Impoliteness as an Option: Questioning Our Identities


Mumtaheenah Zaman Agoto


It was the morning of office hours. Rain was pouring heavily that morning. The bus I got on had enough room for at least 10 more people to stand between the aisles and save themselves from the rain. However, a group of passengers were screaming and yelling at the conductor to not let any more passengers in, and ensure they get the absolute privilege of the forty-taka-ticket for a fully-air conditioned, sitting-bus-service they had purchased.

Having known the fact that rain in Dhaka miraculously makes all sorts of transportations disappear—probably in the river-like puddles-n-pools of water; a part of me wanted to confront the crowd, and allow a few of the drenched people to hop in. But the very next moment, remembering the fact that our people are very sensitive in terms of substantialising rights and systems, I dared not to act impolite and suppress their freedom to enjoy the monsoon ride to office. Till date, that incident is one of the things I couldn’t justify to myself.

My brother and I have always been despised by our cousins for being the embodiment of politeness and have been held exemplary by their parents in this regard multiple times. We were allowed to secretly sulk and snivel but not say No to those ever pestering children trying to hoard our play-things—being rude was never an option. In fact, our morals and beliefs were programmed in a language which failed to read the language of rudeness or violence; and in the process of debugging it, we believed this was the case for at least all humans by default, if not for all animals.

And why shouldn’t it be?

Even the distinguished author, Gurcharan Das, glorified instances of goodness in nature in his book, The Difficulty of Being Good, that dolphins will help lift an injured companion for hours to help it survive—such a humanitarian act! 

I must say that this reminds me of the actual incidents my grandma used to tell me about their humble neighbourhood. There they would greet the known and the unknowns warmly, and politely listen to the plea of a random wanderer just for a glass of water. The record and recommendation for such courteous act go far back than the time of my grandma to the time of Socrates, when he forbade us to do things which would anger us if others did the same; which in turn, goes even back to some five thousand years, when it was written in Mahabharata that one should never do to another what one regards as injurious to oneself. Thus, it goes back to the time of our primary evolution.

But in our journey of survival of the fittest, maintaining the legacy of goodness is becoming critical, as today one’s courteousness is giving way to the others’ insolence. Nice behaviour is taken for granted and eventually ignored. The other day at the Passport Office, a lady aging around forty, got off a CNG, rushed in the office, and abruptly sneaked in front of another lady who was not more than 25 years old, standing at the front of the line. On being asked gently for a valid explanation, she swaggered and pretended to have some John Doe’s reference, until the younger lady disparaged her and the crowd managed to send her at the end of the line.

As a matter of fact, in the same book, The Difficulty of Being Good, Das narrated a verse from Mahabharata which said,

“A man who wishes to profess goodness at all times will come to ruin among so many who are not so good. Hence it is necessary for a prince who wishes to maintain his position to learn how not to be good, and to use this knowledge according to necessity.”

Nature didn’t only set up two enigmatic and opposite yard sticks, but also initiated an apparent loop, making us question our own identities through it. While politeness marked our evolution, sporadic impoliteness is making way to sustain that. While politeness remains the beacon of civilisation, impoliteness has also been given the position of not being regarded with downright disdain—since nothing is absolute in the realm of reality or spirituality. Today, when making the decisions of choosing politeness over impoliteness and vice versa, one should watch out for the constraints of complaisance.

Given the context of our prevailing surroundings, the question will always be there—whether impoliteness is a war waged to restrain impoliteness, or a collateral damage of a war to restore goodness. But, is it too loathsome to have the liberty to be impolite at certain times? Is it? 

 

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