We like to believe that people are good and we are naturally endowed to lead a moral life. It is also believed that moral judgments are rational, while some also believe that these are emotional. We make moral judgments intuitively and then construct justifications after the fact, believes Jonathan Haidt. More than to understand ‘how to make people good’, Karl Sabbagh thinks, it is important to understand ‘what makes people bad’. It is important to understand why it is difficult to walk straight. We do wrong things, but become defensive when someone points out to us our mistakes. We feel ashamed when we get caught because we feel our failings are exposed to the outside world. Dealing with the mistakes is an art and this art teaches us to deal with one’s own and others mistakes more openly and fairly. It is important to ask questions like: Why am I wrong? What if I am wrong?
We make mistakes because of our inattention and poor preparation. It could be due to our timidity, emotional imbalances, prejudices, and aggressive instincts. It could also be due to our social, intellectual and moral failings. Katharine Schulz says that doing wrong is not a moral flaw, but part of the learning process. We make deliberate mistakes; the mistakes that are made with the presumption that such mistakes have good chances of becoming profitable. ‘Going wrong’ is inevitable. It is good to accept that we are fallible. It makes sense to rectify our mistakes at the earliest opportunity. It is wise to liberate ourselves from the burden of trying to be permanently right.
It is difficult to accept that we generally get cheated because we want to get cheated. Niccolo Machiavelli said, “Men are so simple and so ready to obey present necessities that one who deceives will always find those who allow themselves to be deceived.” We often fail to follow a simple geometrical instruction that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. This is because our desires are always greater than our necessities. Our wants are more than our needs. Our economic compulsions lead us to wrong paths. We like to put in the least efforts to achieve the maximum; often our least efforts compel us to follow lines that are not straight.
Recognition and reward are our other big burdens. We think we deserve recognition and when that is denied we feel bad. We feel we are not given what was due to us. We blame the ones who have assessed us. We think they were unfair and indifferent to us. Apportioning self-blame is difficult. Often too much self-blame becomes a problem. This happens when we begin to have more faith in what others think about us and give a damn to what we think about ourselves. Where to draw the line? Writes Phillip Lopate, “There seems to be no logical pattern in the honours, fellowships and glowing reviews it bestows or does not bestow on writers, who have achieved a respectable level of professionalism.”
Misconceptions about ourselves and about the world surrounding us also prompt us to take wrong paths. We should know the rules of the game. If we know the rules, it doesn't mean we should apply them on others, but if we know the rules, others will find it difficult to apply them on us. One useful tip: Beware of the crabs! It is difficult to teach them to walk straight. Since teaching them to walk straight is not possible, learn the ways of the crabs while dealing with them.
(The writer is a biotechnologist and ED, Birla Institute of
Scientific Research, Jaipur)
Purnendu Ghosh