Navigation Menu

SOMETHING SWEET FOR YOU


A young man was accused of stealing a motorbike. It was not established whether he had really stolen it, but because he belonged to a certain community, he was tied up to a tree and beaten until he breathed his last. 

The incident was met with outrage on one side of the populace, while the other side; those responsible to end his life, were pleased that they had made him repeat certain words from sacred scriptures as they beat him just so that the termination of his life would be a strong warning that if one did not fall in line, then one would meet with the similar fate. 

To be outraged upon hearing of such an incident is but a natural human reaction: we tremble at animals being killed, even if it were for the natural survival of the food chain by providing novel explanations about how, and why such dreadful undertakings have to be put to an end at once, and yet, an open butchery of a human being is accepted rather nonchalantly as – he deserved it. 

When someone expresses antipathy at injuring anything that breathes, or even smashing something sans life, one is cautioned that these are not the times of free speech. Fine, for a moment we shall cling on to the idea of ‘these are not the times of free speech’, but, if glimpsed into history, when has it ever been a time of free speech? Speaking one’s mind has always landed one in trouble, has it not? No period has ever taken easily to sensibility, or supported equilibrium unstintingly, and the voice of reason has had to be silenced, as it was nothing but a well-defined threat to society. This brings one to the next question, what has (actually) happened to the world? Don’t those who are burning in this blaze of hate and annihilation believe that it is not just the ones who are at the receiving end of hate who suffer, but those who harbour hate are equally engulfed; that the toxicity of having to nurture loathing kills them even before they are able to recognise it? One’s guess is that many would refrain from replying to anything of this nature given to an understanding that philosophy and intellectualism are disciplines pronounced dead, at least openly, in our particular time and age. And this is exactly where one would like to throw light upon moral psychology, where the focus was on questions such as, how do children develop in their thinking about rules, principally rules of fairness? How do children know right from wrong? Are children more or less blank slates at birth as John Locke said, or do they come into this world brimming with intelligence, wisdom, of evolved moral emotions, as Charles Darwin argued.

Professor Jonathan Haidt asks, ‘If morality varies around the world and across centuries, then how could it be innate? Whatever morals we have, must have been learned during childhood from our own experience, which includes adults telling us what’s right and wrong.’ 

Jean Piaget, one of the greatest developmental psychologists, was fascinated by the stages that animals went through as they transformed themselves, from, say, caterpillars to butterflies. He then turned his attention to children, where he brought with him the interest in the stages of development. Piaget aspired to identify how the extraordinary sophistication and cleverness of adult thinking (a cognitive butterfly) emerges from the limited abilities of young children (lowly caterpillars). He believed that children have an uncanny ability to figure out morality, nevertheless, he exposed some of the errors that children made despite being clear on morality. To explain his concept, Piaget would pour water into two identical drinking glasses and ask the children to tell him whether the glasses held the same amount of water. The answer would be in the affirmative. Then Piaget would pour the water of one of the glasses into a lankier, leaner glass, and ask the children to compare the new glass to the one that had not been touched. Children younger than six or seven years of age would say that the lankier, leaner glass held more water simply because the level was higher. Little did they understand that the entire volume of water stays unchanged when moved from one glass to the other. In other words, the comprehension of volume was not innate, and it was not learned from adults. Piaget also uncovered that it is rather purposeless for adults to explain the conservation of volume to the children as the rule was clear: children would not comprehend anything until they arrived at an age (and cognitive stage) when their minds were fertile enough, and given the appropriate experiences. 

Piaget applied this cognitive-development approach to the study of children’s morals. He would get down on his hands and knees to play marbles with them, and while playing with them, he deliberately broke rules and acted dumb. The children responded to his blunders, and in so doing, they revealed their growing ability to respect rules, change them, take turns, and most importantly resolve disputes. This growing knowledge arrived in orderly stages, as children’s cognitive abilities matured. Piaget reasoned that children’s understanding of morality is like their understanding of the water glasses; not innate, and not absorbed from the adults, but a rather self-constructed exercise as they traverse life with each other. Learning in games is like pouring water back and forth between glasses, and no matter how often he repeated the same experiment with three-year-olds, they were simply not equipped to grasp the concept of fairness, any more than they understood the conservation of volume. However, he made note how once the children reached the age of five or six; over arguments, agreements and disagreements, and settling concerns, helped them to learn about fairness far more effectively than any sermon from adults could teach them. This is the kernel of psychological rationalism: we grow into rationality as caterpillars grow into butterflies. When a child is exposed to varied experiences, the child will become a moral creature, able to use its rational capacities to resolve harsher problems and co-exist. Rationality is our nature, and good moral reasoning is the end point of our development. 

Piaget’s template could be applied to the existing scenario around the world where it would (probably) take four or five generations to amend the current mindset; the present-day is far too ‘for and against’ owing to the doctrines that are being drummed into their heads. Ambiguous themselves, the children of such fathers and mothers would imbibe what their parents would tutor them, and growing up in an environment of ennui and bewilderment, they would most likely find themselves despising more than their parents did. That would thus lead to, as is the rule of evolution, their children craving to be characteristically dissimilar than their parents, and so, one would observe the birth of balance and morality after the long-lasted turbulence, and such a generation would educate their children to be unprejudiced and fair, and time would, once again, find itself inching closer to a more tolerant and habitable society where the codes would not be based on hatred and violence, but goodwill, care and love. None of us from today would be alive to witness a time of such harmony and understanding in the future, however, with the anticipation of desiring everyone to live a better life than what it is now, we can hope and wish that that day approaches sooner, and provides mankind the much warranted luxury of amity. 

One resorts to fighting only when one’s roots are threatened, and one reaches for the jugular when one is met with a ‘survival of the fittest’ situation. On both counts the minority community at the receiving end is no apparent threat to the majority community anywhere in the world, and neither are the minority looking for a ‘survival of the fittest’ duel – then why is it that the majority community – like the children in the Piaget’s experiment of water glasses, fail to comprehend that in essence we are each the same content, even if the refractive qualities of seeing something varies? Why is the majority alarmed and continually resorting to savagery when they make clear that the minority to them is indeed insignificant? Correcting, reprimanding is fathomable, but in reality isn’t it their responsibility to protect the minority akin a parent does their children? Why are murders being made a pleasurable pastime? Isn’t massacring the defenceless nothing but a demonstration of sheer weakness and fright? And what has one to fear when one knows that one is the sovereign of the land?

With regards the minority, one is quite led to wonder what is making them this obstinate? They know that they are helpless, and when such a dire situation should naturally prompt them in seeking to fuse with the forces rather than confront them, they are going about challenging their destiny. Why? They must understand that there is absolutely nothing to lose here, except in the case, wherein when they display an element of defiance, it is their very life that is at stake. Taking in a lungful let us think of it in this way: when we greet people in their native tongue to make them feel comfortable, what is the concern in chanting whatever one is ordering you to chant? Agreed, that greeting people in their native tongue is what you practise out of freedom and love, and what is being thrust down your throat is out of wanting to make a point, but when faced with a no-win situation, don’t you do as you are commanded, for what you are being asked to do may not be a part of your creed, but it is still a part of your heritage? Realise too that nothing of this has to do with (your) ego, and that it is merely about (their) muscle, and for the preservation of your own welfare, and the security of your family, it is best that you conform. Some might consider not retaliating ‘spineless’ under the circumstances, others may state that one is defeatist, even escapist. Let people think whatever they wish to think, you keep calm and manoeuvre life with prudence for ‘I am’ is more important than ‘I was’, and under duress, being judicious is the key, not being ludicrous. Remember, it is your life that you have to pick over upholding your religion or your political leanings, for when you think you are doing great by stoically upholding your principles, it is your family who bears the brunt of your permanent absence if you were to meet the fate of the young man who was beaten to death for no fault of his. 

In conclusion here is Hindi scholar, fiction writer, novelist, playwright Asghar Wajahat’s Hindi short story ‘Lynching’ translated by my writer, author, critic and literary historian friend, Rakshanda Jalil. 

When the old woman was told that her grandson, Salim, had been lynched, she couldn’t quite understand it. There was no expression on her dark, wizened face or in her old, misty eyes. She covered her head with a tattered cloth. The word ‘Lynching’ was new for her. But she could guess that it was an English word. She had heard some English words earlier, too, and she knew what they meant. The first English word she had heard was ‘Pass’ when Salim had passed the first class. She knew what the word ‘Pass’ meant. The second word she had heard was ‘Job’. She understood that the word ‘Job’ meant getting employed. The third word she heard was ‘Salary’. She knew what that meant, too. The moment she would hear the word ‘Salary’, the scent of a roti being freshly cooked on a griddle wafted into her nostrils. She could guess that English words were good and the news about her grandson must be a good one. The old woman spoke in a contended tone, ‘May Allah Bless them!’

The boys looked at her in disbelief. They were wondering whether they should tell her the meaning of ‘Lynching’, or not. 

They did not have the strength to tell the old woman exactly what ‘Lynching’ was.

The old woman thought that she ought to bless the boys who had brought such good news to her.

She said, ‘My children, May Allah grant Lynching for all of you...Wait, I will get something sweet for you.’


0 comments: