“It’s four in the morning, the end of December,
I’m writing in now, just to see if you’re better.” -Leonard Cohen
These are the beginning lines of one of my favourite songs by Leonard Cohen. And I am writing in to you, to see if you are better. For, of late it has been difficult to be too good with the world breaking down with strife, polarization, terrorism and hate.
Somewhere in the middle of all this, Inner Space completes 5 years. The end of a year and beginning of a new one sets stage for reflection, introspection and internalization of insights that the year gone by has offered.
‘Intolerance’ is now the new buzzword. National television and social media are rife with debates – Is India intolerant? Are Muslims intolerant? Is the Western world intolerant? My attempt here is to understand what recesses of the human psyche does all of it come from. Are we truly so destructive as humans or so intrinsically evil? Or is there much more? And as I write to you, I facilitate the deepening of my own understanding too.
Each time I engage in conversation regarding the world situation, I encounter points of view that are strong, stuck and unshakeable. There seems to be a natural inner compulsion to support one point of view.
On looking deeper, I sense that the specific point of view held by one is not so much about the content of the viewpoint but about the attachment one has developed to it. There is a great attachment to this view because it is ‘yours’. Perhaps you reasoned it out, really thought through it or heard it from somewhere, found it befitting and adopted it – but now it ‘belongs’ to you. Entertaining a doubt in regard to this point of view, becomes like doubting yourself because now it is so closely connected with who you are. When doubting is difficult, naturally entertaining that it could have flaws – is painful!
And so by the very nature of supporting this one view, you have to deny the conflicting view. To further ensure that there is reasonable clarity in your own thoughts, the other view is labelled as false, loose, immature or inadequate- all words that will ensure that even considering it would be foolish.
But why this clinging to one view?
Yes, we all do this – cling to one view and discard another. Why? Because it leaves us with immense inner conflict and cognitive dissonance to ever entertain two clearly contradictory views. It creates chaos in our minds and makes us feel scattered.
But more importantly, due to our attachment with our point of view, entertaining another one also scatters our story about ourselves. A story that is carefully woven with all that we believe about who we are: I am compassionate, I won’t take bullshit, I am a victim, I am not a victim, I am a Hindu/ Muslim/ Christian/Jew….I am an Indian. Each adjective forms a deep part of an inner story. This story we call our identity. And often we are proud of our identity.
But here is the deal: The stronger our clinging to our identity, the more likely we are to be intolerant. The more we have a strong sense of ‘us’ the stronger our sense of ‘them’.
The more adjectives we have, the more groups into which we divide ourselves, the more religions, castes, sub-castes, states, languages, regions, philosophies we favour; and thereby, more ‘outsiders’ we have to deal with.
This write up isn’t about being good and harmonious world citizens, it is about seeing how isolated we ourselves feel when the world is full of ‘outsiders’. There is immense inner suffering each of us holds as a result of the strongly formed identity. This isolation and loneliness makes us further cling to our identity as support.
All the polarity, the divide, the intolerance and the consequent suffering begins within. We are the creators, manufacturers and sustainers of it.
But we are also not really at fault. Creating identity, looking out for oneself and one’s kind are survival mechanisms in built in us by nature. What is the way out then?
We need not confront ourselves with the herculean task of changing the world, but we can do something about what we are holding in us. Maybe we can loosen up our own identity a bit without being too afraid. Maybe we can remove one or two adjectives from the list that define us. Or maybe we can gently broaden and expand our identity a little at a time to identifying with humans or even better, with other living beings. Letting go a little of our identity creates space both for ourselves and others.
This is my new-year resolution towards world peace. Can it be yours too?
I leave you with a beautiful extract from the book, The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran:
Oftentimes have I heard you speak of one who commits a wrong as though he were not one of you, but a stranger unto you and an intruder upon your world.
But I say that even as the holy and the righteous cannot rise beyond the highest which is in each one of you,
So the wicked and the weak cannot fall lower than the lowest which is in you also.
And as a single leaf turns not yellow but with the silent knowledge of the whole tree,
So the wrong-doer cannot do wrong without the hidden will of you all.