To what extent does our own behaviour cloud our opinions?
I am convinced of the fact that “categorical imperative” has ceased to exist in the current world.
Why so? Before going into detail about my claim, it’s better to first offer a short glimpse of the concept of “categorical imperative” itself.
Of the three propositions of this moral philosophy by Immanuel Kant, I would like to talk about the first one which states: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”
It is similar to the notion of “treating others in the same way one wishes to be treated.” It is also known as the universalizability principle, which refers to the fact that an action can be considered universally/morally acceptable if everyone can do it.
The duties generated, likewise, can be divided into two types:
Duties we have towards others (perfect duties)
Duties we have to ourselves (imperfect duties)
This formulation of universality and law of nature somehow confirm the fact that the behaviour of human beings reflects the extent of “unsocial sociability” present in them.
It needs to be especially noted here that “unsocial sociability” is a given trait among each and every human; the difference persists only in the magnitude/extent of the trait.
What is unsocial sociability?
How does it dominate our give-and-take transactions vis-à-vis our daily interactions with people?
Is it something intrinsic to our core self, or have the surroundings created/forced upon us such power dynamics?
How can we minimize this fundamental bias to forge better connections? Do we really treat others the way we wish to be treated, or the way we wish not to be treated?
Human beings are social beings. We also happen to be very selfish beings. This fundamental contradiction among each and every human is what I interpret as “unsocial sociability.”
Only a few days ago, in an exchange with one of my professional ties, I encountered a remark: “We live in a world where we all depend on each other. The world doesn’t go around according to your wish. Stop looking at the world like that, otherwise you will suffer a lot.”
I wasn’t surprised.
I have heard this before, coming from a friend: “The world does not revolve around you.” I guess, my cold demeanor towards them made them comment in ways they did not mean to. Not that I am claiming to be self-righteous.
My ex-boss, during my internship at Li and Fung, advised me regarding this. “You are a bit aloof. Let people know what you can do for them. Or else it gives a negative impression.”
I tried to ask myself: Was I too narcissistic to think about others? Is it just me or is everyone else in my surroundings troubled with the same problem? Is it actually a problem at all, or just an illusion in my mind? I got an answer from a mentor.
“Have you heard of the story between the thief and the imam, where they both went to the pond and performed wudu for praying?”
“No,” I replied.
He affirmed me with a smile: “The thief arrived earlier, near the bank of the pond. Seeing him, the imam thought he was more pious than him as he came to pray so early in the morning. But when the thief saw the imam, he thought that the imam has done some grave theft for which he arrived later than he did.”
He asked: “Now, do you understand why they perceive each other the way they do?” I nodded.
I kept wondering why such biases prevail in our judgment of others.
Finally, I came up with an answer.
The core of our emotional intelligence is governed by the extent/rate of unsocial sociability present in each of us. The more it’s present in us, the more biased we are. The less prejudiced when it’s the other way around.
Thus, minimizing the extent of this unique trait of unsocial sociability can help us build better relationships and lead more fulfilling lives.
It would also lessen our expectations from others to perform their duties perfectly. Instead, we could focus on performing our own duties, be it perfect or imperfect.
As human beings, it is impossible for us to remove the inherent trait of unsocial sociability present in each and every single one of us.
Our best bet is to come to terms with it and try to minimize the impact of the trait in our judgment of others.
Maisha Mehzabeen works at the Dhaka Tribune and is a graduate in economics.