Hammer and Nails


By Malangba Bangormayum

The duo Simon and Garfunkel sang `I`d rather be a sparrow than a snail Yes I would, if I could, I surely would/ I`d rather be a hammer than a nail Yes I would, if I only could, I surely would` You get the picture what they were getting at. It`™s better to be wise than foolish, strong than being weak. This refrain one gets to hear in different contexts and situations. On TV, I see people trying to outwit, out-speak, the other. Now there are reality shows, where you prove that you can out-sing, out-dance, out-do any other. And you get fame and fortune for that. We love winners; we extol those who are better. I note this not to register any complain against it. Who does not love excellence?

Lately, I have been wondering whether there can be any virtue in being not wise, being not intelligent, being not fast? Is there any good in being not healthy? To the last question I can answer a qualified response (of course the question frames a qualified response). I learnt as part of high school biology that those who suffer from the disease called sickle cell anaemia have resistance against malaria.

It`™s not much fun to be anaemic, but if you are in a place where malaria is endemic, then it might not be that bad to be sickle cell anaemic. Can we push this case for the other questions in the beginning of this paragraph? Can we say that there are sometimes situations in which it is alright to be dumb, or are there cases where it is positively better not to be wise, not to be beautiful or amazing, mind-blowing or such superlatives that the judges on reality TV shows shower on the contestants? Can there be a reality show where the search is for the dumbest person? How would be the rating? I throw these questions for a response if you please.

Ignorance is bliss, there are sayings amounting to that. There are also deeply entrenched intellectual and spiritual traditions which take knowledge to be the key to soteriological aspirations. Ignorance and knowledge in the ultimate analysis could turn out not be a far cryfrom each other but intuitively, and at least in our common understanding, they are wholly different things.

I keep telling my wife that I have become wiser since I married her. This could be understood in at least two different ways. It could either mean that she is the cause of my getting more intelligent or it could be a way of saying something ordinary i.e., people get wiser with age and that we are getting older together. Depending on her mood she is pleased some times, sometimes she is annoyed and tells me not to be sarcastic. But, seriously, I feel that I have become wiser in the last few days. Something is happening to me. That`™s how I feel.

When I share this with my wife she has a good laugh. Let me explain why I say I feel wiser. There is something reminiscent of the Socrates of Platonic dialogues here. I vaguely remember the dialogue in question had something to do with the Oracle of Delphi. One can look up on the internet: another portal to becoming more intelligent, more informed and wiser.

I have been having this reconciliation, lately, with myself that some of the thoughts I had and actions that I had performed were not the best. I never could reconcile until recently that I ever was wrong. Somehow, I tried to defend myself, rationalise to others and myself all my actions. Lately, pride is on the wane, humility on the rise.

Strange enough, humility seems to make things clearer for me. It has shown that I was wrong; I was definitely not wise. I have come to know that I might be foolish sometimes, if not always. This realisation is what I mean by my becoming wiser. The realisation that I was, am, may and can be ignorant and wrong. The realisation that I am simply dumb*** sometimes and acted like one has dawned on me with the coming of the New Year. This could be a temporary phenomenon. My conceitedness might creep back any day without my knowing.

Remember that movie Dumb and Dumber, the film about two idiots trying to outsmart one another? We laughed at them. We laughed at their dumbness, more so at their thinking that they were smart. A person who is a fool and knows he is a fool is smarter than the person who is a fool but does not know that he is a fool. Therefore, in the scale of dumbness, I might claim that I am smarter than those two characters.

Now, where can we put a person who is wise and knows that he is wise? Obviously, he has to be above someone like me. But the catch is this, is it ever possible that for such someone to know that he is wise? If we take for granted the human condition as rooted in its limitedness, then for any human being whatever knowledge and wisdom he has, has to be seriously limited on the cosmic scale. So, if someone knows that he is wise, he is mistaken and a bit conceited. Mistakes and knowledge do not go together; neither do conceit and wisdom. Therefore, one can claim that there can be no wise man who knows that he is wise! This means that there is no person wiser than the likes of me.

Let me tell my wife this discovery of mine. I have a feeling that instead of laughing she might cry this time.


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