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The Hypocrisies Of A Righteous Mind

The only cure is empathy.

07/09/2017 12:01 PM IST | Updated 07/09/2017 12:01 PM IST
Grant Faint

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 hundreds 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 movies are illogical and laughable. But if you have anacondas and dinosaurs taking revenge in films, it is perfectly acceptable.

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 nations affected by conflict go abroad 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 civilised.

This list could go on and on—and the common thread is hypocrisy.

Examples abound from all over the word—whether a country is developed, developing or under-developed.

As we think more about this, there is an informal power that one group of people have over others. That's because they have an enabler either in the form of a media platform or education or technology, or all. These invisible benchmarks determine how we evaluate not just movies but also everything from the quality of education in different countries, good looks, candidates in an election, fashion, so on and so forth.

The fundamental assumption in most human conflicts is — I am right and the other person is wrong.

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—after all, 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 main Chinese social platform. 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. New voices start to emerge that start questioning the status quo and these societal assumptions. We see more 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?" or "who said so?" or "here is my data, so prove me wrong." There is a constant need to be right and a constant need to win the ego battle.

The fundamental assumption in most 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.

Everyone works extra hard to justify their arguments. It is very hard to find people who say, "Sorry, it was my fault" or "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 workplace trainings?

What would it take to change our default assumption from "I am right and you are wrong" to "Everyone is right?"

Empathy will make it clear that there is nothing superior or inferior, good or bad, right or wrong.

Earlier this year, there was a massive, non-violent protest led by students in Tamil Nadu to lift the ban on Jallikattu, a traditional bull wrestling festival, and one of the most important events for the Tamils in India. The default assumption put forth by animal rights activists and their supporters was, "Jallikattu is wrong." But a vast majority of the Tamil people think that Jallikattu is a great part of their 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 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 when there is a confrontational approach, the scope of engagement between both sides is ruled out.

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 workplace and most importantly, in social media. All it takes is a little bit of awareness and little more empathy to see things from other people's points of view. This empathy will make it clear that there is nothing superior or inferior, good or bad, right or wrong. Let us be more empathetic and let us go with an assumption that the other person could also be right.

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