I like to spend the long moments towards the end of a calendar year alone. Mostly, to contemplate the progress I have made in the last year in terms of refining my thought process, evaluating what I had learnt in the preceding year and the general direction I was heading. This seemed very unsatisfactory this year as most of my effort was on a personal issue and I was largely unsuccessful. This was not because I was expecting this person to make up for the lost time or effort. Since then, I have formed a very different understanding of this person. Therefore, I was asking myself how I should react to or clarify the apparent gap in understanding. In any case, the failure to learn made me reminisce.
I contemplated whether I should take the conformist approach where people demand attention from relative strangers, as they do from their parents or people to whom they seem to be close. After all, I suppose, common perception takes this quote quite literally and contorts it into a sense where people now demand attention,knowledge, or information in an unsympathetic, uncompromising approach prevalent in these times. Alternatively, they take another defeatist approach, where they brush everything under the rug or give up altogether and say something like, “What do I do? Everything’s in the hand of God “(Obviously, in their respective tongues). The question then remains on this specific method of learning from all of us, i.e., the student’s perspective. Who appears? Who teaches? How do ‘teachers’ know what lesson to impart?
My comprehension of this quote veers towards a different path. As a kid, what I had were numerous questions. My untrained, immature mind made me blurt these out to anyone around me who appeared knowledgeable or had an air of sophistication. I always assume(d) that there was no one around waiting on me to tell me stuff, which made practical sense to me. While a few such conversations yielded results, most of the feedback I received ranged from surprising to dull, pointless to sometimes uninspired. It dawned on me that it was important to ‘type test’ compatibility and to check the relevancy of the questions being posed to people. Not only did they have a range and amplitude of knowledge, but also the ability to comprehend data or information, which varied from person to person. This reflected on me too. Initially, I was quick on the uptake and absorbed everything at face value, without demur. This posed a problem, as I could not reconcile with opposing views or grasp multiple points of view to solve a given problem. I began to see that their comprehension only had a certain degree of suitability to appease my pursuit. I realised slowly that the ideal metric of an individual’s mental growth largely depended on the patience shown in seeking the right audience to pose their queries and the ability to sift, absorb, and discard information thrown around. This may be defined as being independent in thought and ability to consume, with a tolerance to absorption.
Then began the dawn of the ‘Age of information’. Information gets thrown around with zero responsibility,
credibility, or care for the consumer. For an untrained mind, it takes a great effort to gauge what is being fed to us. Our efforts double if we aren’t tuned to the simple fact, explained above, that not everyone knows everything. I suppose the nature of the people who have easy access to such trivial information would lead me to assume the same applies in the real-world scenario. People are slowly becoming averse to the hard grind required to seek out wisdom. In my opinion, the root of our problems—anger, impatience, and desperation—can be narrowed down to assuming facts that are fed to us and unwittingly consuming them at face value. A complete chain of events starting from assimilating information, collating them, thinking deeply, comprehension and following up with questions has been given up at the expense of saving time and ease of consumption.
I came across a quote below by a French polymath, Charles-Marie Gustave Le Bon, who is best known for his work The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, which is considered one of the seminal works of the crowd psychology.
The masses have never thirsted after truth. They turn aside from evidence that is not to their taste, preferring to deify error, if error seduce them. Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master; whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim.
This observation, made at least a century ago, remains valid in the modern age of information. Ideally, it should have been easier for populations to develop the skill of discerning data. Practically, what we observe is the onset of completely opposite behaviour.
As an example, we are witnessing a large population who conform to the above. Homogeneity in thought amongst a large set of people and their belief in equality is a politician’s wet dream. We become very easily governed because we fail to ask questions because the idea or representation will be incorporated with minimum demur. We are now headed to a scenario where normal conversations will get very polarized. People who are deeply invested in their beliefs based on two opposing points of view may prefer to stand firm rather than pose questions to validate their positions.
The phenomenon of Dunning-Kruger (Fig-1) makes more sense, where most conventional-minded people are confident that they’re independent-minded, while the genuinely independent-minded worry they might not be independent-minded enough.
It becomes very important to go back to basics, i.e., to keep seeking without any underlying premonitions. Measure the competence and breadth of the knowledge of the people who are your sources. In our lands, seeking and questioning have been at the heart of the system. Maturity, as rationalised above, depends on how and to whom these questions are posed. Belief in any notion, such as being sinners, people at fault, particular Armageddon like event or belief in a person/god, was never deemed necessary. We had a set of values inculcated within us as a moral compass. This needs to be repeated to all kids and adults alike. I hope it brings respite in our lives. Happy learning.