A Short Essay

Oday Baddar


"God damn you!" Abu Raed yells and honks at the tenth car in the queue of cars ahead of him because its driver slowed down on a narrow road. "This isn't the time to look at some random car accident! People have places to go!" But once Abu Raed arrives near the accident scene, he slows down to witness the damage. Cars behind him blow their horns at him and mutter incoherently. That's when he looks into the back mirror, waving his arms and hands gesturing an upset motion, as though asking: "What the hell is wrong with you? The world isn't going to end if I slowed down a bit!"

This duality in behavior may seem schizophrenic, but below the surface we find the roots of the problem. Psychologists tell us that children under five years old do not have the ability to put themselves in someone else's shoes. So for instance, you often see a child coming up to his mom while she's in the middle of a conversation with another adult and repeatedly yelling to get her attention. Some uninformed parents think the kid is nagging on purpose. But that's not the case. The kid, at that early stage of development, cannot fathom that "mom" and "dad" are also individuals who have other roles aside from being a parent. It's as though they can't grasp the idea that mom and dad are another person's daughter or son, sister or brother, wife or husband, aunt or uncle, friend or acquaintance. They are nothing but mom and dad and their role in life is to serve this child's every whim.

Then kids grow up, and one way or another, they mature enough to be able to see the world from someone else's eyes. You can observe them, around the age of seven or eight, offering their only snack, an icecream or a chocolate, to a classmate or a younger kid. They slowly begin to realize that there are other people around them who also have wants and whims, and who also feel pain and happiness. This realization of the other develops in them the first traits of generosity, kindness, and forgiveness (as discussed in the Fundamental Theory). But then comes along the misguided parent or adult to ruin it with their misguided advice.

I remember seeing a parent chastising his son because he shared his bag of potato chips with a classmate, saying: "Why do you share your food with your classmates? Don't they have parents to give them money? Let their parents buy their snacks. Don't be a fool, son. Don't let others take advantage of you!" Well, soon enough, the kid begins to connect generosity with idiocy - "Only idiots would give away their allowance to others."

Then comes the kid who was pushed onto the ground during a football game, bruised knees and elbows covered with band-aids. "What happened?" the parent asks. "A boy in school pushed me while we played soccer," he answers. "Did you hit him?" says the father, to which the child shakes his head. The father's response? Another gem: "Tomorrow morning I want you to go up to that boy and hit him back as hard as you can. If you don't do this, then he will push you again and again, and other boys will turn you into a punching bag. Only weak kids get bullied. Are you weak? No you're not! So tomorrow you take your revenge. Understood?" This kid either follows through the advice and ends up into one too many fights, spending a great part of his childhood and development in street fights, beating others and getting beaten up. Or he could refuse to follow that advice (for any number of reasons) and end up suffering emotionally for being called chicken and wimp, and probably still get harassed and beaten up. Either way, the results are partial unhappy childhood, with loads of emotional baggage to explode later on against the wife or kids, or turn into severe depression during adulthood. The value of forgiveness, like generosity, is reduced to a synonym for weakness or foolishness.

And when a five year old kid interrupts his mom with his "nagging," a mother could turn to her son and yell at him, cuss him out, or even slap him, followed by rhetorical questions like "can't you see I'm busy?" or "how dare you interrupt me?!" completely oblivious to the child's very limited world view. And then we wonder why our kids can't sit still at home or in public - "they need the attention they have been deprived of."

Well what outcomes are we to expect from such upbringing? The outcome is perhaps: angry, violent, unforgiving, stingy, cunning adults! Each looking out for himself and for his own, with utter disrespect and carelessness to other people's preferences and needs, buried under a façade of superficial kindness and forgiveness; the fake smiles and false promises.

You can see it in the way people drive on the road. Many drivers don't want to let you pass, because that would be an act of generosity (foolishness). And if she lets someone pass, the drivers behind her would honk and curse at her for inconveniencing them by her stupid generosity, because she slowed down their journey by two seconds more. A driver may double park and block your car when he can't find a parking spot right in front of the store he wants to go to. Why should he be inconvenienced with a minute walk when he could double park right in front of the store he needs to go to? So he double parks, fully knowing that the driver (or several drivers) he's blocking will be extremely upset, let alone the bottleneck he creates on the main road. He knows that but he still doesn't bother because his personal convenience comes first. To think of others would be idiotic. We repeat proverbs and sayings like "This life is unfair, and shows no mercy" to justify our aggressive behavior. We also reiterate gems like: "If you're not a wolf, you'll be eaten by one" and "I shall have you for lunch before you can have me for dinner."

In simpler words, everyone in the corrupt city sees himself as a Very Important Person (VIP) and no one else is. Indeed, Abu Raed's behavior can be logically explained through this perception. When Abu Raed was ten cars behind the accident, he was honking and cursing and yelling because he's a VIP, and VIPs do not wait for ordinary people who are blocking their path and causing them inconvenience to move out of their way. And when Abu Raed was near the accident scene, he slowed down, and others had to be patient, because he could recognize only one VIP on the road; himself, and the others obviously could not see that!

Samir blasts the stereo music out loud with the windows rolled down at two o'clock in the morning in a residential neighborhood, and blows the horn repeatedly to let a friend know that he's downstairs waiting. If Samir's friend says to him "Shh! stop honking! And easy with the music! People are sleeping!" Samir would instantly take this as a direct insult to his entire existence. Samir would let his friend know that he's acting like a "sissy" and a "coward," and would let him know very well that whoever dares to complain about his actions shall taste the wrath of his fists, or knife, or pistol, or his friends and connections with the police and government. Everyone there seems to have an aunt or an uncle who are married to the daughter of the neighbor of the brother of a government spy, who would always be ready to come to their aid once faced by justice for breaking the law. People in the corrupt nation gladly boast about their connections with government officials and other famous people, in order to remind themselves and their audiences that they are truly VIPs.

But what Abu Raed doesn't understand is that when everybody is VIP, then no one really is! If he was truly a VIP, then that tenth car ahead of him would not have slowed down and ruined his mood, and the car drivers behind him would not have blown their horns when he was slowing down to witness the car accident up close. So by caring only for yourself, constantly seeking revenge against those who assault you physically or emotionally, and looking upon selfless acts as stupidity, you actually end up being a Very Unimportant Person!

What would it be like in a society where no one saw themselves as a VIP? Well, in that society, parents would commend their kids for sharing their potato chips with their classmates, telling them: "That was very kind of you to share your food with your classmates. These are the moments you will cherish, and you'll see how your generosity today will pay off tomorrow." Parents would also tell their bruised sons from fights or rough sports that it's alright, and to be forgiving, and if things got worse, the parents of the bruised child would talk directly to the parents of the offender child and have matters resolved between grown-ups. With that type of guidance, these children will grow up enjoying the fruits of generosity and find pleasure in sharing a bag of chips with a friend. When a boy pushes another onto the ground during a soccer match, the offender would come back and give his hand to the injured boy and help him up to his feet, followed by a genuine apology. Both kids would feel good when violence ends with mutual respect and forgiveness. The braver kid is the one who initiates the peace.

In a society free of VIPs, you would grow up realizing that it is rude and unacceptable to double-park blocking other cars, because you know how it would feel if someone double-parks and blocks your car. In such a VIP-absent society, when someone does double-park, it would be the exception, and the one who's car is blocked would imagine that the other driver must have had a very good excuse, perhaps an emergency, to park in that manner, and so he would wait patiently to see the end of it. Samir would not play his music blasting so loud after midnight with windows rolled down, and would not honk repeatedly to call his friend to come downstairs, because he would be thinking of the neighbors' convenience and comfort, not just his. And when Abu Raed is in slow traffic, he wouldn't curse and yell because he knows that the drivers ahead of him would not slow down the traffic on purpose. Moreover, people would gladly clean after themselves at public bathrooms or in restaurants, because they know they aren't any more important than the janitor or the waiter. Morever, they wouldn't litter anywhere for the same reasons: they would be ashamed to let scavengers pick up trash after them. They would gladly return the supermarket cart back to its place, instead of leaving it in the middle of the parking lot. They would show up on time to meetings and not let their friends and colleagues wait long for them, and none of their friends or colleagues would be late either, for the same reason.

And what are the results? Surprisingly; ludicrously, in this society of equality you end up getting treated like an actual VIP! People start showing up on time to meet you. No one dares double-park and block your car. No one dares to blow the horn in the middle of the night to disturb you in your sleep. People share their food with you and refrain from insulting or injuring you. Whenever you are in need, dozens of people jump to help you, because they know that you would do the same for them if they were in your place. So in fact, when you no longer see yourself as a VIP, you end up getting treated like one. And most importantly, you would no longer spend every second of your day upset, yelling, honking, screaming, cursing, frowning, and faking. You'd actually find yourself smiling at people, and when you smile, you do it from the bottom of your heart.


March 28, 2010