If peace were to be distributed in sugar-coated pills, Dr Karen Armstrong’s face would well adorn its cover. ‘Ego is a barrier to dialogue’ was the crux of her message in the face of a barrage of questions aimed at her at Carlton Hotel’s Karachi Literature Festival today 6th February 2011.
The idea of an ‘Ego’ is far from simplistic despite its plain garb. The questions thus raised are diverse. Take the case of two persons in direct confrontation with each other. One decides not to indulge in dialogue till the other initiates conversation. Carrying on from the tradition
of Eric Berne we would label it kindly as a ‘game’ and be done. National pride and identity raise many more dimensions. Would we be right in raising our non-egoistic eyebrows at the Cold War? Are we to say that the ever controversial Kashmir ‘issue’ is an issue only due to ‘Ego’. Or are we to say that the enraged sentiments on M.F Hussain’s drawings are a result of ‘Ego’ between the artistically liberated tolerant mindsets and the masses? Closer to
home ground, would it become a battle between religion and tolerance of all kinds of sentiments in the name of not showing one’s ‘Ego’?
Arguments and counterarguments would be counterproductive, diabolical and lead nowhere. The need of the hour perhaps is to lean towards the message beneath the surface. The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Whether it is the race for nuclear
warheads or the corresponding sanctions, we seem to be caught in a never ending debate of the primacy of the chicken and the egg.
Karen Armstrong’s 2008 Charter of Compassion was one of the major subjects of discussion in her discourse. While signatories like Prince Hassan of Jordan and the Dalai Lama have their own perspective regarding the Charter, a lot can be learnt from Armstrong’s own life influences that may well have proved to be the driving force for humility, compassion and the passion behind it all. Touching stories about her own experiences at Convent as a young nun being broken in, strictly but not unkindly – a vivid illustration of her superior dying of cancer yet not taking sedatives in order to say perhaps her last words of kindness and hope to the young Armstrong provide the emotional ground for her next words. With a wave of her hand she brings to mind and then swiftly dismisses any idea that ‘sticks and stones may break your
bones but words will never hurt you’. Kind words are the balm that soften past wounds and lend grace to new ones. And these she remembers more than anything else in times of sadness, in times of distress.
We all remember.
So can we be generous enough to dole these out? Will we remember that?
The mental image built up using Armstrong’s own words is that of a ‘cool’, ‘funny’, ‘clever’, ‘kind’ character who would usually turn up when things seem to be going wrong. Sesame Street and the younger generation may benefit from that surely and hopefully in a few years’ time but
modern society as it is, has its own terminology for such a person: “Fool”. Will the bud blossom? A few shakes from side to side and off goes the all-knowing-Head into the shadows to think of schemes for its own glory.
If Armstrong is the torchbearer for the monotheistic convention, and preaches the message of peace, solidarity and dialogue, how many of us will take to compassion with passion? Or will ‘Ego’ rule the Earth still?
Published on http://www.chowk.com/Views/People/Karen-Armstrong-–-The-Great-Ego-Divide 10th Feb 2011