In Dubai, a speaker in a session on cultural appreciation asked a student in Hijab about why she was wearing it. Whether it is because she was religious, and she wanted to go to heaven? When she nodded, prompt came his response: does it mean that all those who do not wear it are non-religious and will go to hell?
He was making a point that beliefs and rules of behaviour are context dependent.
I started thinking. Is it so? In that case what is good and what is bad? What we should do and what we should not? Does it mean there is no universal code of moral? I decided to take it up in our next meeting.
“It is true. The rules could change from place to place, time to time and are specific to a cultural context. Thus, in India cow is considered as holy and in some other country, beef is a favourite food. Pork is prohibited in Islam but is cherished by many others. Slave trade was a common practice once upon a time and is a crime now”
That left me even more confused. In that case how to decide what is good and what is bad?
“Learn to recognise your internal register.”
Now this “internal register” was a new term. In our meeting it was common that new terms or new meaning of common terms will keep emerging. Almost always it would give us a new perspective.
What is this internal register and how do I recognise it?
“It is simple. All that you need to do is to pay attention to how you feel about the action. You may feel uneasy or you may feel jubilant or you may not get any such feeling.”
“Most of our daily routine involve neutral actions. Brushing the teeth, eating, travelling, reading news and so on. We neither feel uneasy or jubilant about it.”
“There are actions that make us feel bad and uneasy. This is when we feel bad about ourselves. It annoys us and disturbs our mood for quite some time.”
I recollected an incidence of today itself. This morning I got wild when my mother got few minutes late in giving my lunch box. Throughout on the way, I was disturbed and carried that foul mood in office also. I got wild for whatever reason, but my internal register of the act was awful. I felt rotten.
“On the other hand, there are some actions that make us feel very good and pleasant. They make us feel more agreeable and boost our mood.
I could immediately recollect the incidence of the other day when a colleague suddenly fell ill. I left my work and took her to the hospital. On return, I had to sit late to finish the work but still I had no regrets. Instead I was pleased with myself.
“Once you start paying attention to your internal registers you will notice two possible type of actions. Contradictory and Unitive”
Now these are two more new terms. I knew the apparent meaning of these words, but I was sure there would a new perspective here.
“Contradictory actions are those that make you feel bad. They make you feel bad as there is a divergence between your feelings, thinking and actions.”
“Unitive actions are those that not only make you feel good, feel happy about yourself but also leave a liking of repeating the same in future. “
I noticed that there are three conditions for the actions to be unitive. Overeating the food of my taste or venting out my anger on someone makes me feel good for a while but I end up regretting for the same. On the other hand, helping my colleague by taking her to hospital, even at the cost of delaying my work, not only made me feel good and happy about myself but I was left with a feeling of repeating such work even in future if need arises.
I reflected on many examples and realised one thing. Unitive actions always had to do with reaching out to others and helping others. And most of the actions that made me feel bad were those that came out of selfishness.
A new moral. Observe the internal registers of actions. Repeat unitive actions. That will make me feel good, happy and improve myself. That is a step forward in my journey to become a better human being.