Today, we want to take a look at one of our national psychological deficiencies. Of course, we do that a lot on this blog—taking looks, that is, not that we are psychologically deficient (although many of our readers will disagree with that claim). For instance, we’ve talked about our misguided idea of heroism here, made fun at our love for “food” here and then risked inciting your anger here by curling up our noses at your constant lookout for divine favour.
You see, we could talk about politics and yab the government all day long, its easy to do. But in reality, we won’t be able to change the mental state of the government until we change our own mentality first. And what better way to inspire change than through well tested fables? So let’s start with a well known fable, certainly familiar to our readers who had already contracted puberty before the invention of the world wide web. Its the classic story of the farmer, his son and his donkey. We said “his donkey” and not “his ass” because we don’t want to offend some of our more sensitive readers.
Now, here’s the condensed version of the story. A man and his young son are on their way to town, and the two were accompanied by a donkey, for no clear reason. Father and young son started off the trip to the mall by walking beside the donkey—but folks criticised them for being damned hypocrites and urged them to ride the blasted ass. So, the father rides the ass and the boy runs along. But this solo ass-riding by the man doesn’t sit well with some other people, and they tweet comments accusing the father of child abuse. So the son rides the ass instead,but the family have to contend with twitter critics who sub the son for lacking respect for the elderly. Frustrated, both men ride the animal, but folks post pictures on facebook showing them as being cruel to animals. Frustrated, the father and son tie the donkey to a pole and they carry it on their shoulders— and inspired a perfect LOL moment for generations to come.
The ostensible moral of the story is, of course, that you can’t please everybody, and, also, that donkeys are bad for business. But there’s another lesson we can extract from the story which, for the purpose of our discussion we will call: “The Danger of Spinelessness.” This moral, though connected to the moral of avoiding trying to please everyone, is also distinct in itself. Essentially, the Danger of Spinelessness states that when you lack principles, you will be shifted right and left by every change in circumstance.
The story illustrates the life of a man who has no principles. Here was a farmer who had no clear definition of why he had a donkey and what he expected from the donkey. His attitude to the donkey was dependent on the current fashion trend. He was inspired, not by an innate principle of life, but by kowtowing to the wishes of everybody— a way of life more aptly described as “Mission Impossible”.
Unfortunately, quite a number of folks around us—and ourselves too—are without defining principles. The principles of a clown are not necessarily a socially acceptable norm, but they define the clown well enough. As we’ve pointed out before, if your principles are definite, you will spend more time achieving your goals and waste less time defending yourself to people.
And that is why heroes are getting rare—too many people prefer to swim with the circumstances rather than being principled. In this sense, “principled” does not mean disciplined or harsh, it simply means staying true to one’s philosophies irrespective of the circumstances in which one is. But what if you have no principles? Well, that’s awesomely unfortunate. What do you want to achieve in life? How do you intend to get it? What will you do when you meet an obstacle? You should be able to coherently answer these questions or quietly close this page now.
Take a look at one of the daily instances that shows how people can be one thing somewhere and the opposite elsewhere. The bossy team leader becomes subservient when reporting to the MD, the usually irate MD becomes a sniveling lackey when discussing with the Chairman, the ordinarily arrogant Chairman toadies up to the Minister of Commerce, and the disciplinarian Minister is a “yes man” to the President. A man is confident in one place and a sycophant in another. A man is all for the truth in one place, carefully editorial in another.
Of course, philosophies change, and people abandon some principles and take up new ones. Russia moved away from the communist mindset and America is gradually moving away from absolute capitalism. But a change in principle should be more like the change of a caterpillar into a butterfly—which is fundamental, and not like the “change” of the chameleon—which is circumstantial. When reality proves a principle to be wrong and unworkable, by all means abandon it and fashion out a better one. As Lowell, said, the foolish and the dead alone never change their opinions.
And that’s the bone of our beef today: developing the ability to decipher between what is principled and what is circumstantial. Circumstances will always change. Life has always been cyclical. Your philosophies shouldn’t be defined by who you are with, what position you occupy or where you are. Your principles should be identifiable and persistent. Because, at the end of the day, what matters is not the circumstances that surrounded you, but the person you were. But, we will make no attempt to judge you on this blog, because after all, we say “ass” when we promised not to say it, and that’s just unprincipled of us.