I have always been a logical and practical person. It is not that I am emotional, my ability to compartmentalize and go ahead is something that I am really proud of. But these days, I do find it a lot more difficult to block the emotions out. The news cycle is vicious and can take you on an emotional rollercoaster that never stops. Inflation is at a record high, many cannot afford health care, a global pandemic has taken more than 6 million lives and at the time of writing, the USA still averages 255 deaths a day. People are harassed based on their color, race or caste even today. School children are being massacred by mindless gunmen. Women’s rights are being challenged in several countries across the world. A mindless war is raging on while the rest of the world watches. Should you be concerned with worldly matters, or do you live to fight your problems? I cannot imagine the massive toll this has taken out on families that have been affected by the world events. Sure, I do have my own inner demons that need to be tamed, but where is the sense of empathy? How can we continue to live and act as if some unlucky ones picked the short end of the straw? Doesn’t each person in the society have a fundamental responsibility to ensure that our community is healthy and thriving? I cannot help worrying that it is only a matter of time before we as a people are swept into a bottomless pit that we can never escape from.
The issue of politics and religion is at the crux of every social interaction. Populist and nationalist politicians are sweeping elections across the world right now. They claim being strong, independent and holding on to traditions is the best way forward. Every day I come across a steady stream of pseudo intellectual ideas on social media pages. Eloquent, well-dressed men and women preach subjects that they have no expertise on to boisterous crowds. The people are being flooded with so much data that many choose not to reflect upon what they are hearing. The general desire of knowledge and intellect is mocked as being weak. Every question raised is waived off with a “What about” counter question. The content creators use media platforms such as Instagram reels and YouTube shorts to create clips that effectively show a portion of the debate rather than the whole segment. Interlaying them with some heroic background music creates the illusion of a grand finish. The best magic trick that I have seen these days, is how large numbers of people are convinced that their ideas of freedom and liberty are at stake. The furor that is generated by the vitriol does not enable critical thinking. The need for each one of us to pursue experiences that will open up closed minds is absolute right now.
I found the quote above on twitter resonated with me a lot. The pursuit of intellect and excellence will truly set one up for an open mind. Reading and writing are effective tools to fuel curiosity. To me, individual identity is not just about being a rebel, it is not just going against the grain, but it means to take a deep long look inwards, to understand what makes one stronger, to understand what makes one afraid, and finally to understand what makes you better. In that process, each one of us may have to step back, we may make mistakes, we may discover uncomfortable things about ourselves. But I believe that is okay. This does not make you weak, it makes you stronger. So, the next time you see or hear anyone struggle with their problems, don’t shrug it off. You may not be able to solve their problems, or able to do much about it, or even choose to do nothing about it but by listening you have gained insight on a new experience. Don’t think of them any lesser because they feel vulnerable, in fact they have embraced more of their individual identity by just opening up.
My intention is to not trash the idea of an individualistic identity. My point is that an individual identity would mean nothing in a society fueled by chaos and corruption. I have a fairly independent streak; I like to indulge in my own vices. I know several things that I do have no purpose, add no meaning to my life or represent my core values but one thing that I can say with certainty is that I know my boundaries. I would never put myself in a position where I would put my family, community, or work in danger because of my choices. It does not mean that I have completely shed my individualistic identify and embraced a social identity, it just means that I know enough to look deep inside and make adjustments to my life as the need arises. John Rawls calls this out in The Theory of Justice. His notion of an ideal society required rationalistic individuals to shed their individualistic notions and work collectively to advance. It is not that individualistic freedom and liberty does not matter, but there is a need to make some adjustments collectively to ensure a just and fair society.
The words of Abdul Kalam come to my mind Memories: Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam’s speech at European Union – YouTube.
“Where there is righteousness in the heart, there is beauty in the character. When there is beauty in the character, there is harmony in the home. When there is harmony in the home, there is the order in the nation. When there is the order in the nation, there is peace in the world.” – A.P.J. Abdul Kalam
Contrary to what we think, a united community, is the key to harmony and peace in the world. I would like to wrap up this post by referencing Tagore’s poem Gitanjali. That is what being strong means to me
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high; Where knowledge is free; Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls; Where words come out from the depth of truth; Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection; Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit; Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action; Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.