February 14, 2012

Following nature will take us to unity

A friend of mine recently said that I blog only about truths that are acceptable by most, and so there is really nothing to comment on or dispute. My position is that, indeed, I am writing mostly to inform, remind, reassure and sometimes even persuade, rather than to contest a point of view. And true, because we all have our points of view that are crying out to be heard, such divergence is what excite people for that is where polemic reigns and everyone is ready for taking up that differing point of view. Varying views are what makes a discussion interesting and draws many to the table or keyboard, and if the discussion can find a common thread of thought, it can lead to convergences of views ultimately. For this to happen however, we must be in the mental mode of seeking solutions.

Taking this to the social stage, many a time, our variant views seem as positions that we take as mental barriers that others may not cross –points of view that signals a certain finality that we would not like contravened as if bolstered by an unwavering ego. When a point of view is dropped with a predetermined assumption behind it, an opposing comment is bound to be an irritant rather than a salve. Unfortunately, most of our discussions are, as the word denotes, arguments that “dashes to pieces” varying points of view. In this mode of confrontation and seeking to win, no side is willing to go towards an agreement. If at all there is one, such an agreement will be a negotiated understanding that vouches shared benefits. So the ego wins again --there is no shame that any one side has to bear that will stand out as a loss, for its all right for the ego as long as it does not lose the battle.

But just as in writing, in our verbal discussions too, it would be wiser to move the discussion mode to the dialogue mode. Yes, there is a difference. As opposed to discussion that signifies argument and left brain sense, dialogue is about “letting the knowledge flow through’ which signifies a need to listen to the other point of view for its inherent truths. Immersed in such a mode, other points of view come as requests for clarifications or supplementary comments that help to tweak out differences or support the similarities; an effort to understand and accept rather than dispute and reject. It’s only in this latter state of our minds, can we bring harmony to our society and hope for a blissful future. Nature works this way, never disputing but accepting the myriad diversity it has in it to bring the unity we observe everyday to give us the services for us to stay alive – and unconditionally. That is the unity we can take example from.

February 6, 2012

A moral society cannot be fraudulent

Fraudulence and corruption in society happens when there is weak rule of law. OK, everybody knows that, so what's the big deal? The big deal is not the awareness of the physiology of this horrible social disease at an academic level of understanding, but the lack of an awareness (not just knowledge) of its prognosis - how its impact will be felt for us as communities and nations both in the short and the longer term. We seem not to have the time to reflect that deed. In this modern age we are in a hurry every day of our lives - as if someone is waiting at the end line rewarding the one who breasts the tape first and the rest would be all losers, or that the hand-outs at our destination is in very short supply, hence this urgency. Our ego makes the noises in our heads that drive our bodies; heads cluttered with the buzz on what’s new in the market, what new gadget my neighbor had bought recently or what new job my competitor had landed as I occupy envious a less rewarding one. Or how I would up my neighbor on my child’s next birthday party or my daughter’s wedding arrangements. Or my plans to buy that shiny car when I can hardly afford it or lack the space to park it or enjoy its speed in this square mile of chaos. We have no time for reflection on the deeper consequences beyond these immediate callings of our ego.

So where does that leave us in the deeper understanding of corruption as a social issue? We can know this only when we become aware of the nonsense and shallowness of our daily thoughts most of us are busy with – our fetish with our material desires which form the primary basis of our daily thought patterns. Unfortunately, most of our seeking in life is guided by the archetype of “what’s in it for me?” rather than by “how can I help?” How I can have a piece of the corruption that will satisfy some of my immediate desires so that I will be happy today, never seeking to understand further about the rot that might be setting into our societies by this very indulgence, and how it might impact the world my children and my grand children will have to live in when I am gone! How I can sell this precious blessing called my vote for the pittance of a moment’s mental fantasy. In this myopia of our hurried modern lifestyle we are blind to consequences. Living for today as if there is no tomorrow seems to be the guiding ethic. Unfortunately, this pervasive hedonism of our modern day does not allow time to reflect on the consequences of our actions that is the heart of wise action. We are too busy in the vanity and competition that fills our lives. If we ask most people why we tolerate such unethical behavior in a Muslim nation, the response is often a reference to what is happening in other similar countries and so why not here - as if that constitutes a response to the question; as if two wrongs should make a right. Or we may even get just a blank expression --signaling that not a single brain neuron may have been used to contemplate such profoundness ever.

It is true to say that we live in a make-believe world oblivious to the consequences of our actions. Busy as we are, that connection is often very hard for us to make because, as individuals, we seem so distant to the consequences. Take for example the issue of climate change. Even at the big environmental summits, the world’s greed is overt. Forget individuals, even nations and the world, rather than changing consumption patterns, the focus is now on a green economy – to go our merry way to continue producing the mass of things we don’t need at the cost of the environment (chopping the branch we are sitting on) and fuel the pleasures of a world consumed with the archetype of materialism – while a third or more of our world lives in poverty. Moral bankruptcy seems perniciously pervasive. As individual communities and community of nations, we need to be more responsible and aware that we, the people, are the real players in a democratic system. We need to be aware of how in such a system, the pyramid of governance has been turned upside down with us the citizens at the top of the inverted pyramid and the caretakers we have selected to be our national “housekeepers” sitting at the bottom. In this new frame of our reality we call democracy, we must become active and more responsible for our actions and not just be the passive observers that we were in a monarchy or other similar governance arrangement when we were merely the recipients of its benevolence, and felt mentally incarcerated. Now that we are liberated, we should wake up from that slumber of learned helplessness and exercise the rights and responsibilities of a democracy. As Maldivians we decided for this option of governance four years ago. How can we sit back now as if nothing has happened? To usher in a moral society, citizens need to lead rather than be led.

February 3, 2012

Reading is the key to learning

In this age of text messaging, twitter and face-book chats, reading seems to be on the decline. Some may even say this is an understatement. There now seems to be less patience and more desire for letting others know what we know or feel than to seek to know what the other person knows. We ignore this insidious emergence in our midst as a part of the dynamics of our modern lifestyle and just let it be at that. But this subtle change is happening to us all unsuspectingly, and as we get mired in this attitude of impatience, and vanity, there seems to be time only for the ego, and no time for the soul. Even privacy is now in short supply and thus the mystery and intrigue so central to writing seems also lost in this race for temporary highs and moments of glory that seems to epitomize present social behavior. The one hundred-and forty characters that twitter accomodates, and the terse and stirred up language of the comment columns in our on-line newsletters don’t cut the measure of what we can call reading and learning. We become more street-smart perhaps and are able to drop a wise quip now and then or know what everybody else knows (because everybody is reading the same stuff), but deeper knowledge about ourselves as human elements and the world around us beyond just the political is left untapped. It is through a deeper analysis that regular reading provides that we understand the profoundness that predicates our behaviors and where insights for the solutions to our social problems of today lie.

It is easy to gain knowledge from just listening to others – through discussions, lectures, seminars and such, but the good thing about reading is that we tend to let our guard down when we read something, for the printed page is often not as intimidating to our egos as the raw human being giving opinions. Thus, this relaxed frame of mind helps us assimilate the views and lessons in the text much more easily than when it comes in conversation. Whenever one human being speaks to another, this human presence always raises that ego barrier that questions the message given based on our pre-formed assumptions. Thus the power of the written material is evident. We have all lapped up the quotes, the data and the figures we take from technical papers and other printed information sources –even from daily newspaper columns – as authentic with little question, and we use these then to bolster our views when we have an opinion to make.

The question for us as parents and as a community is how to get our youth more into the habit of reading and for them to discover this lost or submerging treasure trove of humanity’s lessons in it for us. One way is for parents to set the example of delving into bookshops and actively seeking to re-awaken this slumbering delight of their old school days that lies dormant for the time since. Another is to find both conventional and non-conventional approaches to encouraging reading in schools. And yet another is for social groups to make inroads into this important area of nurturing the young mind through book clubs, book review sessions, or encouraging and celebrating young authors -- to harvest the potential out there for the benefit of a socially enlightened posterity. Only what we plant today with wisdom can we sow tomorrow.

February 2, 2012

Getting to the heart

Way to the heart is through love. I guess that does not require rocket science to understand. But what is more difficult is to act with love. Unfortunately, our world seems so full of everything that turns out love rather than invite it. Negative emotions such as anger, suspicion, doubt, hate, greed, jealousy and resentment all act to keep love away. We know that to love is to give unconditionally, but our ego that revels in the attention it seeks, keeps these emotions alive and our true self submerged in the clutter of the outward attractions.

Love can prevail only with a good dose of truth and sincerity. How difficult it is to get a good supply of these two attributes is the big question we need to ask ourselves. Given that our thoughts are what give rise to our emotions and then to our actions, we need to nurture positive thoughts in our mind. As individuals and as a community, we must seek to understand what hinders this positivity to emerge and reign. Why do we feel so jealous of each other, and what fires our emotions to keep ourselves so separate at the price of the agonies we have to endure in our daily lives. Wouldn’t brotherliness and love help to build that cohesive society? Why don’t we want that to happen? It’s easy to see that it is our selfishness and the desire to own and crave that is at the basis of all this human turmoil. Our development paradigm doesn’t help us to extricate ourselves from this quagmire either, for it is based on competition, and greed, euphemistically framed as individuality and the ability to stand on our own feet – as if anyone can really stand alone on our own two feet. Lessons from the past are evidence of the need of social harmony for peace to prevail and developmetn to happen. And now, even globalization shows us in perverse and not so perverse ways that truly no man is an island.

So to gain access to another’s heart is to align with its wavelength of emotions – to demonstrate our consideration and compassion. For that, we can learn to listen to the wisdom of other’s words, seek to work together to solve our problems and nurture that value of “consultation” that is at the heart of our democratic process. A strange transformation in us happens when we seek to understand the thoughts of another rather than merely judge it with our pre-formed assumptions. We then begin to realize that our knowledge, insight and wisdom are not ours alone. It is the property of God, to which everyone has access to when they know how to. There is no way to sustainably harness anyone’s heart but by kindness and compassion. Harshness and force can restrain the body, but it can never win the heart.