In this busy, dusty city of Dhaka, one is consumed by so many occurrences in a day that they hardly get time to take a step back and contemplate what is happening around and how one is getting influenced by their environment.
One evening as I was leaving office, it unexpectedly started to rain. It was around 7 pm and as it started drizzling and I started looking for a rickshaw. After searching for some time, drenched partially in rain, I finally found a rickshaw and, although the rickshaw puller was an old man, the urge to get into the comfort of rickshaw outweighed how long it would take me home. However, as the rickshaw-puller placed the hood over my head, he said, “Maa, I do not have the plastic wrapper. I left it home.” That gave me a momentary pause. And I began thinking, I will undoubtedly catch a cold today, but I really don’t want to search for another rickshaw! That seemed like a more laborious task. But then I thought, at least I will be on my way home, unlike many others stranded indoors because of rain. I responded in a rush, “It is alright Mama, do not worry, let’s go.” And the hour-long ride back home began.
After crossing a few meters, he stopped. By now it was raining cats and dogs outside, and with me half-drenched in rain and busy protecting my clothes from the inevitable downpour, I did not notice that he left the rickshaw. By the time I looked up, it was too late and I quelled any desire to call him back as my voice would be consumed by the deafening downpour. Helplessly stranded in the rickshaw in the middle of the pouring rain, I had nothing to do but wait.
I waited impatiently. From the distance where I was seated and with the continuous downpour, I was unable to see where he went. After a while, suddenly, I see him rushing towards me–a blur–and as I decided to furiously attack him with accusations about how he could leave the rickshaw unattended and in the middle of the road on a rainy day, I see him unfolding a plastic wrapper and quickly spread it before I got drenched any further. I stared in stunned surprise, all accusations dying in my throat. This old man bought a plastic wrapper even when I was ready to go without. My heart immediately warmed over for this old man. And for the rest of the journey, his actions consumed every single thought in my head.
Let me paint another scenario for you. Remember the recent strike on bus transportation? That day, after a long walk, I finally made it to Rampura bridge, where dozens and dozens of people were standing, waiting in frustration for any vehicle to arrive. For every rickshaw coming, there were more than 20 citizens rushing towards it. And while some of the “lucky ones” found a rickshaw to return home, a majority of us were stuck in the middle of the road waiting for rickshaws to come or haggling (as they were charging double or more). After waiting for more than 20min, during which I observed more and more people getting frustrated waiting for transportations to arrive, I managed to see a good number of men successfully hail the rickshaw and shout out in joy for all to hear, chanting, “Yes! I got it!” And much more expressed frustrations. There were so many people on that broken road that evening, I was aghast at the level of compassion each exercised had for their fellow citizens. Why could they not pair up and head in that direction? It made me contemplate their actions. How can you be happy when your fellow citizen is upset? It made me wonder why we call ourselves as one nation but behave as opponents to each other and trump in joy on the face of others frustration. Did we not claim ourselves “Bengali”–an independent nation of shared values–on March 26, 1971? We cared then, and that is why we embarked on a war and fought 9-months long for our independence! In that moment of crisis, everyone became one, and as one we fought. We may not be in the middle of a war that requires unity from us, it can be a less complex situation like a strike/hartal wherein we need to step outside of our heated frustrations and look beyond the horizon and see what connects us all together. If we allow our environment to breed this insensitivity into our culture, then nobody will stand up for one another. We did not fight for independence to see disunity breed into our culture.
So, what I did was as I searched for a rickshaw, I found other person asking to go in the same direction and the puller rejected. I know he heard me as I called out to another rickshaw-puller for my place. Thankfully the rickshaw-puller agreed, although charging more than double the fare, I called in the other guy and two Bangladeshis that evening found an instantaneous connection because of that singular act of compassion.
Caring and compassionate involves human connection; one has to first connect with people around. One might ask why we need to act compassionately. Pardon me if I am wrong; our economy is progressing upwards and becoming more and more competent. However, how many of us find connection with that data? Both competence and compassion are essential characteristics. If we are continuously thinking about individual improvement—who has time for others, right?
But let me ask you, what was in for that rickshaw-puller who bought the plastic wrapper on a rainy day when I did not even ask for one? The answer is simple—nothing material. It was not the reward that motivated him. Compassion is like the light of a candle; when one candle lights another candle, the light is not shared, it spreads.
Thus, here at Bangladesh Youth Leadership Center (BYLC), the premier leadership institute in Bangladesh, we create such a holding environment in our classroom, to inculcate the practice of compassion when exercising leadership in day-to-day lives. When our students go for the community service, they realize the necessity of compassion, and lack the thereof, often leads to withdrawal of participation and neglect of the work that needs to be attained.
Compassion requires connection with human beings, and if we spend 4 hours every day in traffic scrolling through Facebook or chatting away with faceless people, no amount of Snapchats will be enough to replicate your human emotions except via physical connections. On the month of independence, I want us to be reminded of who we are and why we exist by forging bonds of compassion that unite us together as a nation, as a family.
To know more about BYLC and its work, visit: www.bylc.org