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One’s self—an objective view

Huzaima Bukhari

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves”—Carl Jung.

A good friend raised a thought-provoking question which is: “Why is it that the Pakistani community, despite having the Holy Quran as its guide and the person of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) as an example, is by and large, not honest, decent, trustworthy and sincere?” This question can be viewed with respect to all those societies that claim to be guided by divine authority and consequently contra queries as to why so-called a-religious societies and countries having secular outlooks have citizens displaying better moral characteristics.

Before an attempt can be made to find out answers, one thing should be clearly understood which is that all divine religions preach honesty, decency, trustfulness and sincerity therefore one needs to rule out any responsibility on some of the leading religious treatise of the world. These among many others include the Holy Quran (Islam with 1.6 billion followers), Bible (Christianity with 2.2 billion followers), Torah (Judaism with 14 million followers), Vedas (Hinduism with 1 billion followers), Tripitaka (Buddhism with 376 million followers), Guru Granth Sahib (Sikkhism with 23 million followers), Kitab-i-Aqdas (Bahai with 7 million followers), Agam Sutras (Janism with 4.2 million followers), Kojika (Shinto with 4 million followers) and Avesta (Zoroastrianism with 2.6 million followers).

A detailed study of these books would reveal guidance for the humanity with lighting up paths towards salvation and keeping off the sinful ways. Emphasis is laid on leading noble lives giving preference to suffering rather than getting attracted towards depravity and immorality. So one thing stands established that merely being in possession of a book of wisdom is insufficient unless the guidelines are adopted/observed and practiced in both letter and spirit. This diverts the topic to not just theoretical understanding of how one should live but the actual practice that goes on in a human society.

When one interacts with various members of the social set-up no matter which stratum they belong to or financial standing they enjoy, one realizes that they all want to appear as best in all respects. Their self-inscribed portrait is the perfect emblem of a human being with no faults. Anything that they do wrong is most of the time on the behest of someone else or on account of peculiar circumstances or further still, either force majeure or a satanic impulse over which they apparently claim, as having no control. All the good is done because they are good within and all the bad committed is because of destiny or outside force. In other words, blame for the woes and even deliberate acts performed are conveniently passed on to divinity. Example: “His death was written this way, that is why I killed him.”

Our outward appearance and behavior is so masked that we remain fearful of what would happen if this mask came off therefore out of sheer embarrassment, we perform all crooked deeds in the darkness of the night, in a closed set-up or in desolate areas where we are safely hidden from the public view. Thus, we succeed in maintaining our position as the perfect human model, like depicted in the famous classic, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. However, when this notoriety breaks the dark covers and manifests itself in broad daylight then it achieves the status of shamelessness—which is where our society has reached these days when any amount of divine guidance merely falls on deaf ears.

Since we are used to looking at ourselves subjectively, we fail to make note of the actual good or bad in ourselves. We resist to honestly place ourselves in either obedient or wayward category. If we are obedient, we follow the rules whatever they may be. Here of course these are implied as the rules of moralists—whether they are religious or as laid down by the country of residence. The compliant one will observe the law, remain upright, respect others and try to steer off from any violations to the best of his ability. Whatever may be the situation, the straight will consciously abide by ethical principles. For instance, no matter how hard pressed he may be for money, he would never think of adulterating milk or other food items and selling them to unsuspecting customers. He would never knowingly sign a false document even if it means a fortune to him. He would think twice before subverting the rights of another. He would weigh the bitterness of his words before opening his mouth.

On the contrary, people who are in the wayward category are the ones who are most unruly and difficult to deal with. For them, rules are meant to be broken, rights are to be usurped; chaos and complications are the ways of life; their wishes take precedence; others are dispensable. Only they matter, nothing and no one else! These mischief mongers create the mess in societies and the innocent get to suffer the results of their evil deeds. Why are they as they are and what drives them to cause disruption are questions that disturb the conscious mind.

In a book Letting Go, Dave Harvey and Paul Gilbert have tried to find some answers. They examine the obstinacy of the wayward and conclude that this type of a person wants choices without consequences; autonomy without accountability and no loss from deviating from God’s path. That sure sounds a lot like some of the people around us who are willing to trample upon others to gratify their straying souls; do what they feel like regardless of hurting others and never have to provide any explanation for their horrific acts.

All this occurs when we refuse to view ourselves from outside of us—i.e. objectively from the perspective of someone else. Do we consciously do things we detest in others or that irritates us when done by someone else? A simple act of greeting with a smile may either be responded to with the same zeal or perhaps be ignored with haughty rudeness. Whereas the former gives us pleasure, the latter would appear repulsive but then what if we belonged to the group falling in the latter class? No one likes to be cheated yet we love to cheat others. We hate to be lied to but when it comes to us, we are quick to lie, even on oath. A careful examination of what we find irritating in others can help us understand ourselves. This requires a high degree of mature consciousness, not just at the individual level, but also as a collective will to be made the basis of primary education.


The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)

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