“Too many young folk have addiction to superficial things and not enough conviction for substantial things like Justice, Truth and Love” says Cornel West. Am I, too, superficial, or do I have conviction in other things.
To this day, the idea to write an essay about myself, as most of us have done in school, leaves me looking for words. Is it the inability to know myself; is it the ever changing me; is it the need to depict humility; is it shyness; is it afraid of being judged, or maybe all of it. But there is definitely something that hampers my chain of thought and the ability to pen myself down.
However, a simple glance over people profile’s on social website shows no difference. The “about me” section would be the least catered to. Even the most learned choose to write other people’s quotes in order to paint themselves on a canvas. Since the inception of the mirror, we have learned to live seeing ourselves in an image of ourselves. We fail to recognize ourselves however the image is instantly recognizable. Time and money is invested in the build up towards this image, and once attained it is easily altered. So are we confused or with time just changing so rapidly that, it becomes impossible to pen down who we really are.
As a result, Cornel West does string a chord within. Have we become addicted to superficial things that do not exist in reality? And as a result, do we fail to grasp the meaning of who we really are, and therefore fail to acknowledge what we really desire, and thus die striving towards something we never needed or wanted to begin with?
The concepts of Justice, Truth and Love have moved many a men and women, to shape their societies, communities, nations, and the world since history can remember. The modern era itself cannot ignore events like the Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street movement, or the likes of Mandela, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Jinnah, Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, Da Vinci, Akbar the Great, Salahudin, Muhammad (Pbuh), Jesus (Pbuh), Buddah (Pbuh), Alexander the Great, Aristotle, Socrates etc. These men along with shaping their lives and destinies changed the world along side. But before these men grasped the idea of such things to have enough conviction in them, the journey began with being free. Freedom and Liberty is the mountain they stood upon delivering their word to all. In order to define themselves and write essays on “about me”, they realized the power they held of having the capability to write that essay to begin it. The struggle was for freedom, freedom of thought, expression, and life. Moses a top Mt Sinai marked the freedom, and a new beginning of the Israelites.
So is the reason behind our inability to define ourselves anything to do with our freedom or lack thereof. Are we even free to know who we are before we present our image to the world or like the mirror our lives are also an image we live based on the ideal we think ought to be?
As a Pakistani, growing up has been an intellectual adventure, the true realm of the unknown. I have found myself adopting many identities and ideologies in the pursuit of wanting to define myself. I am nowhere near it as many who might be reading this however, I have certainly started to enjoy this journey. It all started with an accident. A bit of heartache, a bit of illness, and a bit of wanting more in life led me to shun life away itself. Over the past year, I have lived in seclusion more or less, immersed in the brilliant words of those gone by, or those shaping the world as we speak. I wanted to answer the question “Who am I?” to see if I am Free and or superficial by not having conviction for things like Truth, Justice, and Love.
I was born and given a name, a religion, family ties, cast, creed, race even before I opened my eyes. My school, my life choices, my beliefs were imposed upon me through the people I interacted. Parents, teachers and then friends became who I am, than whom I really was, and before long I was living that Image.
I introduced myself to others with my name, I had not chosen. I was a Muslim without ever reading the Koran in a language I understood. I was a member of the Family whose rules I had to follow. I attended a school where I was given uniform education to create a non-discriminatory class of society, but had its own rules that were different from other schools in the same country. Once into the secondary years of education, I was to start thinking about a career. I am free to choose, but the concept of becoming an actor, or a painter is next to blasphemy over becoming a doctor, lawyer, or an engineer. The most brilliant minds in Pakistan right now can be counted on fingertips if categorized by profession.
But time in seclusion is underestimated; in my case demonized. It has though led me to see a cycle we live in, a cycle we call ‘life’ from a perspective I only read in books of times gone by, but nothing seems to have changed. Characters maybe new, colours added or replaced, words changed but the story remains the same.
A closer look at the world shows how everything works in opposite. Men women, light dark, sun moon, day night, white, black, love hate, to the extent that everything in this world seems to have an opposite. This led me to the view that our society too might such be the same. We as individuals are opposite within. We may love someone, but hate another. We cry, but we laugh, we can walk ahead, but so can we walk backwards, we can be sane, or insane. Likewise, we can be real or unreal – the imagined.
Standing at that point within, I tried to assess our human freedom, my human freedom. Am I free or I imagine to be free? Are my beliefs mine or I imagine them to be mine. Am I who I am, or Am I who I think I am?
What then is freedom? Freedom is liberty and the ability of individuals to control over their own actions. And while many different conceptions of liberty exist articulating the relationship of individuals to society in different ways; including some which relate to life under a “social contract” or to existence in a “state of nature”, and some which see the active exercise of freedom and rights as essential to liberty, all concept converge on the right that a person should have the ability to choose freely and the right to act on his own behalf.
My name was given to me. It was oddly changed thrice, as if along with it, I would too. My parents may not have succeeded in it, however, what i realised is, that my freedom is limited. I was sent to a private school, to learn secular knowledge. I was told all are equal and hence followed the same time schedule and uniform as everyone else. But every year exams reminded me, that we are after all not equals. Some may be intellectually inferior or superior. The secular school failed to see that that being a good student did not mark intelligence, but efficiency in a certain field. A person failing at Math may be a brilliant singer. However, the purpose was the school was not to educate. The purpose was to create a secular man, who followed certain principles in life to attain financial success in life. The product of a private school landed me in a good university abroad, and getting me through my legal degree, which had enabled me for a good job anywhere I may have wanted. And hence, I landed one at the biggest corporate law firm in the Country upon my return. This was to mark the start of a brilliant life of success and fortunes in times ahead.
But what am I doing sitting in seclusion penning such articles. I realized that like myself, 99% of the people around me, wake up being told what life is all about from the people who don’t seem to have a clue where they themselves are heading. I am told I am a free man, yet from my name to my school, I had no freedom to choose. The school then told me about a life that awaited me. Like exams, it was a competition and whoever wins gets the prize. Was that my version of life, or like everyone around me, I was told what life is to be. I am prepared in school to become a working part of a society, with whom I have a social contract. I was told the terms of the agreement, but if I decided not to follow them, there was no freedom to choose anything else. By the time I graduate, I am a person ready to earn money, working for someone else in someone else’s company. I sit long hours, while in the end taking home a fixed salary. Am I free or am I a modern slave? Psychological researches in the 19 and the early 20th century proved that employees or slaves at time, who had the best working condition, produced the best results. My parents spent their hard earned money, to educate me only to go back to serve someone else.
Likewise, I was told I am a Muslim. I was told what a Muslim is and I followed. My religion was my identity, yet never did I, or those around me calling themselves Muslims read the Koran in a language we understood. I lived a life defending a faith and propagating it without knowing what it says. I do acknowledge that I might as a studious muslim boy read the koran in Arabic, however, like a foreign language, or sounds babies make, I had no clue what I was being taught to read, and to this day see muslims around the world pray 5 times a day, most not knowing the words they are uttering. It was either my parents telling me about Islam, or the maulvi sahab who taught be the Koran, or the teachers in school, friends and family, but not the Koran itself. I am sure most might be amazed to know that the words “70 virgins” do not exist in the Koran. Likewise the Arabic is it written in, is not the same Arabic spoken today, rather a different dialect, and hence the same changes the entire understanding of the book, even by those who bothered reading the translation. So I was following a religion, in a language I did not understand, based on what I was told I am by my parents, and even if I did bother to read the translation, it now turns out the translations were incorrect as the dialect of Arabic has changed since the House of Saud’s came into power in Arabia.
If I decide to travel, I can, however my travel is now for the first time in the history of this planet subject to visas and passport control. If I want to set up my work, I need permission from authorities, if I want to study; I need to qualify as per certain criteria I know little about. I can’t grow food in my own back yard because laws won’t allow and therefore need to buy that too. Overall, I am not free but dependant on someone or something to sustain life. Something men and women of only a few hundred years could not have imagined. They could have tasted all that without much of a glitch.
So my name, was not of my choosing, my school and work is created to serve the ruling elite in the world, and I follow a religion I had never read, to say the least about my freedom.
It would therefore, be safe to say I am not free. I was living an illusion, that my life is in fact what it is, and I following my dreams. The movie Inception, for those who have seen, may present a question. Am I living my thoughts or the same being implanted in me to create an illusion, the imaginal me, and therefore never get to know the real me.
One question was enough to know understand the grasp of it all. No one remembers the richest person in the world only 15 years ago, and today’s richest will become tomorrow’s distant forgotten memory, whereas those who were able to define themselves, be it Rumi, or Newton live through the test of time.
So I am left with no alternative but to agree with Cornel, that the young of today have convictions in the superficial. Fame and fortune seem to be the goal, not realizing that we are paying with our freedom and liberty. Thus, my struggle for Truth, Justice, and Love starts with choosing to be free.