It is an inevitable part of the human experience to be emotionally affected by what happens around us. And those emotional responses will trigger thoughts that we’ll then use to try and define our reality.
Which is why it is so important to choose your responses.
Victor Frankl, author of the brilliant book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ and survivor of 4 Holocaust camps, has the following to say:
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
If you had suppressed your yeh-to-Yahoodi-hay alarm bells for long enough to understand the message, you have understood the crux of what it means to be human: we are not what happens to us, we are our response to what happens to us.
And our responses vary; man is capable of exhibiting a spectrum of emotion, but in essence every emotion you have is born of two basic responses. These two responses are mutually exclusive, which means you can’t feel them simultaneously.
The two basic responses are fear and love.
Fear usually boils down to the fear of death. Whenever an existential threat to the individual organism is perceived, that causes a fear response.
Love is not your Valentine’s Day I-wanna-frandship-you type love. It’s deeper and more important. It’s transcendent.
The fear response leads to resentment, envy, rage, jealousy, bigotry, racism, violence, narrow-mindedness, obtuseness, segregations, coldness, shame, guilt, self-deprecation, ego, lying, hatred, negativity.
The love response leads to empathy, compassion, respect, gratitude, humility, humor, peace, happiness, transcendence, acceptance, positivity.
Notice how there are fewer positive emotion words than negative ones. Open any dictionary and you will notice the same thing. This is because we associate better with the fear response. We are simply wired that way. This skews the choice somewhat: choosing the love response requires hard work and conscious effort, it requires courage, whereas choosing the fear response is easier, less taxing, lazier.
Which is why most people, especially in this country, are so comfortable living in the manifestations of their fears.
If the electricity dies out for an hour and you’re forced to miss the Humsafar reruns, it’s easy to cuss out WAPDA and Pakistan and the government and the world for being so unfair to you. It takes effort to realize how these blackouts bespeak the sordid state of the nation and that you should probably turn the TV off and start looking to contribute.
If a car overtakes you tightly on a two way street, it’s easy to cuss out the driver’s mother and sister and raise your own blood pressure in the process. It takes effort to realize that maybe he had somewhere to be urgently. Or maybe it’s not his fault, it is the system’s fault for not regulating driving license requirements and instead allowing every person with arms to get behind a wheel.
If the shopkeeper is taking too long bringing you the Dalda dabbi, it’s easy to call him an inbred assholic retard who better hurry up or you’ll break his taangein. It takes effort to realize that his life consists of carrying Dalda cans for douchebags day in and day out so maybe you should cut him some slack and be a bit nicer with your demands of expediency.
If that fellow you see on the street turns out to be Ahmadi/Christian/Jewish/Shia, it’s easy to curse him out at being an inferior human being and, in extreme cases, cause him physical harm and then congratulate yourself for having fulfilled your religious duty. It takes effort to realize that he, like you, is a person. And he, like you, was born into an ideology not of his choosing. And he, like you, deserves all the rights, honor, and respect that go along with being a human being.
If you do anything wrong, it’s easy to call yourself a hopeless retarded idiot moron chutiya who will fail because he sucks at everything he tries. It takes effort to realize that you should stop being so hard on yourself, learn from your mistakes, appreciate their having happened, and keep on going.
If someone brings their own fear response in your face and starts projecting on to you, it’s easy to respond in kind and make it a battle of the egos and a who-has-a-stronger-fear-response tournament. It takes effort to calm yourself down and do like the Prophets and wise men taught: counter his fear with your love, compassion, and empathy. You get the idea.
Any type of evil in the world has been created because of our fear response to stimuli.
Which is why it is so important that we rise above it. We must choose love.
This is not a one-off decision. This requires constant, persistent, day in and day out hard work to go against your ingrained responses and choose something transcendent at every moment of the day. To fight your inherent lazy mammalian fear-based responses and choose your soulful, human responses instead.
And choosing love does not mean being a flowery little sap either. Sometimes the only way you can love is by being hard on the other person. The best definition of love which I’ve come across is from Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled:
“Love is the will to extend oneself for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”
In other words, love is an action you perform, not a feeling you feel. And it requires effort to perform. And the first step is realizing that you have a choice.
I’m no saint, but I try. If nothing else but for the simple fact that this is all it means to be human, that if I allow myself to be affected by this place and all the negativity that has been painted on without at least trying to counter it with love, I’ll automatically be a depressed little sod. I’ll be an automaton of sadness, and rather than using my energies towards my own endeavors, rather than attempting to rise above, I’ll just sit around in squalor, accompanied by my fear response and the fear responses of the miserable company I surround myself with, criticizing and hating and continuing to spread the root cause of all manmade problems in the world.