If you’re as keen as I think I am as an observer of what’s trending on social media, you must have come across reports in recent days about one of the following incidents:
i) all-rounder superstar Shakib Al Hasan received a death threat from a man on Facebook Live who accused him of blasphemy and tried to cut him to pieces with a machete for his role in the inauguration of the Kali Puja festival in Kolkata.
ii) under the banner of Touhidi Janata Oikya Parishad, a large gathering at Dhupkhola Math protested, with threats of dire consequences, the planned installation of a Bangabandhu sculpture.
iii) in the hills of the Mro community in Bandarban, a five-star hotel was constructed by the Sikder Group, potentially leading to their displacement, dispossession and loss of livelihoods.
iv) in Cumilla’s Muradnagar district, four Hindu houses and a family temple are being vandalised and torched.
v) rape and sexual abuse; and
vi) harassment of journalists and online activists.
I mention these incidents not to give my two cents to the debates that swirl around them or to dissect local netizens’ social media diet, but simply to show a common thread that runs through them all: abuse. These are all textbook examples of various forms of abuse, precisely in that order: psychological, spiritual, economic, cultural, sexual/physical/domestic, and virtual. Of course, the list doesn’t end here, nor is there a lack of illustrative examples.
I remember there was a time when I thought, because of my youthful naiveté, that living was more than surviving. That life does not have to be a code word for suffering and hardship. Living, for most people, was simply surviving. But now, particularly after the outbreak of the pandemic, living has become more of an exercise in trudging through one horror story to another like a new episode every day, each more terrifying than the previous one. Perhaps it is natural that the threats of violence and cruelty, both online and offline, are never far away from us in this time of alt-truth, hysteria and militant intolerance.
As demonstrated by the aforementioned incidents, the lack of empathy and understanding is extremely disturbing. Yet how we solve a dilemma always mirrors not just the world we live in, but also what we consider to be its solution. We seem to assume, regardless of where we belong in the liberal-conservative spectrum, that if faith doesn’t work, force will apply. If emotion doesn’t carry us far, there will be cold, dispassionate thinking. If we’re not united by the past, the future is. If you don’t talk on my terms, you don’t speak at all. Our perception of problems dominates this either-or binary. There is no room for the “sinner” in our hearts, no reprimand for the “faithful” except though their positions intersect. It seems we’ve got all the answers ready. All the solutions in our social fabric that can bridge the widening break. Yet division and violence thrive, which makes me wonder: what questions should we be asking that we are not?
One question that in my opinion, always remains unknown is whether there is a way that can offer something that is not up for interpretation on both sides of the liberal-conservative spectrum, a common ground in their search for solutions. Kindness, it is said, provides a way of doing so.
As the Dalai Lama once said, “It is my fundamental conviction that compassion—the natural capacity of the human heart to feel concern for and connection with another being—constitutes a basic aspect of our nature shared by all human beings, as well as being the foundation of our happiness.” Theologian Dan Harper expands on this theory by saying: “Although religions which vary in their philosophical views, the Dalai Lama says that religious and secular views converge in the field of ethics. He believes compassion is essential to the ethical structures of all religious approaches, including theistic approaches like Christianity, non-theistic approaches like Buddhism, as well as non-religious secular ethical systems.”
In short, the common thread that runs through both religions and non-faiths is kindness. As such, it should appeal to adherents of all systems of belief equally. No the solution to all our socio-cultural issues is not the solution. But creating a culture of carrying out small, spontaneous acts of kindness can cause a snowball effect in a society as diverse and as increasingly cruel as ours, which can ultimately lead to a fairer and kinder society.
In the space of four days, we had two similar occasions this month: World Kindness Day on November 13 and International Tolerance Day on November 16. None of the days are officially observed here, unfortunately. The celebration is limited only to publishing articles. As a society, we would benefit greatly from a wider promotion of these days especially after the outbreak of the pandemic that brought to the fore the significance of voluntary citizen-led initiatives to support those in need. “Be kind” in 2020 has become a recurrent message.
Our appreciation for the frontline workers reflects how much we value kindness. Yet, as one columnist noted, kindness is not always easy to maintain, and as a society we are clearly struggling to be kind to certain groups especially those who think or behave differently. Even though he violated no law, no social norm, Shakib had to apologise for his “behaviour”.
Though they did nothing to warrant such cruelty, the Hindu community in Muradnagar had to go through unimaginable sufferings. Such a thing will never be done by genuine followers of Islam who understand its values. There are issues to be tackled by proponents of the kindness movement in the future.
The loveliest thing about kindness is that it brings as much joy to the giver as to the recipient. This land’s history is full of such small, selfless and mostly undocumented acts of kindness. I see strangers on the bus leaving their seats for elderly people and women with children, people reaching out unseen to those for support, hundreds of miles of blood donors to help unknown patients. Two years ago, when I experienced a big road accident, an outsider came out of nowhere and took me to the hospital, and then vanished into a thin year without giving me the opportunity to thank her. Such is the potential of our individuals solely motivated by love, to do good and heal wounds. We need to nurture this culture, systemically encourage it, and so far and large spread the message of compassion and empathy that the dark powers of bigotry and zealotry find no support for the heinous crimes that they wish to commit.