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Updated: February 2, 2013 18:44 IST

A goldfish minute

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We find causes to fight for and then, just when we have stirred up enough talk to get something going, we open another tab. Illustration: Satwik
The Hindu
We find causes to fight for and then, just when we have stirred up enough talk to get something going, we open another tab. Illustration: Satwik

Mere words can fool us into thinking that we’ve done our bit.

If you ask me, just to be clear, no one is actually asking me anything at all but I’ve got a keyboard and a laptop and a little free time on my hands, so I might as well use it to tell you what I think. You don’t, mind you, have to read this. But if you have a little free time on your hands, then by all means, go ahead. This won’t make you sit up or open your eyes to anything but that applies to about 90 per cent of the things you must be reading online, so what’s a few more words and minutes? Right? Excellent.

So I was saying, if you ask me, it all boils down to this: we get bored too quickly and too often. We’ll try everything once, but the problem is, we’ll also usually try it only once. Or twice. Sometimes, we might even stick to it for a whole month or year but, sooner or later, we move on to something shinier or, like it is nowadays, darker. Everything catches our attention. A good-looking face, an emotionally manipulative Kony video, a really happy South Korean man. We find causes to fight for and then, just when we have stirred up enough talk to get something going, we open another tab.

We aren’t all talk. I’m almost completely sure that we aren’t. I’d say, and I’m probably under-quoting to be on the safe side, that almost 60 per cent of us actually do feel strongly enough to want, really want to do something; to change the world, make it a better place, you know, for me and for you and the entire human race (see, I’m already distracted and I’m only about 100 words in). But I’ll power through. Which is exactly what we almost never do.

I don’t know if this was a problem before, with our parents and their parents and their parents. I’m not entirely sure that whatever progress we’ve made so far is a result of sustained and concentrated effort, or just pure luck helped along by above average brain cells.

But before you cotton on, let me save you the time and effort by putting something out there. I’m just another girl in her twenties with a basic knowledge of a few things and a profound knowledge of almost nothing. So, that’s at least one-fourth of us out there. Let’s face it: today, when we have Google and Wikipedia to tell us everything, Poirot’s favourite little grey cells are severely under-worked. 

I’m not sure if I really have enough bag and baggage to be writing what can quite easily be taken as social commentary. I haven’t seen much of the world yet; a few big cities, a bunch of urban men and women my age (give or take a few years), a handful of family, work and relationship problems varying in degrees of intensity, and a personality that’s not in a desperate need of an overhaul, but could do with one nonetheless.

Like a lot of people out there, I feel strongly about a lot of things. A parched beggar knocking on my car window leads me into a lengthy, involved and modestly sensible debate about the state of things today, with respect to our homeless, unemployed and poverty-stricken population. A sickening gang rape and murder in my adopted city sets me off on a short, but very charged, warpath. A homophobic statement on the news makes me want to grab and shake the next person with even the slightest reservations about LGBT rights. I am not apathetic, not even a little bit. I could pride myself on that. I think I even did, once upon a time.

Not now though. Not after I’ve realised that I’m surrounded by almost identical people, cardboard cut-outs with big hearts and a short attention span. I’ve been where almost everyone else has been. I’ve held an issue close to my heart, fed it my anger and sadness and ideas and solutions, and then left it out there in the cold to fend for itself.

Of course, by just writing this, I’m not actually changing myself. By reading this, neither are you. I’m a journalist by profession. I actually write for a salary. Which is ironic because after years of trusting the written word, I’m slowly beginning to see the flip side of it. The cathartic, almost numbing effect words can have, the way they fool us into thinking that we’ve done our bit. And so, after a well crafted debate, whether on or off paper, most of us stop. The weight is off our shoulders. Some other, more pressing, more demanding issue is waiting to be looked after. And so, we level up.

Will it help if I shared this on facebook/twitter? What amounts to doing our bit? What
is the outrage/empathy supposed to lead up to? I think just having those
conversations with all sorts of people, even those that you know hold views very
different from ours, would be a step in the right direction. If we can get one more
person to think empathetically about an issue then that would be a huge step
forward. Most issues arise not due to some organized evil but due to the collective
influence of small everyday actions of millions of individual. Conversations-reading,
writing and talking about them, are what might help change a few individuals'

from:  Neethi
Posted on: Feb 2, 2013 at 21:57 IST
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