…no, not mercenary materialism
And no, this is not a moral science lesson. It will however begin with reference to an international conference the State Government had organized several years back on “Science, Spirituality and Education” with the Dalai Lama as a special guest and speaker. The conference was motivated by a felt need to work on school curriculums in a way that would tease out more empathy and deeper engagements from students and deliver Sikkim the much-needed involved citizenry for the future.
The Dalai Lama had charmed the audience with his ready wit and open mind and set the conference on course by suggesting that the participants deliberate over how common sense, and not necessarily religious regimen, if harnessed with conscious empathy, could deliver an education which inculcated moral ethics. Individual moral ethics, he stressed would link together to deliver genuine social empathy which would in turn manifest in the evolution of more compassionate societies peopled by citizens with a stronger sense of universal responsibility and calmer dispositions. Strife and an unbridled pursuit of material acquisitions, whether at the individual or collective community level, have come to define the 21st century which has now almost made a virtue out of mercenary materialism. Proof of this faulty prioritization is apparent in how “happiness” is now increasingly being sought in acquisitions and not so much in the satisfaction derived from contributing to the world. While the former results in competition and hence conflict, the latter is a more personal experience which is not in competition with anyone else and hence does not lead to strife. Also, as societies get more and more obsessive with acquiring more to be happy, they can also slip into depression when they cannot gather enough ‘benefits’. Sikkim should understand this phenomenon well because it has to be accepted that apathy - that listless lack of interest and refusal to get excited or engage – underlines social response and engagements here.
This apathy does not necessarily stem from denial or oppression, but is born from an inferred sense of loss over not having “acquired enough”. Even as this manifests in listlessness in outward behaviour, internally, the mind is agitated and it is perhaps in this internal disquiet that Sikkim can find the reasons to explain the high suicide rates, addiction and other social challenges, including corruption and even the universal inurement towards dishonesty. Obviously, what has happened in Sikkim, as in societies across the world, is that the pursuit has been for a warped interpretation of happiness, one that is incomplete.
Sikkim requires to seek out answers on how to address the paradox of so many social ills haunting a land of such few material worries. Expecting solutions to be provided and executed by someone else or the government would doom the possible solutions to failure because social course-corrections require social engagement, not governmental or even divine interventions. To return to what the Dalai Lama has often said, Change depends on individual action. Divine intervention, he stresses, is fine so long as it was for individual consolation, but for change and betterment, it is individual action that is needed. This proactive engagement needs to be internalised by Sikkim at the individual, then community and governance levels. A generation groomed with a stronger sense of universal responsibility will also be one with a clearer sense of self and more importantly, with more respect for the aspirations and needs of others. That is the kind of generation which Sikkim needs to reach out for and chalk up as resolution for the New Year...