Among my classmates, I was never that kind of 'special guy.' In high school, I had competed with the smartest of the smart students, at St. Gregory's High and the illustrious Notre Dame College, Dhaka. I had furtively participated in public forum debates at the higher secondary level. I must have carried with me, an unusual sense of humor, being outspoken in class on matters of global issues, and the politics of undivided Pakistan.
My rabid indulgence in arguments, had obviously drawn the ire of my parents, and a lot of 'detention slips' from school teachers. Later on, as I matured in my college days, I won scholarships and cash rewards in the essay contests and public speaking competitions.
Much to my dismay, I had to suffice for English (Honors) Program at the University of Karachi. That was my fate, because I had migrated, and then opted to live in a new world....of Karachi.
The options were obviously, 'take it or leave it!' My argumentative drive simply did not go away, and often landed me into troubled waters, before my Professors and administrators. The silver lining, however, was that it opened the window of opportunity, to channel my pursuits, in the positive aspects of everyday living.
I would often start an argument I knew I could win, on every political issue that related to us, as Dacca, the capital city of East Pakistan had continued to boil over in to overflowing fury, in the wake of neglect, followed by excesses of the Federal government in Islamabad. Eventually, I started to drop my friends, like flies.
After many hectic, life threatening, close calls, and a full blooded War of Liberation, I had eventually lost my nerves. I was scared, and had found myself literally running away, in my bid to avoid realities. I just could not come to terms with the bravest new world that emerged in my part of the world, after March 26, 1971. My journey has not stopped, and has kept hurling me to new destinations....at least, forty of them (cities), in thirty countries, in all the six continents!
Often, I have continued to relish, by way of watching news feed...the best part of which, sometimes, tends to decimate people for their political leanings. I had, in those years which passed by, often basked in my euphoria of declaring victory over my opponents, not by changing their mind, but by making them look dumb.
Although I do take complete responsibility for my actions, in some ways I think this behavior had been exactly what competitive debate and the call of culture, had trained me to do.
The purpose of my arguments, it seemed, was not to engage in a mutually constructive conversation, to deepen my understanding of an issue or the people on the other side of it. It was more like a video game, where the goal was to collect as many gold coins as possible, in the form of likes and shares, which were only granted each time I intellectually humiliated someone. It was toxic, unhealthy, and achieved precisely nothing, save for bolstering an ego that was not needed at all!
One fine year, however, I decided it was time to quit. All this while, I had argued, ranted, and raved --- from Z A Bhutto, General Zia, MQM founder Altaf Hussein, the emergence of Bangladesh....and Pakistan's bogus elections of 1977.
Much later, as a new immigrant in the US, I had kept arguing about abortion, immigration, single-payer health care, gun control, the minimum wage, and everything in between. I must have lost over many friends: and was strictly warned by no fewer than three family members, to keep my distance.
In addition to social media, I wrote a political opinion column for my university's student newspaper, most of which was intentionally inflammatory-so inflammatory, in fact, that the often vulgar debates taking place in the comments section of my articles, had forced that newspaper to change its comment policy.
After the dust had settled, and I looked around at the havoc that my words had wreaked, I decided the world had probably had enough. But, more importantly, I also realized what I was saying about politics didn't actually matter. In Karachi, I had been a straight brown (Bengali) male with 'sort of' financial security, well on the path to obtaining a Masters degree. For the most part, the public policy issues I had been so staunchly defending would not change my life.
I took a step back, then asked myself who it was, I was fighting for, if not myself, and if what I was doing was honestly helping those people. The answer was no.
And then, back in the United States, my arguments about race on Facebook weren't doing anything to stop black or brown or yellow or white men from being unjustly gunned down by police. Arguing about the economic consequences of single-payer health care, wasn't doing anything to save a sick, uninsured person's life. And arguing about the Biblical ethics of gays and lesbians, wasn't doing anything to help LGBTQ youth struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts. I ended my argument!
I'm not advocating for silence, by any means. There are still plenty of instances when I think it is appropriate to stand up, to use my assortment of privileges to help stop the mistreatment of disenfranchised groups, and to speak truth to power, but that is not what I had been doing. I was dialectic....just arguing, and it was never for the good of others.
Finally, I have decided that whenever I see someone on social media disparaging a cause I care about, instead of arguing about it, I will like to donate to the organization I think, does the most good for that cause. Based on my Facebook feed, this means supporting organizations like Planned Parenthood, the Trevor Project, and the Patient Access Network Foundation.
For you, it could be any of the thousands of charities and nonprofits that advocate for people and policy issues (many of which, I'm sure, are the politically controversial subjects I wasted so much time arguing about, on social media).
Recently, I had shared on Facebook that I would like to donate to Planned Parenthood (not to start anything, but to remind like-minded people that if they're willing and able, they should do so, as well). I immediately received some criticism from a relative. I entertained the dialogue for two or three comments, mostly to answer a question that I was asked about my beliefs. Unfortunately, the conversation quickly derailed. I had prudently, promptly ended the conversation.
A year ago, I would have responded with what I would have considered to be a slam-dunk argument. It would have quickly gotten very personal. But now, I didn't feel the need to do so. By making a donation, I felt, I would succeed in promoting the cause I believed in-more so than I would have by 'annihilating' my relative's arguments.
Now, this write-up is beginning to drag. I realize not everyone is in a position to donate. But if you are, imagine what real, tangible change we could effect in this world if we all stopped shouting at each other and started putting our money where our mouths are. Wishing you the best from Chicago!
The writer is a former educator based in Chicago
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