A Universal Affliction

Looking around me, at home, in the neighborhood, and in the society, even within me, I find everyone afflicted with a condition that nobody seems to be capable of getting rid of. It is a condition that gives raise to conflicts, differences of opinions and strife between people, but nevertheless not many seem to recognize it and make an effort to control it. Let me give an example.

A famous celebrity, an actor, is so afflicted with this condition that he has started a reality show to set right all wrongs and bring justice to those denied. The show is only a few episodes old, and is already creating waves amongst the masses, stirring up controversies and gaining the attention of the powers to be. Some people just love the show, while there are some who trash it outright. Me, I am amused at how the ‘condition’ has been used to generate TRP (translated to Money).

I know, I know. I have harped too much about this condition without telling what exactly it is. Oh you don’t need to brace yourself up for complex names, because this condition has a simple one – Self-Righteousness.

Yes. Self-Righteousness. Everybody, which includes me too, fall into the trap of self-righteousness in their relationships and dealings with other people. We do things or say things which we think are right, seeing them only within our own range of vision. We fail to see issues from the other side and appease ourselves with the self-righteous assumption that we are not doing anything wrong.

Very often we see neighbours getting into arguments and brawls over petty matters. The onlookers or those who try to mediate would often find that each party is correct according to his own opinion. For example, a rodent is found dead right in the middle of two houses. Neighbour 1 thinks that neighbour 2 will clean it away and remove it to the garbage bin, and the latter thinks vice versa. They both argue on the matter, each claiming to be correct. The argument could go on and on, but the actual problem remains unsolved. The rodent continues to stink and spread an unbearable stench to both the houses. The problem could easily be solved if at least one party steps down and volunteers to remove the rodent. However, since each party actually believes that he is right in pushing the task to the other, the problem continues to persist.

I talked about a celebrity’s new reality show at the beginning of this article. The celebrity took up one case of misconduct by a medical practitioner where the doctor’s greed had caused undue harassment to the patient. True, such sly foxes can be found now and then in every profession. But to dub the whole medical community as compromised? That was the actor’s self-righteousness at its best, passing judgements where one does not even have authority. The actor is no doubt an ace in his field, but to assume that it gives him a free ticket to pass judgements left, right and centre over anybody or any issue, is to make a fool of himself. Although, not many people realize this and blindly follow the celebrity, hanging on to his each and every word. Thus the celebrity is shaping the public opinion according to his own knowledge and wisdom! Now there’s a good competitor for Ayn Rand’s Ellsworth Toohey!

A relative of my friend’s has had to live a very difficult life, abandoned by husband and mistreated by the family. Talk to her, and she would spin yards and yards of tales of her woes. Almost every family member, in her tales, would have at one point or another wronged her in some way and she would describe herself as having forgiven them in spite of the hurt she bore. However, my friend said she once took up one of the incidents narrated by the relative to the family member who was involved in it, wanting to know why they behaved thus. The answer the family member gave showed the incident in a completely different light. The family member suddenly became correct and my friend’s relative, wrong. Thus each person thinks he is right according to his own beliefs, and that the other person is wrong. Such an attitude only leaves voids in human relationships, unfilled gaps that remain so because people at either side of the gap are not willing to step down from their perceived superiority over the other.

So why are people so obsessed with self-righteousness? They set their own notions of good and bad, right and wrong and judge others within the framework of these notions. More often than not, they are always right and others always wrong in these judgements. People see the whole world from within the limited view of their knowledge and choose to ignore the other side of the coin. So when others comply to one’s own levels of knowledge, one maintains amicability with them, but when they step into realms unreachable by one’s knowledge and wisdom, they fall out of one’s favour.

Avvaiyar, the great Tamil poetess, says, ‘Katrathu kai man alavu, karkathathu kadalalalavu’ – The known is but a handful of sand, the unknown a vast ocean. Then how can people make assumptions and pass judgement about the ocean based on a small pebble? In reality it is the inability to accept discomfiture, accomodate inadequacies and comprehend the wholesome nature of issues that makes people confine themselves within a limited range of wisdom and look at the world through this limited wisdom.

3 comments on “A Universal Affliction

  1. Hi Yamini,

    it was a gd article indeed. a small correction the famous tamil literature phrase “katrathu kai man alavu kallathathu ulagalavu” was from the famous female poet “Avvaiyar”.


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