For a Brave New World

It is time for businesses to step back and consider the virtues of realigning and reviving a code of ethical conduct.

By Niharika Mookerjee

Niharika Mookerjee mug shotOn Christmas Eve the snow fell like silver upon earth’s green mantle, tinkled luminous over the window-ledges, bright with the red of poinsettias and fairy lights streaming over fir trees. Inside a quaint old inn in Delaware, I was at Penn’s Place at an inn in Delaware, where William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, had spent his first night in the New World. The wall, I was leaning against was, perhaps, one of the oldest existing in the continent, built before 1638. An other-worldly calligraphic inscription on the wall had me in a reverie for hours…”I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness or abilities that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer it or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again”. Easy, wise and tender words, I thought, yet so out of place in a culture of irreverence that surrounds us today. A soft but stern buzz from my cell phone snapped me out of the stupor of colonial visions to the contemporary.

It was a long email from a friend wishing my family a happy new year, urging us to look beyond the horrors of the modern world to the happiness of our beloved ones and the profusion of gifts bestowed upon us by nature. He claimed that through the serenity of the mountains and the wild Savannah of Africa, the world was a perfect place and there was very little to change in it.

And yes, outside, red bows and wreaths with the glitter of gold swung on every white fence. The country side seemed to pause in joyous expectation of a poetic miracle, hidden beneath the gauze of white velvet. But my heart was heavy. No, my friend, not this time, I thought. Not when there was something rotten in the state of Denmark, to quote the old Bard. This wound was too deep to look beyond. Children, for whom we celebrate this season, are slain upon hallowed school grounds. A young girl, in search of a better life in the city, is barbarically raped in a moving bus and then thrown away in a heap, with not even a speck of clothing in the dark depths of winter. Random shootings in inner cities that are not reported. Hard working people, returning home from work, are shoved into the subway by the homeless. Insanity is brewing in our midst. Yes, the Mayan apocalypse had not hit us. Certainly, we were alive. But civilization had just died.

I looked at the time-worn inscription on the wall one more time. Act now, it said. How could one lonely individual change the balance in the world? Maybe collectively, I thought, we could make enough noise to turn heads so that laws could be enacted and enforced. However, history has revealed that laws have their limitations and loopholes. The one thing that needs to be overhauled is a quantum shift in consciousness. It means striving hard, every minute of the day to choose peace over violence, the right over the wrong, to help one another to shine a bit and to keep the central virtue, of doing unto another as we would do unto ourselves.

Most of us, glancing at the recent gut-wrenching events, feel helpless and bound. We remorsefully shake our heads, voice our protests on Facebook and then use the convenience of the remote control to change the TV channel or escape into the refuge of a shopping mall. We are outraged, no doubt, but as long as our families are safe and our daughters travel in cars, we simply move on to the next season of hope and joy. Perhaps, this is where modern society is going wrong that we have the choice to hear what we want to hear. We are at a liberty to momentarily glance at awkward scenes and then look the other way. In the meantime, the apathy within us looms large and manifests itself through monsters like Adam Lanza and Ram Singh.

After the Newtown shootings, I often wondered why the schools did not shut down unlike 9/11 when the whole country lurched to a halt. At that time, foreign terrorism enforced revamping of airport security all over the world, and yet after the loss of twenty first graders and six teachers, there has been a sporadic talk of gun-control and little else. We are now focused upon the fiscal cliff while lives are at peril. The weapons of mass destruction are dormant within us.

All is definitely not right with the western media that produces a plethora of interactive games and movies, glorifying, celebrating and awakening our primordial hunting instincts. At parties, it is alarming to watch teenagers addicted to their X Boxes and their laptops installed with video games running violent themes. Parents, on the other hand, engage in conversations over their offspring’s’ little regard for reading. Pursuit of the liberal arts that nourishes and nurtures human sensitivity seems to be in pathetic decline because, frankly, they are not remunerative. As adults, it would help to consider how we enable a milieu of quick acquisitions that are as swiftly discarded. Quite eerily familiar to the way in which the mass shootings have occurred.

Let’s take a second look at the prevalent culture of our society where everything is reduced to a frivolous number of tweets, “likes on Facebook” and hits upon the video screen. We boast of a thousand friends in our social network without any serious emphasis on human relationship, emotion, morality or compassion. The all-time raging obsession is with our self-image and popularity. For those who cling on to the old and cite the US constitution to oppose gun-control, I am reminded of an ageless line by Lord Alfred Tennyson: “The old order changeth, yielding place to new, and God fulfills himself in many ways, lest one good custom should corrupt the world.” In other words, a good tradition observed at a certain age, becomes historical wormwood in another, slowly eating its way through the entire system.

And with the entire India bashing taking place in the world-wide media over the rape case, we ought not to overlook the fact that violence against women is prevalent in the US too. At this day and age, the Republican House voted against a Senate written section Act that would provide Native American women in the reservations, protection against rape. In the end, folks, it is about raw politics and money.

It would also not be an exaggeration to state that Bollywood movies, viewed by a large majority, convey little sense of aesthetics and are pivoted upon a much hyped romance, with the arch-typical patriarch calling the shots and the woman, inevitably, depicted as an alluring object of fantasy. It is upon us, regardless of where we live, to ask these hard questions. Would box offices crash when movies are made without a steamy sex scene? Would fewer cases of soap sell without the sensuous and scantily clad model by the mountain spring? Would fewer X-Boxes and PS2 games sell if the word ‘assassin’ is missing from their title? Sadly, the answer is yes. Our minds are programmed to the sensational. And so, if the disease is endemic, we all must share the burden of collective responsibility.

The industries that create materials for human consumption need to take a moment to step back and consider the virtues of realigning and reviving a code of ethical conduct. It is up to the various houses of commerce to decide where and how to use their pocketbooks to create and market their products. Because, as of now, the fate of humankind is at risk. And so for this New Year, I pray for the light of kindness to shine over the lurid glare of profit, and that the snow falling gently over the countryside, may dawn a milder summer of sacred truths that heal our broken hearts.


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