘That’s how he sees it.’
Rachel Cram – So observation plus emotion equals insults.
Ranbir Puar – Yeah yeah.
Rachel Cram – So if you don’t want the answer to be ‘insult’, you’ve got the observation plus what?
Ranbir Puar – Thought. Processing. So take a look at it and say, “That person is observing this. That person is not trying to hurt me. There’s no need for me to add emotion here. Let me add some conscious thought here. How can I look at it from their perspective? How can that perspective broaden my own perspective?” So rather than adding feeling there, just add thought there and then you have growth
Rachel Cram – Okay. So, the default formula that we can fall into is observation plus emotion equals insult. But the more enlightened formula, the one we come to when we choose to believe our partner’s agenda is not one set on hurting us, is what?
Ranbir Puar – Observation plus thought equals acceptance or growth.
Rachel Cram – Ok, can you just keep working with me here for a moment Ranbir, because I have to say, I’m quite intrigued with the joy of working with formulas. So what about the times we add something positive. A positive response to an observation emotion. Then, observation plus emotion would not equal insult it would equal, what would be the opposite of insult? Joy?
Ranbir Puar – Yeah but I think that people overlook the good moments. And a lot of us, because we have this negative bias, are so used to and so ready and willing to accept the insult and to be defensive that quite often we don’t recognize the joy that shows up because of our negative bias and our programming from you know pre seven years old.
So I think that to come up with a formula that says observation plus the emotion could equal joy 100 percent it could. But because we are so conditioned to look for what’s wrong, the other one will help interrupt the pattern so you could work towards that better formula.
Rachel Cram – So how do we shift then Ranbir, from an emotional interpretation to a thoughtful interpretation?
Ranbir Puar – Well the best thing you can start with is auditing you know no different than looking at numbers because it’s pretty black and white. As soon as you start taking some time to actually pay close attention to the thoughts you have, the reactions you have, the things you say in a day, I call it my communication audit. And as soon as you start putting your conscious awareness on something, it’s so much easier to make a decision to change.
And once the awareness is there of the conscious mind, the most incredible thing happens, you start to think, “Why am I doing this? How did I think to talk like that?” You start to be more aware of what your impact is on yourself and on others. And that’s when change happens. You have to have awareness, is step one, to create change. And then step two is just being kind to yourself. So we live in this world of instant gratification where we think I’m going to change and I’m gonna change right now. And unfortunately,
Rachel Cram – Not so easy
Ranbir Puar – Not so easy. So don’t stand in judgment of yourself and of the error that you made just go, “Okay, I sidestepped, but I’m going to try again.” Success is all about those little steps, all these tiny little adjustments we make in order to reprogram. So it all starts with awareness. And then two, the desire to change, and then three, following up with each little step. It’s not a big big race. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. It’s a marathon.
Rachel Cram – When I think about your dishwasher example and then my own auditing, I know I tend to take out my days frustrations on the people closest to me and I kind of think I’m not alone in that?
Ranbir Puar – Well, as we get closer to people that we know, people that we love, we can be a little bit rougher and rougher
Rachel Cram – So true.
Ranbir Puar – Right. So we usually take out the roughest stuff on our partner and then our children. You know, I always call it the donut theory. Who’s ever closest to the center of the donut tends to take most of the filling right. And so the way that I help kids clean out that ‘filling,’ and adults as well is, I use an old Sufi saying which is, “Before you speak, pass your words through these three gates. Is it true? Is it kind and is it necessary? And then if you think about that in your own internal dialogue and you just spend one day, that’s all I ask, take one day and audit your internal dialogue and pay attention and jot down how often you say untrue, unkind and unnecessary things to yourself. It is incredibly eye opening. I think audits like that are life changing. So if you go past those three gates every single time.
Rachel Cram – You have to be able to go through all three of them?
Ranbir Puar – Yes
Rachel Cram – Can you just give a demonstration on that?
Ranbir Puar – Well, do you want to share an example of something you tell yourself? Do you want to?
Rachel Carm – Sure. You want me to…
Ranbir Puar – Yeah. If you can.
Rachel Cram – Something that I could tell myself personally? So you want me to share something that’s maybe not kind, true or necessary?
Ranbir Puar – Yeah. Something that it’s a repetitive,
Rachel Cram – thing in my head? Something I ruminate on?
Ranbir Puar – Yeah
Rachel Cram – I don’t know if this totally fits, but when you talk about the thoughts that run through your head, I’ve sometimes noticed, I can do something like… this actually happened to me the other day. I went into my closet and I pulled something off the top shelf and all this stuff came dumping down. It’s all my stuff. And I immediately thought, “ahhh,” and I was frustrated at my husband. Like it’s his fault my sweaters are falling out of my closet. And afterwards I was like, “Well that actually had nothing to do with him.” But the running dialogue that can start to go through your head is this story that you’re creating yourself, that you want blame attached to someone or to something.
Ranbir Puar – Yeah, because we feel unsupported quite often because we’re taking on so so much and we feel diluted and so because we feel diluted we are going to look at the person closest to us and take it out on them when really that’s your first alarm bell to say, OK if you’re at a point where you’re freaking out because sweaters are falling down on you, that means, ‘Hey! You’ve got to get rid of some of the excess in your life.’ And the best way to do that is again, through the audit. Figure out what’s real, then you actually have something concrete to put your feet on to make change.
Rachel Cram – And those filters of, is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?
Ranbir Puar – Yeah.
Rachel Cram – I really like that.
Ranbir Puar – Yeah. And it always applies because if you were to think about that example of the sweaters falling on you and hubby getting the blame, and my hubby a has gotten blame for a lot of
Rachel Cram – I would have never said that out loud. This is my internal dialogue.
Ranbir Puar – Yeah, yeah! No no! But in my head I would have the same. Today’s parent is very very thinly stretched. And so in that moment I think to myself, “Is that kind true or necessary?” No it’s not. Every time I try to blame him or blame somebody else, that makes me feel less than. That makes me feel like a victim.
Rachel Cram – So Ranbir, as we start to wrap up the interview, I’m wondering, is there a last thought or idea that you want to share? I’m thinking particularly in light of the pursuit of truth in the stories that we tell ourselves.
Ranbir Pura- Well I think that a lot of people, when they’re listening to a podcast like this and they’re looking for growth and expansion, the first thing that might come to mind is, “Hey, I’ve got a lot of broken spots in my life. I have a lot of trauma. I have a lot of sadness. What do I do? I’m cracked. I’m broken. I’m a broken adult. And I turn to this Japanese practice called ‘Kintsugi’. And what they do is they take cracked pottery, broken pottery, and they put it back together with this beautiful gold paint. And so you’re left with this previously broken piece of pottery and it’s re-put together with this gold and it looks incredible. And I think you can do the same in your life. When you look at the places that you’re cracked, think about how that built you not broke you. What is that gold? What did you get out of it? It gave you character, it gave you strength, it gave you resilience. And resilience is life. It’s everything. So that crack is really your opportunity for growth.
Rachel Cram – Ranbir it’s been so enjoyable chatting with you. So enlightening. Thank you so much for your time.
Ranbir Pura – Thank you so much for having me. It’s an honor and a pleasure. Thank you.