As the Election Day draws closer, the alarm bells in my head get increasingly louder. There is no getting away from it. The newspaper, TV, Internet- the media is binging on the juiciest feast its bitten down on in recent times. So many aspects to this election that are contrary to all logical reasoning. But the brain is a funny thing. It resists, gives in, soaks up, readjusts till what was preposterous yesterday seems perfectly normal today.
Anyone familiar with that brilliantly disturbing piece of literature, ‘Lord of the flies’ would know exactly what I mean. Rich in symbolism, William Golding explores the transformation of a civilized bunch of kids stranded on a remote island and their rapid descent into savagery. Jack is a character in this who goes on to symbolize absolute evil. He is a bully who initially talks of the importance of rules that separate them from ‘savages’ and then leads his followers down a brutal path of violence and terror. In the modern world savagery can exist in many forms. Man is set against man in many ways.
I’m not a stranger to being at the receiving end of prejudices and misguided assumptions. Like many others of my generation, I belong to one part of India and grew up in another, lived half my life on one side of the world and the other on the opposite. Through all this traveling back and forth and all over the world, I was taught how important it is to observe, respect, adapt, assimilate. Realized quite early on that’s not a lesson widely taught. The south Indian accent, darker skin and difference in social etiquette constantly come under ridicule- Bollywood is an expert at this. I’ve heard North Indians being regarded as superficial, ignorant and culturally backward. I’m a South Indian who grew up in the north and when younger, was confused about which of these I should consider a personal slight.
Then there is the Western world and the East. Education and technological progress may have brought the world together more than ever before, but they also pick out and emphasize the differences. It makes it colorful and interesting that every individual is a unique result of his or her upbringing, and social, geographic, moral and cultural background. I’ve lived all my life very secure and rather smug in the belief that when it comes to attitude towards mankind in general, I’m a world citizen unencumbered by petty mental boundaries. These past few weeks are a reminder though that there is always a ‘Jack’ who exists among us in many forms – whether it be the potential for evil that is there in each of us or an outside force that lures it out. Either way, he becomes stronger each time he creates a beast.
“Maybe there is a beast . . . .maybe it’s only us.”
Flipping through Fb posts took me to a video from the bizarre ‘Hindus for Trump’ event in North Jersey. Another of those ‘is this for real?!’ material that the brain eventually processed and is yet to get comfortable with. There were protesters from the Indian community holding up placards and Trump supporters fighting back. The video showed one guy in particular engaged in a shouting match with a woman protestor. It was alarming to watch as he got red in the face, threatening, screaming, snarling at her, mocking her gestures and accent, insulting her religion. I felt a bristling, an ugliness on the inside, a feeling of choking on something distasteful. Alarm bells…
While I don’t agree that offering the other cheek is the way to go, it’s a tricky thing to distinguish between true malice and sheer ignorance. So I took a deep breath and a step back. I put a leash on that beast and made him go back to sleep. Anger doesn’t help deal with someone who doesn’t realize that he has sealed himself up into a tight little can of ignorance. In fact it’s sad to see him isolate himself on such unnecessary divisions such as religion, nationality, color of skin, gender, and life choices. There are times when an offender simply doesn’t know any better and it is always worth the effort to try to educate him or her. Throw an alternate route, a different way of thinking out there and he may just decide to explore it. I’ve watched my dad do this successfully, numerous times with students branded antisocial elements. It takes commitment to society, patience and the wisdom to see beyond yourself. A prospect that will be increasingly difficult if a society believes that a civilized world can exist within walls.
The angry man in the video wants a better America and the placard holding lady believes that together we are stronger. Fair enough. Educate your children. Teach them the value of hard work, honesty, decency, kindness and common sense. Make them aware that there is potential for evil as well as good in each person regardless of religion, gender, color of skin or bank balance. Never accept anything without question- whether it be from your doctor, the interpreter of your God, or a public figure. The person who shouts the loudest will be heard but it does not mean he is right- someone else’s beliefs, thoughts and opinions need not become yours. If you were to judge someone based on their difference, switch the camera to selfie mode too occasionally – Maybe the change should start with you. You need not understand someone else’s way of life if it doesn’t affect you or harm others. You do need to respect it.
And finally- our forefathers have worked hard, fought for and dreamt of a future that is now our present. Let’s do no harm even if we do no good. Unfortunately, those are pretty much the two choices we have right now.