Among the things that make me teary-eyed, apart from the onions I cut every other day, is when I watch an adoring large group of people applaud someone.
It happened most recently when Rep. Giffords returned to the House of Representatives to vote. It happened when I saw people applaud Patch Adams in the movie by the same name. It happened when I saw huge audiences do that to Randy Pausch. It happened many times when they did that to back in 2009. It melted my heart each time, and I felt as if the pinnacle of human achievement was being breached. I wondered dreamily if I could ever receive such a response. I wondered what I would feel like if I was in that position, at the receiving end.
While many may think I am over-reacting ( I think I am ), there is no doubt about the need for recognition, acceptance, approval and praise that everyone has. Closely linked is the need for acceptance by one’s peers and the need that a lot of people feel of maintaining a reputation that they already have or want to have.
But then, some questions prop up. What if people aren’t applauding you ? What if people do not recognize you and your efforts ? What if people do not recognize you the way you want to be recognized ? What if you are obscure and unknown. Does it mean you are doing something wrong ? Or as a corollary, if people are applauding you, if people recognize you, does it mean you’re doing something right ?
I sat back to think about it. As much as I was moved by the sight of recognition, some cold hard facts stared at me.
Hitler was used to receiving rapturous applause, but he was a demagogue and a devil personified who was responsible for heinous crimes. Netanyahu is a right-wing hawk but he received many standing ovations and applause from the US Congress even as he thundered about the right to colonization. The despots ruling or formerly ruling in the Arab world have been used to such treatment by their “chamchas” (spoons in desi parlance), i.e., by those who personally benefit from their rule and slavishly follow them.
What if someone wanted to do the right thing even if it was unpopular ? It would certainly not win any applause. Does it mean we shouldn’t do anything that’s unpopular ? I thought about the caste system in India. There were the “untouchables” who were treated as just that – untouchables and as dirt. They weren’t allowed to mix freely with the “upper castes”, they weren’t allowed into temples and so on. In extreme cases, their women weren’t allowed to cover their bosoms in public in a community. A second example was the Sati system in India – where the widow was forcibly burned alive in the funeral pyre of her dead husband. Stopping such heinous and inhuman practices was highly unpopular in society, but it still had to be done. Even if the rulers weren’t going to get cheered for it.
A lot of volunteer activities that people did were all about photographs in newspapers. This was most exposed when volunteer organizations were given relief money to deal with the aftermath of the earthquake in Gujarat, India a few years back.
Closer to home and around my life, volunteerism on and off campus for some people seemed to be more about giving the right impression about themselves to others. The reason some of these people gave when asked about what they do or why they wouldn’t do something was that they had a reputation to maintain. This brought us to the same problem – by consequence, they wouldn’t do something that they think is right if it was going to be unpopular or looked down upon. In another way, they would do something right more because of what others would think of them, than because of the fact that it’s what they think is the right thing to do.
This world is never going to be completely fair. Apart from the great people who win great applause, there are also countless but unknown heroes that go unnoticed. There are many who fight the world to do the right thing, facing flak instead of applause. On the other side, there are those who only play to the gallery and go against their own conscience and there are those who do good only to win applause or impress a people. Real and true justice, therefore, can only be in the hereafter, where everyone will be judged and rewarded for their true worth and effort, and not on how the world treated and judged them. To me, satisfying my conscience was now more important than recognition. Doing what you think is right was more important. People are imperfect. People may not treat its greats equally. People may reward the wrong people. People may not reward the right people. But God is Perfect and Just. So satisfy your conscience and let not the desire for worldly applause sway you !