Dr. Salikyu Sangtam
St. Joseph University
When we look into moral and political philosophy, we are told from the outset that our society is the reflection of our mindset; that the kind of society we live in simply reflects the kind of people we are. This was first put to us by the Greek philosopher, Plato. According to him, if we find ourselves living in a society where poverty, inequality, apathy, and utter indifference prevail, then this simply is a reflection of the people’s mindset. No doubt, one can object the relevance of a thinker from a foreign civilization in our society. However, shouldn’t we, at the very least, occasionally look to other sources for knowledge and guidance, when the present standards and ways of living are neither beneficial nor sustainable for many in our own society?
Indeed, for starters, I am in no position to critique the condition of our society, for I have contributed not an ounce for its betterment. But every morning, on my way to work and on occasions as I make my way for grocery shopping (for another round of passionate bargaining with the vegetable vendors, since they tend to indiscriminately raise the price of vegetable just by looking at you), I cannot help but give a passing glance to all that lay in front of me: the dreadful roads, like a teenager’s pimpled face; the cement walls and fences that fill every space, with streets getting narrower with each passing day, very soon these roads wouldn’t even be big enough for a bicycle to ride by; new buildings being constructed with lightening quick speed; new alcohol stores, pathetically disguised as stores specialized in selling only bottled water, emerge overnight; local people threatening and shouting at non-local people; waste thrown out of vehicles as if the whole road is a dustbin; a depilated bridge, that is almost about to collapse, but the passing motorists not giving a moment’s thoughts about the serious threat it poses for public safety; rash drivers driving as though they are in a rally competition; auto drivers regularly breaking the traffic rule that contributes to traffic congestions; citizens taking a health hazardous journey, as they make their way to work, schools, universities, or to buy groceries, etc., through the dusty and bouncy roads; big military trucks carrying army personnel habitually clogging the roadways, since they have made it their favorite pastime to cause huge traffic jams in our beloved dusty cities of Dimapur and Kohima. So, dear readers, what should I think of all these (in fact there are more, too many to mention)? Should I shut my eyes and pretend as though all is well? Should I say to myself that none of these affects my life? Should I convince myself that these are not my problem that is why we have governments, municipal councils, village councils, civic organizations, etc. to address such issues? Should I justify my utter lack of concern by telling myself that everyone is selfish and so must I (since I will be a fool to let myself be carried away with such reflections when I don’t have enough even for myself)? The problem is that I do not know what to make of such a state of affairs. Helpless and impending calamity is what I am left with.
Certainly, such reflections may seem foolish and naïve and maybe they are; yet, according to my assessment, the more we do not reflect on such issues, the more we endanger our own future. It is of great convenience and irresponsibility on the part of a person to simply not care. By this, I do not mean that nobody cares, rather very few cares. While the majority of us, including me, care very little. Our utter indifference to the plight of people around us loudly indicates the kind of people we are.
And if Plato is correct about society as the reflection of people’s mentality, then we can infer that the road conditions in Nagaland tell a lot about our mentality: it indicates that ours is a society where everything is only on the surface, nothing of substance, no quality. Our apathy and lack of concern show that we are not good at building lasting relations between people and communities just as we are horrible at constructing quality roads that last. Most relations between people, tribes, etc. are superficial because most of the time such relations are built for convenience, as we have something to gain out of it. Most of the time, there is an element of ulterior motives. The moment the benefits stop, the established relation flickers away like the morning mist.
The cement walls and braced fences indicate that most people in Nagaland are good at building wall and fences, literally and metaphorically speaking. We are good at building walls and fences between people and communities. We live in our own tiny little bubble and cave, immune to the suffering, pain, and miseries of our own people. We care only about our own group, clan, village, range, family, etc. As long as we get what we want and have what we desire, we care not to the despair and helplessness of the unfortunate. Walls are a ubiquitous aspect of our society. We spend fortunes constructing walls, fearing that if we don’t build a wall, others may encroach upon our land (as we tend to usually assume that we are surrounded by opportunistic neighbors). As such, we don’t even bother to grant an inch of our land for drainages, thereby endangering our own health as well as of others. No wonder, look at the neighborhood streets in Kohima or in Dimapur or in any of the urban towns in Nagaland, they seem to be getting narrower with each passing day. The air of suspicion and mistrust among people adds to our fixation with constructing walls, a dividing line that emanates the whole of our social life, literally and metaphorically.
The numerous depilated and broken bridges which we are unable to build in Nagaland indicate, literally and metaphorically, that we are not good at constructing bridges between people and communities. We are neither experienced nor knowledgeable in building bridges, even the smallest ones, in this modern age where technology and engineering advancements have sent people to the moon. Figuratively speaking, building bridges is difficult for us and if existing bridges between people and communities crumble, then it is extremely difficult to build it back, just as we find it difficult to rebuild the disintegrated bridges (for example Nagarjan bridge, the bridge connecting supermarket and Purana bazaar, and the incomplete bridge over the Doyang river—not to mention the numerous failing bridges elsewhere across the state). What’s more, just as innumerable motorists fail to give a moment’s notice to the pending collapse of the bridge connecting Purana bazaar and Burma camp, we are all preoccupied and obsessed with our own selfish interests that we willfully disregard and shut our eyes to the kind of irreparable harm such selfishness is doing to our lives, our families, and to our society.
Additionally, our society has made fashion the term “mini.” We have constructed mini-hornbill festivals to mini-Nagaland. Yet, this also indicates that our mindset and mentality is “mini.” Since our mentality is “mini,” we think we are big fishes in an ocean or a sea when in reality we are a puny insignificant tadpole in a tiny pothole filled with drainage water. We think we know everything (if not, most of everything) under the sun; that nothing is above my group, my clan, my family, etc. Our small or “mini” mindset has brought us to where we are today, where in order to get anything done, we need “tea-money.” However, isn’t it better to literally give a cup of tea instead of tea-money, because sometimes I don’t have change for ten rupees?
All these contribute to the lack of trust that plagues our society. If one is seriously seeking to discover the causes of this “trust deficit,” we must inevitably look back into ourselves. We are the ultimate contributors to this lack of trust. Our selfishness in this rat-race for self-enrichment and in our quest to instantly get rich even at the expense of others, we deceive others and become resentful and spiteful. Moreover, in most of what we do, our intentions and motivations are seldom clean. We always have an ulterior motive behind what we do. We help others because we expect something in return. Hence, we only help those who we know can and will help us. If we can expect nothing by helping, we do not even bother to help. As such, we seldom help the needy, poor, helpless, and the destitute. Most of us are painfully aware that we cannot be considered an ethical or moral person. And because we know that we are liars and deceivers, we hence, correctly or inaccurately, assume that others too are like us. And when most people in the society, rightfully or erroneously, hold such assumptions, what we get is this “trust deficit.” Thus, if we were to objectively adjudicate our society, we will come to a glaring realization and distressing admission that our society is a fake society. Almost everything is fake, from family to social relations, as the commodities/merchandise in the new market. We use and take advantage of others, and others too use and take advantage of us. Unless our motives and intentions are clean; unless we approach everyone with good will, I am afraid this state of affair where people are apathetic and indifferent to others will only become severe.
Hopefully, my estimation is erroneous, because unlike me, there are, after all, people (too innumerable to be mentioned in this brief article) who actually have done and contributed much in actions and in thoughts for the betterment of our society.
Dr. Salikyu Sangtam