We live in a world where we see so much degradation of human values and corruption all around us that we have come to believe that this is the only way to live and succeed. A few days ago, I was buying mangoes from a street vendor and as the seller was weighing the mangoes, the first thought that came to my mind was ‘will the scale be correct and what if the seller tried to push a rotten mango onto me?’ It was as though I was expecting to be cheated and was not willing to even imagine that the fruit seller could be an honest and sincere person. How many times have each one of us wondered when we get into an auto about whether the meter would be tampered and whether the auto driver was out to fleece us? Why is that we are no longer willing to believe that there are still plenty of good people around us and that everyone is not waiting to cheat or rob us? I remember a friend of mine who told me that she was returning home alone and the streets were dark as there was no power on that day. Worried and anxious, she was trying to reach her brother to ask him to come and pick her up from the bus stand where she had alighted. As she could not get across to him, she decided to walk home and was worried that someone would suddenly come up and pull her chain or try something more adventurous. Noticing her fear-stricken face, a middle-aged person went upto her and offered to walk along with her till her house. My friend’s first thought was that this person was upto some trick. This person walked with her without making any conversation and made sure that she reached her house safely. As she recounted this incident, my friend felt ashamed that she suspected the intentions of this noble soul. What or who is responsible for this situation? Is the trust deficit culturally ingrained in us as Indians? Or is the social and economic stress of modern-day existence causing us to be wary of everyone we interact with. None of us pause and stop to consider that our lives are now filled with negativism and we are constantly reinforcing an environment of suspicion and mistrust. In the process we have stopped seeing good in ourselves and in others.
What has happened to our society and the values that guide it? Can we learn from our indigenous friends and their traditional wisdom? I remember an incident that occurred in 1988. We had just started a school for tribal children in Brahmagiri and it was run in a make-shift cowshed. Cooking and having lunch at this school with the first batch of 28 children was great fun. A few of us would decide on the menu (which unfailingly was ragi balls and sambar day after day!); a few more would collect the firewood required to light up our hearth of 3 stones. We would cut the few vegetables that we could lay our hands on. A few children would then make the cooked ragi flour into small balls. Some others would take on the responsibility of serving their friends and a couple of them had to clean up after the whole thing was done. All this took more time than the academic work, but that was what the fun was all about.
One day, it was the turn of 7-year old Manju to make the ragi balls. That day he had brought along his kid sister Sunanda to school. The first thought that crossed my mind on seeing her was ‘Oh my God, another mouth to feed today’. I expected him to roll the extra 29th ball for her and was quite surprised when I saw him make only 28. This aroused my curiosity and I started watching him keenly. All the 28 plates were laid out and I saw him seat his sister next to him. Surely but slowly, he broke his ragi ball into two and shared it with his sister. I could not contain my curiosity and took Manju aside after the meal asked him the question that I was bursting with – why did he not make the 29th ball for his sister? His reply still resonates in my ears. With all his innocence, this tribal child gave me an insight into the value system that these simple, yet refined tribals possessed. He told me that his parents had gone to the local shandy to sell their bamboo ware. While he wanted to make sure his sister was taken care of, he also did not want to miss ‘school’. Though it was his responsibility to feed her, he did not want his classmates to share his burden. What great wisdom coming from this young child!
I suddenly realized that this school was indeed educating me. It was getting me to unlearn all the selfishness that I had grown up with; getting me to understand that I needed to take responsibility for my actions and not transfer the burden onto society, my family and friends. It was helping me to understand that there was a teacher in each person i meet and in every event that happens around me. I could not stop my tears, while the young Manju was trying to figure out what he had said that upset me so much! For him, it was just another day and that was the way he lived. His values came from his people, his culture, and his family who lived in harmony with nature and the forests. There is so much that we can learn from around us and life would indeed a better place for humankind if we did so.
Our family, school, the surrounding environment and the people amongst whom we live shape our values. Our daily interactions and experiences serve to constantly shape our behavior and attitudes towards society and ourselves. The power and potential of ‘Satsanga’ is not something new to Indian society. We need to constantly remind ourselves that each of us is born innately good and filled with humaneness. Education, experience, and our own daily interactions with people and society make us reactionary and wary of everyone. What we need today is to change all this. We need to understand that ‘being good and doing good’ is the way to changing the present situation. Societal values are an aggregate of what each of us manifest and all that is needed is for us to change our attitude and view of life. We need to bring back trustworthiness and love into our everyday interactions. Then life would be worth living and we would not have to worry or be wary about the man next to us.