Friday, December 30, 2011

The Myth Of Respect

In Pakistan we nurse many delusions and one of them is that respect is a quality which is the hallmark of our culture. If it were true then it would be a great asset of this nation, but in fact we confuse respect with courtesy.

Respect means to honour, value and hold in esteem. I believe that respect is a mindset that we either have or don’t. If we have the ability to respect, then it is not just confined to our family but the society as well. The society is a combination of laws, heritage, culture and people. If we respected our society we would not take pride in breaking the laws and showing off that we did. I’m not talking about crime here, just look at the way we drive on our roads, we don’t care what happens to the rest of the traffic as long as we can get ahead. We break signals, we drive in the wrong lanes, we speed and before we say this is lack of education, most of the educated class driving in luxury cars is just as guilty as the bus driver. Is this respect? I don’t think so!

The way we treat some of our most precious national treasures is appalling. Go to any historical site and you will find disfigurement, trash, and no effort to preserve it for posterity. The plight of Mohenjodaro is a tragedy which we should be ashamed of. The government may not be doing anything to preserve our heritage but that doesn’t mean that we should use ancient monuments to carve out our names. We respect our heritage? I don’t think so!

The way we attack public property every time we are excited is again evidence of how we disrespect the communities we live in. Our treatment of people who have points of views contrary to ours is also a case in point. Respect for human beings means we acknowledge and honour their right to be individuals and free thinkers, but the level of intolerance in our society tells a different story.

There are people who say that when we go abroad we become model citizens and it is the lack of law enforcement which is at the root of our problems. Perhaps so, but I feel we confuse fear with respect also - to do something out of fear means it is not our natural tendency to do so and given the chance we will revert to our original behaviour.

Whether we like to hear it or not, we are a supremely selfish nation. If our politicians only think of their own wealth it should not shock us. We too only think of our selves. We need instant gratification and for that purpose it doesn’t matter who or what we destroy. We don’t like to talk about these things and we find external reasons for our behaviours. But the problem lies within and that’s what we should examine with brutal honesty.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Confessions Of Craziness

I confess that I am crazy and I’m quite happy about it. There is a difference between insanity and craziness (at least according to me). To be insane means to not have any boundaries between the real and the imagined. Insane people are unable to censor their thoughts and actions. Crazy people on the other hand do have defined boundaries however they choose to push them beyond the norms of acceptance and hence ‘normalcy’.

To be normal simply means doing what the majority does and hence accepts. The question of right or wrong does not arise because the majority finds a way of justifying their actions somehow. Take the example of the difference between East and West - living with your parents and taking care of them in their old age is normal for the East but a grown man living with his parents is definitely not normal in the West. Different cultures will have different codes of normal conduct. So when I say I am crazy, perhaps that is not entirely true, rather I should say I am crazy in reference to the culture and society I live in.

There is a myth that crazy people do things that are ‘in-your-face’, deliberately trying to provoke the society into a reaction. Some do – yes, but at times that simply stems from a desire to be noticed and heard. However there is another type, the category to which I belong. My type lives their life ruled by the heart. I think life means much more than following a pattern which takes us from the cradle to the grave. My life is not a painting which you can step back and admire, rather it’s a collage and you need to come up close to see each element in order to understand it. To some I may seem unstructured in my approach, but I believe in collecting experiences.

I’ve made many mistakes that no ‘normal’ person would, but I cherish each one because it has taught me valuable life lessons which I can proudly claim to be my own. If my life is in a mess I have created it all on my own accord and have no one to blame since I asked no one before I made my choices. My own happiness is paramount to me but that doesn’t mean I’m selfish – I simply seek to remain true to myself and therefore be honest with the people who matter most to me. I am a recluse and people think its not normal, but I find empty chatter abnormal. To each their own.

I experience every emotion to its fullest. Sometimes I get morbidly depressed and find solace in the possibility of death and at others I am so elated that its sublime. My views may not be popular, but they are mine and I don’t dilute them to conform. I spend a lot of time understanding myself and though I know all my faults, weaknesses and delusions I have yet to discover who I really am. People have an end game in mind and they have a plan for how their life will pan out, me on the other hand – I just live day-to-day. I cannot see the road ahead with the clarity that others can but my life is filled with the expectation of what’s around the next bend. Usually there is a disaster waiting for me but I have never given up hope of finding the enchanted forest. I don’t reminiscent about my childhood, I keep it alive within me. Who I am and who I see in the mirror is the same person but stuck in different ages.

Some say it takes courage to live life on your own terms, but I disagree. It is a lot more difficult to live according to the expectations of other people. Often people spend their entire life making others happy and end up being miserable themselves and then spend the rest of the time making every one else pay for their negativity. What a sad way to live! When you are joyous only then can you make others happy. There are people who don’t even know what values are important in their lives, they take on popular values because they are subscribed to by the majority. I know what I value most in my life and though it may not be noble it defines who I am – independence. Every choice in my life has been made through this filter. The outcome may not have been desired, but I have no regrets – I experienced, I learnt, I moved on. The worst thing I can think of is to be on the death bed and say “I wish…”

When I die my epitaph will not read as the chronology of my birth and death date it will simply say “She refused to exist”. If I manage that then I can pat myself on the back and say “Sualeha life well lived”.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Evil Within Us

When we think of the word ‘evil’ it conjures images of murder, rape, blood and mayhem in short all heinous crimes. We all have an opinion about evil but few of us truly understand it. Yes the most extreme manifestation of evil is all of the above, but there is a more common ‘garden variety’ of evil of which most are oblivious to and one which to which most of us succumb – knowingly or unwittingly.

The word EVIL is LIVE spelt backwards, hence in its broadest sense evil is anti-life. The question of course then is what is life? Does it mean the involuntary actions of all our organs such as blood pressure, breathing and digestion that our brain controls? Technically they say that once the brain ceases to function the human body dies. So what about the people who are on life support systems? Even in their most vegetative state, their brain is still functioning even though it may be with diminished capacity. Hence they are technically alive. But when we pray for a long life do any of us wish such a life for ourselves and our loved ones? Definitely not! Therefore, life has to mean more than that.

Is life the soul that exists within us? But the soul is immortal, and life in this physical form comes with an expiry called death. So let’s focus on what it means to be alive in this body that we are currently inhabiting. There are people who pray for death everyday, not because of any debilitating physical illness but simply because to go on living is a dreary and painful thought. These people have lost one precious quality that defines human life – hope. Hence we can safely say that one aspect of being alive is to have hope.

When we visualize a good life for ourselves there is one element which is common to us all no matter how big or small our dreams may be – happiness. We cannot imagine life without the ability to smile and be joyful. Regardless of whether we are rich or poor, are alone or have a large family, live in cities or in the middle of a jungle, for 7 billion people the essence of being alive is to be hopeful and happy. By this argument, evil is anything which takes away these 2 essential qualities of life.

When we cause the smile to disappear from someone’s face – we are being evil. When we bring despair into someone’s life – we are evil. When someone falls and we make them believe they can never get up again – we are evil. When we spread gloom and negativity – we are evil. When we use the ‘practicality’ card and ask someone to discard their dreams – we are evil. None of us can claim that we are not evil. We cannot control or change anyone else, but we can change ourselves by becoming aware of the evil within us – and all around us will also change.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Where Democracy Is Not Desirable

Democracy is undoubtedly the most desirable form of government and there is no denying that. However the problem starts when we start using this model in all our decision making at the personal and professional level.

Basically a democracy is a vote where the majority ends up with what they want and the minority gets stuck with what they didn’t want and probably never will. In an event of a deadlock this is probably the simplest way of arriving at a decision. And therein lies the problem – it is the simplest way. We are a nation hooked on short-cuts and taking the easy way out. The better but tougher route is to arrive at a consensus, which means that we take a decision which may not be everyone’s first choice, but once taken everyone supports it and no one opposes it.

One may argue that when so many people seem to agree on a course of action then surely they can’t all be wrong? The problem is that the voice of sanity is usually the softest and the cacophony of fools drowns all sounds. In our society he who speaks loudest gets heard even though he may be wrong. Those who dominate our discussions by virtue of sheer volume intimidate those who cannot. Another reason why we don’t engage in unfiltered and open debate is because we may feel insecure and vulnerable. We have been conditioned to behave in a manner that pleases everyone, and by airing our views about a subject there is a danger that we may offend some and lose our popularity. We end up being ‘liked’ by others perhaps, but something inside us erodes each time we take the easy way out. That “something” is our self-esteem.

We lose our self-esteem every time we take illegitimate short-cuts in life. These short-cuts do not mean simply doing what is illegal, but also not doing what is right. Over a period of time our self-esteem hits such a low point that we need others to validate our existence. The usual commonly heard phrase ‘do you know who I am?’ is an indication of this phenomenon. We may think this is a result of the VIP culture in our country, but then doesn’t VIP also stand for Very Insecure Person? We only have to go out on our roads to see how it pervades our society – each one is trying to get ahead somehow to ‘prove’ they are better, even though there is no competition.

There is only one way through which consensus on any decision can be arrived at – by logical debate. If one person’s logic and reasoning is stronger then the other gives in. It requires time, patience to listen to others and the capacity to accept that we may not be always right, 3 things we seem to have a dearth of.