Holding Ourselves to Higher Standards

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

As was expected in the wake of the rioting and looting that took place over several nights in the UK, extensive debates have been taking place there at several levels of society to try and understand the suddenness of this surge of violence and unravel its root causes.

Throughout these discussions three words have kept coming up repeatedly: culture, values, society. The fact that most of the rioters were Black, mainly from deprived neighbourhoods, but with some Whites also (including several educated ones) involved has also been highlighted by the commentators. Locally, I heard someone say that the British have had their ‘Kaya’ moment. One should not think that this does honour to Mauritius!

As human beings we have all been shocked by these events in the homeland of our erstwhile colonial masters, whom we looked up to as the ideal to be simulated in practically all aspects of our lives. It is interesting therefore to follow this debate because there are similarities that cross boundaries, and there may be lessons for us too, because we are also a multicultural society and are under the pressure of the same modern globalizing forces. While the rising tide of prosperity is lifting millions out of poverty, in parallel inequalities have been spreading both within and between countries, widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots. This divide is put forward as an important part of the cause(s) of the dissatisfaction that gives rise to the sporadic – or periodic – eruptions of violence that have been witnessed.

There is a fundamental flaw in the ongoing analyses, namely that depending on who is intervening, there is a tendency to put the finger on only one factor: either of police, family, community, culture, politician, the education system – and so on. However, taking an example from modern medicine, where in the group of diseases called non-communicable we refer to their multifactorial causation, it seems to me that the same reasoning could apply to the social disturbance. Thus, there could be one core cause which initiates and drives the phenomenon, which is then aggravated by the related but separate causes.

In this perspective, since the issue is essentially one of abnormal behaviour, it is quite natural to start by understanding what makes up human behaviour, or simply what makes us human – and here all roads lead to cultural values. We share 99% of our genes with chimpanzees, and chimpanzees looking at us would no doubt be having a good laugh at our claims to superiority over them and other animals. Animal ethnologists and anthropologists have described how disciplined, consistent and cohesive many animal societies are. We pride ourselves in being different and better than animals, and yet millions of times over in mankind’s history we have demonstrated that there is a strong streak of the barbarian that survives in us, and this is the element that erupts to take us off course.

To my mind there are four main characteristics that distinguish man from animals: the pleasure he takes in exterminating others of his own kind, jealousy, hypocrisy and lying.

It is only through the cultivation and inculcation of values in us from a tender age within the family, and then supplemented and complemented by our teachers in schools, that we can truly hope to become human. It follows that if this intertwined process does not take place, because of dysfunctions in the family or lack of respect for and/or indifferent teachers, then society as a whole is bound to suffer the negative consequences in due course. All the other factors evoked only come into play later, so they are the associated but not the fundamental cause of the problem.

We are born in a gross state, and we need to be refined as we grow up. All cultures have developed their own way of doing so for their adherents. The process has been depicted as follows:

A person was once digging up his field for planting seeds. Suddenly he came across a greenish stone. He thought it to be beautiful and took it to a jeweller. The jeweller said that it was nice and paid the man a hundred rupees for the stone. The jeweller then took the stone inside his workshop. He first cleaned the dirt, and then evened it out by doing away with its ruggedness. Further he polished it, and then the stone started shining. Thus the stone was made suitable for setting into an ornament. After it had become a piece of jewellery, the same emerald that as a stone had fetched only a hundred rupees became worth a million.

In Hindu culture, such a process of refining and enriching is called ‘Samskara,’ and there are sixteen Samskaras to be performed on an individual during his life cycle, of which the following ten are the main ones: 1. Garbhadhana: The rite of conception; 2. Jatakarma: Birth ceremonies; 3. Namakarna: Ceremony of Naming the Child; 4. Annaprashana: The first feeding of the child with solid foods; 5. Chudakarana: The child’s first haircut; 6. Vidya-arambha: Beginning of the child’s studies; 7. Veda-arambha: Start of Vedic studies; 8. Samavartana: Taking leave of one’s teacher; 9. Vivaha: Marriage; 10. Antyeshti: Last Rites at death. The fact that Hindus have ‘modernised’ and drifted away from their Samskaras no doubt explains the rot that is afflicting Hindu society.

It is salutary that responsible and concerned personalities in other cultures too are unafraid to speak their minds and, instead of seeking to blame others, are honest enough to look at their own communities critically and draw attention to the shortcomings. One such person is the Black Comedian, Actor, Producer and Activist Bill Cosby, and someone sent me an email attachment about what he has said, and I think all of us must ponder his wise words, because they apply to all of us, Black, White, Green, Yellow, Brown or of whatever colour!

We cannot blame the white people any longer

“They’re standing on the corner, and they can’t speak English. I can’t even talk the way these people talk:
Why you ain’t…
Where you is…
What he drive…
Where he stay…
Where he work…
Who you be…
And I blamed the kid until I heard the mother talk. And then I heard the father talk!

Everybody knows it’s important to speak English except these knuckleheads. You can’t be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth. In fact, you will never get any kind of job making a decent living.

People marched and were hit in the face with rocks to get an Education, and now we’ve got these knuckleheads walking around. The lower economic people are not holding up their end in this deal. These people are not parenting. They are buying things for kids. $500 sneakers, for what? And they won’t spend $200 for Hooked on Phonics!

I am talking about these people who cry when their son is standing there in an orange suit.
Where were you when he was 2?
Where were you when he was 12?
Where were you when he was 18?
And how come you didn’t know that he had a pistol?
And where is the father? Or who is his father?

People putting their clothes on backwards: Isn’t that a sign of something gone wrong? People with their hats on backwards, pants down around the crack, isn’t that a sign of something? Isn’t it a sign of something when she has her dress all the way up and got all types of needles (piercings) going through her body?

What part of Africa did this come from?
We are not Africans. Those people are not Africans; they don’t know a thing about Africa…I say this all of the time. It would be like white people saying they are European-American. That is totally stupid! I was born here, and so were my parents and grandparents, and very likely my great grandparents. I don’t have any connection to Africa, no more than white Americans have to Germany, Scotland, England, Ireland, or the Netherlands. The same applies to 99 percent of all the black Americans as regards to Africa. So, stop already! With names like Shamiqua, Taliqua, Mohammed, and all that crap…and all of them are in jail.

Brown or black versus the Board of Education is no longer a white person’s problem. 

We have got to take the neighborhood back.  People used to be ashamed. Today a woman has eight children with eight different ‘husbands,’ men, or whatever you call them now. We have millionaire football players who cannot read. We have million-dollar basketball players who can’t write two paragraphs. We, as black folks have to do a better job. Someone working at Wal-Mart with seven kids, you are hurting us. We have to start holding each other to a higher standard…We cannot blame white people any longer.”

Dr William Henry ‘Bill’ Cosby, Jr., Ed.D

So it’s NOT about colour – it’s about behaviour!

Let us keep spoiling our kids, and we will have a rotten society. It is already happening to and all around us.

The message is clear: we need good parenting in stable families, which means respect and dignity within the family; and we need good teachers who have self-dignity and who are respected. That is the magic formula to raise up well-behaved children who will grow into responsible adults. In turn, they will nurture the sense of responsibility that will lead them to build a sane society. There is no other formula.

So we take it or leave it: make or break. A very simple choice – and let us stop making the reflex lame, pathetic excuses, and seek scapegoats to hide our own failings.

* Published in print edition on 19 August 2011

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