Freedom of Thought
While we often espouse freedom of speech, expression and religion, we seldom talk about the overarching ‘freedom of thought’ from which all our choices and other freedoms flow. I often joke that we are a family of four with six different views. In the same vein, we are a 1.3 billion nation with ‘you can guess how many’ different opinions. And why not? Irrespective of its genesis, thought is the eternal seed. Centuries of foreign invasions and subjugation and yet our civilization rises because we never let our thoughts and the ‘freedom to entertain them’ die.
Not obvious at first instance, it takes a conscious reflection to realize how this freedom of thought, our most cherished treasure is being taken away from us today. Constant bombardment by vested groups, media houses and mischievous content-churning cells taking us away from rational and logical thinking. The very essence of our being that we used to guard so zealously, escaping us so gently but surely. Today we do not pause before advancing someone else’s juicy and compelling creations in this fast-forward age. It is so convenient to agree and share images and opinions which are salacious and cynical with a farcical topping of joviality. Invariably, they are cleverly designed to be somewhat in alignment with our vanities and root mentality. The underlying message may appeal to us in parts but it is often not in total synch with our true selves. However, every time we succumb to an act of blind sharing, we expose a darker side about ourselves.
Like the Roman mobs cheering for blood at the arena games, we follow suit two millennium later. It is easy to be part of a social mob frenzy where you freeze your basic goodness and ability to think for yourself. We grew up as thinkers and leaders of men and yet today we allow ourselves to be swayed by the parochial and the baser instinct in us. We very proudly flaunt our polarized positions defined by those whom we once despised as if there is no middle ground. People in the intelligence business will tell you how very difficult it is to ‘unwash’ a person who has been brainwashed. Caution friends, comical that forward may be, but it is gently leading us to a form of soft radicalization, apparently a harsh word to use. I once got carried away downstream in a stream where the bobbing leaves gave me an impression of still water. I realized my folly when my life was almost in peril and came to understand the power of the gentle undercurrent.
Talking about having the right company, it used to be said, ‘Beware the people who surround you for you are going to be one of them very soon.’ In exactly the same way, ‘Beware the thoughts that are thrust on you, because they are going to become yours very soon’. The tragedy is we are putting our long-held friendships and associations on the line for those who are eroding our freedom of thought, tragically with our own consent. In fact, I have been an aghast witness to two brothers almost getting at each other’s throat while defending political agendas. Incidentally, we all know that these behind-the-scenes protagonists have no qualms about switching loyalties or abandoning sinking ships.
Today we choose not what we see or read but amuse ourselves with what is handed over to us on a spicy dinner plate where ‘Fake’ is the flavour of the day. We can never be sure about what has been served to us and with what intentions. We have become gullible and have let our outlook be influenced by the scandalous. Where did our discernment skills vanish along with our ability to ponder and deliberate? Critical thinking and deep reflection are passé. We have started believing in other people’s beliefs and seeing the world through their lenses. Life suddenly has become black and white with truth being the biggest casualty. What about the infinite beautiful shades of colour in the spectrum of thought which are being wrenched from our blessed existence?
It is ripe time to revisit Tagore’s famous lines in “Let My Country Awake”
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action –
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
It is an established fact that captive elephants do not try to escape because they have been conditioned to believe in false limitations of invisible chains. Deny it to our hearts content, but we are also leisurely metamorphosing into slaves with fetters of dogma, bias and prejudice. We are unwittingly trading our ‘freedom of thought’ for fantasy, jest and ridicule.
In aviation, a commonly used word is PNR (Point of no Return) which means exactly that. Let us therefore unshackle ourselves before we reach our PNR. After all, Tagore’s dream should not remain an everlasting pipe-dream.
Postscript: The beauty about this small piece is the unanimous conclusion that I have not lost it while many others have.
First published at seekmediation.com on 03/06/21