A computer operator had arrived at the office to do some work and switched on the computer. He then went straight into Word '97 which greeted him with an exceedingly flattering "Welcome!"
and then proceeded to play him some music! Some ten minutes later, our operator pressed a wrong key. Immediately, the computer responded with a soothing whistle and a cartoon image of the respectable Albert Einstein rushed onto the screen with his fingers raised. "Tips!" He cried out. After completing his work, our operator shut down the computer to the words: "Bye! Have a nice day!"
What's in a word? If such computer software is any measure to go by - quite a lot! Sadly, however, for some people there's not much more to a word than the effort it takes to inhale a breath and blurt it out. But don't let that dampen your spirits. There are still many people who have a very decent sense of communication. They use small words like "please"
"thank you", "excuse me", and "sorry". Using such words show that they care. A nod of the head, a smile, a sympathetic look or the holding open of a door all convey sentiments of high regard and warm feelings for the other person. Addressing someone by their name and a little wave of the hand is always more preferable than an "Oi" with a beckoning finger. Decent words and gestures show that we empathise with their thoughts and emotions as though they were our own. This indeed is the most noble and kindest way to interact with others. If we can appreciate good manners from a p.c., it goes without saying that we should be good mannered when interacting with other human beings.
The Bold Beggar
This is the key word - interacting. With interaction we are not alone speaking to ourselves. We are speaking to another person. And every person has his pride - after all, he or she is human. Voltaire, the French philosopher of the 17th century once narrated an incident when he was confronted by a beggar. He put some money in the beggar's hand and said, "Why don't you do some work and earn your money!" The beggar was quite visibly taken aback by this comment, and to Voltaire's astonishment promptly gave the money back.
"I asked for your money, not your advice," said the proud beggar and walked regally to the next person.
Even beggars are humans. So are the physically handicapped, the mentally retarded and the starving population of young and old in the third world countries. They all - the newborn and the dying - have their self-respect.
What's Your Name?
Alex Halley in his book "Roots" tells the story of one early black slave named Toby. At least, this was the name his white masters tried to enforce upon him. He had made gallant efforts to escape the nets and traps set up by the white slave-traders who arrived in Africa years before to capture people like himself to use as slaves in America. But his efforts ultimately had to succumb to the cunning and acute brutality of the white slave-traders. He was cursed, ridiculed and humiliated by his captors. He had never known such treatment in his life. In his village he was a "grown man" and treated with honour and respect. What had he done wrong? What was his crime? To add to his pain and anguish, he was dragged aboard a ship and forced to row while suffering constant excruciating lashes.
Upon reaching the shores of America, he was promptly sold to a landowner to till and cultivate his land for sugarcane crops. But never did this brave man renounce his name, the name with which he was initiated into manhood - Kunta Kinte. It was his identity, his worth, his existence. Many years later he made an attempt to escape but the horses and hounds were soon on his track. He was captured quickly and his foot tied to the stump of a tree. He was asked,
"What's your name, n...?"
"N..., your name is Toby! What is it?"
Suddenly, one of the captors produced an axe. Brandishing it before the terrified man's face he said,
"Your name's Toby, n... . Say it, or I'm going to chop your black foot off, O.K.? Now say it - your name's Toby!"
"My name is Kunta Ki..."
Before he could finish, the axe fell with a vicious thud and Kunta Kinte screamed in pain and his eyes rolled in horror and disbelief as he saw his bloody severed foot fall off from the tree stump onto the dirt below. He collapsed and became unconscious. Permanently debilitated, he was taken back to the farm. Some years later, he married another black slave woman who gave birth to a wonderful child. It was a girl. On the evening of her birth, Kunta Kinte took her into his arms and limped out of the house and into the open. It was a crystal-clear night and the moon was whole and resplendent, shining beautifully and majestically, adorned by millions of twinkling, sparkling stars. He saw the moon's rays reflecting on the child's soft skin. He felt proud. Then, looking around him to make sure he was not being watched, he bent over the child and whispered in her ear, "Your name is Kissy. Your father's name is Kunta Kinte and his father's name was...." Thus Kunta Kinte began to narrate to her in detail her roots and the dignity and honor that she came from, and deserved.
This is the dignity and honor that all humans - regardless of color, creed, religion and social status are entitled to.
It's Not The Same
It is quite noteworthy that thousands of people participated in last year's Para-Olympic Games in 1997 in Atlanta, USA. These disabled people do not look at themselves as lesser human beings than those of us who are fortunate enough not to be in a handicapped condition as they. In fact, most of them prefer to be called "Physically Challenged" rather than "handicapped"! What a difference! Two years ago, British runner Chris Moon lost his right leg in a tragic landmine clearing accident in Mozambique. He was devastated. His career was over and he would never walk normally again.
But just recently, after two years of special training, Moon completed the 230 km Sahara Marathon! "To me," he said, "this shows that the only limits we have are those we put on ourselves."
It seems that it is the rest of us who are really the "handicapped and debilitated" ones - paralysed and crippled by self-doubt and low self-esteem. Yet how unsavory we would find it if we were called "handicapped"! Similar is the pain experienced by the "handicapped" or "invalids". It is degrading and insulting to them. Such insensitive words, though superficially very similar to the new words, are really very different. We need to become more sensitive and thoughtful and improve the matter and manner of our speech when we speak to all persons - disabled or otherwise. Human self-respect is not born of material affluency or physical health, nor is it protected by the same. Nourishment and protection of human self-respect come from one thing and one thing alone: kind, thoughtful words. They are the most valuable and most cherished gifts we can give anyone - and they don't cost a dime.
Kindness Costs Nothing
True, sometimes we are pushed to the limits by people - friends, relatives and strangers - who are unsavory. We lose our patience, and sometimes turn to distasteful and nasty language. But remember, if someone is being unsavory to you, it's probably because they have low self-esteem. Some other nasty person probably robbed them of their honor and self-respect. You can help heal and close these wounds by reacting with care and affection. At least you will have done your bit! A few kind words won't cost anything. Recognise their needs and acknowledge them aloud and they will feel pacified and vindicated. As Schopenhauer observes in his book 'The Wisdom of Life', "Politeness is to human nature what warmth is to wax."
In fact, is this not what is at the root of everyone's desires - recognition? Recognition is what every human being feels entitled to as their birthright. Every person feels their presence demands our notice and should not be ignored. If a person is made to feel to be a non-entity, a nothing, they will, over time, turn to self-defeating and socially destructive activities such as violence, rowdy behavior, smoking, drinking or taking drugs.
Believe In Yourself
The most potent antidote for overcoming such negative activities that is administered to such persons by charitable organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous, and others, is not through medicine or drug substitutes but through re-vitalizing their self-esteem!
Self-esteem is a commodity of our minds which is as important, if not more important than any other commodity in our bodies. Just as a low blood sugar level or low blood pressure is highly undesirable, so is low self-esteem.
Let us learn a lesson in gentleness and sweetness from our master and mentor, His Divine Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj. Some years ago, Swamishri was in Bochasan, Gujarat. In the morning, a special tree-planting ceremony had been organised as part of a two year programme to bring about environmental awareness in the region. One hundred thousand trees would be planted all over Gujarat. And the first tree was to be planted by Swamishri himself. A small basin-shaped hole had been dug out of the ground for this purpose. Swamishri arrived at the site and after a short ceremony bent over to plant the first sapling. But there was an intruder. The 'intruder' was a large, bony black ant, which had apparently tumbled into the hole and was making an unfruitful effort to climb back out. By now, the plant had been placed in its position, but Swamishri stopped anyone from filling the hole around the plant with soil. Then, aiding the ant in its escape, he said,
"Brother ant! Come out quickly or you may get stuck!"
How empathetic! How intimate! Pramukh Swami Maharaj addresses and cares for a soul even as insignificant as an ant, as a brother! Even more touching, is the way he addresses people in his letters. Even if he is writing to a child or an ordinary devotee, Swamishri always writes, "To 'Pujya' ...." i.e. "Revered and Worshipful"!!
The responsibility of making our world a rewarding place to live in lies upon each one of us - to respect and preserve one another's self-esteem. We will need to overlook others' shortcomings and constantly monitor our own.
We will need to remember that it is not the other person who is unsavory but his or her manner of behavior. To attack the individual personally would be to misplace our anger and to bring about an injustice which the person would almost certainly resent, thus fueling his negative personality even more. Tragically, it also sows the seeds of negative personality in our own actions too, ready to sprout at some future date. We cannot afford not to be kind. For getting, we must forgive. And for giving we must forget.
If we are 'right', this means we are 'greater' than the person who is wrong. If we are greater, we are more grand and more royal. If we are more grand and more royal it does not befit us to stoop to a primitive and unrefined level of brutish instinct akin to the personality of someone who is uncultured and lacks self-control. A bad manner spoils everything - even reason and justice; and a good one supplies everything and even sweetens the truth a little. Rudeness is the weak man's imitation of strength. There is no excuse for bad behavior and impolite language in this world where another six billion human beings just like us reside.