“This is All Conceit”


A letter from Jawaharlal Nehru to his young daughter, Indira Gandhi (via Brainpickings)

You will also see that most of us now living in different countries far from each other long ago were one people. We have changed greatly since then and many of us have forgotten our old relationships. In every country people imagine that they are the best and the cleverest and the others are not as good as they are. … This is all conceit. Everybody wants to think well of himself and his country. But really there is no person who has not got some good in him and some bad. And in the same way there is no country which is not partly good and partly bad. We must take the good wherever we find it and try to remove the bad wherever it may be.

Yes. Whether you like it or not, you are, in fact, my cousin.

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5 thoughts on ““This is All Conceit”

  1. Happy to be your cousin Patrick. And of course all of the human species is scientifically one and the same and only superficially different. But let’s remember that anthropology studies the differences and compares different parts. And tries to avoid calling some bits good, identifying them and nurturing them, while exorcising the bad ~ that’s a surgeon’s craft to be practised on a suffering individual, politicians aren’t too great at cutting out the bad. Let’s also remember that some of the worst mass murderers started off with a pre-emptive strike against their brothers and fathers (especially those in exemplary positions at the top of the heap, aka royalty). The problem is not so much recognising that there is good and bad in everybody, but far more that interpretations of good and bad don’t always match up, and the top dog’s interpretations wins by default. Most wars are motivated on all sides with a wish to kick out the bad and free the good, but differences in perception negate any objectivity in the use of polar terms. There is a paradox in Nehru’s statement, which is political rhetoric every bit as much as advice to a daughter ~ which is why it is preserved and cited. Better stick with Ghandi.

    • And I’m happy to be yours, Robert. I’m particularly grateful for you being such a consistent reader and intelligent contributor on this site. If not for you, I think I’d be shouting into the void sometimes.

      You’re right of course about the need for distance in anthropology, and also that seeing someone as a relative is no guarantee of having a good relationship with them.

      Finally, I think I would make a very bad surgeon, because I wouldn’t know exactly which pieces needed preservation or removal. I’m aware that my limited understanding of what I can perceive may not be all that there is to know. But it’s probably impossible to be completely objective, and if I were to ever become a surgeon (or a politician), at some point I would have to make difficult decisions based on which option seemed the least harmful. Someone once said that fewer people have been hurt based on extreme tolerance rather than extreme intolerance. That would probably be one of my orienting principles, though I can foresee problems even with that (trying to tolerate the extremely intolerant, for example).

      It would be nice to rise above it all and have some real objectivity, and to have that fabled view from nowhere. I guess that’s a fantasy, not to be for us mortals.

  2. The Middle Path, Patrick. Extreme tolerance (something of a contradiction in terms) is alive and kicking in Laos ~ when together with the Thai Ambassador I tried to intervene with the Ministry of Interior to prevent 4 young Lao girls being sold by their mothers for a tour of duty in a Pattaya brothel, I was reminded by Asang Lao-Ly (then Minister, now Deputy PM) that America is constantly complaining that Laos restricts freedom of movement, and that any action re the 4 girls should be taken in ‘democratic, human rights loving Thailand’ (Asang has a way with words!). In that one, we managed to ‘save’ just one of the four ~ and I’ll tell you privately what happened to her subsequently. Yes, we all feel sometimes we are staring into the void. Then we have to remember that many Asian thinkers have promoted the void as the ultimate goal!

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