The Hypocrisies of a righteous mind

If a child works in a restaurant to feed her/his family, then that is child labour. But if a child works in an advertisement or a movie or in a reality show, it is child empowerment.

If people are killed in Paris and London, then all news channels will cover the news 24x7 and Facebook will give a filter for you to express your condolences but if 100s of people are killed in Baghdad, Peshawar or Nairobi, nobody will care because their lives are not as precious as the ones in the developed world.

If you have song and dance sequences in films, then these films are illogical and laughable but if you have anacondas and dinosaurs taking revenge in films, it is still logical.

If you don’t know who Boris Johnson is, you lack global exposure but if you don’t know who Narendra Modi is, you are still globally knowledgeable.

If people from developing countries or countries affected by conflict go to other countries for work, they are immigrants or refugees. But if people from developed countries go to other countries for work, they are expats.

If common people celebrate bull festivals, then they are barbarians who treat animals cruelly. But if you wear leather jackets/shoes, use handbags made of crocodile skin and eat meat, you are civilized.

The above list will be endless. How do you call all the above?

#HYPOCRISY

If we ask what are some of the hypocrisies that you see in your culture, I am sure we will have countless examples from all over the world in spite of whether a country is developed, developing and under developed.

The fundamental assumption in most of the human conflicts is — I am right and the other person is wrong. The ‘I’ in the ‘I am right’ could be an individual, organization, ideology, country etc.

As we think more about this, there is an informal power that one group of people have over the other group because they have an enabler either in the form of a media platform or education or technology. It is not even intended by one party to dominate the other party but it has embedded so deep into our everyday lives that we don’t even realize it. Since we don’t have a formal mechanism to capture the ‘softer’ side of things in our everyday life, several assumption ridden benchmarks become a social norm. These invisible benchmarks determine how we evaluate not just movies but also everything under the roof from quality of education in different countries, good looks between people, candidates in an election, fashion, so on and so forth. There is one society that sets the benchmarks and there is another society that feels suppressed but for long they didn’t express themselves because of lack of platform or for a variety of reasons. These societies could be geographically apart or they could be co-existing within a same country or city.

A culture that has the right platforms and ecosystem to amplify such invisible benchmarks and soft cultural factors creates a ‘dominant measurement index’ on these evaluations. If sample size were the main criteria, Indian and Chinese ‘Likes’ would have easily ended up as universal norms (Justin Bieber is the most followed person in Facebook with more 77 million followers whereas Xie Na has over 90 million followers in Weibo, the Chinese social media) and with the emergence of ecosystems and platforms in these regions, a new kind of ‘measurement index’ is emerging where existing benchmarks and their status quo are questioned.

Now with the emergence of new social media platforms, new voices start to emerge that start questioning the status quo and these societal assumptions. We see more of these types of debates and discussions where people tend to focus on convincing the other, arguing to win the discussion. The status quo is threatened with questions like ‘why you have to be right?’ ‘Who said so’? ‘Here is my data and prove me wrong’. There is a constant need to be right and a constant need to win the ego battle.

Once we surface out these invisible benchmarks and make the assumptions explicit in a discussion, it will be quite evident that there is nothing superior or inferior, good or bad, right or wrong. It may sound boring and this may not lead to lot of sound-bytes or news. All it takes is a little bit of awareness and little more empathy to see things from other people’s point of view.

What would it take to change our default assumption from ‘I am right and you are wrong’ to ‘Everyone is right’.

Recently, there was a massive, non-violent protest led by students in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The protest was to lift the ban on Jallikattu, the traditional bull wrestling festival, which is one of the most important events for the Tamils in India.

The supreme court of India banned the festival a few years ago and the issue is extremely sensitive in the southern part of India. The PETA India leaders questioned why we need to have such a barbaric culture and talked de-gradingly about the people who participate in Jallikattu. It continued when the Supreme Court judges asked people to play jallikattu in computers. If they were empathetic and tried to understand why people do what they do, their comments would have been lot more measured. These kind of insensitive comments are what would have brought more people to the streets.

The default assumption here is ‘playing jallikattu is wrong’. But a vast majority of the Tamil people think that ‘playing jallikattu is great and it is part of our rich heritage’. Now who is right? Is it the animal rights activists who want the ban or the people who want the ban to be revoked? The animal rights activists are right when they say that the animals are tortured during the event. The Tamil people are right when they say that the animals are taken care like a family member for years before the event. If both sides agree that they both are right, there is hope for a middle ground but since words and comments are already uttered, the scope of engagement between both sides is ruled out and as a result, both parties are abusing each other. I chose this example because these kind of stories on ‘jallikattu’ will never be highlighted when we talk of such subjects.

We are all human beings and we have a responsibility for ourselves and for all the beings on the planet. We are going to have differences and we will always have differing ideologies. But if we are not willing to empathize and find out why people do what they do, the solutions will end up without acceptance & buy-in from people. Instead of degrading or insulting people, we need to start empathizing with people.

The educated common man benefits from a globalized world and he derives a certain sense of identity through the benefits derived from globalization. The people who are left out from these benefits of globalization also try to seek identity using those benefits as benchmarks and their inability to identify themselves in this new world leads to anger and frustration.

We see a pattern all over the world where populism is prevailing. This populism is gaining strength because people who have privileges in life have failed to empathize with the people who don’t have these privileges. Social media is full of abuses and foul language where the common man is venting his frustration and anger. Every logic and argument is being countered with another argument. Whether it is logically right or wrong and whether the argument is backed by evidence, nobody seems to care.

Everyone is working extra hard to justify their arguments. It is very hard to find people who say ‘Sorry, it was my fault’ or ‘Sorry! I want to understand why you think that way’. What would it take to give up our righteousness? What would it take to step into the shoes of people who have a differing opinion and be more empathetic to their point of view? How might we teach our kids to be more empathetic? How might we teach empathy as an important subject in schools, colleges, universities, MBA programs and work place trainings?

It is not about who is right or who is more right. This righteousness will lead to more conflict and less understanding among humans. What the world needs is compassion and empathy in our daily conversations at home, at the work place and most importantly, in social media.

Let us be more empathetic and let us go with an assumption that the other person could also be right.