1 January 2016

Happy New Year

New Year’s Eve automatically generates a pensive mood. The holidays make me think of the year gone by. In corporate terminology - what went well, what did not and what we can do it better. It’s like my annual official review; the only difference is that I am super lax with respect to the evaluation. I think a lot of the reflection is also caused by a solitary NYE. Existential question have a way of cropping up when you are alone in your room while your peers are partying outside.

My year was quite the roller coaster but I think I came out stronger and happier. I will spare you from the excruciating details and will focus on what I think was the key message of it all. 

We are crappy people expecting others to be angels.

I will start by something as simple as lying. I was taught in school that honesty is the best policy (remember the woodcutter story?). Every major religion preaches that one should be honest. I haven’t done any research, but most parents would say that they teach their kids to be honest and truthful. Yet the outcome we see in the world is appalling. Everybody lies.

If one were to analyse the motivations for lying, then they would find that desire lies at the centre. We don’t want to hurt someone, we don’t want them to know about this, we don’t want to tell them that we don’t want to meet them etc. These are all ways of conning ourselves into believing that we lie for others. I disagree. We lie because we don’t want to appear as the bad person. We’d rather create a false image of ourselves than tell the truth.

If that be the case, then why do we feel bad when people lie to our face? If we don’t keep our word then why should anyone else? We expect decency from everyone but ourselves. I have told people I will call them and eventually have not called them; and so I should not be surprised when people don’t turn up at my party after saying that they would be there. I have gate crashed someone’s party and eaten food there; and so I should not be surprised when someone flicks my wallet and takes away my money. Sometimes I have lied to get an extension on a project. Then a politician lying to me regarding his promises and deadlines shouldn’t come as a surprise.

We’ve all heard the national motto of India - Satyamev Jayate i.e.: Truth alone triumphs. Yet, we have zero faith in it. If we did, we wouldn’t lie as indiscriminately as we do right now. I mean, we’ve become so used to lying that it doesn’t bother us at all. The worst is that it no longer feels wrong.

I am not saying this is Karma (or maybe it is). I am saying that - if we don’t uphold any ideal, then despicable behaviour from others should not be a surprise.

Lets take another example. My school motto was Vasudhev Kutumbakum i.e.: the world is a family. That sounds like a dream everyone dreams but a reality no one wants to work towards. We don’t treat our own family as family, let alone treating a stranger as family.

Then why are we surprised when strangers misbehave with us? In India, you don’t have to go very far to find someone you can help. Yet we don’t. We don’t want to give our domestic helps a day off. But we feel incredibly wronged and violated, if our leave application is denied. We rarely help any strangers that ask us for help or those who we see are in need help. How many of us donated towards Nepal earthquake, Chennai floods, warm clothing for the poor or a child’s education? Then why is it any surprise that when we run into an accident, no one comes forward to help. We are dreadful samaritans and we expect saints. We will honk like a maniac at everyone else on the road but when someone honks at us, oh boy, the rage. Where is our empathy?

What are the seeds that we are sowing and what is the harvest that we are expecting? Often, I have remarked that Delhi is dead. In this case, I would amend my statement. My soul is dead. How can I look at tragedy and turn a blind eye? How can my heart be accustomed to poverty & hunger?

Is our time and money so precious that no one other than our small group of 'mutual ego massagers' deserves it?

Finally, a short note about cheating. At some point or the other, we’ve all cheated the system. In exams, in admissions, in government offices etc. Work seems to get done faster when you slip in a few thousand rupees to the clerk. If that doesn’t work, we’ll find some jugaad or some approach.

If that is our behaviour, then it should not bother us when merit/rule of law is blatantly compromised. When someone uses his contacts and gets admission in his desired educational institute. When someone gets a food license for a shop that clearly does not meet food safety standards. When politicians stash away millions of black money in foreign countries.

I mean if we can request the clerk to bump up our attendance, or pay a tout to get our driving license, or ask our accountant to convert black money into white; then why should the freedom of others be compromised?

When we do it, it’s either about efficiency or the government procedure being slow or about our family members future; but when others do it, it’s a crime against society, a failure of legal machinery and the collapse of a system. If we have motivations to take questionable steps, then so do others. At the heart of it, it’s always about personal gain.

What are we living for? Is there anything other than personal profit that we aspire for? Do we have any principles? If not, then we shouldn’t feel bad when we get treated like crap. Because, when we don’t have principles, then people effected by our actions also feel like crap. But that also doesn't mean we should embrace anarchy.

I am not advocating that we give up ideals or that ideals are unreal or that it is okay to break rules so long as you don’t question others who also break rules. Principles are meant to be followed. They are meant to be fought for. These are concepts for which people sacrifice their lives. Don’t sacrifice principles altogether. Instead find some (your svadharma) and follow them. Lead a life that  has some weight in it.

I say this to motivate myself to follow these principles. This new year my resolution is to try and be a more honest person because I would love it if people were honest to me. I hope and pray that it works.

Happy New Year.



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