Ain’t no app for that!

Anjali Jhangiani
Saturday, 9 June 2018

While you can install apps to help you develop a fitter body, polish your language, look for love, and a million other things, you won’t find any to help you become a better person. That is why we need to bring these virtues into vogue, writes Anjali Jhangiani

Browsing through the apps on your phone, you find so many that make your life easier, though those who belong to a different school of thought might argue it makes you lazier. You might find a sleep counter which helps you keep track of whether you’re getting adequate sleep, or a digital fitness instructor that encourages you to work out and guides you to do it correctly. There may be apps to help you develop a larger vocabulary, or say, make you look prettier in photos, or even sharpen your mind for that matter. But, there are no apps, at least yet, that you can download to make you a better person, a better member of society. 

Caught up with maintaining a certain reputation on social media, you might be oblivious to building your character in the real world. But hey, life’s right here — not on your screen! How you think, how you choose to interact, what you really feel matters in the real world and determines who you are. This is why bringing back some virtues into vogue is the need of the hour in this epoch of technology. 

The ability or willingness to tolerate the existence of opinions or behaviour that one dislikes or disagrees with

Would it be exaggeration to say that there’s no patience among internet users anymore? People are offended by fiction which is supposed to be artistic adaptations inspired by history even when they aren’t clear about the history themselves. People are offended on behalf of others about things they have nothing to do with. In fact, their ego, faith, and beliefs have become so fragile that it cannot withstand a conversation, leave alone a debate, and heavens forbid a disagreement!

While they can use the internet as a platform to be spolit for choice when it comes to entertainment, people choose to target entertainers whose work they do not agree with and troll them. Actors, directors, writers, and nowadays, it looks like comedians have it the worst.

Comedian Kunal Kamra is notorious for expressing his political opinions during his stand up acts, so much so that his land lady kicked him out of his house, corporates often cancel their bookings, and every single day he receives so much hatred from ‘Modi bhakts’ online. Recently when comedian Varun Grover joked about the government, he received hate mail and death threats from fanatics. But when someone asked him why he isn’t scared of being attacked, he joked pointing out as long as Kamra is alive, he doesn’t need to worry about being a target. 

Comedian Sorabh Pant explains that the ability to deal with trolls develops with time. “Different kinds of people make different kinds of trolls. Some people have actually given me constructive feedback, like just the other day I did a set and someone pointed out that they did not like a specific part of it. I asked him why, and he explained himself. Some points were fair, so in that regard, I like to engage people. But then there are trolls who will just say stuff like ‘You’re not funny, you should kill yourself’ and I don’t want to deal with them, so I’ve blocked a lot of people across social media and moved on.” 

He shares that his policy to deal with trolls is to not have the same conversation they are having, in fact have a completely different one. “Some guy was trolling me, so I just started giving him statistics about Sachin Tendulkar,” he says. 

But he realises that being a comedian, he’s also a troll in a way. “Or at least in the troll-ish territory. But I try and be fair to people I refer to in my sets. I talk about what they did as opposed to who they are. If you think you’re in a debate and communicate like you would to a person sitting across the table, things should be fine. Think twice, you don’t have to hate everyone on every occasion,” he says. 

Pant is reforming the way he uses social media. “If I’m putting out eight tweets a day, at least one or two of them will be about something happy or complimenting someone instead. Be funny, don’t be mean. I don’t want to stop somebody from expressing their views, but do some research on it before, or at least try to verify facts to the best of your abilities,” he says.

The quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate

To show kindness, you don’t necessarily need to be selfless. Getting real about this stuff, Kindness Unlimited, a not-for-profit NGO, which is a member of the World Kindness Movement, in pro-bono collaboration with Schbang, an advertising agency, is spreading awareness about how being kind is do-able, and can only be good for you in various ways. Though their concept of kindness is slightly different from the definition of the word in the dictionary, it befits the current generation. 

“Our concept of kindness is derived from Darwin’s Theory of Evolution,” says Nirmala Mehendale, Trustee, Kindness Unlimited, as she explains that the idea of Natural Selection is best described by the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’. As the world evolves and circumstances change, we must adapt ourselves to survive. “Human beings are primarily selfish, but they are also good. We have found that collaboration can bring about wondrous results. While you look after yourself, there are many opportunities for you to look after others as well. For example, if I am taking a trip to Mumbai from Pune by road, I can just put it on social media and ask if someone wants to come along with me in my car. I will feel safe with someone I know and it wouldn’t do me any harm to travel with a known person, but I won’t go to the railway station or the bus stand and announce that I am willing to take strangers,” she says, adding, “You can infuse a little generosity into your lifestyle. Things that hardly matter to you might make a world of difference to someone else.”  

The organisation connects givers and receivers. If you want to get rid of nice clothes that don’t fit you anymore, want to visit the orphanage to distribute books and stationery, or have some free time every day and would like to use it to teach underprivileged children, you can contact Kindness Unlimited (on facebook) to connect you to the people who require your help. “There are many people who want to do charity but don’t know how to. And sometimes their distrust of NGOs might stop them from doing good and being kind. That is why we don’t charge at all. All our staff are volunteers, there’s no monetary exchange at all,” says Mehendale. 

But being kind is not always about action, it is also about the conversations you have, the words and the tone you use with people. “I took a rickshaw from Powai to Vile Parle and after covering about 5 km, I realised that the meter was not on. I had two choices — to get irritated with the driver or to keep my calm. I chose to make a joke about it and start the conversation with the driver, who in turn apologised for his carelessness. When we reached my destination, I gave him Rs 100 (since it roughly comes up to less than that), because we didn’t know the exact amount, and he accepted it. If I had shouted at him, he would have also created a fuss and at the end of it, it would be bad for my health. The less rage we have, the better it is for those with blood pressure problems and heart related diseases, which are major health concerns in India. You can’t be cheated all the time, sometimes you need to be kind,” she says. 

The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles

People were shocked when Harvey Weinstein was pulled up for sexual harassment and following that how many women found their collective voice and spoke out against other such predators to bring them to justice. But when Morgan Freeman also joined that list, it was heartbreaking. The @TheTweetOfGod, (a very popular parody account of god on Twitter) was all of us when the news broke out as he tweeted, “Not him! He was my favourite me!”. 

Though the accusation has not made it to trial, doubt about Freeman’s character, in spite of a lifetime of commendable work, had entered into people’s minds. Hopefully, the #MeToo campaign, which was a shakedown for everyone who had done something they shouldn’t and had thought that they can get away with it, has taught people a lesson in integrity. And even if factors like the social media, constant surveillance, and the fright of being publicly shamed, are responsible for bringing back the virtue of integrity into society, at least it’s a start towards making corrections. 

“It’s very strange now that a lot of people behave in the way they ideally should, because of fear. The only way I’ve been able to run a theatre company for 15 years and then work in Bollywood for another 15 is because of the comfort level I have with the people I have worked with. And it’s not just me, every one needs to be comfortable for the team to function well. This kind of misbehaviour, crossing lines with your colleagues, can only cause discomfort and kill creativity,” says actor-director-writer Akarsh Khurana, adding, “Colleagues have varying degrees of comfort with each other, and if you’re in a position of power, you should know where they draw their line and never attempt to cross it. Otherwise it will put your professional relationship and your work in jeopardy. Instead of refraining from misbehaviour ‘because the world will get to know about it’, you should change your entire mindset and not do what you’re not supposed to because it’s simply wrong.”

Producer-director Vivek Agnihotri says that integrity is ‘not stealing even when no-one is looking’. He points out that this sortie in Hollywood has succeeded in causing a certain amount of hushed panic in the entertainment industry back home.

“There is no doubt that people are discussing the #MeToo campaign. Discussion is the beginning of realisation or denial. I don’t think people are thinking that it must be stopped, instead they are thinking how to do it without getting caught. But it’s not about women only, young men are also sexually exploited. Maybe, more than the girls these days. So we should have empathy for all victims of sexual exploitation,” he says adding that now predators see the risk of leaving a digital footprint and mobile cameras everywhere, easily traceable social media patterns, locations, calls, and messages as threats to expose them.

A solution to the unbalanced power dynamics concerning gender in the industry is to reject the concept of ‘subordinates’. Explaining his relationship with his crew, Agnihotri says, “I don’t work with ‘subordinates’. The word implies that someone knows better and someone knows less, one orders and other follows, one has more rights than the other. I work with creative people, so every one in the team is an expert on something or the other. So, technically that makes us all equal. We work to bring out the best in each other. Since nobody is a subordinate, everyone is answerable for their job, it makes everyone interdependent and equal.”

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