Minding One's Own Business

Greater Kashmir

Minding one’s own business is a virtue, an art and a science that Europe has been practising for ages. Lately, the European Council coined an alternative term, Subsidiarity, in order to help people understand their role in the world. Minding one’s own business implies not poking your nose in somebody else’s business— what in Urdu is called, “dakhal dar ma’qoolaat”. You believe that you’re responsible for the universe and interfering in other people’s business is your right. It’s an attitude, a behaviour which manifests itself in giving your advice and wanting things to happen the way you like. If things don’t happen the way you had wanted, you feel anxious, stressed, dismayed and discouraged. Surprisingly, when other people interfere in your matters, you feel offended and tell them, “Why don’t you mind your own business?”  Minding one’s own business is what Scrooge (in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol) tells people when they ask him to know what other people are doing on Christmas: “It’s not my business,” Scrooge returned. “It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly.” Walking around with the weight of the world on your shoulders, you fail to focus on your own world—your family, neighbours, etc. By interfering in other people’s business, you are actually doing a great disservice to the world and to yourself.

Minding one’s own business doesn’t imply not chiming in where your help is needed/sought. You can’t just watch and wait a murder happening, a person drowning, your neighbour’s house catching fire, or a road accident injuring/killing somebody. It surely doesn’t mean leaving people in lurch when you are around to render a helping hand.  Rather, it refers to the way/s you sanction others without any moral (or, legal) authority to do so. John Stuart Mill says, “We do not call anything wrong, unless we mean to imply that person ought to be punished in some way or other, for doing it; if not by law, by the opinion of his fellow creatures; if not by opinion, by the reproaches of his own conscience.”  Mill is trying to link obligation with legitimacy in sanctioning others. But, we need to know who has the authority to punish a particular immoral act?  What gives the person right to punish? Who are we accountable to? Who are these “fellow creatures”? If all of us feel that all of us are sanctioners and start sanctioning people, the world would go to dogs.

Interfering in other people’s business seems to be ingrained in our subconscious mind. We can’t wait the person to finish what he/she has to say. We become impatient and scuttle him/her. There could be many reasons for interfering in other people’s matters: One, you feel that you are qualified to give advice because you know better than the other person.  Two, you have a fixed view of the things and expect others to have the same view. You feel tempted to tell the other person what he/she should/shouldn’t do. Three, you take the responsibility of everybody’s business on our shoulders. You never think that the other people also are capable of taking care of themselves, perhaps, in a much better way. As a virtue, minding one’s own business teaches you to be patient, accommodating and respectful to others.

The art of minding one’s own business implies knowing when and when not to get involved in other people’s business. It’s a virtue and art that makes one more responsible and responsive. In Kashmir, this virtue has neither been learned, not ever talked about. As mentioned above, in matters of life and death, you can’t mind your business. However, if a couple is breaking up, or somebody has a challenging job to do, there’s surely no need for you to butt in. Recently, a Kashmiri female actor said good-bye to her film career. Everybody started putting their nose into it. The same thing had happened when she had opted for it. A former bureaucrat’s joining politics became everybody’s business and sermons poured in from all directions.

In religious matters, especially, all of us try to be more knowledgeable than the other. I’m not talking about preachers, or imams on the pulpit. I’m referring to the commoners who pass fatwas very easily. Recently, I was offering a prayer at a city mosque. The muezzin standing beside me for saying iqamah, looked down at my trouser-cuffs suspcisouly. Finding them below the ankles, issued an on-spot fatwah: “patloon thavhuz godav hyor; yi nemazai nahuz che jaiz”.  I kept quiet and went on with pants as they were because I’m not a hypocrite to turn over their cuffs during nimaz and straighten them after it. It was good that he didn’t tell me why I had not done rafa’ul yadain, or said ‘ameen’ loudly, though he didn’t himself do that. Irrespective of whether or not wearing capri-like pants is a religious binding, the question is why don’t we mind our own business and let people offer prayers the way they like or have learned? A friend of mine told me that in the last Ramadhan at a mosque, somebody had said ‘ameen’ loudly. After the prayer was over, a fellow worshipper pounced on him for saying it that way. It was good that others there were more tolerant and reprimanded the person for not minding his own business.

How does one then mind his/her own business? Here, are a few suggestions: (1) Offer advice only when it is sought. Don’t unnecessarily chime in. (2) Don’t expect that your piece of advice will necessarily be accepted. (3) Step back from a situation where you feel that you need to take sides. Let the people sort their things themselves. (4) You are responsible for yourself and not for others, and (5) don’t pass fatwas because they often lead to uncalled for skirmishes.