Monday, 16 April 2018

The Cynical Citizen

Swami Gulagulaananda said:
"A person with jaundiced eyes sees everything yellow... figuratively speaking"

A lawyer who deals with contracts and divorces observes that every litigant who approaches him complains about breaches of contracts and unhappy marriages. As he goes through years of practice, he perhaps becomes cynical and distrusts contracts and marriages because he has seen so many of them fall apart. However, the reality could be that there are thousands of happy marriages and thousands of people who have been adhering to their contractual obligations. And yet, the lawyer never gets to hear of them in his daily routine - If everything was fine, people wouldn't approach a lawyer to tell him that everything is going hunky-dory...

Let's have a look at policemen. Policemen are among those who are often distrusted by the average citizen. Most of the times, an ordinary citizen's opinions of policemen is that they are lazy, corrupt, don't do their jobs and accept bribes. Lieutenant Tragg from the famous Perry Mason series (Mystery series by Erle Stanley Gardner) laments about the state of policemen in an epic monologue in The Case of the Moth-Eaten Mink. Hundreds and thousands of policemen work very hard under very harsh situations and very low pay. Many of them lose their lives when terrorists like Naxals target and attack policemen for no fault of theirs. But we, average citizens, don't remember their sacrifices. We often attach the pot-bellied bribe-taking image to the policeman and paint the entire force with a single brush.

This is particularly important in today's digital world where usage of social media is growing rampantly. Everyday, we see our newsfeed or wall getting plastered with posts. And since these social media websites are adding intelligence to their systems, they make it a point to show you more of what they think matters to you. This results in your feed getting plastered with more of similar content, resulting in an avalanche of similar posts.

For a moment, try to suspend your personal opinions and leanings before continuing. If you 'liked' a post that was shared by a friend of yours who doesn't like the Prime Minister, you will start seeing more such posts where attacks are being made against the Prime Minister. These posts show content where the Prime Minister has 'failed' to meet promises made. Notice that I have put failed in quotes, because the reality doesn't matter for the moment - The fact is that this content is displayed to you because you seemed to 'like' it before. Now the fact that you are shown more of the similar content further reinforces your opinions - "Yes, the Prime Minister is indeed a big fat liar", you feel, and you will like this post again. Social Media websites mark this as content 'liked by this user' and show you more of the same posts since you have shown interest in this content, suppressing other content that shows good things done by the Prime Minister.

This is the same, irrespective of the kind of content you are liking. However, over a period of time, we become like the aforementioned lawyer - a cynic, because you are not seeing any good happening. It is because we are not actively seeking out information, but rather simply consuming information as it is presented to us. Since this 'news' is getting tailor-made and curated for you, the reinforcement flywheel will continue to fuel your original thoughts.

If you think that your country is failing you, you will start seeing a hundred problems in your country. If you think of your country as a place brimming with unbridled potential, then you will see a hundred opportunities. The reality is that your country is the same - It is your attitude that changes your viewpoint.

It is, therefore, important to not broadly paint an entire nation of a billion with the same colour. It is important to take a step back and look at each news item objectively and understand that you are seeing only a slice of the real world - a slice that was customised for you because the website thinks that this is who you are... If you saw other slices, you would perhaps arrive at a different conclusion. You would see that the world is not as grim as it originally appeared, nor as happy as it originally appeared. In reality, the world is the world, and you can see it with eyes of a pessimist, an optimist... or preferably, a realist.


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