Showing posts with label religion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label religion. Show all posts

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Why the Rise of Donald Trump is our Collective Failure


“There are seven things that will destroy us: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Religion without sacrifice; Politics without principle; Science without humanity; Business without ethics.”
Mahatma Gandhi

There is a reason why we are suddenly seeing extreme voices gain political footholds and their support grows across every western democracy. The rise of Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage, Geert Wilders, to name a few, can only be explained by a failure of our societies.

I don’t just mean the politicians and captains of industry, but each one of us must accept the blame. Divisive and extreme people never rise up in a vacuum in stable democracies. They need oxygen in order to rear their ugly heads, and unless we provide this oxygen they cannot exist.

For me there is not a single moment or event that led to their rise, but a cumulative effect of years of small abdications in personal responsibility, erosion of principles, a loosening work ethic, misplaced priorities and deteriorating culture and values that have led to a social chasm that we see today.

Unlike generations before us, who were willing to roll up their sleeves and get involved when they saw something wrong in neighborhoods, childrens' schools, communities, governments and countries, I fear we have become so distracted with finding ways to personally get ahead that we have forgotten the basic social bonds and community relationships that are vital to keeping us healthy, empathetic, tolerant and happy human beings. 

I think there are big and small things that have changed, in terms of how we behave, interact and function, that have resulted in an erosion of the social glue that used to bond us more tightly together, and these have contributed to the rise of the Trumps of the world.

When America invades a sovereign nation without provocation and the media and all of us stand by watching silently even when we know it is wrong, we create room for Trump.

When kids use chalk to desecrate a public monument and we say nothing to the parents because we think it is not our place to say something, we create room for Trump.

When we are not outraged by our country ignoring the Geneva Convention and circumventing the constitution to detain enemy combatants without evidence or due process, we create room for Trump.

When we tune in to reality TV, knowing it glorifies the ills of society and turns people who contribute nothing into celebrities but excuse it as guilty pleasure, we create room for Trump.

When we sue doctors, police and our own families for accidents or well-intended mistakes, not willful negligence, and suing becomes a way to make a quick buck, we create room for Trump.

When we ignore professional courtesies, in business, like refusing to get back to people when we have bad news to share because we want to avoid confrontation, we create room for Trump.

When we stop going to Church, not for religious worship but to connect with our neighbours, get involved in their lives and in our community, and replace it with nothing, we make room for Trump.

When we become numb to the fact that there are two active wars, and we stop honoring the sacrifice of those serving, ignore rising military suicides and do nothing about the growing number of homeless vets, we create room for Trump.

When we see someone being wronged or treated unfairly and we look the other way because we do not want to get involved, we create room for Trump.

When we force people to stop saying Merry Christmas because we are worried about offending people, where no offense is meant, we create room for Trump.

When we tell curious young college-going minds that their feelings are more important than broadening their minds, by challenging their worldviews and offending them in the pursuit of knowledge and creativity, we create room for Trump.

When we desecrate works of literature and art because we deem them offensive, we do a great disservice to humanity because you cannot fix history by whitewashing it, but you do ensure that we learn nothing from our past, and we create room for Trump.

When our President draws a red line for the use of chemical weapons on civilian populations and does nothing when that line is crossed, we create room for Trump.

When we allow legislation with far-reaching consequences to be written by lobbyists and corporations and pass it without knowing what thousands of pages contain, we create room for Trump.

When politicians spew vitriol, attack each other personally, forego decorum, stop talking about the issues and we simply laugh, take sides or join in, we create room for Trump.

When we get our news from the Daily Show and 24 hour cable news that deliver information without objectivity, depth or a well-rounded perspective and we also stop doing our own research, we create room for Trump.

When we complain about the broken education system and our child’s teacher but expect that the government should fix these problems rather than that we get involved, we create room for Trump.

When educated people start to debunk sound scientific and medical evidence using unverified articles and citing dubious sources with previously discredited facts, we create room for Trump.

When we decide that the best way to compensate for the excessive discipline our parents instilled and the constant no’s we heard growing up is by over-indulging, mollycoddling and never saying no to our kids (rather than finding the balance between those two extremes), we create room for Trump.

When we start to see complex issues through a simple black and white lens like GMO’s are good or bad and paint all cops with a single brush, we lose sight of complexity and nuance and we create room for Trump.

When we rename Tug of War to “Tug of Love” and stop keeping score to portray a false sense that everyone is a winner, rather than teach our kids that hard work, participation and effort count most (not just winning) and explain that losing does not make you a loser, we create room for Trump.

When we feel like we have performed a social service and done some good in the world by simply LIKING a cause on Facebook or creating a hashtag, we create room for Trump.

When we go to the polls and vote blindly for the party we have always supported rather than research candidates, study their positions and understand their stances, we abdicate our most basic democratic duty and we create room for Trump.

When we think live and let live means we should stay silent when we see something wrong or disagree with someone, for fear of being seen to judge or hurt their feelings, we create room for Trump.

People often ask me how America got here.

How has a man like Donald Trump been able to upend a one hundred and sixty year old political party without a coup and managed to garner much popular support along the way?

My answer is that he exists only because we have given him the room to exist by retreating from our greater societal responsibility.

We live in neighborhoods with like-minded people from similar backgrounds, education levels, jobs and basic interests. In doing so, we have shrunk our world so dramatically that we no longer listen or have the ability to appreciate or understand any view that does not fit neatly into our own little worldview. Even online and in social media we retreat and find comfort only in our own echo chambers.

Think about the mix of people you grew up around, even in your own family; it was a broad swathe of lower to upper middle class, blue collar and white collar. Our neighborhoods had everyone from post office workers and handymen to mid-level executives at IBM and AT&T. This is no longer true.

Today, it has become easier for us to forget large segments of people in our society as we have become more isolated and divided based on income, education, skill level and race.

We have stopped learning and growing, and most importantly we have stopped building empathy for people and alternate views outside of our small, safe and like-minded worlds.

This has been our collective failure and until we fix our broken social divides and start to fill the local and community voids again we will continue to see men like Trump thrive in the vacuum we have created.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Real India


“This is indeed India; the land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendor and rags, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence, of genii and giants and Aladdin lamps, of tigers and elephants, the cobra and the jungle, the country of a thousand nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of tradition, whose yesterday’s bear date with the mouldering antiquities of the rest of the nations—the one sole country under the sun that is endowed with an imperishable interest for alien prince and alien peasant, for lettered and ignorant, wise and fool, rich and poor, bond and free, the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the globe combined.”
Mark Twain

All my life I have believed in an India that increasingly exists only in my mind’s eye. Perhaps, this India of which I am so proud to be a citizen is merely an idea that has not yet been fully realized. Increasingly, it feels like this great vision of India rarely matches the reality that I see.

My India is rich with diversity, the birthplace of three of the world’s major religions (friend, guide and philosopher to the other three) and home to every religion practiced by man. In this India, it is our diversity, and not our divisions, that make us stronger, richer and more powerful. In my India, I am always proud to be Indian first; then Bengali, Tamilian, Gujarati, Malayali, Punjabi or Jain. 

In this India, I am also proud that India is still home to the second largest Muslim population in the world; in spite of the creation of two Muslim states on her borders. This is what makes the fabric of my India so rich and her cultural mosaic the envy of the civilized world. No other country in the world can claim to have this breadth of heritage and depth of diversity running through her veins.  

As long as each of us clings to being a Hindu, a Muslim, a Christian or a Jain then we will remain only a very small and totally inconsequential part of this India.

In this India, Hinduism is not a religion, but a philosophy for a way of life. It is an accumulation of ideas, beliefs, traditions, philosophies and cultural practices that were collected and shaped over centuries. Unlike other religions, Hinduism cannot be neatly slotted into a specific belief system. 

It is a Dharma, or a set of philosophies that are meant to govern our personal beliefs and worldly actions. Interestingly, it is the only religion in the world that cannot be traced back to one single individual or book. And the only religion that does not require a person to “convert” or have a religious affiliation to it in order to receive its teachings. 

The word “Hindu” cannot be found in any of its scriptures. In fact, it was first used by invading Arabs to describe al-Hind, or the land of the people who live across the river Indus; and it was only toward the end of the 18th century that the European merchants and colonists referred collectively to the followers of Indian religions as Hindus (source: Wikipedia). 

Hinduism is considered the world’s oldest religion, pre-dating Judaism, Christianity and Islam by a few thousand years. If you look at its practices, unlike other religions, it does not tell you who to worship, what to eat, which day or how many times to pray, but instead offers things like Yoga, Ayurveda and Vastu. At its core it is about self-awareness and the idea of “live and let live;” with an underlying belief system based on truth, honesty, non-violence, cleanliness, austerity and perseverance. Perhaps, this is the reason it is often referred to as the “enlightened religion.” This is the true nature of the religion we today call Hinduism.

The Hinduism that is preached, practiced and used as a tool to create communal strife and manipulate the voting public today is barely recognizable, and not part of my India. It has been bastardized by Hindu fundamentalists and hijacked by self-appointed chieftains and politicians as a way to divide the country and buy votes. But it is too easy to blame just the power hungry; for individuals too it has deteriorated into regular offerings of millions of rupees in gold, silver and precious gems to their Gods – purely as a way to atone and wash away all the worldly sins they commit outside their temple walls. 

These offerings lie collecting dust in temple vaults while 830 million Indian’s live on less than Rs. 20 per day ($0.44c or UK 0.27 pence). A person going to the temple with bags full of gold or cash can pass a starving child on the way to their deity, and look the other way. However, he will have no qualms about handing over all his possessions to fat, corrupt temple officials as an offering to an inanimate block of stone. This is what we have reduced Hinduism to, a worthless transaction that does nothing to help us live better lives, become better human beings, help our fellow countrymen or even our own country.

In my India we celebrate and hold dear our heritage, not simply because it is thousands of years old, but because it is responsible for our wealth of diversity, today. Which other non-Muslim country in the world can claim to have so many different successful Muslim figures across every aspect of society, even though they are a minority in a country whose population is more than four-fifths Hindu? 

We have had three Muslim Presidents; the Khans still rule Bollywood and Azim Premji is one of the richest men in the world. We can also proudly lay claim to Javed Akhtar and A.R. Rehman and feel great pride in the fact that one of our most patriotic and well-known songs “Saare Jahan Se Achchha,” was a great collaboration. It was penned by Muhammed Iqbal, a Muslim, and the music was composed by Pandit Ravi Shankar, a Hindu. In fact, in this India we don’t just blindly recite the lyrics, we hold them dear.

“maz’hab nahīn sikhātā āpas men bayr rakhnā
hindi hai ham, vatan hai hindostān hamārā”

“Religion does not teach us to bear ill-will among us
We are Indians, India is our homeland”

We take their meaning to heart and reflect this in the way we live our lives. And we hang our heads in shame at the fact that we all stood idly by and watched one of our greatest national treasures, the late artist M. F. Hussain, die in a foreign land where he felt he needed to seek refuge (and accept citizenship) because thugs in saffron made sure he would never feel safe in his own home again. 

This even after the Supreme Court threw out all the completely frivolous lawsuits against his nude paintings of Indian Goddesses; refusing to initiate criminal proceedings against him for hurting Hindu sentiments. The court also called out the clear anti-Muslim motives behind these cases, by stating the fact that Hindu temples are filled with much more graphic depictions of nude Goddesses in pictures, paintings and sculptures, and it seems that this never hurt Hindu sentiments in a few thousand years.

This India is not about all hugging and getting along. I doubt man will ever be able to do that, but it is about accepting that we are not all the same; that we will never look, dress, think and pray alike, but that each of us has something to contribute and much more to learn. It is about recognizing that this learning is what makes us all stronger, richer, greater and more successful as a nation. 

It is only once we are all able to embrace this notion that we can stop our leaders from dividing us based on the inconsequential differences that exist between us. Until then, I will treasure this India in my mind’s eye.