20 years ago, I moved to South Korea and from then on, much of my time was spent there. I owe my education and my son’s education to Korea. I owe my extended international ministry experience to Korea. In fact, the most productive decades of my life were spent there. Life had begun to tempt me to settle for good. But God’s call to preach the gospel in South Asia never gave me rest in that beautiful and peaceful nation.
It is now three years since we said goodbye to Korea. From such a clean, comfortable and safe environment, suddenly we found ourselves struggling to navigate through the dirt, dust, danger and difficulty of life in Nepal and India. Such a reverse culture-shock was not what we had expected.
However, the reverse culture-shock is not my point in this article. Rather, it is the realization that in these three short years, we have become accustomed to our environment. Stinking piles of garbage in streets do not look strange. Swarms of flies covering meat shops, unhygienic food stalls, unorganized traffic, crossing the road from wherever we want, power outage for days, and things like these have become normal parts of our life; they don’t appear any stranger. Even the wish for improving them is slowly disappearing. How soon, our mind has made peace with our surroundings! Indeed, man can become prisoner of his environment.
Human mind is a remarkable thing. It is so powerful; it can think the unthinkable and imagine the impossible. But at the same time, it is so weak; it can be forced to accept black as white and white as black, it can become devoid of independent thinking. In societies where traditions and tyrannies reign, free thinking becomes a crime and soon people begin to follow their traditions without giving a second thought. The proverbial frog in the pan cannot imagine a jump giving it a better chance at life.
Prior to the declaration of independence, many Americans were debating the idea of independence from or reconciliation with the UK. There seemed to be some support for reconciliation. But for free thinkers like Thomas Paine, the idea of subjugating oneself to a foreign power was absurd, stupidity and out of common sense. On 14thof February 1776, he published a pamphlet titled “Common Sense” in which he gave a passionate and well-reasoned plea for independence. Knowing fully well how old habits die hard, in the very beginning of that pamphlet he stated his apprehensions saying; “a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.”
Paine imagined a country like no other on earth and urged his American compatriots to go for independence and on July 4ththe same year, his dreams were realized. Fortunately, Paine did not have to wait for a long time for time to make converts; there were enough Americans with reason to see the reasonableness of a nation that he imagined.
People against the idea of independence, he called them; men of corrupt intent who cannot be trusted, weak men who cannot see, prejudiced men who will not see, and moderate men who cannot challenge the traditional way of thinking that says “European world is better.” In other words, these men could not imagine something better than what they had at hand.
Paine admitted the America of his time was way behind Europe but he also predicted that in a short span of time, an independent America can become the most powerful and prosperous nation on earth. In less than a century of her independence, America proved him right.
With their immense potentials to become advanced societies, India and Nepal are bound to remain prisoners of traditions and invisible tyrannies ruling these nations for thousands of years if there are no men like Paine. In the name of traditions, free thinkers are shunned and persecuted. Superstitions are never questioned. Rulers and politicians enrich themselves. Public is given a heavy dose of religion so that the rulers can exploit them.
Thus, an average Nepalese or Indian cannot imagine of living in a society where free thinking is respected; where streets are clean, amenities are accessible, government works for the people, paperwork can be done without bribing, and where police protect the public. Rather in societies like ours, deterioration is normal, development is abnormal.
Human mind is remarkable; it can adapt to live in any place and condition. It can become violently resistant to change, even reason becomes impotent. Thus, when Paine said “time makes better converts than reason”, could he be possibly talking about our societies in South Asia? The American, European, Chinese, and even African societies have demonstrated their capacity to accept change for the better. Indian subcontinent on the other hand has resisted change for a very long time that now even the wrong can be right and right can be wrong in the name of traditions and customs.