I very proud to be an Indian. We are a great democracy with even a greater diversity. What is it that makes us special? In their book ‘The Indian: The profile of a people’, Sudhir and Katherina Kakar mark classic examples of what gives us an identity of ‘Indianess’. Despite our ethnic differences we are bound by many similarities that allow us to recognise each other wherever in the world we may be. And in this understanding lies our solidarity.
In Goa itself we have many examples of different religions using similar community and environmental traditions. Carl Jung calls it synchronicity, meaningful coincidences.
These coincidences allow us to get an insight into our own similarities. That even though we may wear different types of clothes we ensure that our women cover their bodies, that our food may have different tastes but are generally spicy, and that most of our religious ceremonies will use similar instruments to sing praises to God.
I urge you to reflect on what I say today and become aware of the beauty in the differences we possess. An awareness and appreciation of our diversity. What makes us great could also craftily become our bane if we are not discerning.
I remember almost 25 years back when I was studying in the then Bombay, I once had to travel through broken glass and blood stained streets with a fear that had gripped the streets of Bombay, in the unfortunate name of God.
I wondered then and have always kept wondering what it is that makes neighbours and friends enemies over the very thing that they would respect and even enjoy before. Where does that hate origin? The more I reflect on it, the more I understand why we require an independent mind to enjoy our democracy.
Being Independence Day, today I write as an Indian who is proud of the diversity we have. To possess an independent mind allows you to think rationally and act with discernment. You appreciate others and (what we call in psychology) practice cognitive empathy. It’s an ability to integrate knowledge which allows you to feel another’s feelings; a behaviour deeply embedded in the evolution process of humankind. We evolved to survive by being able to empathise and reach out and protect each other.
Cognitive empathy is a fundamental understanding that our differences are superficial and culturally primed. In the end we are all part of the same kind of environmental diversity that keeps us alive. By killing any of the species we are also killing our own chance of survival. We are one of the many species and no matter what outside nature of human expression we possess, we all need the same kind of air to breathe, food to survive and hope to keep us going. We are a part of a greater universal intelligence and killing each other is never the answer, instead it is self-annihilation.
Cognitive empathy is vital for all kinds of relationships, in your home, neighbourhood and your nation. In fact, a lack of empathy is a quality that is seen in narcissist and antisocial personalities.
Independent thinkers use filters and question information that is being thrown at them. It requires a mind that is actualised and knows how to see life more than what is being presented. Self-actualised people who can live life at their higher potential and appreciate the beauty that is present around them possess this quality. It takes courage to think independently but it allows you to live a quality life with credibility and respect. How do you become an independent thinker?
There are various suggestions that are made by cognitive scientists.
The first one is getting to know other people’s thoughts that are different from your own. Reading helps. Include literature from other cultures and traditions. Ask yourself how different are they from your own and what is the similarity.
The second and even better way is to avail an opportunity to interact with people who belong to other cultures, religions, gender, age groups or professions. One way to do this is by travelling. This might be challenging now but once we are able to overcome the pandemic, let it be part of your to-do list. When you do travel, be like a local person. Seek out experiences that are not part of the traditional sightseeing tourist list. Instead seek local eating places or even better get invited for a meal to a local person house. This is where you truly enjoy and appreciate differences. You could also have virtual interactions. This is what will also make you a more informed and open person. And finally focus on respecting their differences instead of criticising them. I can assure you that such experiences will give you richer memories and increase your quality of life. This Independence Day commit yourself to think independently and with empathy.
Shun away from discrimination and make your country a proud democracy to live in.
Happy Independence Day to all.
(Writer is a clinical psychologist, psychotherapist and the officiating principal at Carmel College for Women)