The problem with films has nothing to do with realism

The annual Indian screenwriters’ conference was held last week in Mumbai. The fourth such gathering organised by the Film Writers’ Association based in the same city had, what I believe, was a flawed theme: do our stories reflect India’s reality? The keynote speaker was the journalist, Palagummi Sainath, whom Amartya Sen once called one of the “great experts on famine and hunger”, and who is somewhat conveniently placed to argue that Bollywood does not represent the real India.

My disagreement with this statement is twofold. Firstly, screenwriting is an art, and, like all art, its essence is openness in interpretation and it does not owe it to society to act as a mirror. Secondly, the crux of the conference, to be meaningful at all, should not have focused on whether stories in Bollywood reflect India’s reality, but rather whether they should reflect India’s reality at all.

The argument is somewhat like mirrors and windows: if people want a mirror, they should stop complaining about what they see when they look at a window. There are census bureaus, polling organisations, data collection and research centres, and, of course, National Geographic, to represent countries for what they are, to show people a non-fictional account of what India is and so on. Films, like stories of yore, have always been windows to let imagination escape, to heighten our senses, to present a larger-than-life portrayal that may or may not be grounded in reality. Ashok Vajpeyi spoke of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, both stories rich in culture and moral but in all likelihood skewed when it comes to portraying reality — but then again, whose call is it to make? My point simply is that it is unfair to demand that film scripts be, above all else, subservient to reality.

I am not a fan of Bollywood. I cannot deny that, occasionally, a remarkable film is made whose worth nobody can deny. And more often (unfortunately) films get made whose worthlessness dumbfounds everyone. But to say that India is where story telling began and then expect that to last forever would be resting on our laurels. The first step is to recognise that several other countries make more meaningful films than India during any given year — and Hollywood is likely not at the top of this list either as far as my opinion goes. The next step is to realise that our stories not portraying “Indian reality” is the least of our troubles and is certainly not why we lag behind today.

The problem, with my limited understanding of the nuances of how a film “industry” works, lies in three directions: one, everyone wants to make a quick buck and the priority is often to make a film and release it rather than sit back and take time to think about making it better; two, far too many filmmakers underestimate the acumen of the Indian audience, thereby filling their work with a nauseating level of exposition and spoon-feeding, ensuring that nothing, especially not the film, comes in the way of our enjoying a tub of popcorn; three, we need actors, not film stars.

I do not think we have a shortage of good actors, we do, however, give immense attention to film stars. Entire productions sometimes run on the presence of film stars and end up ringing hollow when it comes to the story. Conversely, the handful of films that are made with interesting stories, carrying good explorations of emotion, go unnoticed and fuel the fire claiming that the presence of a film star is central to a film’s success. Measuring films by their commercial success rather than their critical weight (not unlike measuring the worth of scientists based on their number of publications) dismantles the meaning of a good film altogether. And then, of course, is the new question that seemingly came out of nowhere: do our stories represent India’s reality?

Should they, really? On the one hand are flat arguments like “Bollywood does not make documentaries on a commercial basis”. But I get that that is not what the Conference was about. It was not about pushing for documentary-style films but rather to write fictional stories that are more representative of reality in this country. I will be the first to admit that fiction mixed with facts is the most exciting type of fiction, but as far as screenwriting goes, our imaginations are the limits (or the budgets are, more often than not, but I digress). This harkens back to criticisms of white men playing black characters in films, which I frankly have no problems with. They are actors, and if a white actor cannot convince me that he is a black rugby quarterback, then he is a bad actor. Likewise, black people should, with some make-up, be allowed to play white people, Chinese people, Indians and penguins if they can pull it off. Why not?

On similar lines, the fallacy lies in assuming that Indians alone should make films about India, or that Indians should not make films about America or Sweden or Japan. And vice versa: if the Japanese made a film about India, I would enjoy watching it (or I would detest it) but — and this is the important bit — my like or dislike of the film will have nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that people of some culture or country made a film about another culture or country; instead it would be based solely on the merits of the film as an art.

When was the last time any member of the audience went home crying about a lack of realism? Criticisms would have most likely centred around bad acting, aimless directing, inappropriate dances, and fight scenes that choose to ignore physics altogether. Because when someone goes to watch a film, they want to escape reality, to be able to lose themselves in a world the director creates for them, real or unreal, positive or negative, it must be believable to someone who is sufficiently open-minded. The problem with films is neither that there are no good stories nor that there are no good artists, but rather that people are settling for whatever drives sales, and that nobody is trying hard enough while those who do usually remain pitifully unrecognised.

Additions to Chad Orzel’s article on physicists and philosophers

Chad Orzel wrote a column on his blog last week about James Blachowicz’s opinion piece in the New York Times titled “There is no scientific methods”. The Times article talks about how methods in science and those in, say, the humanities, are similar and then tries to make some point out of it regarding the validity of any thought.

Orzel uses an apt emoji (or is it kaomoji?) to describe the lack of a conclusion in Blachowicz’s article: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. This is particularly representative of a lot of research in the social sciences. There are two things Orzel’s article misses out on, in my opinion: firstly, it does not talk about the fact that such a practice of abrupt endings — that feel as if a closing inverted comma is missing — are a manifestation of a deeper problem in the humanities, and one that particularly disturbs physicists: vagueness. Somehow, most social scientists I have come across are perfectly satisfied with an answer that appears to point them in some meaningful direction, and they seem oblivious to the fact that the same argument is being understood by different people differently as a direct result of its being vague. The open-ended state of arguments (or the lack of a conclusion altogether) catalyses this.

Consider this sentence which Orzel also quotes, albeit for a different purpose: “If scientific method is only one form of a general method employed in all human inquiry, how is it that the results of science are more reliable than what is provided by these other forms?” The argument begins by stating that the scientific method is only one form of inquiry. The only logical next step is to state that any other discipline which uses the same scientific method must also be similarly reliable. However, the sentence itself seems to assume without any base that if the scientific method is reliable, then any form of it is also reliable. This may be true, but is still certainly not a valid assumption without some sort of context.

The second argument that I think Orzel should have made is once again aimed at the three paragraphs he quotes from the Times article, where Blachowicz says that that the reliability of the scientific method stems from the fact that “science deals with highly quantified variables and that it is the precision of its results that supplies this reliability.” And then helpfully warns that “quantified precision is not to be confused with a superior method of thinking.” Except this is only part of the picture.

The reliability of science — I can only speak for physics anyway — does not come from sheer precision of so-called “highly quantifiable variables”1 but rather from mathematics. This language (or tool, depending on how you wish to look at it) that physicists employ has an inherent logic to it in that the validity of every step is ensured by the previously established validity of each of its preceding steps. For instance, having proved beyond doubt that 1+1=2, 1+1+1=3 and so on, to show that 2+2=4 with similar “reliability” means one only need show that 1+1=2, so 2+2=1+1+1+1=4. Now this is a dull example compared with the concreteness and logic that maths is really capable of, but it was meant to explain a point to people of the humanities.

I particularly like this paragraph in Orzel’s post that quite sums up how we all feel:

As a scientist, I often find myself nodding along with the steps of the process to work something out, only to be left waiting for some sort of concrete conclusion about what comes next. There’s a comprehensive failure to build on prior results, or even suggest how someone else might build on them in the future, and as a physicist I find this maddening.

It is this idea of a logical building block where the stability of each block depends on that of the blocks that came before it is what physics and mathematics have that gives our results solidity. It is precisely this habit of using building blocks that prompts us to take a step back and look at the entire structure as a “therefore” as Orzel points out. To build an argument without some form of conclusion is to have a fanfare that awkwardly fizzles out halfway through.

This is all no different from asking a question and not getting an answer. The lack of a conclusion can be particularly frustrating. It is also why those of us in physics are often accused of over-thinking things while

Newspaper neutrality

Are newspapers supposed to be neutral? Or better still, are they allowed to have a leaning? And if so, how exactly should we define a “leaning”? To expect anything run by humans to be absolutely unbiased would be naïve. Humans are biased to some extent, we have likes and dislikes, we have preferences, and we express it — subconsciously or otherwise — in everything we do, say, or write. And as long as humans run a newspaper, there will be some bias and some preference for one idea over another that creeps into the editing, and eventually establishes itself as the voice and political stance of that publication. This is true as much of television as it is of print media, and the question in the end of it all is not whether media are biased, but how consumers need to ensure they are not buying into a political stance blindly.

The Washington Post is a classic example of this: articles in the newspaper backed the remain campaign in Britain (although the paper did not do so openly or officially — their front page was uncannily neutral) and, the same day, right after the entire country voted to leave the European Union with disastrous consequences, the Post published an article titled, “The British are frantically Googling what the E.U. is, hours after voting to leave it”. First of all, no, it was most certainly not the case if you thought that headline meant most Brits did not know what they were voting for, but, at first glance, it certainly makes the most valid case yet for a second referendum by terming the past one effectively pointless — the people did not know what they were looking for, and given another chance they would vote to remain in the EU. This is, first of all, a classic clickbait style headline intended to rope people in. The article itself is not stellar, and draws misdirected conclusions backed by poor numbers. (If you seek a rebuttal read the one published in The Telegraph a few days after the article in the Post, and others like it, gained traction on the internet.)

The front page of the Washington Post on Brexit.

The front page of the Washington Post on Brexit.

Buzzfeed made a list showing what several newspaper front pages said about Brexit. I read three among these regularly, two of which officially backed the remain campaign, much like I did myself, and one that claimed no backing — understandably, since it is an American publication. Such a stance is, from my experience, a little less common, although not absent, in America. Oftentimes, the backing is unofficial, but it is there nonetheless. However, just because a publication backs a certain ideology need not make them biased: there is a difference between support and bias. The former demands that the publication be open to calling out the follies of their side and appreciating the opposing side for a good and fair step they may take. This is healthy. Once again, the problem is not when backing (or leaning or support if you will) exists, but when bias exists and creeps into the editorial. Such news sources are best avoided (think Fox who, besides their heavy right-wing backing, was prompt to report that the UK voted to leave the UN).

Consider The Atlantic, which boldly claims to be “of no party of clique” — and stays true to this — but often carries an unofficial liberal stance in a lot of its writing. Harper’s is similarly liberal. Now liberal does not mean left-wing. This is actually an American misnomer because the Democrats are largely considered liberal and are the left-wing in American politics, while the Republicans are housed on the conservative, right-wing. This model is often employed to understand politics in other nations and erroneously at that. Alas, the situation is considerably more complex around the world. The issue could just be attributed to nuances and forgotten, but it does help to examine that if only to show what really qualifies as leaning — which was the primary question we started out with. There is some futility here too: for example, “liberalism” is of two types — social and fiscal — but this is just the tip of the iceberg and it really clarifies nothing. What one should see instead is the beliefs that define these forms of liberalism (or, on the other end of the spectrum, conservatism). Someone who calls for smaller role of governments, lot of civil liberty, and freer markets would be a “classical liberal”, and would actually be right-wing. Someone who calls for, say, gay marriage legalisation, decriminalisation of drugs etc. (two predominant issues in America today), would be a “social liberal”, which is what the US Democratic Party is. But then, muddying the waters for no reasons, the Americans call a combination of economic and social liberalism as “libertarianism”, a word which does not carry the same meaning as it does in Europe or Asia, and “liberalism” in America has nothing to do with small governments — neither of the two major American parties supports it — but instead is a relative term: the Democrats are more liberal from the Republican perspective and vice versa. From an international perspective, the Democrats (and this is my opinion at this point) would be right of centre, while the Republicans would be the true right-wing. (For the curious, I looked it up and there happens to be a little-known political party in America, called the “Libertarian Party”, which is left-wing but has almost no presence anywhere in the country.)

Leaving the US behind and coming to a more understandable international stage, it becomes clear that one should talk more in terms of the various main beliefs rather than collections of beliefs in terms of isms. It also helps to dilute things as far as possible: believers of small states, free markets, and traditional individual lifestyles are economic liberals and would be right of centre; believers of complete individual freedom with similarly complete governance over markets are social liberals and would be left of centre, but these have, of late, been calling themselves “progressives”. So a libertarian that America refers to would be a social liberal in, say, Europe, and a liberal in America would be an economic liberal in Europe, and so on. I will restrict myself from addressing this issue further because I already wrote about it last week while talking about the increasing popularity of the right-wing around the world. It would suffice to say that, over time, people have picked an assortment of these beliefs and the line between left and right is now merging into a spectrum of sorts.

The point here is that having and expressing any of these beliefs, while it may be termed as one’s “leaning” is not harmful and is, in fact, an unescapable part of being human. It is precisely this bias that I refer to as human, and it is precisely this bias that everyone and their editor has and is expressed in all publications. However, when bias moves from beliefs in how society should function to blindly following whatever a political party says or does, it gets dangerous. And it is this form of “leaning” that has absolutely no place in journalism. Considering that, in addition to everything discussed so far, any form of leaning must not be blind, must not twist facts, and must be open to change and to objectively weighing and accepting opposing viewpoints, we can probably shrink it all down to a single sentence: backing a stance is good, backing a political party is not.

Unfortunately, for a lot of publishers, falling subscriptions and, quite simply, the rise in an entire generation that takes journalism for granted and does not see the point in paying for it — because, for some strange reason, everything on the internet is expected to be free — means compromising just to stay alive. This includes, especially, native advertising, or advertising disguised like the medium that carries it — for example, as articles in newspapers. Something as critical as abortion — which I believe should be allowed at the woman’s discretion, and whose fictitious “health hazards” have no credible evidence in support — are not only advertised against in the form of fake news articles, but are also targeted especially to women who have visited abortion clinics or related locations, all using GPS. This actually happened as recently as two months ago, and caused understandable concern, besides violating basic ethics — nobody subscribed to their offensive, intolerant, ill-informed ads — and then hiding behind the banners of trusted publishers. This will not improve the credibility of the advertiser as much as it will destroy that of the publisher. Further, this extends to things from shoes to — as John Oliver pointed out on his talk show on HBO, Last week tonight — a seemingly innocent advertisement about how our energy needs are changing, courtesy of oil drilling company, Chevron, which has left a string of negative environmental impacts in its path, from Ecuador to Angola to Niger to Rio to Bangladesh to Poland to California, to name a few. There is, on the same page, all the way at the bottom, a disclaimer that the New York Times news and editorial staff had no role in the preparation of the advertisement. But it comes in too small a text size, too late, promptly after a reader has gone through the entire page.

Sponsored native advertising is also a form of bias for which the newspaper itself is not directly accountable, but still is partly responsible. This bias does not, of course, extend throughout the paper, but it does exist somewhere in it and harms the trust readers place in the publication. The underlying point here being one of skepticism: open backing of a stance leaves room for skepticism, which is healthy; blind support of a party does not. Similarly, an advertisement that looks obviously like an advertisement is a good thing because readers know how and when and if they have to be skeptical about it and take away any information they may need, which is not something seedy native ads propound. This form of bias, even though it may be introduced into the publication by a third-party, reflects on the newspaper. This is not unlike having regular advertisements (like this website does) which are clearly ads. What if I slyly inserted a paragraph in-between this article that was really an advert and then informed you about it in illegible text all the way at the end? First is a sense of betrayal of trust, followed by a sense of lost time invested into reading this article. The same is the case with newspapers which, quite simply, means that bias that is announced loudly and clearly before the fact is not at all problematic. Bias that sneaks into the main context unsurprisingly has no place there. And it is most certainly not the habit of a “publisher sharing its storytelling tools with a marketer” as The New York TimesMeredith Levien puts it. Bias arising from an editorial stance on an issue is wholly different from that arising from vested interests, which is what advertising is all about, so claiming that the onus is on the reader makes little sense when the reader only ever subscribed to the views of the Times news and editorial boards, not, say, Chevron’s. At its best, native advertising is bias fro vested interests; at its worst, it is like an annoying e-mail newsletter you never subscribed to and can never unsubscribe from.

A hint of open-minded bias is good and I think it makes reading worthwhile, because plain, factual news delivery can get tedious. At the same time bias with vested interests, be it from a corporation or a political party or anything or anyone else, is nothing less than a danger to society.

What does it mean to be educated?

Around June this year, a couple of weeks before my 23rd birthday, I expect to be handed my master’s degree in physics. Besides extensive specialisation and research for a doctoral degree, this is the highest honour a person can obtain to signify his mastery in a particular field. In essence, there is no doubt that I, and the many others in my graduating class, would be looked at as “educated”. Things and behaviours will be expected of us now that a formal closure has been made to a two-decade-long journey of learning. But, two decades later, what does it all mean? As holders of such a degree, and, more broadly, as educated people, what should education really mean to us? I think there are a series of characteristics which describe what a truly educated mind is and it takes more than a simple list to understand these. Then again, perhaps it takes one educated mind to appreciate another, but I digress.

A look at the etymology of said academic degree takes us to Latin: the word “magister” meant a master, a scholar who was proficient enough in a field to teach at a university. There are, strictly speaking, only two master’s degrees in the world: Master of Arts (MA, or AM in some countries), and Master of Science (MS or SM in the US, MSc in the UK, India etc.). Everything else (MBA, MFA, MPhil etc.) are “tagged” degrees specific to various fields and any discussion beyond this quickly gets messy. But, that said, I think this is a wrong approach to the question at hand because it deals not with the fundamental aspect of learning, but instead works towards defining an acceptable level of proficiency in a particular field. To really understand education one will have to go deeper, to its roots, and back in time over 2,300 years.

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

— Aristotle

Aristotle was a man with remarkable insight into a lot of things. He would have had the equivalent of a master’s degree in an array of disciplines if the concept existed back then; and, although all his theories about the universe were wrong, it was his manner of thinking scientifically that really pushed the boundaries of schools back in his time. As wrong as his science was, his philosophies were spot on: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it”, he once said, and it really takes a couple of readings to grasp the full meaning of his words.

To me, this statement by Aristotle has often been the cornerstone of a scientific and educated mind. Life is full of decisions waiting to be taken, full of debates to be argued, as well as agreements and disagreements to be had. In life one is presented with a plethora of choices, an array of approaches to a task, several manners and ways in which a thing can be done and it is easy to be influenced by others, which brings me to my first characteristic: the educated mind can think independently. It should be able to take in everything around it, facts, rumours, observations, and biases, then it should be able to make sense of everything, weigh everything, and finally arrive at an objective conclusion, unadulterated by the noise all around.

Does it mean, then, that educated people know facts? A seemingly valid argument can be made that facts help in decision making. I do not believe this is true. A distinction needs to be made between “facts” and “information”: knowing the remarkable fact that Jupiter is hundreds of thousands of times more massive than the Earth does not help me decide if I should or should not buy groceries today. What helps is knowing relevant information as to, for example, whether my refrigerator is stocked or not, or whether I have a dinner reservation elsewhere today or need to cook at home. In other words, facts by themselves are often useless until they are put in context; and when they are, they become information. Is it then possible to argue that anyone with sufficient information can make decisions? This logic falls flat for the same reason why anyone given a chessboard and a rule book cannot magically start winning at chess: information is the starting point, but knowing information is different from handling information, which brings us to the second characteristic: the methods and skills of using information to our best advantage is something an educated mind has acquired.

You say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.

— Sherlock Holmes

It is important to note the use of the word “acquired” here. Not “learnt”, but acquired. A lot of the skills an educated mind possess cannot simply be taught; they are slowly developed and improved over a long period of time with constant dedication (even halfhearted dedication can yield better results than someone who sits mum at home) — which is why the entire process of education lasts at least ten–twelve years. That is where Jupiter comes in. To 97% of the people1 graduating with a degree that signifies their “education” is complete, knowing absolutely anything about Jupiter is of no use in their daily life, but, for the last ten years, the use of such facts, situations, circumstances, and examples are what helped them develop their mental abilities. Every single fact that one learnt need not be of direct use to us everywhere, everyday, but you can rest assured that they each played an important role at one point in developing your mind.

Consider, for example, what writer and speaker, Alfie Kohn, says of his wife —

She (is) a successful practicing physician. However, she will freeze up if you ask her what 8 times 7 is, because she never learned the multiplication table. And forget about grammar or literature… So what do you make of this paradox? Is she a walking indictment of the system that let her get so far — 29 years of schooling, not counting medical residency — without acquiring the basics of English and math? Or does she offer an invitation to rethink what it means to be well-educated since what she lacks didn’t prevent her from becoming a high-functioning, multiply credentialed, professionally successful individual?

The wonderful Mrs Kohn is not the only one. The accomplished detective, Sherlock Holmes2, for all his powers of deduction was rather ignorant in most matters that did not directly concern his work. His friend and colleague, Dr John Watson, once said of him —

His ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge. Of contemporary literature, philosophy and politics he appeared to know next to nothing… My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the Solar System… That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth traveled round the sun appeared to me to be such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it.

The commonality between Sherlock Holmes and Mrs Kohn is that they both knew whatever they needed for their job perfectly. This is how a lot of one’s education ultimately goes down: we end up forgetting, to various extents, the things we learnt that are no longer useful to our jobs, and we slowly become experts at whatever we learnt that is playing an important role in our everyday jobs3. However, to get where they did, they likely needed a lot of the forgotten knowledge, and, in any case, having all that knowledge broadened their horizons enough long before they settled on their current jobs. This is what I like to call peripheral knowledge — hazy stuff you once knew but have no need for at the moment — and you could have gained it from anywhere, school, books, newspapers, intelligent conversation with peers et cetera. It is the usefulness of this peripheral knowledge that leads us to the third characteristic of the educated mind: while such knowledge most certainly does not impart expertise, it cannot be denied that because of it the educated mind can think multidimensionally and hold discussions across a wide network of interdisciplinary ideas and enrich any conversation.

A lot of our world has been shaped by a steady flow of ideas, most brilliant, few world-changing, and almost all of these have been brought out by educated minds. I foresee several people wanting to point out that some great inventors and scientists never had formal education, but that has never been the point: nowhere have I directly linked education and formal schooling as exclusive. For a mind to be educated, from everything I have said, the key requirement is exposure to ideas, which is something that can be had with no formal schooling whatsoever. Perhaps one must have to be extraordinarily talented to both read about ideas and sprout them with little exposure to an inspiring peer group or an environment of rigorous learning, but, for the vast majority, formal schooling often simply proves to be more effective. That said, it is worth noting that although said inventors and scientists never had “formal education”, they were all still self-taught, which would make it a manner of schooling nonetheless, just not one by formal definition.

(Education cultivates) deep-seated and effective habits of discriminating tested beliefs from mere assertions, guesses, and opinions; to develop a lively, sincere, and open-minded preference for conclusions that are properly grounded, and to ingrain into the individual’s working habits methods of inquiry and reasoning appropriate to the various problems that present themselves.

— J. Dewey

That said, what causes the initial spark? One could attribute it to a lot of things, but it would be shortsighted not to give a huge chunk of the credit to one’s curiosity. To accept the status-quo is not always a bad thing, but if all we do is accept the status-quo, then we have put an end to our social and scientific evolution, and will soon cease to exist. If we stopped at wheels and never built the horse cart, if we stopped at sparking fire and never cooked on it, if we stopped at caves and never built villages, we would have died a long while back. We have come far enough that we can survive considerably long even if innovation simply ceased altogether, but the end, while delayed, is nonetheless the same. John Dewey, in his book, “How we think”4 speaks of how curiosity, save in some people, can easily be dulled and how education helps keep it kindled.Curiosity and the habit of questioning leads to innovation and change; embracing change and exploiting it to better our world is not something only the educated mind can do, but it takes an educated mind to make the change rapid and voluminous enough to make a difference. Our fourth characteristic is then simple, but supremely effective in life: an educated mind is a curious and probing mind.

We discussed how an educated mind improves the chances of sparking ideas in society and helps drive an idea from its inception to its realisation. Everything said so far cascades in a manner so as to allow better thinking, better decision-making, and better execution to bring an idea to life. Can, then, a robot or AI of any sort — programmed with all information it may need and logic it may derive from — take these decisions just as well? As much as I want a robot maid like the Jetsons, I would not be hasty in giving them duties along this line. This is where the so-called “human element” comes in. Problem solving is multidimensional and cannot be programmed absolutely5 without thinking of every possible outcome, which, the larger a problem becomes, the harder it gets, tending to impossibility. One of the requirements in such a scenario is changing perspectives and the ability to look at a problem from someone else’s shoes. To be able to understand and appreciate the views of another person by viewing the situation from their stand is neither simple nor easy. This form of empathy is something education cultivates. Added to it are the usual traits of understanding, sympathising, helping, and encouraging. All of these add up to good habits that help lead people in any manner towards any common goal. This is precisely what our next characteristic is: an educated mind cam empathise, encourage, lead and bring out the best in others.

Ideals and practically merged, education should, undoubtedly prepare students for a better life, and for independent life in general. I have often sincerely believed that the effect of education is not always obvious, but will show itself when the need arises — and particularly while in the company of the uneducated. An article in the Washington Post last year puts in judiciously: “Education should prepare young people for life, work and citizenship.” These are the material aspects which hide the deeper characteristics we have described so far, and merge uncomfortably with the perks of literacy, but they cannot — and should not — be overlooked. There are other, simpler sides to what makes someone educated. As my friend, Manu, puts it, the work educated people do will “help the world” and educated people find “simple ways” of finishing complex tasks. While these are not exclusive to educated minds — anyone with sufficient expertise can simplify complex ideas, for example — they are nonetheless smaller prerequisites.

Education leads to enlightenment. Enlightenment opens the way to empathy. Empathy foreshadows reform.

— Derrick Bell

Lastly, in addition to having discussed everything that education is, an equally important topic that merits discussion is what education is not. Education is not literacy. Learning to read and write gives you certain capabilities but this is too often confused with education. A college degree, therefore, signifies both education and literacy, but a lot of graduates, sadly, are merely literate and not educated. Education also varies by subject. For instance you could hardly call yourself “educated” in C programming if you know 28% of it, but the brilliant mathematician, John von Neumann, when asked how much mathematics a person can hope to learn replied just this: twenty-eight percent. Some disciplines are vaster than others, older, more developed, larger, more complex and harder to understand and master. Of these physics is the oldest, largest, and the fastest developing subject on earth, which means it is that much harder for one to fully master it. This is precisely why I shied away from attributing one’s knowledge of their discipline a great deal of responsibility in describing the level of their education. It is important, but not important enough.

Sports guidelines v religious beliefs

Religion, being a sensitive aspect of life, and more so personal, international sports bodies have a thin line of caution to watch between their guidelines and religious practices and personal beliefs of athletes. However, and most importantly, even before we start considering sports guidelines, we should first take a keen and meticulous interest on what unifies us. What creates unity and harmonious existence in society is of more importance than that which propagates separation. The big question is, what brings us together as one? Is it religion? Is it personal belief? Or is it sports? If any of the above is not applicable, it is not usable.

Without turning a blind eye on any matter affecting human personal belief — a balance and check mechanism should be employed to sustain a state of equilibrium between guidelines on clothing and equipment, and religious practices. I solemnly acquiesce that anyone representing their country in sports should not desert what he or she believes in and holds most dear: religion, customs and beliefs. In furtherance of this, athletes should clearly comprehend the guidelines on what is required of them to wear. If, by any means and chance, the clothing required, in one way or another, is against their religion and belief, they can voluntarily withdraw from the game. This is because international sports bodies state explicitly that no athlete shall be permitted to wear costumes that portray political, religious or racial factors of any community. This means it is upto the athlete’s discretion whether to join or withdraw from the game. It is not compulsory for any athlete to join the game. On the other hand, if athletes respectfully choose not to participate in sports due to the guidelines given, then we find ourselves at a great loss because the most talented athletes of a country may not join a competition and represent the country. A country will then be inadequately represented by less talented athletes.

Andrew studies law and is a writer and musician. He loves to go on hiking trips in his free time. Martins Kai is a computer scientist interested in filmmaking, technology and art. Martins will also be writing a monthly column called “Glimpse of the infinite” starting this month.

What I opine to be of great importance is that international guidelines regarding sports and equipment should be such that they do not evoke — or unnecessarily provoke — the beliefs and religions of athletes. For instance, the size and shape of a costume should be in accordance with the requirements of the individual. Apparently, some costumes worn in international sports are far too short, especially for ladies. This makes some of the most dependable athletes in the country shy out due to their personal belief. The clothing facilities should offend neither athletes nor fans, who have so much love and affection towards a game. Moreover, families watching the games should also feel comfortable while doing so.

As we know, the ultimate goal of sports is not to create enmity among different segments of the society but to create unity and good relations in the world — to create a harmonious and peaceful existence among different countries of the world. Thenceforth, religions and personal beliefs prove to have no room here. Since what brings unity is more important than what divides us, it is crystal clear that we should not entertain religious aspects or personal beliefs. We should be working towards the common, greater good of all sects of society. However, it should be noted that even though there is no room for personal beliefs and religion, certainly there is room for preservation of human dignity and self-respect. Sports guidelines may not consider religious aspects as part and parcel of its rules and and regulations, but it has to make ample space for self-respect and human dignity. Just like they preserve patent rights, manufacturing rights and advertising rights of large corporations manufacturing sports clothing. This is the leas international sports bodies can do to enhance human dignity and self-respect of the athletes.

Anyone representing their country in sports should not desert what he or she believes in and holds most dear.


To this extent, international sports bodies can frame rules and regulations that permit athletes to wear uniforms in their choice of size, length and shape. As always, no costumes portraying religion should be allowed, and no costumes showing off personal beliefs should be allowed either. This is simply because personal belief begets religion, religion begets separation, separation begets enmity and enmity begets chaos. It is therefore clear that religion and personal belief should not be a factor to consider when framing rules regarding clothing and equipments. The only important issue to be dealt with is unity, self-respect and peaceful existence in the spirit of sports. If, by any chance, we let our personal beliefs and regulations take an imminent position in any set of guidelines, we risk destroying the peace we have worked so hard to achieve in this world. Religions will only divide us into segments. (Apparently, there are many forces in play against world peace.) Let us not allow sports to be one of them, whether in the name of religion or personal belief.

The main aim of the international bodies of sports should be to maintain a harmonious environment for the peaceful conduction of games, to bring uniformity among contestants, to enhance human dignity and self-respect of athletes and thereby of every individual around the world and, finally, to bring unity and good relations between countries. Having said that, I would like to repeat that there is no — and should never be — room for religions and personal beliefs in sports. Even the most liberal of minds should not open up to the idealogy of combining religion and sports. But for sure there should be large room for human dignity and self-respect.

The views expressed in this article are entirely the authors’. Their contribution involves as a publishing platform and does not imply endorsement by this website or anyone connected to it.