Listening better to combat despair

Published: Sep 06, 2019, 05:15 IST | Rosalyn Dmello | Mumbai

I have decided to learn how to listen better; to my self, to others, and to environmental ecosystems, and to modify my behaviour from what I am able to absorb from what is being vocalised

I felt hope when I saw that several hundred Mumbaikars turned up to protest the deforestation of Aarey. Many carried signs that spoke practically about how the move would affect the airport, how the probability of floods would increase. File pic
I felt hope when I saw that several hundred Mumbaikars turned up to protest the deforestation of Aarey. Many carried signs that spoke practically about how the move would affect the airport, how the probability of floods would increase. File pic

Rosalyn D'melloI haven't slept well at all over the last month. I keep putting it off until I finally succumb out of relative tiredness. I play multiple games of Scrabble on my phone, knowing fully well I shouldn't be exposing myself to the glare of a screen. But there is a restlessness I cannot quell. I realised two days ago that the duration of my sleeplessness coincides with the siege of Kashmir, since the announcement of abrogation of Article 370 that wrested away its statehood. Every day I almost consciously expose myself to news from the Valley that runs counter to the propaganda narrative. It leaves me aghast, the level of atrocities that are being committed against civilians. Even if a small percentage of it turns out to be true, we should be utterly and completely horrified with the normalising of such flagrant violations of human rights.

I like to believe I am not the only one that feels despair. I've been thinking so much about what it means to reckon with the enormity of the helplessness many of us are feeling. We, who have signed statements condemning the actions being committed in our name; we who have attended protests against the rising fascism; we who do not sympathise with the dominant narrative of hyper-nationalism; we who inherited our ideology from Rabindranath Tagore, author of our national anthem; who had this to say on the subject — "Patriotism cannot be our final spiritual shelter; my refuge is humanity. I will not buy glass for the price of diamonds, and I will never allow patriotism to triumph over humanity as long as I live"; we who are struggling to make sense of our complicity in what is unfolding, for in this instance, silence is complicity. How do we communally escape the negative spiral of despair? How do we channelise our moments of hopelessness and transform it into a kind of radical optimism, not for the convenience of being able to go on with our lives, but because of what we owe to each other?

I shared a quote on Facebook a few days ago, credited to Nakita Valerio, which read, "Shouting 'self-care' at people who actually need 'community care' is how we fail people." It resonated very deeply with me. When I watched a discussion on NDTV the other evening regarding the decision to cut some 2,000-odd trees from Aarey forest to house a Metro car shed, I felt anger at the apathy of the BJP member who was justifying the decision, arguing that 2,000 was a minimal number compared to how many trees there were in the forest, betraying a complete lack of understanding about how each tree encompasses an ecosystem; and how you cannot simply compensate for the cutting of one tree by planting another somewhere, because in doing so, you do not acknowledge the significance of bio-diversity.

A few days later, I felt hope when I saw that several hundred Mumbaikars turned up to protest the deforestation of Aarey. Many carried signs that spoke practically about how the move would drastically affect the airport, how the probability of floods would increase. On Wednesday the city actually did come to a standstill because it had been pouring continuously for hours, and the city's loathsome infrastructure once again crumbled; roads and streets and homes were flooded. Will this matter to the decision makers so intent on cutting those trees, so stubborn they are incapable of locating an alternate space for the Metro shed and keep mocking protestors for choosing nature over development, without recognising the inherent fallacy of such an argument.

It has also been validating to finally read stories in print and digital media about the tenacious link between climate change deniers and misogyny, particularly a story in The New Republic, headlined, "The Misogyny of Climate Change Deniers", focusing on the mainstream trolling of the teen activist, Greta Thunberg and American politician and activist, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The story, written by Martin Gelin, references a 2014 paper published by Jonas Anshelm and Martin Hultman, analysing the language of a focus group of climate skeptics, and its propounding of the term 'industrial breadwinner masculinity' to reference a specific package of values and behaviours.

Gelin cites a quote by Hultman, "They [those who manifest traits of industrial breadwinner masculinity] see the world as separated between humans and nature. They believe humans are obligated to use nature and its resources to make products out of them. And they have a risk perception that nature will tolerate all types of waste. It's a risk perception that doesn't think of nature as vulnerable and as something that is possible to be destroyed. For them, economic growth is more important than the environment."

I see this condition of industrial breadwinner masculinity as symptomatic of an acquired inability to listen. And so, to combat the easy proclivity towards despair, I have decided to learn how to listen better; to my self, to others, and to environmental ecosystems, and to modify my behaviour not because of what I project onto these entities but from what I am able to absorb from what is being vocalised. It's an exercise in humility. I'll let you know if it helps me sleep better at night.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx

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