Across the country, we need a campaign to promote politeness, compassion and harmony!
On our walk last evening, we were crossing a building’s open driveway on the street. A car was coming out of the building. After inadvertently trying to dart across, in front of the moving car, we pulled ourselves back on the pavement and gestured to the driver to proceed. He, in turn, stopped the car, smiled back and gestured to us to proceed. He waited for us to cross him and then carried on.
I was touched by the driver’s sensitivity. It stayed with me all evening.
Even as I was thinking about this, an email came in from one of my neighbors. He was complaining about motorbikes being parked wrongly by one of our residents, obstructing free passage, at the entrance to the building. The resident replied saying he was parking them in such a manner only because his cars were being damaged by people moving material in and out of the building. His car park is the first as we exit the lift lobby and he has experience of construction workers, service providers, housekeepers, courier delivery people and almost everyone choosing to elbow their way between his two parked cars instead of walking around the driveway, and around the parked cars.
Now, how do you deal with a situation like this? It just goes on to show how insensitive we are, as a people, to following rules, to extending simple courtesies, to respecting personal space. So, if the conversation in my building is anything to go by, while both parties are right, we will soon have a situation we are so familiar with – no resolution will be got and we will all just accommodate, adjust and move on.
Undoubtedly, we are, as a nation, slipping into a cultural anarchy. I read an argument in Times of India recently that suggested that South-Indians are more sensitive and polite than North-Indians. I am sorry to say it like this, but we Indians suck at sensitivity. We are increasingly becoming cold, ill-mannered, impatient and disrespectful as a society. So, let us not dilute either the discourse or the action. What India needs now, seriously, is a national heart-warming campaign. A revival of the jadoo ki jhappi fever, if you like!
I would like to draw inspiration from the Japanese. As a nation, they earnestly practise a concept called omotenashi which has come to mean “Japanese hospitality” – a combination of exquisite politeness and compassion for others while retaining harmony and avoiding conflict. So, people with a cold in Japan will wear surgical masks, neighbors indulging in maintenance work of their premises will deliver packets of washing powder to the apartments that are likely to be affected by the dust that will fly around, staff in restaurants will bow graciously to signify a warm irasshaimase (welcome) and people offering you change back after a transaction will cup your palm from below to help prevent coins from dropping. People, in general, genuinely believe they have to be nice to each other. That’s the way they have been raised. Politeness and compassion were core values of the Bushido (the Way of the Warrior), the ethical code of the Samurai. Further, culturally, their Zen leaning and grooming thrive on inner serenity and respect for others.
I believe we Indians can practise omotenashi too. Not that we are unwilling but we have two problems we must overcome first – and both are unique to each individual: 1. We expect someone else to always take the lead 2. When we start, we give up the moment we see others refusing to either follow suit or not even understanding the need for change. So, this is a personal choice which each of us must exercise and stick too – no matter who is watching or who is following. And we must draw inspiration from Gandhi. If he had been pinned down by inertia from the two challenges I just talked about, we would never have been a free country. So, simply, we – you and I – must be the change we want to see.
Vaani and I practise omotenashi in small ways. We thank Uber or auto drivers in general, but we also profusely thank those who follow our request and don’t break traffic rules or speak on their phones while driving, we wait patiently, at a distance from the counter, in a queue even when there is no yellow line or even when someone elbows past us imagining we are aimlessly standing away from the counter, we make way for elderly people walking in public spaces, we don’t discard garbage or small litter (like movie tickets) anywhere than in designated bins and we don’t speak loudly on our mobiles in public spaces. These are small acts, personal choices. There are several other small things that we do. And perhaps you do several of them too. The idea here is not to flaunt what we do ceremoniously. But to strive to do whatever we are doing, and can do, religiously, consistently and taking a moment, each time, to educate someone else politely the value of omotenashi.
You don’t need to go by the Japanese name. You can call it what you would in your native tongue. Or just call it Project Politeness. Or call it by no name and yet live by it. Because there is an urgent need though to share our living spaces with harmony, compassion and sensitivity. We surely need a national heart-warming movement. And it begins with us – you and me! Hope you too will join, strengthen and lead this campaign from today!