Whatever happened to nuance?

Today we probably have access to more information than ever before in human history (excuse me while I  go out and get the grandiose but seemingly obvious statements out of my system). Increase in available information is great – not everyone is interested in everything – so availability of everything allows you the liberty to pick & choose what you are interested in. In a way it encourages specialization & domain-expertise. Excellent.

With Web 2.0 (yes, I do have a computers background *rare smug smile*) more information has also translated into more opinion. Okay, everyone always had opinion. It’s just become much more easier to find out about other peoples thoughts. Traditional print media, web media, social media, televisions – there is no dearth of platforms to express & share your beliefs. To progress as a society it is essential to understand each others thoughts & work towards collaborative solutions. This may not happen if a lot of voices are not heard. Excellent once again.

How would you define a problem?  I would say it is a situation where there is no clear solution about what is to be done – where you need to think, weigh the pros and cons of acting in any direction, the repercussions involved. (so for this piece, I shall use the term problem in a generic sense – anything where there’s a decision to be made.) Every day in your life you, me & everyone faces problems. Little problems & big problems, quick problems & long drawn problems, problems where the impact is felt by you & problems where the impact is felt by a group, problems where you have to choose between what’s right and who’s important, moral problems, ethical problems and many more.

Should I wake up at 7 or 7 30? Should I eat breakfast & then take a bath or vice-versa? Which shirt do I wear to work today? Do I take the chance of going through that red light? Which of these deliverables should I work on first today? Should I return that call at work or once back home? Should I buy from this store or that? Should I cook vegetables or rice? Should I exercise for another 10 minutes or is this enough? Should I watch another episode of Modern Family before turning in for the night? These are the simplest garden-variety of problems – variants of which we all face everyday. The only opinion which you’re dealing with here is that of your own. And yet can you honestly confidently say that in each of these you made your decision, took your call based on a great deal of conviction? Hardly – you take educated guesses & estimates, punts based on experiences and then make your call.

Now assume you were dealing with much more complex problems. Which college should I join? Should I move to that new role which I’m being pushed into? Do I quit this job itself? Is it a good idea to ask this person out? Should I tell a friend that I think he’s making a big mistake? The greater the stakes – the more you think – the more opinions you seek. Once you seek opinions newer horizons open up. You get perspectives you hadn’t previously thought of. Does that make decision making (problem solving) easier or tougher? Whatever be your final call, surely for most of them there were occasions where in the process of arriving at the solution – you could have gone either way.

Now let us blow up these problems to the scale of a thousand or more. Huge issues, impacting tons of people, reverberations of which will be felt in time & space. Rare will be such any issue at this level where the answer is very obvious. The right thing to do may be obvious. The easier thing to do could be obvious. Rarely will they overlap though.

As Narendra Modi, should I have said (insert most recent foot-in-the-mouth here)? As Sachin Tendulkar – should I postpone my retirement for another few months? As Rahul Gandhi, do I go along with what my sycophantic party members want & take up the reigns? As Shoma Choudhary, what line of defence should I adopt in this Tehelka imbroglio? As the civic authority in charge – should the Campa Cola building be demolished? As the defence minister, should we have a zero-tolerance policy with Pakistan? As the High Court judge, what verdict do I give in the Aarushi Talwar case?

Are there really any simple answers to these?

And moving on to purely speculative topics – Are the Sachin Tendulkar tributes going overboard? Was Tarun Tejpal a paid Congress stooge anyways? Is Narendra Modi the best thing to happen to India since those mosquito-killing-rackets flooded the market? Is Rahul Gandhi a total moron is the internet would make him out to be? Are all Congress leaders absolute sycophants for not standing up against the dynasty? Should Dhyan Chand receive the Bharat Ratna first? Isn’t Tanisha is such a ‘bad person’ for whatever she’s up to in Big Boss?

This is no mathematics examination where there is 1 right answer. There are no model solutions here – only opinions. Different opinions may seem better to different people.

Is Sachin Tendulkar one of the greatest cricketers of all time – if nothing else in terms of intangible contributions to the game and the nation? Yes. Does that mean he is above any statistical dissections & is a paragon of virtue who has never ever made any error of judgement? Probably no. Would he himself have not agonized over a lot of these decisions? And does anyone expressing a contrary opinion amount to sacrilege or indulging in mudslinging to appear different?

Is the AAP trying to do something different in our political universe? Probably yes. Because some members were found accepting bribes is every member in the party a power hungry Kejriwal sycophant who is just as corrupt as the 2 who’ve been caught on tape? Probably no. But just because some members are honest does that mean all are and does that amount to saying the tapes have been doctored? Will every decision the party takes be morally correct? Probably not – they’re fighting a dirty election – some compromises would probably need to be made for the larger cause.

Is Rahul Gandhi a naive politician who has made it large because he’s a member of the lucky sperm club? Probably yes. Does he still know more about politics after 6 years in the job than most of us armchair critics who ridicule everything by both sides & think that by hauling our rear ends to an election booth twice a decade we’re contributing to democracy? And wouldn’t his decisions & calls have some rationale (may not be a rationale which works out eventually, but there would be something) behind them?

Has Shoma Choudhary’s reaction to the Tehelka sexual assault issue been a bit callous? Probably yes. Does that mean that she is completely morally (not legally) culpable in this incident? Maybe not…she’s probably juggling dealing with a major human rights violation, a friend who is in trouble having done something terrible (despite it all, he would be a friend) and the PR implications of this for the establishment as a whole. It’s a tricky thing – and there have been serious mistakes – but there are likely to be mistakes in dealing with difficult & sensitive issues.

The point of this now extremely long & rambling post is that with more information and access to more opinions – shouldn’t there be more nuance? More willingness to accept the thin line is not actually that thin? That from actions we may not always be able to assess intentions? Just as the same action can be subject to multiple interpretations it may also have originated from multiple possible intentions?

As a friend posted somewhere on Social Media- “I watch a national tv news channel for 1 hour and I am no longer mad at my friends and acquaintances for settling abroad and not wanting to come back.” Everyone is so cocksure of themselves, self righteous in their angst for whatever is the issue of the day, convinced that the other side is a sell-out. Yes the certain systems like TV media demand molehills be made into mountains i.e. news has to be created, sensationalized, orchestrated to sustain these very systems. But what about the rest?

Being willing to accept the other sides point of view is a sign of openness, an indicator of a mind which can cross new boundaries. Having an extreme opinion – especially when you have no shortage of access to other opinions (Eg: Nehru is the reason our country is still in a poor shape today) – is indicative of a lack of awareness & an inability to process information which you receive or an inability to even retrieve basic information.

The certitude seen and rhetoric expressed across our society today  in and day out is exhausting & tiring. I long for some nuance. I long for 50 shades of grey.

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