“But if you are going to wear blinders then you do not know the world”―Miriam Makeba
Blinders or blinkers are cover for the eyes to narrow down the scope of vision so that the viewer is focused on a specific perspective. They are usually placed on race horses to keep them from diversion or being disturbed by other horses. As these animals are quite sensitive to movement and instinctively perceive danger, there is a tendency to run away from it. With the blinders on, they are in a relaxed position, oblivious to any motion around them. Domestically trained animals engaged in laborious farm or similar activities are usually fitted with blinders.
They say that a man is known by the company he keeps. Depending on one’s own interests in life the people around usually find themselves fancying the same likes and dislikes which is why a particular group seems so closely knit. In our everyday life, we tend to incline towards those who can appreciate us and are willing to satisfy our wants. We naturally feel attracted towards toadies, they being yes-men/women who are adept at fanning our bloated egos. To us they are invaluable and we do everything in our power to keep them near us. They mean the world to us as we aspire to cover up our faults. In fact, they are like blinders that keep our vision focused in one direction thus preventing distraction. In the corridors of power, they are our best blinders who prevent us from seeing ground realities. The flip side is that these blinders can play a positive role especially where one needs to concentrate on doing something productive or positive.
A friend mentioned Oscar Wilde’s tale of the happy prince who, confined in the luxuries of his palace thought that like him, all his subjects too were enjoying a trouble-free life. His courtiers kept telling him about the affluence in his kingdom that lifted his spirits and all he could feel was happiness which remained with him till his last day on earth. After his demise, his statue covered with leaves of gold, bright sapphires for eyes, a lead heart and a large ruby on the sword’s hilt, was erected on a high place on a tall column overlooking the entire city. Those who beheld it became impressed with its grandeur getting the impression of a happy prince and that is how the statute came to be known while its builders got applause for their creativity.
The external flashy statute was actually concealing a most dejected, helpless and depressed person, poles apart from the happy prince image that it portrayed. Now that he was exposed to the real world he could see the stark reality of his subjects which was the opposite of what he had been made to believe. They were not all as happy as he had thought. In fact, there were some families who were living in extreme adversity that hurt him terribly. Only when he befriended a swallow that could not fly south as the winter drew in, was he able to take practical steps to alleviate their sufferings. The bird would carry his gold leaves, his sapphires and the ruby to the suffering lot and rid them of their woes but in this process the prince lost all his outer adornment, his lead heart snapped into two because of frost and the swallow died at his feet unable to bear the harshness of the weather. On seeing the dilapidated statue, the Mayor remarked, “The ruby has fallen out of his sword, his eyes are gone, and he is golden no longer, he is little better than a beggar!” The happy prince was wiped off the face of this earth.
The main idea for bringing up this story is that those who are at the helm of affairs should not lose connection with the real life. Amazingly, while the same people are in the opposition benches, they seem highly sensitive to the needs of the poverty struck people of the country, visiting and consoling them. They raise voices in their favour, criticize the government for ignoring their plight and during this course make promises to turn their fate for the better on coming into power but the first thing they do on assuming charge, having derived support of the very same electorate, is to put on blinders. These come in all shapes and sizes that cut them off from brutal truth only to bask in the sunshine of their new-found position of strength converting them into the metaphoric image of the ‘happy prince’ egged on by selfish opportunists.
In the days of yore sensible kings, in disguise would travel in their lands to see for themselves how the system was working, how their subjects were faring and what kind of opinions they had about their ruler and their courtiers. They did not blindly rely on reports presented to them by government officials but made their own assessments. Today, when all types of information are easily available, there is practically no need for rulers to go out in the streets. They just need to remove official blinders (those who harp the tune of “all is well”) from their eyes, keep track of the real facts and chalk out policies for the most deprived section which always seems to cover the major population of the realm. Only then can they win the hearts of their people but till then we were and shall be ruled by ‘happy princes and princesses’.
The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE).