Here’s half the truth

Young people spend a lot of time looking down at the ground. Old people spend a lot of time looking up at the sky. People in the middle look neither up nor down. They look straight ahead — at waves in the sea bobbing up and down, at the ebb and flow of tides, at the ever-changing flow of life in its myriad manifestations — singularly focused on their bright, future prospects! Looking into the distance, being mindful of society’s pros and cons: this is what gives rise to conventional wisdom. As in organized religion, you never question its merits. If you do, you may be asking for endless argument.

Now, if you’re neither an optimist nor a pessimist — that is, if like me you see the bottle as neither half empty nor half full (never even stopping to ponder at which end the better half may be esconced) — you could be the only one looking in vain for the whole truth, some strange wispy cloud that flies across the sky at the speed of light. In which case, conventional wisdom is not exactly your cup of tea, nor is it mine, to be honest.

Of course, conventional wisdom is widespread everywhere, not just where you and I live. It competes surreptitiously with superstition and folklore. (Incidentally, superstition and folklore, as you might have guessed, are modern inventions too.) You may want to run for the hills when rumors fly about, but sometimes you might find yourself stuck. Since I’ve lived in North America for way more than two decades, I must share with you some sparklers of conventional wisdom doing the rounds in this part of the world.

1,2,3,4…there will be more!

First, verbal or written communication is grossly over-rated. Unlike as in the East, silence is openly misunderstood. Surely, it’s not regarded as sacred. To be pragmatic, telephone companies will urge you to call before making a trip anywhere. Of course, calls cost money, and so do wasted trips. They tell you to talk, talk, talk — before you act! No altruistic gesture by any stretch of the imagination, knowing that this practice only puts more money in their pockets.

Such abiding truths are all very well until “communication” is expected to solve all our mortal problems, big or small. You’re urged to talk to every offender (even hardened criminals, if that’s the case) — communicate, pontificate, prevaricate, argue, counsel, cajole, dole out free leaflets, ask them to read up on the Internet — and all your problems, like solar eclipses, will soon disappear. As you rightly guessed, communication implies getting your message across, not in listening to or hearing the other side of the story. At times you wonder, if communication ever had anything to do with silence, or if light has anything to do with darkness?

Secondly, many in this great big democracy agree that it’s just another human being under so many-colored skins. What they haven’t discovered yet (or may still be working on) is that human beings are existentially the same, whether man or woman, white, brown, black, yellow or colorless. With Mars and Venus theories, left-brain/right brain rationale bandied around and assuming infallibility sometimes, gender distinctions become hard to dispel. It’s a man or a woman thing, you’ll often hear said. So much so that boys are associated with the color blue, and girls with pink. You may even be regarded as queer if you beg to differ, resent the straight-jacket, or question the soundness of its limiting logic.

Someday, I might be tempted to extend my tirade against technology and/or foods that fall into the four “primary” categories, but I still have to gather my wayward thoughts on that subject. We may talk about it another day, if  that’s okay with you, just like we may talk about the value of education as we know it. Note, however, that conventional wisdom arises from what each community regards as important for its perceived survival on this planet, and not necessarily on truths that are universal, unchangeable, or transcending existence. It is an animal — loud, sometimes arrogant, with little or no patience for dissenters — that lives inside a box. Beware, gentle reader, the wide open sky could startle it!

Quite easily done

Once again, because Capitalism is just that — money, money, and more money — everything, I repeat everything, can be solved if you just had enough money. With money, you can buy enough food to feed the poor; inject medicines to heal the sick and ailing; reverse the ravages of time; research assorted age-defying paraphernalia; run schools to help kids think inside the box and stay within the tracks; silence your detractors; pump chemicals into Nature for her to produce more; acquire the latest armaments to annihilate your enemies; and enforce laws that even earth, water, and sky must obey. Q.E.D, as you learnt subliminally in Geometry,  it’s Quite Easily Done.

Fourth, in some ways an extension of the foregoing example, comes modern medicine, now exerting a vice-like grip on our mega metropolises. I’ve even heard Homeopathy being derided on TV by celebrity experts. You must really be kidding to think a medicine can increase in potency (in geometric progression too) just by repeatedly diluting it in water! And, Ayurveda?…must be another figment of saintly imaginations fueled by hallucinogenic weeds. Acupuncture, being apparently more tangible, may be more acceptable, especially if the results are quickly felt. We don’t seem to have time for the pain, so it makes sense to deride anything that’s slow, circumspect, or even holistic.  Every knee-jerk, reactionary solution (lockup for crimes, for instance) is the right solution. You don’t want to argue with half the population, do you, amigo? I don’t.

Again, you’re told not to trust strangers. This might be just another face of free enterprise and unregulated profit motives, I’m not sure. You’re encouraged often to suppress your gut. Don’t make friends with people you don’t know, or fall in love with someone brought up different from you (this has more relevance in our particular eastern climes). In short, spontaneity is suspect. But how do you make friends or fall in love unless fences are first broken? Racism and discrimination has to start somewhere. Maybe, this is where it all began…well…

I can go on rambling, and stray into areas that a thousand words fail to explain. But wait a minute. I have to get off my train of thoughts, just to check if there’s something fishy on the tracks. There is. Truth is only half told. Truth also belongs to words unspoken and sights unseen. Seeing has no direction, no end. Alas! what I, a poor scribe, can offer is only half the brimming glass.

Shyam Bhatya

This post is opinionated, no kidding! Please feel free to critique it below, if you disagree. 

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