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Stop bitching. Start acting.


Exhibit A
Have you seen posts like these on FB lately?

What are they about?
A person witnesses some 'wrong' act. He/ She promptly takes a picture of the wrong act. He/she hurries to upload it to social media in an effort to shame the person in question.
Earlier, a photograph of a car's number plate did the rounds online. apparently, the guy driving the car had spit on the road. and so on... all misdemeanors that should ideally be sorted in 'real world' of flesh and bones through polite conversations.

Exhibit A-
Here, a grey haired gentleman opened a door to a cafe for two other gentlemen. The other two gentlemen supposedly did not say 'thank you'. Were they too busy? Were they in a serious discussion, the sort where you forget the world altogether? Do we know anything about them at all? No. We don't.
All we have is this one photo that the indignant-FB-guy (IFG) took without asking the two people in question.

and look at the reaction - It ranges from ridiculing these two strangers to turning this non-incident into a symbol of all that is wrong with India.
"whn ppl do that to me I say 'You're Welcome' loudly."
".OMG ##### the man has the biggest HORNS on his head........what did you expect.....Cattle class !!"
"As an Indian, I always wondered if its the sheer number of bodies perpetually jostling around us, which make us immune to so many civil and civic sensibilities... but then I think of Japan, which is even more congested than us, bowing their butts off.."
"Lovrd this. The so called educated forget basic courtesy and need to be publicly shamed"
"I know them. They share the same name: "Most Indians" "
What does it tell you about how these online people see themselves? 
They are ridiculing strangers for a misdemeanour that they did not know for certain if it happened or not. But one serious breach of manners and ethics went unnoticed.
No one is asking IFG, if it was right of him to take a picture of stranger without their permission. Is it good manners? Is it ethical to invade privacy like this?

Secondly, see how quick we distance ourselves.
me who knows better v/s most Indians, the cattle class. 

On social media, even I am a theorist and intellectual. So obviously, there are a few ones who dissect the incident, albeit in a congratulatory tone. 

Its like an online group of bullies, trying to bully someone who is smaller than them, not present at all!

 Everybody relishes in this online distance - I can safely be a voyeur and a judge! I am omnipotent and always right!


What do you think should be a pre-digital, pre-cowardice reaction to the incident? Wouldn't it be easier to go over and ask for that 'thank you' that you think was a right response?
It's quite certain that IFG wanted to 'teach a lesson'. Everybody online feels that way, so I don't blame him. But why not teach a lesson there and then. Wouldn't it be more effective?
Or was IFG too scared of a possible altercation afterward? Or did he think that he would receive more satisfaction if he posts it online. 

Why am I bothering to write about this at all?
I don't mean to disrespect IFG or commentators. But I am worried about a growing trend of voyeurism and cowardice. We are so afraid of interacting with other people, that we would rather take their picture from safe distance and post it publicly, than go and talk with them and try to understand them. We are so afraid of interacting with other people, that we are becoming less and less human-like.


Why is it a worrisome trend?
Do you remember reactions of people who were passing by naked limp bodies on the street that fateful morning in Delhi's winter?
Do you remember the incident in UK where a person was busy taking picture while he could have saved a man's life?
and there are so many other such stories.. it just fills me with hopelessness. and it feels even worse when I resort to blogging about it.
And there is really only one thing we need to do to change things. To react at all time. question the wrong. Talk. Help. Prod. Call someone. tap on the shoulder and say thank you/sorry. whatever.
But we must REACT as and when a reaction is due. A delayed online reaction for self-gratification will be the doom of our civilization. I am not exaggerating here.

In real life, often we have immediate costs and uncertain gain. We chose online because it gives you immediate satisfaction with seemingly no cost.
If we converse with a stranger in real life, there is a risk of having to waste hours if the stranger turns out to be a bore/ danger of a psychopath... versus the possibility of pleasure in conversation and learning new things. We are increasingly choosing to converse online since you can shut out anytime online, but if the conversation is pleasant, one can take it forward.
Similarly, even about social consciousness - India is starved of volunteers who do actual work, but there is no dearth of online campaigners. 
and worse of all, in times of distress. Honestly ask yourself: The last time you saw someone in distress, what did you do? Did you help the person? or did you walk away after telling yourself some comforting fiction? ('There might be someone else who is helping her/him', 'there are already people there, what is the need for me?', 'I really shouldn't get involved in things like these. It might be dangerous')


Long term scenario
Imagine our dependence on law and authority that this kind of behavior will necessitate. Imagine the sheer terror as people relinquish reactions and stop even acting in self preservation. We are becoming so fragile and wary of danger. We are increasingly less alive.

Answer to all current questions
Questions like - increasing safety concerns for women, increasing feeling of purposelessness, increasing distances in relationships and even the prevalence of bad manners...
Answer to all these question is in a shift of our behavior.
We have to consciously make an effort to react with action, thought and empathy right when it is due. 
If you see someone throwing trash where he shouldn't. Help him be better.
If you see someone trying to harm someone else. raise an alarm/ call police/ use your brain.
If you see someone in distress. You better help him/her. If you don't, you are just as responsible for his/her plight. 
If you see someone who doesn't appreciate your good manners, tell him what you think of it. Don't worry, no one's going to bite you. most of us are quite decent folks. (scared and with different world view, but decent nevertheless).

If your action is to only post about it online, it really is an exercise in narcissism. It is not a benevolent act. It is a selfish act where a person could have been helped, instead you chose to victimize him and derive pleasure out of this public shaming. 

Here's a little chant that you could memorise and tell yourself at all times - 'React! React! React! React! React!... 108/42/786 times (depending on your religious inclination) and repeat.
If we all react when it is due, the world would surely be a much more safer, kinder, confident place.

Comments

Just want to say a big Thank You!!! :)
shubho said…
Superb post, thanks. I am the guy who took the pic, so must clarify certain things. 1, There's no breach of privacy, this was a public place. If someone misbehaves in a public place, I do have the right to flag it. 2. Doubtful if intervention would have resolved the matter - the point here was flagging boorish behaviour. All of us have been on the receiving side, even indulged in it. There is a universal cultural trait here. It is my belief social media can help - while I agree it could be misused. Yes of course, but I'd rather speak up on a medium I use frequently than stay silent.
Cheers and have a nice day.
supriyo said…
So nicely jotted down. Am moved by your observations. A very strong and effective piece..... Thanks yoouuu!:)
Ajinkya said…
@shubho
thank you for your appreciation. and I agree, we need to change and yes, saying up is better than not saying at all.
But we also must react always when it is due.

@supriyo
thank you for your appreciation. :)
chaitanya said…
I agree. I'd rather have one stranger step in and help me out of this medium-sticky situation than have an army of facebook likers talking about it and doing nothing but cause me more trauma.

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Withdrawal symptoms

Ctrl-tab
Ctrl-tab...
Scroll Scroll Scoll..
Alt-tab
Alt-tab...
Catch yourself slipping away.

Deep  breath. 

Close the browser. silence the mobile and turn it away.

Open an offline-real-paper diary. Stop your thighs from lolling impatiently. Stay still. 

Pick up a pen awkwardly. ahh, the fingers are stiff. It will take a  while for them to get used to holding a pen. Quick finger exercise - open the palm, stretch finger outwards, close into a fist, dig the fingers in. Repeat.
Ok now.. about to pick up the pen again, but eyes dart towards the screen. Tempted to check email.

Shut up. The last consequential email came two months ago. Nothing of consequence is online.

Pick up the pen. Don't fetishize the object now. Get on with it. Put it on paper, write a word and start it already. If I get to a sentence, perhaps I will get into a flow and won't have to look up from the paper at all. 

One sentence later.

Ahh. That was good. I am feeling good about myself. The sentence makes sense. …

Value

Things turn into cash
once they are stripped of their lives -
their breath,
their freedom,
their dignity
or their joy.

A fish on the table
and a cubicle dweller..
both are united in their solvency,
their ability to be stripped of their lives and turned into money.

This solvency is our own making
Hold up your hands against the sun and your favourite gods
Do they dissolve? 
Hold up your heart and see if it beats for them
Hold your joys in your hands and fling them towards the system,
does it stick?

For a better world
first we need to walk away from this world.