Long hours in flight often prompt you to day dream and let loose in some deep thoughts. And then, such an opportunity results into a blog post, after a long time!
Recently, for the past year to be precise, I have embraced a little bit of skepticism. And as I turn 32 (I know, getting old!), I also realized that I may have been a little late to join the skeptics club for a number of reasons. I attribute the development of my skepticism to a lot of my friends, who argued and debated with me, and flexed some of my staunch beliefs. They challenged me to look in a direction where I hadn’t even considered to wander before. I wish this had happened earlier but it’s better late than never.
Skepticism can be wiki defined as “a questioning attitude towards unempirical knowledge or opinions or beliefs stated as facts, or doubt regarding claims that are taken for granted elsewhere”. The ability to question and then indulge in the process to find reasonable answers is not encouraged many times in a typical middle class environment in India. It is very common to hear the phrase “don’t ask questions”. Many times we can see parents getting frustrated with their kids, when the kids question some of the actions of the parents. And one response resonates over the years, “we are elders. We have more experiences than you have, which means you have to agree to whatever we say”. This may not always be parental. It may be seen among peers too, where people with more experience dominate the ones with lesser experience, demanding complete obedience to their orders. Such acts ultimately curtail skepticism. The demands of the elders or the more experienced lot may be reasonable too, but there is a lack of justifying those actions to the younger ones or the inexperienced ones, who are trying to find some reason in these actions before performing them. The justification is not provided because the person doesn’t really know the reason behind performing that action and has never attempted to find the reason as well. Maybe because that person was blindly following the orders from earlier generation.
Giving an example at this point may clarify my thoughts to you. It was said that we should not cut our nails or hair in the evening or on Saturdays. In olden days, when there was no electricity, it was considered a danger to handle sharp objects like razors or scissors for fear of hurting oneself. But now, does it matter if we cut our hair or nails in the evening with full lights on? Not really. And I still don’t know the reason for not performing these activities on a Saturday unless Saturday was the day of power cuts. This and such other daily activities, which may be obsolete in the current context, are performed by each generation after another, without questioning the reason for their performance. Because the act of questioning itself is frowned upon and considered impolite.
I was prey to the habit of not asking questions lest I stir up some unprecedented trouble and disturb my elders or peers. But, over the time (or the increasing age) has made me feel that it is equally important to find logic in the smallest action performed. Yes, some actions, no matter how illogical or obsolete, are very enjoyable to perform but we fail to notice the consequences of these actions behind the veil of enjoyment. For e.g., we perform many rites and rituals on a daily basis that are very enjoyable but secretly purport sexism and/or racism. Following traditions is one thing but supporting some sexist and/or racist attitudes under the guise of traditions should be questioned and if possible eradicated. Recently, whatsapp forwards and Facebook posts are full of data which is not verified, never questioned for its authenticity and blindly forwarded ahead. Thus, more and more myths are generated expanding our branch of mythology. Turning into a skeptic and questioning the source of these forwards, before they are taken literally, can avoid the spread of many hoax news and data.
Skepticism activates your brain to find reason rather than blindly accepting things as they are. A movie released last year, called Theory of Everything biographs the life of a famous physicist, Stephen Hawking. This movie alongwith the documentary of the same man titled Hawking elaborates the positive effects of promoting skepticism in your family. A typical dinner table conversation in the Hawking family would be about controversial topics like religion, homosexuality, etc. It would be common to debate and argue over a point till the time a logical reason was descended upon. Which brings me to my next point, debates and arguments are an integral part of skepticism. People shy away from arguments and debates for the same reason highlighted above, to avoid troubling situations and possibility of disturbing the elders or experienced peers by challenging their point of view. The only way out is to stay quiet and accept their view, even though it may be wrong, under the pretext of showing respect to their age and/or experience. But, it is important to understand that opinions of elders/experienced people may not always be logical. It is highly likely that they don’t agree to their own opinions but have to abide by them for the sake of respecting their elders or the society they live in.
The motto of people’s life has become “log kya kahenge” (what will the society say). People prefer to conform to the society where they live in. Any action or behavior lying outside of the normal curve is curtailed. Outliers are banished from the society. Hence, people prefer to go with the flow and avoid causing any turbulence by standing out. Skepticism intends to question that very flow. Next time when you find yourself in the middle of an argument, will you run away from it or participate in it and try to find logical explanations for your own brain? Next time when your kid asks you those relentless “why” questions will you be patient and try to answer them to the best of your “scientific” knowledge or will you dodge it by saying “don’t ask questions” and “do what your elders say” type of responses? Your answers will either make them blind followers or lead them to the path of skepticism to recharge and rejuvenate their thoughts, almost like a spa for the brain!