Sunday, October 15, 2006

Weeping for a stranger

If there is one thing life has taught me it is this – caring for someone other than what means to you is nearly impossible. I say this with a lot of caution since we live in a world that is always striving to be politically correct to everyone except politics itself. When I would meet people who would claim genuine compassion for others I would always wonder if they really meant it. If I were to put them in a room that could be like a morality X-Ray, if you will, then would the ‘real ones’ show a different structure? What does it take for us human beings to actually find it within ourselves to actually care about anyone else but us? Why make a special attempt at this if being compassionate is a human nature? What causes the varying degree of ‘compassion ratio’ in all of us? And is that really a bad thing?

These questions haunted me every single day of my late teens. I mention the era since this is when a human actually starts becoming the kind of person he/she will be for the rest of their lives. This very attribute makes this phase one of the trickiest ones there is. It is suffice to say that this was probably when most of our well known humanitarians decided to dedicate their entire lives in the service of others. What could they have possibly seen or heard that we did not? How did it happen that they got the natural inclination for this while the rest of us were too busy trying to get a date? Was there some sort of unique gene construction that made them who they became later in lives or was their personal suffering a part of the change they wanted to see?

So many questions. I had a professor once who said a good lesson is one where you walk away with more questions than answers. Being a caring human apparently seems to be one of those life long lessons. Some get it in the very first lecture. Others keep reappearing time and again to try and understand why this is important.

‘The struggle is the glory’ I had heard a preacher once say. This is the life humanitarians lead all over the world. Visiting people and societies where the biggest battle is to attain things we take for granted. When I watch footage of such societies in places like Africa and Asia on the National Geographic, I would be so repulsed by the sights that I would thank my stars for the remote control in my hand. But with age comes a time when one asks the question ‘Why did you change the channel? Are you not the kind who can stand others suffering and grief? Are you really that superficial and self-involved?’

The answer, unfortunately, to most of the questions above is probably just that. Yes. We are shallow and extremely superficial people who like the idea of helping but our compassion ends with a thought. Our explanation is ‘Oh there is always someone else out there to do the dirty work so why bother!’ which is probably true but then is that how one should satisfy the all-knowing conscience? Is that not really the most disgusting sight? A shallow and meaningless conscience?

Recently I had to suffer a brief eye-related illness and was in extreme pain for a couple of days. An eye-patch, the limited vision, the incoherent walking, the eye drops… the whole nine yards. I felt I had been cursed for some previous sin and that I was the one in the most pain. A few days after the illness faded I was walking down the street one evening when I saw a blind beggar on the street singing a local folk song with a bowl of pennies in front of him. As I walked by him my personal experience with partial blindness flashed in front of my eyes. I could absolutely not imagine living a life like that. I would rather kill myself than be on a street somewhere with no vision and a broken violin for a living. To me my social representation was larger than becoming a public property like this man.

But as I walked by I turned around and for a moment thought I saw the blind man smiling in my direction. Maybe he had read my mind with his X-Ray moral structure and seemed to say ‘You will do the same if you are in my position. You could change your viewpoint or live your life as a shallow coward.'

I wondered later if it really was all about that. Our point of views. I guess the people who did become humanitarians did just that. Changed their viewpoint in their late teens and never looked the same again. I may not be equipped with the faculty to become one myself but I salute everyone who is saving a stranger and weeping for their lives.

A few days later I saw the same show on the National Geographic. This time I decided to watch.

I knew I had to start somewhere.


2 reflections:

mouna said...

your mention in this aspect reflects the human mind, we simply cannot empathise with another. on the other hand, i've read that some people never want symapthy at all, however pitiable their state is. they consider it a dent in their shell of self-respect.

shakri said...

Both your statements are absolutely true. Hence makes being compassionate a tad trickier as it were.

Thanks for responding.