Have you thought about (HYTA) why we criticise others so readily, so much, so often?

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“People like to invent monsters and monstrosities. Then they seem less monstrous themselves. They feel better then. They find it easier to live”
                                                                                                                    -Geralt of Rivia

This profound observation, even if it’s through the eyes of a fictional character, has always struck me as being a disquietedly accurate truth about our behaviour. We may wear the fresh coat of modernisation and believe we have advanced in all aspects, but we have not really changed much in our behaviour and decision making – we have merely become more cunning, more prone to easy self-justifications just so we won’t feel bad about who we are when we hurt others by words or by deeds, disparage their reputations or knife them in the back.

We make other people monsters, tear them down and usually misattribute their flaws, so that by comparison, our existence is bearable.

Though Geralt’s response is best understood in the setting of The Witcher – a mirthless, bleak backdrop of wretched human existence set against the wide expanse of human gullibility and exploitation – where he eventually comes to the astute conclusion that very often, the humans he tries to protect from the horrors are usually far worse than the clutching, devouring shadows, there’s no denying his response is still an accurate echo of our typical behaviour.

While we don’t invent monsters, we do invent lies and untruths, deliberate distortions and baseless exaggerations, and all of these are spun from the wheel of gossip and casual talk. We form cliques that converge on the same opinions, establish group superiority and exclusivity, and from there, we deride the efforts of others to bolster our standing. It’s not uncommon. From young students, teachers, senior management teams, we like to criticise people from our vaunted, shared, bricked battlements.

Even when we should admit our mistakes, acknowledge the opposition’s success, we instead stubbornly choose to consolidate our position and keep firing away at our arrows anyway. It’s just so much more comforting to hit away at someone, openly or in secret defiance, knowing that we are likely immune to any counter volleys. We thrive on the misery of others. We are one, and they are others – such is the manifestation of group think.

And chances are, without a strong self-awareness, or an exceptional person to guide and develop our thinking, we are likely to default to the natural tendency to criticise others without reflecting on ourselves. After all, the totality of our existence, the measure of our name, the reach of our fame, are achieved by comparing ourselves with others.

Consider a few scenarios:

Even with an average performance, there is SOME comfort knowing others (even friends) have failed dismally.

If someone you disliked got the position you wanted, it’s more fun to laugh and block out their speeches, even though truthfully, it was well-delivered.

It’s easier to blame others than ourselves, in which case, we have a tendency to attribute others’ mistakes to incompetence and ours to convenient bad luck or a misalignment of the planets. In Psychology, we can think of it as a mixed bag of the fundamental attribution error and the self-serving bias. We have a need to maintain our egos. Admitting to mistakes means we are lesser, not greater.

It’s just nice to know that if we are bad, we are not that bad. These modes of comparisons manifest themselves ever more strongly in moments of intense competitions – romantic, social, educational or financial.

Because we often subscribe to these thoughts, we do a great, great deal of harm when we mount unconstructive criticisms or obscure opportunities to scrutinise our weaknesses (and improve on it). We make our opponents appear as tyrants, and draw the line between good and bad, correct and wrong, with the fatalistic assumption that the morals in the world conform to such a stupid and simplistic definition. And we almost always imagine ourselves as the good guys who can do no wrong.

Some of the finest writings of criticisms come from Ratatouille where Anton, the unreserved, scathing critic, finally admits that  we should acknowledge the goodness in others who offer themselves (and their work) up to our judgements. It’s not to say others are perfect, and I will be the first to say that most systems are biased and flawed, but it doesn’t mean we are free to say anything and everything without sensitivity or contextually linking it back to ourselves.

And it certainly doesn’t excuse us from demonising others, easy or tempting as it seems.

I leave you Anton’s last words, a fitting ending I think, to why we should resolutely make it a point to develop strong self-awareness about our tendencies for self-aggrandising gossip, barbed arrows of criticisms and group assault on “others”:

“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so…”

Would it be that if we had a better heart and heightened sensibilities, the world would be a slightly nicer place to live in. Alas, both are often sacrificed on the false pedestal in pursuit for glory and inflated egos.

So, have you thought about (HYTA) your attitudes towards gossip and criticisms?

Have you thought about (HYTA) why Saudi Arabia and Indonesia banned Valentine’s Day?

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It may as well be stated at the outset, if anything, to make my position on these religious holidays clear, that Valentine’s Day which is rooted in the death of a Christian martyr in ancient Rome, and like all religious observations and special days, are nonsensical and absurd – just like how the Chinese believe in ancestor worship by burning incense and choking up the environment.

We know that if we value someone dearly, we will listen, talk and grow with the person in perpetuity, not just making a slightly more strenuous effort on a “special” day. So of course, we don’t need Christmas or Valentine to remind us to do the right thing. These special days are often glamorised with the intent for business opportunities – a sort of mechanical commercialisation of the heart.

So if it’s not a particularly big deal, and if most of us know how to cherish the people in our lives, why would Valentine’s Day be banned?

Saudi Arabia and Indonesia – both populous Islamic countries – see Valentine’s as an event that’s grounded in Catholicism. Celebrating the holiday would be a betrayal of Islamic faith. Since you know, there can only be one true God, and it surely has to be the Islamic God. He is apparently able to see everything you do, demands of you to pray to him every day or risk eternal damnation, and who also seeks the death of disbelievers, or apparently because he has so much time, cares enough to legislate on how women should dress.

In Saudi Arabia, women CANNOT drive a car or pursue higher education unless male guardian consent is given, must dress like black lamp posts, and are so restricted, it’s almost a crime against half the human race. And these stem from their BELIEFS in Islam. It’s abhorrent that the ruling elite in Saudia Arabia gets away with privileges and indulgences (hunting rights, charges of sexual assault etc) while the regular citizens abide the asininity of the “morality police” – a raving ragtag band of idiots organised under the banner of Islam to control how you behave and dress in their country.

And now, they are so insecure in their faith’s moral system that the better option is an outright ban on Valentine’s. This again raises a religious divide because they fear for the infringement of their delicate belief system.  Religion divides people over and over again, and each sheep of the flock believes fervently that they are special, chosen and correct. Is this not sinister enough? Does this not smack of a gross misuse of human intellectual thought?

Let not the spotlight fall on Islam only. Christians have been taught to avoid Yoga because it’s supposed to be connected to some form of Hinduism, and apparently, certain postures of Yoga appear to be a kind of religious prostration. Look further and you can find exclusivity demands from all other faiths too. It’s Animal Farm 101 – a herd of unthinking, unquestioning and oblivious animals believing they are under the sagely tutelage of a leader.

When you see the very young Indonesian teens holding placards banning Valentine’s, loudly cheering and supporting the movement and blindly insisting on Islamic teaching, one doesn’t have to look too far to see that through and through, we have always been animals and probably will stay that way.

So have you thought about (HYTA) why this is unacceptable or not?

(Russia has also banned Valentine’s Day citing Western morals being incompatible with their social system. It’s authoritarian and not too different from religions imposing their insistence of how you should lead your lives. Looks like everyone wants to tell you how you should live)

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Have you thought about (HYTA) what we desperately need but rarely have?

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Religion closes the eye of reason, impairs the circuit of logic and creases the fabric of thought – that much is true, especially after one develops an understanding of human fallacies, irrationality, indoctrination and reinforced dogmatism.

Yet there’s no denying the universality of some kind of religion: from the dark ages to modern societies, wherever you tread, primitive or forefront, Aztecs or Mormonism, cults or North Korea’s celestial dictatorship, people want to believe in something. Even tribes isolated from the frontier of modernity are yoked to their own tribal religions.

What then, aside from our tendency to conform and inability to critically think at the best of times, could be the reason for religion’s mass appeal?

Religion offers an intimacy we crave deeply but rarely acquire in our life – through prayer or worship, such beliefs liberate venal desires, grant forgiveness for inappropriate thoughts, and provide communion with a divine being who’s considered non-judgemental.

While the bulk of it is often convenient, fabricated, self-serving justifications (and erroneous attributions to common patterns), the faithful nonetheless feel a powerful catharsis.

Outside of religion, how many of us have a relationship of such intensity, intimacy and intricacy?

In the mundane reality, our dirtiest, darkest secrets and thoughts are concealments we never reveal. We might have lascivious fantasies, entertain violent, vengeful thoughts, or have deep insecurities. And we will rarely voice these out.

It’s only in either therapy or religion where one can express freely without fear of judgements.

What we want then, is not so different from what religion offers.

We want so very much, so very dearly, for someone to listen intently to us as if our existence really mattered; we want someone we can relate our deepest worries, our greatest inadequacies without a hint of condemnation.

We want to drop pretenses and be absolutely vulnerable, fragile as glass, to merge the public and the private; we want to love and be loved, unconditionally, with no restrictions. We want to be regulated by this person, to be made better, to be made an imperfect whole.

For those who drink at the jewelled cup of such bliss, life is laughably bearable even at its worst, and always worth living for. For them, Envy, is itself, in thrall.

But because most of us do not understand the essential constituents of a friendship or romantic pursuit, or are perhaps marred by insufficiency in communication, or as is sometimes the case, harmed by others, we fail to develop our capacity to be a better person.

And so, as long as we are splintered at the core, left incomplete, unsatisfied and uncertain, religion continues its hold over us. Religion provides false comfort, that’s true but it addresses a psychological yearning we have. And when the storm comes crashing down, some comfort is better than no comfort.

So Have You Thought About (HYTA) what is vitally important to the human condition?

Have you thought about (HYTA) きんつぎ?(Kintsugi)

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Taken in its raw, literal form, Kintsugi is the Japanese craftsmanship of gold joinery, or simply, golden repair, and this elegant philosophy stands as a silent, almost humble rejection of Western beliefs of flawless, exterior beauty.

For the Japanese, pottery that’s chipped by the edges, rendered jagged by structural damage or shattered by the hands of human carelessness is not discarded. Instead, it is meticulously repaired with powered gold, silver or platinum.

The result is an icon that retains some of its former glory but also shoulders both the history of its scarring and the intricate delicateness of its repair.

It is both new and old.
Complete, yet incomplete.
Damaged but now made new.

Kintsugi treats breakage and repair as part of an object’s history – it is more poignant and symbolic for having been broken. Every crack is a part of its identity.

Not only is no attempt made to disguise the damage, the intent of the repair is to illuminate and evoke its storied history. It is an embrace of the imperfect, a swan song to its old identity, now both present and absent.

And as we have modernised, we have also forgotten this profound truth: we are made who we are because of the defects and damage we have sustained in our lives.

Beauty can be found in the imperfect, and we are imperfect.

Each scar is a triumph, every sigh of weariness a brief flash of resilience, and for every wrecking pain we endure in our hearts, it is but a moment of growth.

And we are more complete for having acknowledged the visible cracks that surface in our lives. And we should bear these scars proudly.

As we heal from our scars, we come closer to finding the essential people in our lives – those who can mend us with their words, infuse new meaning where none existed, and bestow upon us a love that transcends our damaged, fragile, fragile selves.

Incompleteness lends itself to form.
Perfection borrows from imperfection.

Kintsugi.
きんつぎ

So have you thought about (HYTA) Kintsugi?