I recently met a man, unlike most people I meet these days. He wore a white, spotless shirt and old fashioned pants. He was old and looked like it too. He was immersed in the academic section of the book store. There was an air about him that made me want to talk to him.
“Can we talk?”
“I don’t see why.”
I kept following him for a while until he finally agreed to sit with me for a coffee only with a word of caution, “I have just five minutes for you and don’t order for me. This place is costly and you are young. You must save at this age.”
Since he was a retired Economics professor, Economics comprised most of our conversation. He named professors, authors and books I had little idea about. While talking he brought up his interest in reading which further took the conversation to libraries and why he loved them.
He told me about various economic changes that occurred under different Prime Ministers of India and so on. He had immense knowledge and his words had a certain level of conviction. I was forced to ask him the process he followed to arrive at such convincing conjectures.
“I spend my Saturdays at the British Council, reading everything that is available about a certain topic, say, Brexit,” he told me.
He went on to explain how the magazines he read ranged from a liberal point of view to a nationalist, capitalist, communist point of view and so on. After an entire day of reading, he would conclude and make his own personal opinion which he would only share with another person when he was fully sure about it. “I like debates and arguments but I never quarrel for I know the other person might have his own researched opinion which might be correct from his point.”
He was a man of his words. He got up after five minutes and apologized for his rudeness since it was well past two and he was already late for lunch.
I wanted to thank him for living his life the way he did.
I didn’t ask his name or political inclinations. I let those details float in the air and dissipate away from my mind when I was done talking to him. I wanted to take away my learnings without any prejudice.
He truly was a man from a different era, perhaps. Why else would he expect someone to have a ‘researched opinion’ in times like now?
In times like now, when we have so much information at our disposal, good and bad, useful and useless, we often find it hard to process all of that into meaningful knowledge. We also find it extremely difficult to discard any information which is not important to us.
Alas! Unlike rapidly updating android and windows versions, our brain still runs on an old but reliable and efficient software. There is still no brain 2.0 in the market. It needs time and understanding to gather, process and convert information into something meaningful, something worth speaking or writing about.
It hence becomes important for us, all of us, to read, watch and listen to various viewpoints, right and wrong, immaterial of the party (not political) producing it. We then also need to give our mind enough time to process these viewpoints, ponder over them and then make an opinion about it. All of these steps should be prerequisites for using any media (including social media) to put our own personal views.
Unless this process is not followed, we would be producing half-baked instant reactions based on our assumptions. Today, we make assumptions based on what our eyes see and what our ears hear.
We have been falling level by level as a society, all around the world. We were a community when we began, then we were forced into being objectified as ‘voters’ by the political minds and now we have stooped so low that we are being termed as ‘mob’.
A mob is perhaps, the most offensive term one can use for a group of people. It is like being compared to cattle. Cattle usually follow a shepherd without using their own head. For animals, it is forgivable. They are not accountable for their actions. They don’t need to follow rules. Humans, on the other hand, can’t live that way.
We are naturally designed to ask the question ‘Why?’ Instead, for quite a while now we’ve just been shrugging our shoulders and saying, ‘Why not?’
As a community, immaterial of what gods we follow or what politics we like, we should think more, read more and experience more. We all need to be more like the retired economics professor I met. If we are not sure about something, we should keep our words to ourselves. If we don’t agree with someone or something, we must not turn into a ‘mob’. Instead, we should engage in debates.
For once, ask ‘why?’ instead of saying ‘why not?’.