Thought for the Day - Akhandadhi Das - 05/09/2012

Good morning. The big problem with being an inspiration to others in sport is that they become inspired to beat you. So, was it the shock of defeat the other night, that caused Paralympian, Oscar Pestorius’s untimely outburst about the unfair advantage of his opponent’s prosthetic equipment?

If he is correct that small changes to prosthetic limbs can confer significant advantage, he may unfortunately be undermining some other Paralympic achievements as well as his own case for competing in Olympic competitions.

But, he does raise an important issue; that we cannot ascertain Faster, Higher, Stronger without a level playing field. Sport is a celebration of inequality – we glorify the best – not the average. But paradoxically, we cannot determine who is the best without the comparison being fair.

Recent research by the University of Bristol has shown that even toddlers exhibit fairness as applied though cooperation with others. This aspect of fairness therefore seems to be innate rather than a learned social trait. In Hindu terms, this is referred to as part of our “conditioned nature” – the psychological traits which arise from the physical embodiment of the soul. The Gita says that the soul is present in every type of life form. When the soul is in the body of a particular species it behaves accordingly. So, if I am in a dog body, I think it’s fun to chase cats.

For the most part, humans also behave according to the conditioning of our particular species. So sciences such as genetics and biology can help to explain our thoughts and motivations; but, not all of them. Some aspects of human psychology continue to elude such explanation – such as altruism, sacrifice, and love. And, also fairness.

Yes, cooperation is vital for society and we expect to be rewarded properly, but there is another aspect of fairness that goes far beyond social expediency. We seem to retain a very deep conviction that: overall, life – above and beyond what humans get up to - should be fair. Hinduism regards our sense of ultimate fairness as a spiritual insight. Humans are this strange mix of conditioning and insight. The conditioning comes from being embodied in a physical vehicle. And insight comes from the soul’s remembrance of its own spiritual origin. Both need to be explored and understood.

But it’s not always easy trying to explain the dual nature of our existence. There’s the story of the sage telling his cat that although they had different outer bodies, inside, the souls were equal. “So,” he said, “in essence, you and I are the same.” The cat just looked back at him and went: “I think not.”

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