A set of civilities

During our years of growing up we were given a set of civilities, a set of values as the yard stick for good living. It was more through example than precept. We were asked to defer to our elders giving them the pride of place they deserved.

Hierarchy was not coercion but perceived as the law of nature. We folded our hands, touched their feet, symbolic gestures that brought a tear to their eyes and a blessing to their lips. Small courtesies were  observed when it was considered necessary, for everyone, regardless of who they were.. We stepped aside making way for others, we apologised profusely when we unwittingly hurt anyone taking the edge off their pain. Hurt is not only physical, when we uttered words that offended feelings and sentiments we were even quicker to retract and express regret.

Teachers were revered as repositories of knowledge and looked upon as beacons who lighted our path. With them teaching was not a mere transmission of knowledge but a labour of love, it was the spark that ignited young minds and allured them to brighter worlds. Guests were treated with the utmost respect and they were treated as worthy of special attention, whether at the dining table or the drawing room.

It was not only a sacred duty but a privilege to serve a guest who was considered the equivalent of the Divine — "Atithi Devo Bhava .” All sacrifices were made by the hosts to send away a satisfied guest. Not serving a guest as he should be, invited the wrath of the Gods. These were the ancient laws of hospitality.

To act as per the dictates of conscience and to learn that truth was always the best defence and honesty the best policy was the code of conduct passed on to us. To stand up for the weak, to extend a helping hand, to share a tear with the grieving, to share the happiness of others was part of our common humanity. We were also taught that there is virtue in labour and perseverance and the road to success is often bumpy and we need to set realistic goals we can achieve.

Yet none of this meant that we were leading an inhibited life, we could still boast an independent opinion, uphold a principle even while making honest compromises and hold our own, thus fitting us out as individuals in the journey of life.

But we see today, sadly, we have no time for such niceties and courtesies and all the time honoured virtues have been given the go by in the frenetic pace of living, where we have no time for anyone except ourselves. With the civilities disappearing even in public life we are poorer in spirit and empathy leaving no legacy for those who come after us. 

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