My Rights vs Everyone Else’s Rights

The population of the world is heading for 7 billion. India’s population is over 1.2 billion and rising. There’s an inevitability that we’re all going to have to get used to being around a lot more people a lot more of the time. Solitude and isolation will become increasingly rare. So, to me, it’s an extremely worrying trend that people are behaving more selfishly, more often and being less respectful of others’ rights.

This can relate to some fundamental things like queuing (Yes, I’m British), cars and vehicles filtering alternatively if two lanes of traffic are merging in to one. What they all have in common is a logical acceptance that life is simply better for all if we practice the decency of ‘give and take’, from a position of acceptance that my rights cannot be superior to anyone else’s. Even if in this moment I lose out a little, I’ll make it up on another day when someone else does something that favours me and my rights.

Here’s a BBC article looking at the levels of frustration and annoyance that people feel over the issue of mobile phones in public places, particularly music concerts and recitals.

BBC Article

This is an area where standards of interpersonal respect have dwindled at a very rapid rate in almost no time. In 1993-4 I and my colleagues working in private banking in London were in possession of our first mobile phones. One day I received an urgent call from one of my account officers, mortified by what he had done and the consequences! He had been invited to lunch at the East India Club in the West End of London. Arriving on the dot, in his haste to get in to meet his client, he forgot to switch off his mobile phone. After a drink in the bar, client and banker moved in to the dining room and took their table. Conversation was going well, until half way through the soup course, his phone rang. A deathly silence fell over the whole room. He snatched it from his jacket pocket and switched it off as fast as he could. He offered a sincere apology to the client, who had turned a nasty shade of red. The client just stared at him in silent horror as the restaurant manager approached. “Sir, I must ask you to leave the room.” “No, it’s OK. I’ve switched it off. It won’t ring again. Very sorry about that,” replied the humbled banker. “That’s as may be sir, but as you have angered some of the members and are here as a guest, I must nevertheless ask you to leave. Allow me to get your coat for you on the way out.”

There was no way back. Whilst it was all done with the utmost politeness and tact, he was thrown out and found himself on the street before he’d even got his coat done up. The client did not join him, in fact showed no wish to even acknowledge his existence! Cleaning up the mess took considerably longer. The client had to be provided profuse apologies and, if I remember correctly a trip to the Badminton Horse Trials, as well as a change of account officer. Dire warnings were issued to all the account officers across the country about mobile phone etiquette.

How times have changed, and so quickly.

Whilst we can probably all laugh and consider that the ‘stiff upper lip’ rigid rules of the East India Club are overly extreme, do we have to accept that ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ is just going to keep getting g worse? Are we all going to just keep complaining that ‘someone ought to do something about it’, insist on a profusion of CCTV cameras to catch the worst culprits who place their own interests above the law and others’ interests? Or, can we really, as members of society and as educators and parents of tomorrow’s leaders in society, swing the pendulum back through getting enough people to recognize that educated people understand the logic that all our best interests are served by treating all our interests as equal.


5 Responses

  1. Mark,

    Your blog is so well put and so pertinent to the present times. Frankly, respect for personal space and time is an alien concept in India. Everyday, be it on the roads while driving or experiencing places of public infrastructure like airports, airplanes, shops, cinema halls, we face such contempt and violation of personal space and time.

    The. Section of Indian society that I characterize as the ugly Indian – brash, arrogant, pompous and socially inept – shows up in all its glory in our daily lives.

    I am sure we all see everyday violation of traffic norms, not only by the rickshawallah but by the so called educated middle class in this country, leaving us with ittle hope in the future. I am merely highlighting one example (there are millions there) to make my point. Yet we are the first to criticize the system, oblivious to the fact that the system is what we create and propagate. As long as we have this “I am all right Jack” headset, there can be no progress.

    I travel to the far east and the west on a regular basis and cannot help feel a sense of shame every time I return, when I see and witness the way in which we get treated and treat our fellow community members.

    I guess we all live in hope that one day we will be proud of our actions.


    • Well, I partially agree with your description of behaviour of Indians. However, I don’t feel ‘a sense of shame’ as you do. At the same time I do not subscribe to impolite or indecent behaviour. My point is that we must go to the roots of the situation–our chequered history and its hangover, socio-politico-economic situations, cultural factors, etc.–and try to ameliorate the situation.

      Moreover, I was a little surprised to read your commment “everyday violation of traffic norms, not only by the rickshawallah but by the so called educated middle class in this country”. I doubt whether the issues under discussion here have anything to do with any class (and even caste or creed).

      Whenever I see people jostling to catch a bus or train, I sympathise with them because I know that for them it’s a matter of survival–if they don’t reach their workplace in time, there are a million others vying to snatch his bread and butter. I believe everyone would do the same if they fell into an open sea.

      I feel that many aspects of behaviour will improve over a period of time. We need to keep in mind that we were looted, razed and plundered for more than two centuries. Think about what we as a people have endured and how dilapidated our country was when we got freedom. Even then we have maintained our dignity and pride in our country and in ourselves. To my mind, we should be optimistic and viewing India sympathetically. Last but not least, behaviour is relative according to time and place.

      I wish I had more time to elaborate on this.

      • Hi Dharmendra
        First off, I believe that I’ve been here and giving service in India long enough that I am not obliged to behave like the silent guest in someone else’s home – looking the other way and minding their p’s and q’s. Also, I didn’t perceive when i wrote this that i was commenting on Indians per se, but rather the behaviour of many of my fellow citizens of the world in the part of the world where I live. I know plenty of Indian people around me who share my frustrations.

        I’m familiar with your argument about necessity meaning that pity rather than anger is the appropriate response. However, when a Honda City driver scrapes my front bumper after cutting in on my car at a junction there are no grounds of necessity. When a bejeweled lady ignores my presence to jump the queue in front of me in the post office or the supermarket there is no ‘necessity’ explanation. To me, the only explanation i can arrive at is that the person considers that because they don’t know me, they have no responsibility to acknowledge my rights on an equal level with their own. Rather, I become nothing to them.

        My argument was more that people often excuse away much of what is happening on the basis of lack of education, as much as necessity.

        As for the extent to which history and past wrongs explain or justify the present, that’s a whole different debate and vast in its scale. I will only say that, as a person, an individual with free volition, if i choose that from today i will stop doing something i have done all my life, that power lies with me provided I have adequate motivation. I have free will.

        Finally, my desire in writing a piece like this is to seek to find ways towards a better future world – one of the responsibilities that i believe we take on when we choose to be educators working with tomorrow’s citizens.


  2. Dear Mark,

    Thank you for your views.

    First, my post was a reply to Indy Sarkar’s post.

    Two, you have in fact corroborated my view that even people in the upper echelons of society are prone to unrefined behaviour.

    Last but not least, past does influence present in many subtle ways. One’s behaviour is conditioned by culture–shared beliefs, shared opinions and shared behaviour. Changing peoples’ behaviour is a herculean task in which people like you and I are engaged. But unlike Indy Sarkar, I don’t ‘feel a sense of shame’ when I see some improper behaviour of our brethren. On the contrary, it makes me more determined than ever to bring about a change.

    Best wishes,

  3. My two cents worth- for those of us who grew up in the quasi-socialist India of the 70s and 80s, times of utter shortage of basic facilities, it is not surprising when people today scramble to snatch free space!. It could be an empty auditorium seat or the neighbourhood parking space or space on the road. This is also the generation (and the next) which does not accept wrong doing [or it would’ve meant being challaned/confiscation/liscence fee by the corrupt babu’s of yore]

    While some of us are exposed to the developed world have a sense of ‘etiquette’, for the rest it would take many more years of economic development to let go off material insecurities. This is no different from how the West evolved from the dark ages to industrial revolution and so on.

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