• Shishir Rattan

When does a person cease to become a person?

Updated: Jul 5, 2020

Picture this - You are walking down the street in a town you've recently migrated to and you've yet to get your bearings in sync with the new setting. Would you say you're in the most comfortable of situations?

Here's another – You are in a different part of your country and while it's a new place that you have never been to, would you feel comfortable and at ease as compared to the previous scenario?

Here's the last one – You are commuting to work in the city you have spent most of your life in. You reminisce about the near-empty roads that are now almost always jam-packed with heavy traffic. Your mind goes into the usual rut of trying to find an alternate route.

Which of the scenarios would make you the most comfortable? The one in which you are in a foreign land; different part of your country or in the place you were born and brought up in.

There is no right or wrong answer here, but for the most part; I'd say the last scenario would be the preferred choice. The way I see it, its got all the elements that are fundamentally familiar to me personally. If I were in a place that I've grown up in, it will surely be the one place where I would know all the roads, all the right people and all the best places to go to for all my needs. The bottom line here is that while the traffic is surely an inconvenience; the rest of the things that really make any soul feel safe are there. The keyword here being familiarity.

Let us say you've migrated to a country. A fleeting word or two of your motherland is sure to turn your head and get your eyes darting to seek out who is speaking this language. That longing for one's own land, it seems, is quite ingrained in all of us. Considering the fact that humans have been migrating to and fro different places since ages but yet the strings to our native land never seem to go away.

There is something emotional and basic about all this. Maybe we have evolved in this fashion; I am not sure but there is definitely something very captivating about the place we call home and the people we call our own or is it?

Ask yourself – What is it about strangers that makes you nervous, regardless of the situation or their origin. Is it the fear of unfamiliarity and uncertainty? Is it the primal instinct to be safe from harm? Well, there is clearly something that keeps us wanting to stay in the clear, or else we would pretty much be trusting people blindly now, wouldn't it!? The world would have been a very different place if that were the case.

Let me be clear about something. There is no right or wrong answer here. These are open-ended questions meant to get you thinking deeply about these things.

Alright, let us get deeper into this rabbit hole. Here's a question for you - When does a person cease to be a person? Let me ask this in a different way, what do you notice first when you see someone when you're happy, when you're angry, when you're sad or when you're afraid?

Be honest since you're not voicing this to anyone else, nor are you writing this anywhere. It's a monologue with yourself so you can express yourself without any bounds.

In the questions above, I have purposefully left a bit of grey area for you to set the stage and visualize the question. Now let me throw out a few scenarios for you to be on one page with me on this.

Let us take the first of the three situations I gave you in the beginning and build it up a little. Say you're walking down the street, you're having a hard time trying to figure out the way to the station. You're anxious about being late, the fear of finding a way back home grips you tight. What if you miss the train? Will it be safe to travel by cab instead? Do I have enough cash on me to pay the cab? Now you're thinking about finding an ATM and wondering how much time will that cost you.

All these thoughts clouding your mind, your primal instinct to survive slowly starts to kick in as you hear a bunch of people coming out of a pub as you walk by it. What's the thought about them in your mind? Are you thinking about them or are you too engrossed with the worry of reaching the station late? Leaving the bunch from the pub behind you spot a police car ahead of you as you make your way forward. As you come closer an officer steps out of the vehicle and starts at you. Is he looking at you or right through at somebody behind?

You know you've done nothing wrong, so you continue marching on or would you think for a second - Wait what if I become a victim of a hate crime by the police as they show on TV?


What do you see yourself doing in the next few moments?

Now, to be fair, this could be any one of us. When we feel insecure the true instincts that make us who we are bubble up because we're in a heightened state of alertness. We're in such a state of fight or flight mode that we let all our guard down, the façade that we keep up and maintain to fit in begins to crumble and our true selves – the benevolent or selfish begins to show itself.

There is a reason why I did not mention the race of the people around nor the country in the scenario. The reason is this – We tend to project ourselves onto the world. Our beliefs, values, code of ethics, etc. color the world in such fundamental and profound ways that we simply don't realize that there might be something wrong in the way we see and think about people who are different from us, even if by a shade!

A dark-skinned person is not inferior to anyone just the way a fair-skinned person is better than any other shade of the human skin. Racism is not in the mind, it is a state of mind. It is ingrained and learned in ways that need to be recognized if we truly long for a peaceful society.

This blindness that prohibits us from seeing and treating others as yourself is what makes a person cease to be a person!

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