The Intolerance Debate

This happened several years back. I was heading the R&D function in a large company and was in need of some services from the head of Manufacturing who was a good friend of mine. He was generally considered to be good-natured and mature. I picked up the phone and sought his help. He sounded unusually aggressive and at one point during our discussion turned unreasonable, impatient and abusive for no reason. He said: “You make my blood boil – my BP is going up”. Realizing that the situation was getting out of control, I hung up. Isn’t it a pity that we allow others to control our biochemistry!!

This incident made me realize that human beings are perfectly capable of displaying a wide range of emotions from the most violent to the most gentle or pleasant. We withhold one emotion over the other depending on the situation and the person.
Psychologists tell us that intolerance and violence arise from the “us-versus-them” thinking. We see this happening everywhere – in big organizations, in housing societies in large living communities and at the national level. This basic instinct is universal for all humans.

This is brought out tellingly in the notorious Stanford Prison experiment a few decades back. In the study, 24 students were divided into two groups as guards and prisoners and were asked to spend two weeks together in the basement of the university. However, six days into it, the psychologists had to abandon the experiment as the guards turned cruel and violent and the prisoners began revolting. It appeared that students had forgotten that these were mere roles decided by the spin of a coin. These experiments gained notoriety when in real life American guards in Baghdad were reported to have resorted to brutal torture of detainees in Baghdad’s Abu Gharib prison.

If intolerance and violence is in our DNA, can one get a clue on this from a study of our ancestors – the apes? An interesting study on chimps was reported by a primatologist who made stunning observations on their violent behaviour with any chimp outside their community. He witnessed a few instances of unusual aggression between chimp communities. He described them as deliberate targetted killings. When someone asked how could he conclude there was an intent to murder since killing could be a side effect of aggression, he argued: “The attackers showed a degree of coordination and abuse not seen in aggression in their own community”. Then he goes on to give a horrific description of how they went about the brutal task of murdering a chimp from another community. The murderous behaviour is not unlike that of our own species. It’s dehumanizing or shall we say dechimpizing!

Can we then explain away all our violence saying that it’s none of our fault since it’s written all over our DNA? No, this is where the uniqueness of our species comes in. While a Chimp is unaware of what it’s doing, we’re blessed with an intellect and a free will. We have choices and can exercise our options. It’s this awareness which makes all the difference. Fortunately, we are also blessed to have scriptures like Bhagavadgita which tell us how to overcome our impulses.There is an entire chapter in Gita (No 2) devoted to the management of Raga & Dvesha(likes and dislikes). It tells us how to manage our likes and dislikes instead of letting Raga & Dvesha managing us!

Published in: on November 8, 2015 at 6:05 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. An excellent analysis!

    • Thanks

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