Human Fallibility

“How often do we use a rational mind to deal with judge a person, or an act, or a situation? Our personal bias and prejudices generally cloud our judgement, which make us think and act irrationally. We discriminate between people for reasons of our bias and prejudices. Our ego and fear of potential loss of our face make us myopically stick to our belief, and generally pay a heavy price for it, no matter how irrational and challengeable our belief may be. If we like someone or something, we find reasons to support our feelings. Similar is the case with our dislikes. In many, or rather most, matter of life, our personal likes and dislikes and prejudices – about a person, or an action, or a matter – become erratically subjective.

Oxford dictionary (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/) defines the terms ‘bias’, ‘prejudice’ and ‘discrimination’ as follows;

  • Bias: ‘The action of supporting or opposing a particular person or thing in an unfair way, because of allowing personal opinions to influence your judgment.’
  • Prejudice: ‘An unfair and unreasonable opinion or feeling, especially when formed without enough thought or knowledge.’
  • Discrimination: ‘Treating a person or particular group of people differently, especially in a worse way from the way in which you treat other people, because of their skin colour, sex, sexuality, etc.

We love to believe even the ugliest lies if they fit into our belief. We hear what we want to hear, whether it comes from inside our head or from any other source, howsoever unreliable that sources may be. As a consequence, the many an accused amongst us suffers for absolutely no fault, while the world watches silently and enjoys sadistically.

This article features a few interesting vignettes to illustrate this intrinsic human imperfection, irrationality and fallibility with each one of us, to a lesser or greater extent.

In the first vignette, which goes back a few years, I was (falsely) accused of making a ‘sinister remark’ against a close relative. The serious accusation, which was made without my knowledge, surfaced only a couple of years after I was alleged to have committed the crime. During those couple of years, many of our common relatives remained cold and distanced themselves from me, whilst I kept wondering about a sudden negative change in their behaviour. By sheer luck, one day, in some extraordinary circumstances, I came to know about the accusation. Initially, I was stunned and then, after gathering myself but still in utter disbelief, I pleaded innocence. However, whatever I said fell on deaf ears and the relationship continued to remain strained to some extent, as the accusing party chose to stick to its belief. Shockingly, I am alleged to have made the remark during an informal, cursory conversation with a third party, also a common relative. However, that third party flatly denied having any knowledge about it when I asked. Obviously, one of us three individuals lied and continues to lie. Strangely, those days, I was actively helping one of the two parties involved. Understandably, I have never been able to understand why it all happened? Who lied and why? Intriguingly, was it a deliberate act of ‘divide and rule’ by anyone or just an exhibition of another shade of an enigmatic human character that illustrates the human fallibility?

In the second vignette too, I was a victim of a vicious, well-coordinated, social slander. About three years ago, a close relative suddenly started sending me messages on my phone, with abusive language, threatening to take me to court for defamation. I was accused of including some factual information about her family in my first book, which had reportedly offended their extended family members. On my part, as the author of a memoir, inclusion of that factual information was necessary in the context of an important but extremely difficult phase of my childhood, which had introduced me to the harsh realities of life. Interestingly, the factual information is a common knowledge amongst all our other common relatives and falls within a range of general living habits, behaviours and the mindset of most north Indians. More seriously, however, I was also accused of not glorifying the family’s role in my life in the same way as I had highlighted the role of some other relatives. Out of sheer rage, therefore, the accusing family tried to sabotage my book launch a day before its scheduled launch at an important public event in New Delhi. They threatened my publisher with dire consequences, which my publisher handled with a cool and matured head, dismissing the first accusation as a harmless common affair but, as for their second accusation, the accusing family failed to produce any evidence in its support. When asked if they had really read the book, they replied in negative. When politely challenged about the basis of their accusation, they said their relatives, who had read the book, had urged them to trash it and punish me for defaming them.

At that point, several faces of their relatives rolled before my eyes and most of them had immensely benefited from my family and, for years, had (hindsight, undeservingly) enjoyed an extremely warm hospitality at my parent’s home. After failing to defend their allegations, the three visiting members of the accusing family seemed to have lost their face. They looked defeated, stunned and jittery. However, before leaving, they still had the audacity to ask my publisher for a formal invitation to attend the book launch event, which fell on the next day. Being apprehensive of any further drama at the high-profile public event, my publisher decided against inviting them. I felt deeply sad, as I had always considered them as my own flesh and blood. On the whole, it was a sad situation. I cut a sorry figure in my publisher’s office and was highly embarrassed at their unthinkable behaviour. Since that moment, I distanced myself from them and all their extended family members. When analysed carefully, it looked like a third party had influenced their ears against me. Why? The answers can be several. Perhaps, they themselves had given that third part some feelers against me. In any case, it seemed both parties had acted with reckless disregard for my sensitivities.

The third event took place about three decades ago when I was a young, inexperienced lad in early twenties. On a Sunday afternoon, a couple of elderly relatives visited my home to know my opinion about the suitability of a certain individual for their daughter in the matrimonial context. Incidentally, a few days earlier only, another close relative had purposely discussed this individual with me at a wedding party, which had not left a very good impression on my mind about this individual. Before that, I had never heard of or met this person. In all my honesty, based on what had been fed to me by that other relative, I did not approve the person. I was not matured enough and aware about the worldly ways of showing political correctness in such matters. I narrated the whole story to them, i.e. when and where I had seen this person and what the other relative had told me about him. I was naive, I did not know at that time that these two gentlemen had visited my home only for ticking a box and just out of formality and political correctness, and that they had already decided to engage their daughter to the person I was naively disapproving. Interestingly, that other person, about 7 years older than me, who had discussed this individual with me at a wedding party, had already given his consent to them to go ahead. Well, that did not surprise me as much as I was shocked to learn that my disapproval had become a talk of the town. A senior colleague asked me about my ‘sin of disapproval’ that very week. Not surprisingly, the language and behavior of the individual (the prospective groom) was very cold and abrasive towards me on the day of his formal engagement to my relative’s daughter. Subsequently, all his family members and relatives reflected a similar behavior towards me on the wedding day. We never became friends. On the hindsight, it seems I was compromised by my relatives. I have never understood why? Did they try to appease this person, sacrificing me in the process? During the past three decades, no one has ever taken the responsibility for what had happened or bothered to explain why my opinion, provided on trust and in confidence, was aired to the public? No one has ever apologized and I have been left to reconcile with another shade of the human fallibility.

We humans are fallible. We choose to see what we want to see and ignore everything else that that makes us uncomfortable and look small. We hear what we want to hear to give credibility and life to pre-existing seeds of bias, hate and prejudice within us against other people, situations and important matter of life. As they say, ‘Show me the face and I’ll show you the rules’, we are capable of transforming white lies into Divine Truth and demonising angels if that satisfies our ego or intentions.

We humans are known for our strange behaviours. Varying degrees of jealousy and sadism are an intrinsic part of our character. Unbelievably, sometime, our angels turn into our demons and also our foes magically turn into our best friends when it matters the most. As goes a Chinese proverb, ‘Our own teeth sometime bite our tongue’, most pain comes to us from those who are closest to us and at such times when we need or expect it the least.”     

… Bill Koul (Perth, 14 May 2020)

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