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What will it take to civilise us?

A four-part tongue-in-cheek attempt to ferret out the distinctive features that validate an educated person

Part IV

A civic being has not an anti social bone in his/her body 

PARDON the French but, if you’re at all au fait with my oeuvre, you’ll twig on double quick that what comes next is nothing but an old bête noir of mine.

To whom it may concern, among you buildings dwellers, here’s my two-bit advice: stop both breaking bones and/or firewood on the premises.

(The rhythmic one-two thud of a back loom is better but only just.)

Such goings-on may be fine back in the boondocks, but in an urban setting, not to mince words, they’re a damned nuisance, and fall under a class of misconduct once known as ‘disturbing the peace’; now it’s called noise pollution.

As for that heavy-duty mortar-pestle used to pound ézé (salad a la Druk Yul), you’d do well to take it back where it belongs, viz., your village.  In these days of electric mixer-blender-grinders, such boom-boom throwbacks to a bucolic past are a most unwelcome anachronism within the narrow confines and resounding acoustics of a residential block.

Such food habits may have been culture back in the day, but I’m sorry to say, in the here and now, to call a spade a spade, it’s the height of incivility, and a prime example of anti-social behaviour that lies on the lip of lawlessness.

There now, I’ve gone and bad-mouthed tradition!  As a longstanding butt of bad neighbours, it’s a bitter subject on which I’m liable to vent spleen.

Then there’s waste.  Throwing stuff from the upper floors is a filthy habit; you’d be well advised to cease and desist forthwith.  To drop litter on roads or in storm drains, anywhere but at designated bins, warrants the Singapore switch.  I espouse that drastic step though anti corporal punishment to the core.

And for goodness sake, segregate garbage at source to spare those poor overworked disposal guys the added task of separating biodegradables from the rest, as they seem to do at every pit stop made, day in, day out, ad nauseam.

I could go on and on, but you get my drift.  Lets just say, with fervour, that all these abovementioned misdeeds, plus those not spelt out, will earn so much bad karma that one might need to circumambulate without cease to erase them from one’s account in Yama’s mirror on the day of reckoning.

Bear this in mind: as the world changes, so does the nature of sin.

 

Compassion – The all-encompassing criterion

I’VE SAVED the best for last.  In fact, it’s the first, and, true to tell, the one and only.  If one has compassion, the other stepping-stones, courtesy and civic-mindedness, will fall into place like clockwork.

Loving kindness, as a quality, is so galvanising that one needs no other.  Compassionate people, for one thing, don’t do ogling, be the sexual object a schoolgirl, housewife or workingwoman.  Such a paragon would never drop a wrapper on the sidewalk, and give the town sweeper that bit of extra work (it all adds up, you know).

If compassion is part and parcel of a lifestyle, there’s no question of not being civilised.  Indeed, one might scale Nietzschian superman heights.

But how does one get to be compassionate?  That, as they say, is the 64,000-dollar question.  Bodhiçita is at heart what Buddhism aims for; as do other world religions, I daresay.  The snag, one feels, lies in clinging to ritual.  If you don’t mind my saying so, a rite can all too often be akin to a cop-out.  By which I mean, in our context, to conduct pujas and circle chortens is a damn sight easier than to clean up one’s act.

Hard to come down to earth, is it not, and make one’s day-to-day deeds count?  It’s in the here and now, the minutiae of daily life, that more merit is to be gained than all the butter lamps one lights and water bowls one fills.  Dharma is put into best practice in our interaction with neighbours and the people we meet on the street.

I hope I don’t sound like I’m knocking sacred rites and holy sites.  They’re so therapeutic, like soul food; I’d be an idiot to think otherwise.  But … and it’s a big butt (ha! ha! horse laugh, stale joke) … if the grace thus accrued does not cross over into real life, I ask you, what’s the point of it all?  If one’s the same old jerk or skank, sourpuss or grouch, at the end of the day, how many more rounds and rites will it take to turn over a new leaf?

Empathy is the first step to compassion.  If you can’t put yourself in the other’s shoe, you won’t be taking a step in the right direction.  Unless one has an inkling as to how the other person, indeed sentient being, feels, one is blind to one’s own lot in life and doomed to rebirth in a nether world.

Which is why, although compassion is the overarching criterion to becoming a civilised being, we’ll never acquire that virtuous state unless we first learn to be courteous and civic minded.

And that, if you like, is the, I won’t say vicious but, quirky cycle we find ourselves in.  We can’t be compassionate, if we’re not courteous or civic-minded; and we can’t be courteous or civic-minded, if we’re not compassionate.

Nobody said it was going to be easy, but then there’s no harm in giving it the good old try.  We’ve got this one shot at it, mena, so we’d better make the most of it.

 

Contributed by  John Michael Chiramal

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