Whoever we are, whatever situation we come from; there is little doubt that being human means coming up against times of trouble, at one point or the other. For those who are more fortunate, these troubles take a far more benign form, while others have to wrestle with insurmountable odds. Yet, whether ‘real’ or not, everyone you walk past, everyone you see smiling from their Facebook pictures; every single person carries some burden, and is waging a battle, big or small, to overcome it.
Most of us forget that however. We focus only on our own burning sores, and cry ‘why me?’. We look around, and think ‘why couldn’t it be him, or her?’ In our anger and misery we think inflicting pain on others, who seem so free of pain; would equalize matters and make ourselves feel better. But one never does. You’re just creating more pain and spreading it around. Your pain never goes away.
And then there are those who break free of this cycle. These are the truly evolved people. Regardless of their own problems, these people decide to create some happiness, some well-being as their legacy. They realize that even the smallest acts count.
Let me give you a rather frivolous example from my own life. I am an author, merely two books old now. When I wrote my debut book, the world of publishing was terribly inhospitable. With the support of friends and family, who encouraged me, I still limped to the finishing line and got the book out in published form. Now came the actual test. Who would buy my book? I was neither a well-established writer nor a well-known celebrity everyone would want to hear from. Some of my friends and family (angels in human garb) continued to help, spreading the word among their circles and trying to drum up some sales for me. But we all knew that the actual breakthrough would only come when strangers began to buy my book, enjoy it and spread some word-of-mouth buzz about it. I waited for many months, refusing all offers of ‘paid reviews’ (I didn’t see the point unless it was truly objective!) and steadily losing hope.
That’s when a few people, a person in Mumbai and a person in Chennai, both strangers, decided to give my book a try. This, in itself, is an act of kindness. Why spend 250 rupees of your hard-earned money on an unknown book, when you could save just a little more and buy one written by a celebrity? But they did. They read it with patience and enjoyed it. And this is where the real kindness came in. They proceeded to tell a lot of people about it. Both were bookworms, and well-respected for their reviews, so more people (strangers!) bought my book, and began to write positive reviews of their own. After that, in its own tiny way, the book did well. Far better than I or my loyal group of friends and family expected. My whole attitude to the experience changed. My venture into the world of books gave me pride, and I couldn’t wait to sit down and write another one. With the next book, the publishers were much more welcoming; less sceptical.
In general terms, if a couple of strangers can do that for someone, who knows how much more positivity can come into existence if we all tried to be like them? And who knows, what remarkable developments and progress we could effect, if we decided to band together?
The last decade has been marked by a remarkable amount of polarisation among people. There are very real and immediate problems of global warming, hunger, violence and disease. However, people are squabbling over petty man-made divisions (“narrow domestic walls” as the timeless Tagore put it) as the future of humanity itself slides towards an abyss. There are still good people out there valiantly trying to make a difference. Most people are good, at some level ꟷ sometimes you have to dig pretty deep but it’s there, underneath it all. If all of us could only agree that we have to deal with the bigger problems first; that we are human beings before we are individuals or communities; and just work towards a common, obvious good; we could reverse all the damage we have done. Easily.
As the African proverb says:
“If you want to go fast, go alone
If you want to go far, go together.”
Because only together we can.