Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Characteristics: Changeable Vs Inherent – a Debate


Ravi, or Ravichandran, of Alder 8022, the one and only mood-elevating Bhajan singer in our midst, rang me: “Uncle, is it the right time to talk to you?”

“Of course, Ravi. Retired man. Everyday holiday. Go ahead,” I said.

“We are a well-knit group of individuals who studied together in DTEA Delhi, now scattered in Bangalore, Hyderabad, Trivandrum, Mumbai, etc. We meet every month online for an hour and a half for an informal debate on a pre-decided subject. The topic this time is: People are of a certain nature and cannot change Vs Change is possible for the better (or worse) depending on circumstances and individual response, education, learning, etc. “Uncle, may I request you to be our special guest and sum up the discussions, simultaneously giving your own views? The meeting is tomorrow. Sorry for the short notice.”

To take up a stand, for or against, would be less arduous (thanks to Google Uncle) than having to sum up others’ viewpoints, weigh one against the other and bring the discussions to a logical conclusion. I was almost on the verge of declining it. But the ego in me just didn’t permit, despite the prospect of ‘a miserable attempt’ looming large. But, at 80, I can write off anything to experience, I reassured myself.

Dr Poornima, in Trivandrum, was given the floor. She began, first renaming the topic to: Nature Vs Nurture, the old tried and tested subject. She argued that natural instincts could seldom be changed. “Howsoever well you might domesticate a tiger, it is sure to pounce on you one day,” she asserted, with a free flow of supporting Sanskrit slokas that could send shivers to the likes of Velukkudi and Nochur .

Mr Narayanan had come fully armed with slides, in a spirit of My way or Highway. His arguments had liberal doses of genetics, societal factors; duality of human nature: love and hatred, Good and Bad emotions... to substantiate that human nature CANNOT change.

Equally fully equipped with his own set of slides, with a heavy marketing pitch, Ravi tried to sell his point that Nature CAN be changed.

Other speakers included one who got a little philosophical that God sees everything. to cement his case. Yet another shared the story of Dr Jekyll and Mr

Hyde, to prove his point of the dual nature of human beings – good and evil. This was followed by a few other eloquent speakers.

In the end, it fell to my lot to do the balancing act. I said that the whole exercise would boil down to Inherited Vs Acquired. The advocates of Inherited attribute that children imbibe the qualities of their parents, having thus very much to do with genetics. However, the proponents of the Blank Slate theory challenge anyone to hand them a bunch of healthy infants, and they would mould them to what the others want them to be – doctors, engineers, or architects...

The case of Valmiki, from a dacoit to a sage to pen the great epic Ramayana, would seem a clear case to support that change is possible at any time. Also, as one understands, Kulapati KM Munshi learnt Sanskrit way past his fifties to become a scholar.

Heridity, while it might reflect in facial features or mannerisms, does not hand down all traits of parents. Rohan Gavaskar could never make the grade as his illustrious father Sunil Gavaskar - either as a cricketer or as a commentator. Nor, for that matter, could Dev Anand’s son even pass muster as an actor.

“Thus, neither statements, “People are of a certain nature and cannot change, or, Change is possible...,” is totally defendable. Both have merits and defects.” I concluded, feeling relieved at having disentangled myself – escaped unhurt.

Alas, I had to cut short my attendance as someone wished to see my son’s apartment in Oak, for sale. I wish I stayed through to hear their septuagenarian English teacher’s concluding remarks. Regardless of her possible observations on the proceedings, she would definitely have patted herself that, given her students’ articulation, clarity, diction and intonation, her efforts in the teaching days had not gone waste, after all.

Thank you Ravi, once again.