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The Inheritance of Fear

Yesterday, a friend’s facebook status talked about her turning into a paranoid parent who is afraid to trust anyone. This was a reaction to the news of a 4 year old being raped by her school bus conductor. I could not agree with her more. Every morning, the plethora of murders, rapes and robberies reported only adds to the fear.

There is a lot of discussion in the last month on why do people not stop on the road to help victims. Is it just because of the fear of going to the police? Or is it a much deeper rooted fear of our own safety when we see someone trying to stop the car on the road as a result of the repeated stories we have heard of people being stopped on the road on the pretext of an accident or a person in need of help and then being robbed or killed.

“Keep the car door locked, do not open the window even if someone knocks”, most of us would have received and given this advice to our near and dear ones.  Around 3 years ago, while driving my cousin to her exam center, we noticed a boy and girl who appeared to be students impatiently pacing at a bus stop. Assuming that they were perhaps headed to the same exam center and knowing that buses on that route weren’t as frequent, we offered them a ride as we were going to the same place. Seeing two women in the car (I would assume here that we looked harmless), they took the ride. Circa 2013, I am sure readers are already thinking about the huge risk that both parties took. Will I act the same way in a similar situation now, the answer will most probably be a NO.

There are multiple programs on TV which play out crime series in great detail. For a generation systematically being conditioned to this fear and mistrust, how do we expect trust to develop overnight? Yes we need a Good Samaritan law but we also need regular positive reinforcement to reinstate our faith in humanity. I scan the newspaper every morning looking for any one thing that would generate a positive emotion to start my day and mostly don’t find anything.  An act of goodness only finds its place in any media when it’s a huge personal sacrifice like a high flying executive, leaving a well - paying job to work for the welfare of the downtrodden. But even nondescript stories of crimes and cheating seem to always have place in some corner of the news. Not just the news, television serials which claim to reflect household stories are replete with plots of deceit. Today perhaps Kaun Banega Crorepati is the only program on TV that does not exude any form of negativity through its script.

I realized the impact of this conditioning during my interaction with a cab driver in Atlanta. I had hired him on the first day to take me from the hotel to my office. He offered to take me to and fro every day. To my huge surprise, he asked me to pay him altogether once I was done with my work in the city. He never asked me for my name or contact details. The only thing he would ask me was what time should he come for the next pick up and how was Hema Malini ( his favorite Bollywood actress) doing? I could have just gone away without paying him and the amount due to him was significant. I was really skeptical as he had made out that I was new to the city and my conditioned to not trust mind was constantly apprehensive that something wrong would happen. Someone couldn’t be that good and trusting. He was there outside my hotel and office building on time every day. I continued to be anxious, if nothing else I was sure he would bicker about the tip expecting a huge amount for being so nice. No such thing happened. He seemed to be very happy with whatever I gave him. He even helped me carry the luggage as far as he could and when I was finally going in he actually bid me off with a “have a safe journey back home and whenever you think of this city remember Nana (his name).”  There was nothing exceptional that he had done. He was just being human, but for someone who had been bred on stories of cab drivers taking passengers to forsaken places and robbing them, this was unimaginable.

Positive reinforcement is considered more effective in bringing desired change in behavior than negative reinforcement. Apart from being told that we will not be troubled if we are good to others, nobility needs some serious re- branding.  Then only will we be able to pass on the faith in goodness to our children and not leave them with an inheritance of fear or a PhD on the difficulty of being good…



  1. Well written!!! Another lens to look at this article I am reminded of a point of view that I discussed a few months ago that from time unknown to me in our surroundings we are so programmed to take a restrictive approach in all our decisions rather than an educative approach. e.g. let it be the government trying to get more out of taxes we add more clauses to ensure no one slips, traffic police adds speed breakers attempting to control traffic etc.
    I think its time we start our education again in society, by learning and educating.

  2. Ruchira - Very nicely written! The cab driver example you cited reminded me of the short stories narrated by Sudha Murthy in her books. As Vishal Khera mentioned we grown ups in India need to start our education again on how to behave in a civilized society. Recently in a TOI article ( ) read about foreigners picking up brooms and cleaning Panaji streets. I hope and wish that we do the right things and pass on a legacy to our children that we and they will be proud of.


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