A Matter of Perspective

Perspectives are supposed to make sense.

They add nuance to every argument, offer another dimension to a discussion, and present a level of diversity that enable one to arrive at an opinion that's more broad based and comprehensive. One can’t really dispute with the merits of this statement because, after all, who can argue against it? Common sense suggests it to be true, and experience tells us that it’s quite possibly the most rational approach one can ever take.

Having said all this, sometimes I wonder if we are giving it too much importance than is really necessary.

While on the one hand, it's great to bring in some perspective whenever opinions are being shared, discussed and debated because it can prevent obstinate loud mouths from monopolising any discussion. However, the more I think about it, the more I feel that this emperor may not have any clothes at all. Sometimes it may just happen that the need to hold a perspective might actually camouflage an inability to either take a stand or might just suggest lack of passion or conviction in a viewpoint.

Maybe I'm being too harsh here, and maybe a bit irrational in arguing against what is essentially the most sensible thing to do. I don't mind conceding that perhaps I may have got it wrong, and managed to miss the possibility of a sensible point somewhere. However, I have to confess that no matter how hard I try and no matter how logical it may all seem I just can't help being tad sceptical about the whole thing.

Having a perspective sounds like a fine idea, but frankly, what's the use of bringing in a perspective when one is confronted with some uncomfortable facts that demand a response? Why do we think that it’s absolutely necessary not to be or even appear to be judgemental just because it might make us appear intolerant? What’s the big deal behind the need to appear balanced when taking a side is equivalent to making a moral choice?

I know it's a tricky terrain one has to navigate in, and it gets even more complicated because the answers don't come in formulas or in easily digestible sound bites. We discover that a well thought out response to the above queries is possible only if we bring in a variety of perspectives. And in a sense, we go back to square one. If perspectives aren't supposed to make sense, then, why on earth do we need them to make a point? It invalidates the entire argument so to speak.

The real issue, if you ask me, is the notion that we need to be moderate at all times if we want to preserve some sort of sanity and equilibrium. There is this assumption that we must look at life in a more balanced perspective, that we need to avoid being rigid about anything, that somehow this approach will lead to a more convivial atmosphere. And this is the problem: not the convivial atmosphere bit but the assumption that it is possible only through being moderate.

Now I don't want to dump the baby with the bath water, and junk the need for perspectives or moderation (for that matter) altogether. It's just that - of late - I'm beginning to get a bit wary about the whole thing, and can't seem to agree that holding a variety of perspectives is the way to go. It might work in certain circumstances such as, when one is processing an idea, arriving at some conclusion or finalising an opinion.

But to regard 'being moderate' as wise or having variety of perspectives as sensible does not sit well with me. At least, not any longer with the same fervour it once gripped me.

Actually, it's a bit odd that I would say all this because there was a time when I was an unabashed moderate and proud centrist in my political and economic views. It just seemed to be the normal thing to do especially when confronted with the orthodoxy of right or left extremism. There were advantages in taking a more balanced approach because of the more obvious reasons like being able to see the other point of view, to understand where the other side is coming from, and to negotiate a common ground for reaching an agreement.

The trouble with the business of negotiating a common ground is that one should first and foremost accept the reality of the grounds that need to be negotiated. If one is unable to do so, then, it might seem like an endless exercise that will lead to absolutely nowhere.

In an ideal world this approach works just fine. In an ideal world, intelligent discourse is appreciated for what it is: the ability to rationally and objectively examine opposing viewpoints, respect the right of individuals to hold opinions contrary to ours, and allow the freedom of free and unfettered exchange of ideas.

However, we aren't living in some idyllic paradise, but in a world whose contours are marred by some pretty ugly realities: exploitation of the weak and vulnerable, social and economic injustice, senseless deprivation of the essentials, conflicts for power and domination, rape, mutilation, murder, poverty and a litany of other gruesome facts that make singing 'what a wonderful world' a bit strange.

I know I'm dangerously close to sounding tad pessimistic but let me assure you - despite what I've written above - I'm not.

My contention is that we can't remain neutral when faced with these ugly realities of life. We need to have the courage and conviction to call a spade a spade and not get wishy washy about it. Sitting on a fence involves not taking a side, and sometimes the side we choose determines where we stand morally and spiritually. In such cases, having a perspective doesn't help because in many cases it is far too late to do so. Let me give you some examples to explain what I mean:

More than 700,000 to 4 million women and children are trafficked around the world for pruposes of forced prostitution , labour and other forms of exploitation every year. Trafficking is estimated to be a $7 billion annual business.

A young girl’s nose is slashed by the Taliban because she doesn’t subscribe to their idea of a morally upright individual. And in another instance, a seven year old boy is hanged by the same Taliban group for being a spy.

There are roughly more than 1.02 billion hungry people in the world today. Majority of them are in Asia and Pacific (642 million) and sub-Saharan African (265 million) countries but the so-called developed countries are not immune to this scourge and has an estimated 15 million hungry people.

According to the most recent Unesco Institute for Statistics data, there are an estimated 774 million illiterate adults in the world, about 64% of whom are women.

I could continue with more statistics but that's not the point here. The singing of statistics can go on endlessly and we'll still have more songs to sing. The thing is, what is our response when we come across these numbers, read these stories, get to grip with the facts? Do we applaud when we hear stories like these where the poor aren't given a lifeline even when commanded to do so?

In cases like these, having a perspective doesn't help but a conviction is necessary: do we accept a miserable situation to linger because it exists? Or do we have the guts to declare something is evil and speak out against it? The choice is ours to make.

What have you chosen?


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