Altruism or Unity?

Altruism or unity? What would make the world a better place? That’s the question my small sister asked me yesterday when she was taking one of those personality tests she’s so ‘obsessed’ with, for lack of a better word. That got the cogs in my head turning; and immediately, my thoughts jumped to the debilitating war in Ukraine; the war in Yemen; the war in Syria and Afghanistan and other parts of the world.

After doing a quick analysis, I realized there was no doubt in my mind that I definitely desire for the whole world to be united. Then a thought occurred to me; in every society, there are divergent thoughts and opinions, so for there to be unity, there must be a certain level of constructive consensus. In other words, people should be big enough (personality-wise) to set their hard-line bargaining skills aside and be willing to meet each other halfway.

When I think of all the wars going on in different parts of the world, I get the impression there is so much going on behind the scenes, that I may be faulted for purporting to say who, in my opinion, is right, and who is not. Nonetheless, what I am certain of, is that irrespective of the side of the political divide one could be on, there are reasons they feel justify that choice.

Furthermore, the glaring truth that none of us can ignore, is that whatever reasons are there, there are scores of innocent lives getting lost. That begs the question, how can world unity be achieved? How can people stop fighting and killing? That’s where in my humble opinion, altruism comes in.

In my understanding, altruism is that selfless desire to do something, purely for the benefit of another. Many of us have that innate desire to have people acknowledge the charitable things we do, and that essentially, is what defeats altruism. So in my estimation, while unity is vital, it is impossible to enjoy it if we do not put other people’s needs first.

If I’m a person in authority, say in government, I need to ask myself, how the decisions I’m making are benefiting and/or affecting others. If I took my intended personal gains out of the picture, would I still make those choices? Altruism is what defines that very thin line between charitable behaviour inspired by self-ambitions and true kindness; and, unity starts where there is that selfless care and kindness.

Last year when I was catching up on movies I missed on when I was in law school, I watched the animated drama film, ‘The Breadwinner’. It’s one of the numerous movies produced by Angelina Jolie, and it revolves around the life of Parvana, an Afghan girl. She lives in Kabul, which is under the Taliban rule.

In a nutshell, the whole movie is heart-wrenching, because it highlights the struggles of women and girls in Afghanistan. Seeing as women are not allowed to walk the streets without a male guardian, Parvana’s family suffers a major setback when her elder brother dies and her dad, who is the breadwinner gets arrested.

Parvana, who lives with her mother, older sister and her infant brother, goes to the shop to buy some food. Lamentably, the male sellers refuse to sell her the items she wants, afraid of the Taliban’s retribution. This leaves the hungry family helpless, and their only option is for Parvana to shave her hair and dress up like a boy. Interestingly, she is able to move freely when she’s masquerading as a boy.

The movie paints a very bleak picture of the life of an Afghan woman. It is not a life anyone would wish for. That same week, I watched a documentary on France 24 News, where an Afghan woman was arraigned before a Taliban tribunal and subsequently received 40 whip lashes for allegedly talking to a man on the phone. As a human rights lawyer, all I could think of were all the woman’s rights being violated at that point in time.

My mind could not comprehend, the reasoning behind the finding of guilt, or the reasoning, that made the men feel it was ok to strip such a woman off her basic human dignity. In essence, that is what the promotion, protection and respect of human rights seeks to achieve; to protect human dignity. Human rights are inherent to each person, irrespective of their race, religion, sex etc. In addition, they are inalienable, meaning one cannot infringe on another person’s rights, without demeaning their worth as human beings.

I wept, when I heard an Afghan woman saying dejectedly, “No woman in the world would want to be an Afghan woman”. Having watched the Breadwinner movie, I had an inkling of the challenges women there go through, and I could not agree with her more. I just wondered, if everyone applied the ‘Golden Rule’ in their lives, ‘Treat others the way you would want others to treat you’, who on earth would want to be on their knees, with two men brutally raining lashes on them?

Sometimes, we can only understand another person’s predicament, if we walk a mile in their shoes. That Afghan woman is just an example of people suffering all over the world, because some few people in authority failed to be altruistic. For there to be peace and unity in the world, huge sacrifices must be made; not the sacrifices that benefit only a few individuals at the detriment of others, but the sacrifices made by a few people at the top for the benefit of the majority of folks at the bottom of the proverbial food chain.

When leaders stop acting solely for their personal benefits; when they start walking in the painful shoes of an average citizen; when they stop taking part in charitable events only when cameras are rolling; when they put other people’s needs first, that is when, in my opinion, we will all enjoy unity in its truest form.

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