‘The Good Man is the Friend of All Living Things’ – Mahatma Gandhi
Once upon a time, there was a man who had defined goodness in his own language of love and humanity. He was an important man whose security was indispensable to the nation. But when requested to allow the protection measures to be installed in his house, he had humbly refused to put the glass on the walls of his building. When asked, he had humbly said that the glass could hurt the birds that sat on the wall and sung for us. This good man was no other than our late President Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam whose goodness touched the hearts of us all.
There is no one absolute definition of goodness. Goodness, like water, has no one definite form, but still pervades everything. Just like water, it supports life. It helps life to grow into something more beautiful every day. But where does this beautiful life of ours reside? If we delve deeper into our own hearts, we will find that it resides in every living thing that makes up this wonderful world. This article is about the little ways in which each of us can practise a little goodness every day to make this world of ours a more beautiful place, not only for ourselves but also for everything that breathes and inspires life.
When there is a question of what makes a person good, there can be infinite answers, for there is some goodness in each of us. But when it is about a person who inspires goodness in the most beautiful way, Mother Teresa’s life full of love and compassion for all stands unparalleled. Once when asked about how to change the world, she had said, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” How simply she had explained that love always starts at home! We cannot remove the world’s suffering if we do not first learn to love our own family.
There is a story that my grandmother used to tell me. There was a kid who had just learnt how to talk. Once he saw an airplane. He asked his father what the thing was that flew so high in the sky. The father explained to him that it was an airplane. After a few minutes, another airplane flew by. He asked again. His father explained again to him that it was an airplane. Every time an airplane flew by, the kid would ask the same question, and every single time, the father would calmly answer with the same affection and smile. Years passed by and the kid grew into a man. His father became old and weak. Now one day, the father saw something sitting on the porch. As his eyesight had got weak with age, he asked his son what it was. His son said it was a crow. A few minutes later another bird came and sat on the porch. The father asked again. The son replied it was another bird. After some time, as the father asked again, the son bashed him that his father had become old and useless and he had no spare time to answer his useless questions. He was a busy man.
This story tells a lot about how we, burdened with all the responsibility of an adult life, forget those who had given us this life in the first place. According to a report by Agewell Foundation, an NGO working for the rights of the elderly, more than 71 percent of senior citizens in India face harassment or humiliation by their own family members, relatives, or children. It is shameful how, so many of us, at a time when our parents need us the most, fail to return the same love and patience that our parents showered upon us infinitely, without a single complaint, when we needed them.
We always learn goodness when we practise it to help others. And this learning, always, as Mother Teresa used to say, starts with loving our family. It is not only about the elders, but also the youngsters, and the equals. It is about holding each block with love and compassion, be it our parents, or siblings, or life partner, or children. It is about holding their hands when they are weak, and fanning their wings when they are strong, choosing patience over anger and care over simply giving up on the relations that nurture us. It is about practising kindness, every day.
When a child grows, the first thing that he encounters outside his family is the society and the community that he lives in. But soon, the innocence of that child is transformed into judgments. The very family that teaches the child lessons of love and compassion also sets in motion an endless process of creating boundaries, between our own type and the other type. It, knowingly or unknowingly, sows the seed of hate in the innocent mind of the kid, when it teaches him that only people from our own society and our own community are our friends. It teaches the child how to hate those who have a different culture because this is what all our older generations have taught us. It teaches that, in complete contrast to the notion of love at first sight, hate sometimes does not even need a sight at all or an initiative to know someone first, but it assumes that anyone who is not similar to us is bad.
This hate, as it manifests, kills millions, as we can see innocents dying every day in the form of honour killings, communal riots, wars, and what not. Hate per se is more contagious than love, it spreads like the toxic air that not only kills life where ever it goes but also disables all the future generations. Love, however, comes with conditions attached. As another quote of Mother Teresa would go, if we are busy judging people, we will have no time to love them.
Sometimes this hate takes the worst of the forms such as one of the riots during the partition of India and Pakistan, that killed millions of innocents in the most heinous of the ways possible, regardless of the caste, community or religion that the victims belonged to. Moreover, it ignited the engines of endless hate and demonization between the people of the two countries and all of their future generations, who once were one big loving family. Even harsher examples can be seen in history as to how the absence of love for other living beings like us can one day lead to humanitarian crisis like the Holocaust. Still, even the worst sufferers of it like Anne Frank led us to believe in the goodness of human heart. In the words of Anne Frank, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world…. In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” What she believed is not very different from what the Father of our Nation loved to sing, “Vaishnav jan toh tene kahiye je peer parayi jaane re (People dear to God are the ones who understand the pain of others).”
Despite of all the other familial, societal, national or global relations that we share, there is someone who ties us all, every living form, into one big family. She is Mother Nature. Her affection is so pious and giving that sometimes we even forget that we owe her, too, all this care and affection. We forget that our existence is because of her, and not the other way round. In our sense of entitlement, we have become greedy and inconsiderate. As one Adivasi folk song ‘Gaon Chhodab Nahi’ by Bhagwaan Maaji goes, industrialization and our flawed sense of development have caused irreparable pain to this nature who nurtures us. In the folk song the tribal people sing, “Yamuna, Narmada, Subarnarekha, all have dried up; Ganga River has turned into a drain and Krishna into a black line. You will drink Bisleri water, but we, the poor tribal, how will we live if the river water is polluted by your industries?” It is evident that the burden of this exploitation of nature is suffered most by the unprivileged.
The song goes on, “Our ancestors used to worship and conserve nature, keep it green and healthy, but your greed has killed all the birds and fishes.” What the tribal song says with such simplicity is the most gruesome of the crimes that we do in our desperation to become the dictators of the Earth. Our actions have not only led to extinction of the trees and plants from the planet, but also have killed the other living forms whose life has apparently become less valuable to our own in our greed. From poaching to killing them by deforestation and from dumping plastics in ocean to dumping sewage in rivers, there are innumerable ways in which we have killed millions of life forms out of our ignorance and carelessness. As a result, even the most diverse of all life forms, the beautiful coral reefs, can be seen moving towards extinction. The bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef is just one of the many bad consequences yet to come. And when even the most diverse of all the species present on the Earth could not bear our hatred and insensitivity, how can we expect the other simpler life forms to survive our apathy? Mahatma Gandhi perhaps sensed this long ago when he said, “There is enough for everybody’s need and not for everybody’s greed.”
There is a folk story about how, with the goodness in our heart and love in our actions, we can keep this home of ours, our beautiful Earth, happy and healthy. The story is about an old man who was planting a mango tree along the village road. As he was sowing the seed with great care, the king of the village passed by. The king laughed at him and asked the old man if he knew that he would not be alive when the tree would be ready to bear the fruits. The old man, with great compassion in his voice, answered, “My king, I have savored enough mangoes from the trees that my forefathers had planted for me. Now it is time that I do the same for my future generations so that they can also enjoy the bliss of eating mangoes.” This story, in all its simplicity and beauty, explains how a simple act of love and compassion for nature and our future generations can inspire us to adopt in our everyday life what science calls sustainable development. This kind of sustainable development, where each of us has a role to play, builds in the long term a healthier and happier world.
And of all the love and compassion that we inculcate in our hearts for others, we also owe a part of it for ourselves, for can an empty vessel feed the hungry? An empty heart devoid of self-love can never love others in its truest form. And self-love in its most pious version, can only come from knowledge of our own selves. Only by shredding the veil of ignorance about our own emotions, we can learn to admire and practise all the love that our heart has to give. The Science calls it emotional intelligence, to understand and manage our own emotions for the benefit of ourselves, others and eventually the whole world. What science says now, Rabbi Hillel had said long ago, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?”
-Richa Singh (One of the prize winners of Article Writing Competition 2020 in the 25-44 Years Age Group)