It is the lack of empathy that makes our world a cold, unfriendly, place.
Since I am a public speaker, and I do often get invited to address audiences, I have been asked by my doctor to nurture and protect my vocal cords. So, I have now begin carrying a collar mic with me. This mic runs on 9V battery power. I have to carry spare 9V cells so I am never short of one.
Yesterday, at the airport, a CISF (Central Industrial Security Force – mandated with airport security in India) Inspector disallowed me from carrying the extra cells. We got into a discussion over the matter. Although I was upset, and initially angry too, I let it pass. I heard what the gentleman had to say. He patiently explained to me that he didn’t have a problem with me carrying one cell in the mic, but he would not be allowing the “extras” to go with me.
We spoke over the matter for about 10 minutes. We spoke in Hindi. At the end of it, he thanked me for my “badappan” – magnanimity – in understanding his point of view. And I thanked him for his courtesy and patience with my situation. All through the conversation, he wore a bright, friendly, look on him. He was calm and never intimidating. We parted ways shaking hands and wishing each other well.
This Blogpost comes close on the heels of an unfortunate episode where Indigo staffers allegedly manhandled a passenger – a story that continues to be shared virally and debated across India. Even otherwise, I have often found people at airports, across the world, being particularly uncharitable to security personnel. Both in terms of opinion and attitude, most passengers tend to consider security folks painful to deal with. In the past, I too have been grumpy whenever I have been ‘randomly’ selected, isolated and ‘patted down’ by TSA staff in American airports or when CISF people have asked for my laptop bag to be re-examined. But, over the years, thanks perhaps to my personal evolution and given the high-risk and vulnerable environment that prevails globally, I have learned to understand – and not interpret or imagine – the motives of airport security people. They have taught me empathy.
For instance, Siddarth, the CISF Inspector I dealt with yesterday, told me this: “Hamari koshish bas yehi hai ki hamari nigrani mein koi negative episode na ho jaye. Aap sab bhale logon ki suraksha hamara zimma hai.” – “Our endeavor is to ensure passenger safety and that nothing negative/untoward happens under our watch. We want to protect all you good people out there.” He added, “When passengers get upset with us for doing our jobs diligently, my staff do feel demoralized. But I tell them – forgive them. Keep calm and keep treating every passenger the way you like to be treated!”
I loved that lesson in empathy and Buddhahood. Treat others the way you like to be treated. The essence of empathy lies in understanding – and not in interpreting or imagining. Not just in the context of airport security and dealing with people in uniform, who are merely doing their duty, but in all situations, empathy is a great quality to nurture. You don’t have to necessarily agree with everyone’s point of view, but you can surely see that point of view, and understand the rationale behind the other person’s choices and actions.
It is the lack of empathy that makes our world a cold, unfriendly, place. What we need today is global heartwarming – more patience, more understanding, more empathy. We need more Buddhas, like the CISF Inspector Siddarth!