Through the stormy turbulent disease infested waters of social media throwing up debris that includes Kim Kardashian’s butt, inane ice bucket and cinnamon challenges, a few gems of self development pop up. Recently, an interesting theory came up which was attributed to Sundar Pichai, “The Cockroach Theory for Self Development”[i]. The theory is based on an incident in a restaurant where a cockroach lands on a table where a group of ladies are dining. The women scream and panic and keep pushing the cockroach away from themselves and it keeps landing onto another panic-stricken member of the group. The relay continues till it lands on the waiter, who calmly picks the cockroach up and throws it out of the restaurant. The story aims to point out the difference between a reaction and a response. The women reacted to the cockroach, whilst the waiter responded to it. The theory explains that the reactions of the women are because of their inability to deal with the disturbance caused to them (i.e. the cockroach) and not the disturbance itself as the waiter handled the same with ease. In fact it is really the inability to deal with a disturbance that disturbs people. The theory explains that a reaction is instinctive whereas a response is thought out. The moral: don’t react but respond.
Noam Chomsky said, “I do not think psychoanalysis has a scientific basis. If we can’t explain why a cockroach decides to turn left, how can we explain why a human being decides to do something?”[ii]. Like any navigational journey that is besotted with troubled waters, strong undercurrents and gushing winds, so too is our thought process. Our judgment has overcast clouds, undercurrents of our upbringing and gushing winds of society that not only guide our thoughts but the emotions governing those thoughts.
With a multitude of factors governing the way we think and behave, the multiplicity of our emotions and opinions and the infinite voices inside and outside our heads, it is remarkable that our species have survived this internal onslaught, but sadly not without casualties. There are days when an iceberg pops up and we are left reacting instead of responding.
The 30th of July in India marked such a day; an understatement of mixed emotions overwhelming with love and hatred … sadness and joy … relief and pain …
It marked the funeral of Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, former President of India. Whilst the position of President is nominal in India, the man showed us that it is not the position you are in but what you do with that position that matters. He wanted to be remembered as a teacher, and spent most of his time inspiring people through his writings. He collapsed while giving lecture, teaching till the very last breath. He stood against the very concept of the death penalty and chose to keep petitions for mercy pending so as to stall any execution from taking place.
It also marked the hanging of convicted terrorist Yakub Memon. Yakub Memon was held by the Supreme Court to be a mastermind and driving force of the 1993 Mumbai Blasts along with his brother Tiger Memon. While Tiger Memon is still absconding, with authorities unsure of his location, Yakub Memon came back to India and cooperated with the investigating authorities. Having failed in his appeals, two events came to light. The first, a posthumous disclosure[iii] from the Intelligence Officer in charge of the case, B. Raman, revealing assistance provided by the condemned in aiding the investigating authorities and the fact that he had been instrumental in finding the smoking gun revealing the ISI’s involvement in the terror attack. The second, was procedural lapses that had taken place in carrying out the death sentence. A petition by various eminent persons including former Judges, politicians across political parties and social activists[iv] calling for the President to take account of these developments in deciding Yakub Memon’s mercy petition. Not only did it fall on deaf years, but on blind eyes whilst the President remained mute. But there were several petitions calling for Yakub Memon’s hanging by the family members of victims of the attack.
So governed were we by our emotions of love for Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam and hatred towards the brother of a dreaded terrorist that 30th July will remain the day that saw India stand still. Millions attended Abdul Kalam’s funeral even though he famously said that on his death to work an extra day and not declare a holiday and even though he opposed the death penalty, our hatred for Yakub Memon ensured that regardless of procedural lapses or fresh crucial information, he had to be hanged on the 30th of July, the day he was born. Former Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi went so far as to write to the President of India to grant mercy to Yakub Memon as a tribute to Abdul Kalam[v]. It was a firm belief of the majority that in their opinion Yakub deserved to die, yet adequate weightage was not provided to B. Raman’s opinion the man who had actually been involved in the case. If Jack Bauer or any Salman Khan character ensures that the terrorist dies at the end, the audience cheers and yet here is a case where the Officer invested in the case doesn’t believe that the prisoner deserves to die and we pay no heed. While some shed a tear for the beloved former President, others rejoiced over the death of a terrorist, none of whom were truly happy or sad.
Even Don Corleone said, “Never hate your enemy, it clouds your judgment!” How can the precedent of hanging a surrendered terrorist who turned approver be in favour of civilized society? In the future, when an individual has to choose between a terror outfit and the Government, he/she will be between a rock and a hard place!
How can we allow a system of sentiment or belief to be the basis of governance or shaping law?
Whilst other species display examples of homosexuality[vi], ours is the only one with homophobia. While other species recognize the anatomical differences between male and female, ours creates a social difference ensuring not just different roles but different clothes, toilets, accepted behavioral patterns and even pay scales! All of which is entrenched in the law governing everybody.
There is no logical argument to support the death penalty. How can the lesson to not kill another human being be demonstrated by killing one? The support for the death penalty comes from a darker place, a place of hurt! It is an emotional want and if the majority supports it, it transitions into law; for that is what we signed up for in a democratic polity. While I am able to type behind a laptop screen, behind the Internet, I wouldn’t be able to look into the eyes of a family member of a victim and say they have no reason to seek the death penalty for the man instrumental to their loss.
But then how do we distinguish ourselves from the animals of other species and of our own?
Human beings have a self-aware consciousness. It is important for us to understand that the lasting effect is the decision we take not the sentiment behind the decision. We ought to seek justification for our acts of irrationality not use our irrationality as justification for our acts.
No one can control their own sentiments, and for that reason alone sentiment should not be used to control others. Therefore, we must strive towards responding and not reacting!
And only ask of ourselves that our response declaring our sentiments, transpires similar to the Declaration of Sentiments of 1848[vii], the first ever convention recognizing women as equals.
A declaration by you, of you, for the benefit of another!