In Search of Wisdom: What Binds Us?

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“The essential element of a nation is that all its individuals must have many things in common. … having done great things together and wishing to do more …” – Ernest Renan, 19th Century French Philosopher

When I face questions related to human behaviors, I find it simpler to seek the answers in the context of interactions I observed in the village where I grew up. Because the interactions in complex societies have many layers of causal relationships, I find it difficult to discern what caused what. However, I find that the human interactions in simpler societies are less layered and more discernible. My village, therefore, remains the most inspiring place on earth for me and it never stops shaping my thoughts even after having left it for long. This happened just recently when some friends asked me to think of the ways that could potentially save Nepal from being fragmented. I observed the village in search of an answer to a question: “What is the most potent glue for binding one human with another?”

I mentally enacted my most recent visit of this summer to my village to identify the force that has been attaching me to that place. My parents have long departed; most of my relatives have left the place; the cattle herd, which I used to go after, was not there; there was one buffalo in my brother’s barn instead of 6-8 we were used to; most of my childhood friends were not there; and the most recent development was a small electric plant that lighted an 11w bulb in each house. But I noticed that many things had remained the same. The village had no motor road; the same mist was rising from the valley and disappearing in the sky; the same rain was pouring from the cloud; Dhaireni and Raniban were still looking towards the Northern sky; the rain soaked Peepal leaves shone as intently as before on the summer sun; the people gave me the same smile as they did three decades ago.

Surprisingly enough, even the trees, shrubs, patches of grass, and the scenes that I knew from the past had the most magic effect on me. The missing of the previously existing had greater effect than the presence of the new ones but when little children who did not know me smiled at me and followed me, I was touched enormously. When our blacksmith’s little granddaughter unsuccessfully tried to wake her father, who was intoxicated with cheap alcohol in broad daylight, and showed remorse on her eyes, I felt bad about not doing much to alleviate poverty, illiteracy, and despair in the village. My consciousness is shaped by these people.

In retrospect, I notice that I was not primarily drawn by blood-relations, caste, race, poverty, wealth, illiteracy, or education of my villagers. The primary source of this connection must be the “you are one of us” feelings being exuded mutually with the people, the enactment of the visions and views of my memories by the land and the nature, and some unknown forces that keep me attached to my heritage. This necessitated me to find those factors that made us “us”.

I then removed myself from my village and mentally enacted as a member of the global village. I observed so many scenes that kept on reminding my origin and fixating with my obligations that do not leave me alone. I noticed a person from Nepal attaching to another person from Nepal more quickly than one from France, Malawi, India, or China, and also situations where one Nepali did not get along with another. I tried to get into the heart of this issue, and did many permutations and combinations in the mind in search of finding that glue that binds us as friends and that divides us as foes.

It appeared to me that the glue that binds us and the wages that divide us are the common entities on which we have passionate interests. Two people are bound by something they both like and are divided by something that they have opposing views on. If one says, “I love X” and the other says “I hate X”, they will likely not build a close friendship whether the X may be a person, place, political view, religion, or a job. This I notice time and again when friends keep distance after discovering that I am also a friend to someone they dislike. And, there are situations where friendships are weakened for something not personal. A number of my friendships turn into hollow formalities due to Nepal’s monarchy even when I don’t live in Nepal. Having faced torture, confinement, and jail for participating in student movements that were mildly republican, I have grave differences with those who defend monarchy in Nepal. However, some friends who directly or indirectly benefited from being associated with the monarchy cannot imagine Nepal without it. We have this common entity that is responsible in weakening friendships of people.

When I consolidate my thoughts espoused by these experiences, I find many common denominators that bind or gag us as people. However, in a hope of simplifying the understanding of the subject, I broadly categorize the factors in four groups: intrinsic, learned, familial, and extrinsic. The intrinsic factors come from our built in personalities, tastes, mannerisms, race, sex, or from our affinity to a common thing like movie, sport, music, debate, or gossip. The learned factors come from what was taught to us by others, such as language, culture, heritage, religion, political belief, association, or profession. The familial factors comes from our familiarity to a common entity, such as relatives, family-clan, household, village, area, city, country, continent, classroom, school, jail, university, college, land, or river. The extrinsic factors come from the burden put on us by external forces, which pressure us to unite for survival or success, such as bullying from a gang, threat of another village, threat of another country, political or economic repression, immigrant in a dominated environment, neighborhood plagued by crime, employees under a repressive boss, fellow travelers in unfamiliar land, or simply by nature. Although equipped with mind that is programmed to be choosy, a person accepts any companion or mate if existence is at stake or if faced with solitary life. For example, two feuding neighbors continue to collaborate in a sparsely populated village but do not speak for generations in the cities.

The experiences mentioned here and others have led me to make the following conclusions. Firstly, human relations are dynamically formed, broken, and renewed with time. Secondly, relations that are bound by one or two factors would be easily breakable. Thirdly, we do not break completely from another human even when we break some relations if the relations are more numerous than we are willing to break. Fourthly, the greater the number of binding factors between us and the people around us, the more durable would be our relations with them. Lastly, geography, class, race, religion, or color becomes prominent binding factor if other binding factors do not exist in generous amounts.

It became obvious to me that the human connections that are bound by the most varieties of relations would be the most durable and can surpass relations that are inspired by geography, ethnicity, race, or religion. Therefore, today’s smart people are those who maximally capitalize on the fact that it is possible to elicit broad cross pollination of knowledge, ideas, experiences, experiments, and mechanisms around the world. Only for the societies of those smart people, will it become possible to develop increasingly more numbers of human relations that can overshadow the relations inspired by race, religion, and ethnicity. Such forward looking societies can, in turn, break the old spells of “outdated nationalism” as witnessed in past world wars and civil wars, and develop an entirely “new nationalism” suited to the mobile and outward looking people of today. Such people can see much farther than the “sovereignties of the lands” and deeper into the “sovereignty of the people as conscious humans.” They can wither the temptations of fragmentations because they continually multiply the people-to-people relations that bind their citizens in multitudes of ways and and the relationships do not break easily.

Therefore, at a time the world is becoming ever more connected and collaborative, countries like Nepal cannot afford to keep old wounds from healing. If we do not acknowledge the wounds in time, we will have wasted our precious resources and energy in pretending our wellness. We will be missing new possibilities and opportunities presented to us by modern means of communication, information, technology, and goodwill of global citizens. Therefore, it is imperative that we at once stop exploiting our own people, stop discriminating our own children, stop keeping our own people poor and unemployed; stop feeding this dream of ever larger national boarder. Instead, we should grow many kinds of new human relations among us and with people around the world. We must develop a culture of education, knowledge, inquiry, and innovation to become humble, powerful, respected, and sovereign. Then the external powers will see no advantage in subjugating us but instead they will discover benefit in learning from us. We will have an admirable nation that is different than the one seen in the dreams of our past but only better.

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