Two to Tango

Posted by Ramla Akhtar on 05 March 2005

Yesterday, I noted a street sign displaying the sign --> to indicate a turn. Just below the sign, a longish statement read: "Insaniyat ki khidmat ke liye lagaya gaya." [Translation: Erected for the service of humanity].

This simple line cried for credit - I thought it involved a certain exhibitionism. I smiled inwardly at the thought. This signboard, indeed, was a tragi-comic representation of our society: we want to do good, and we know that good must not be publicized. It's just plain bad manners - besides, it must be a way of life, not something that requires shouting. On the other hand, we know that our society is slow to appreciate or identify those who do small good.

I was having dinner with family one day when the thought struck me: what a blessing to have dinner with a decent set of human beings! After all there are families where the girl child is served the last of bones of the meal. Here I was, with men of my family passing on the better parts of food to me. This is the kind of good that is invisible to most of us. We do not thank not acknowledge - not even see this good - until someone has to shout: "Hey, I did this for the service of womankind!!" And then a feminist of the wrong kind* would think, "What a display of machismo!"

* It can be any kind that's not the right kind. In this context, I mean some uninitiated feminists who just have to be against men. I decry any school of thought that is based simply on opposition, without understanding the cause of the opposition. And indeed, having a right cause. If my theory of conflict resolution is anywhere near being correct, I suggest that most conflicts are only ego-based and can solved if we step out of the realm of ego.
Posted earlier on the blog: by the author.

Stargazer said: -
But Ramla, laws are relative and have relative applications. That's why it is said, "Aimaal kay bunyaadein nee'yaton par hain." Lemme give you an example: supposing you caught someone stealing something. What is the Islamic punishment for stealing? You amputate their hand starting from the finger working up, right?

Now let me throw a curveball at you: supposing you catch two people stealing. One is a career thief stealing gold while the other is some guy who is starving to death and is doing it because he can't take the hunger anymore. You're gonna cut off BOTH their hands?

Ramla, if the nature of human existence was that simple, that bestial in nature, and everything was black and white, then laws could be applied in absolute terms. But humans have something that other creatures don't: MOTIVES. That's why we will be judged and they won't. They existences are based on preordial survival, ours are based on conscious awarenesses and the ability to judge between right and wrong.

As a matter of fact, your anecdote about your flirty friend has a classical irony: the judgment passed on one's behavior as right or wrong, on objective rather than subjective grounds, because all things are (falaciously) assumed equal in the universe. ;-)

Btw thanks for the tip on the book...I'll see if I can get my hands on it sometime.


(latest on top)

Ramla A. said: Ramla A.'s Website
"Sophie's World" is titled "Sophie's World - a Novel about the History of Philosophy." It's a novel within a novel, a history of philosophy, and a mystery. It is a gentle awakening of the central character Sophie with the simple question: WHO ARE YOU?

Above all, it's a great read.

The kind of questions I was talking about were these basic, universal questions.

As for judgment: once we start making the standards relative, there is no longer a standard. The trouble with settlements of most conflicts in life is that every party is dancing. I.e. no one stabilizes at one point. If law and ethics start modeling on the lives of individuals, we will no longer have a law. I was once discussing a particularly fliortatious, heart-breaking friend's antice with another. I concluded, "But it's not her fault. She does not have a satisfactory home life." My friend interrupted, "So what? Everyone has an excuse for doing wrong."

I thought, "Oh yes. Of course. What was I thinking??"
Stargazer said: -
Well that depends on your experiences or rituals. Opinions (or stereotypes) primarily stems from these two areas. Your experiences force a specific opinion about something. Or the rituals or certain stereotypes are "handed down" to you by society, your family, your social circle, etc. Let me give you an interesting example. Do you celebrate Baqr Eid? If you do then you must also do a qurbani right? Well how do you distribute the meat? The way my family does it and also everyone in my "circle" of friends, relatives and colleagues is we believe in keeping 1 part of 3 and giving away the other 2 to the needy and/or other relations, etc. Well this year I was coming back from somewhere one day in a taxi and I was idle chatting with the cabbie about this subject incidentally. Without going into his background, since that would be rude, he said that "they" believed it was the other way around -- after the qurbani you keep whatever you want and THEN give away whatever you do not. In our case we do it quite the other way: we give away first then keep what is left. I asked him why he did it this way and he replied, "Sahab, gosht roze roze khanay ko thoree milta hai. Yahee tho saal main aik moqa aata hai."

You get my point? How exactly would you judge this person? What would you think about him? Many people would judge him as being "wrong" to put it mildy but I gave it some thought afterwards and came to the conclusion that from his perspective he's absolutely correct. Based on his experiences and what has been handed down to him that's the way his "value system" works. I don't think I am someone to judge him otherwise just because our value systems are opposites. Because based on my past experiences and what I have been handed down in the corridor of life that I have grown up in, I think the way I do. And the same applies to him.

My point is when you talk about questioning something -- do you question whether someone doesn't think the way you do OR do you question why someone doesn't think the way you do? ;-) (Before you think I made a typo...) You can raise the SAME question either as a criticism of the other party for being different from what you think (outbound judgmental opinion) OR to understand why they are different from you (inbound to learn/appreciate/comprehend)?

Err, no -- haven't read "Sophie's World", what is it? Although the name rings a bell. I am sure I have heard this name somewhere before. What's it about?
Ramla A. said: Ramla A.'s Website
All in good spirit, *gazer, all in good spirit! :)
Sometimes it's good to boggle our own minds and question, question, question. I have to admit that growing older in a society which forces answers and does not exactly encourage questions - I am sometimes afraid too!
Another question: Have you read "Sophie's World?"
Stargazer said: -
Point taken. (I wonder if this implies humility on my part? I guess no one will ever know... :-) )
Ramla A. said: Ramla A.'s Website
Thanks, Pak+! I am truly honored to be in this company. Enjoyi ng my visit!

Stargazer: comprehensive, indeed. On the back of a bus, I read one of those pithy lines that encapsulate a world's worth of wisdom. It said in a language I don't know and can only approximate:

"Bhoyon sochya na kar/ Pagal ho waseen"
Udu: "Zyada socha na karo/ pagal hojao ge."
Eng: "Don't think too much/ you'll go nuts."

My uncle, alarmed by my OverAnalysis of Everything, quoted: "Aqal hai te sochan hi sochan; Je aqal nayeen te mojan hi mojan."

I am not going to translate! :)

Moral of the story: Let's from now on rsolve to be proacting in our recognition of good feats. So they won't have to shout for attention, and the world will be a better place.
Stargazer said: -
Humility is not something inherent to the human nature. We have a repetitive, consistent need to advertise ourselves and spotlight everything about us ranging from our skills and achievements, to our attire, our status, our wealth, our power, even the association of others who highlight such things. This is commonly seen in our daily lives. Half the world's businesses are centered around self-projection, ego-gratification industries. Not only this we crave such people or rather the association and company of such people. Be honest here: how many times have you come across someone ostensibly "attractive" in some way e.g. smart looks, good clothes, good watch maybe, good communications skills, good car, etc. and NOT wanted to know more? Yet if a person with a modest, humble getup approaches you, you would be least interested, least curious. I mean lacked the ability to look under the skin?

If one shouldn't judge a book by its cover, Pakistanis are one of the biggest cover-collectors on earth. That is the plain truth. In Pakistan, presentation is everything. There are few marks for the meek and unassuming. People will invariably judge your success and personality based on what they see. They don't have the time or interest to look beneath the surface, and most don't have the ability really. How many times have you formed an opinion about a person without giving marks to intangible aspects about what you see? Call me a biased bigot but most Muslims in general, and especially Pakistanis, spend their whole lives chasing after status icons like getting better cars, getting their kids into some brand-name school, working for brand-name organizations, keeping up with some "Joneses" and the list goes on and on. I find few who want to take an initiative and achieve anything of consequence on their own. Everone wants to grow up and work at a MNC or bank. Most of the human race suffers from this malady but we "do it best".

Heck it is so funny that I know people who've never been robbed because they look too humble while I know people who are nothing but budding bean-sprouts getting mugged because of their appearance! What could be more shallow than NOT having robbers and thieves capable of nothing more than mindless petty theft?!! I mean have you ever heard of a thief in Pakistan stealing something of intellectual value like a painting or an antique, etc.?

So you shouldn't be surprised if worthy causes and "small-goods" can't be found without claims, stamps of recognition and exhibitionism surrounding them. Our biggest tragedy is that we wouldn't know a treasure if it was a 2-ton anvil that hit us on the head if it did not glitter enough.

And I'm probably "infected" to some degree too. I can hold an opinion back based on outward appearances until I've heard a few words or thoughts to know where a person really stands. But even I cannot help being attracted by a flash of glitz or charisma unfortunately. Else I wouldn't be writing this comment here, now would I?
PakPositive said: PakPositive's Website
Specials extends a warm welcome to Ms Ramla A., ladies and gents. :)

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