Actions and unintended consequences
By Mohamedarif Suleman (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania)
We have all heard the anecdotal story of an animal crushing his master’s face with a large rock having the intention and goodwill to rid the master’s inconvenience of a fly hovering around his node as he enjoyed a sound siesta. The result is but obvious, although completely unintended. And while the animal can be forgiven for his atrocity on the grounds of his lack of knowledge, per se, what would we regard such episodes where human beings were involved?
Through advancement in learning, we concede now that our lives are spurned with a series of actions, and that every action that we perform, there are consequences, whether desired or unintended. For example, two parents might want to make their children conform to socially accepted ways of acting. To achieve their goal, the parents act in a strict and authoritarian way. The unintended consequences of their authoritarianism, however, might be to drive the children to rebel and break loose from the orthodox standards of behaviour. Some other times, actions taken with a particular aim in view have consequences that actually prevent the achievement of that aim. As a matter of argument, using the same example above, parents may regard even simple guidance to their growing children as nagging and potentially repulsive to the child. So they yield to the child’s demands, accept every rowdy behaviour because it matches society’s stereotypes, all this while thinking they are bringing their children closer to them, yet the end result is completely the opposite as the children grow rebellious and rowdy with age.
Failure to understand the difference between social reproduction and social transformation, more often than not leads to these unintended consequences at any level of life – whether family, social or national level, to come back and haunt us. While the former refers to how societies keep going over time, the latter focusses on the changes they undergo. As cities blow in population, there is naturally less space for every individual, and a greater pressure on not just the environment but also on those providing some form of service to society. Hospitals, schools, law enforcement agencies and so on, all but get compromised as more and more people want their service and the pressure to sustain operations or other selfish motives lead to the eventual collapse of systems.
Ironically, everyone speaks of globalization rather fluidly, yet very few have a clear understanding about this phenomenal concept. One of the desired consequence of globalisation, for example, is the ease of information exchange, of faster transfer of communication and so on, while the unintended consequence is the import of values and cultures that erode those in existence at home. Knoweing how to hold on to what is good at home and allowing the osmosis of good values and practices from outside is a smart way of adapting to this change. Resisting it indefinitely will create internal turmoil over time.
Our society is facing a deep new challenge. Everyday, we are giving rise to new values that are eventually going to be self destructive in nature, and will one day come full circle and destroy us in their powerful wake. When teachers and parents, for example, sway to the urban stereotype of noise as normal, our homes and our schools will be devoid of creativity and thinking time, because teachers think it is normal for children this age to behave in a certain street-like manner. So no effort is made to shape up growing individuals into just and fair members of a society. If parents discuss issues of their family strength and how they are independent of the others, etc. children will ultimately start behaving thus as they foray into life on their own. In other words, children who bring bad habits from school are being applauded by parents instead of being guided.
It is unfortunate that despite inheriting the values of Ahlul Bayt (AS) and being so staunch in our belief system about the mission of Imam Husain (AS) in particular, we have reduced that strength to mere attendance in a majlis, participation in azaadari and visitation to the mausoleums of the holy infallibles. And whereas these actions should have induced a level of morality and discipline in us that could be unshaken by any force and in fact would have been a role model to the rest of society, because we don’t stop to think as petty traders in terms of our profit and our loss, our general performance in terms of akhlaaq falls way off the mark. Naturally, the reader must take caution in reading this as like in any other instance, there are exceptions to the majority occurrence but generally speaking, this has to be the prevalent case.
Destinesia – a new word coined as a cross between destination and amnesia, refers to reaching where we had intended to go, but upon so doing, forget our real reason for being there. So, we get to the mosque with the intention of learning something new and to grieve over the musibaah of the Ahlul Bayt (AS), but we end up yawning or observing at others as they wade in. We enter the Holy month of Ramadhan, and fast and pray, but then get lost in our quest for that sehri programme or the fever pitch soccer game. Similarly, for our Hajj and many other acts, we keep forgetting or perhaps we are producing unintended consequences of some of our actions.
As the world watches us from close thanks to the presence of live TV and the social media, at some point it appears to them, as indeed it feels to us about them in many instances, that we are simply drumbling (talking meaninglessly, aimlessly or inconsequentially) about matters of our faith, for when people just talk and do not act upon those laurels, those fabulous words of wisdom, they are easy to disregard and be considered insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
Our clock is ticking, and for many very few moments remain on this life of deeds, but that depends on whether we are done talking after all.