The tale of two Oscars

2 OscarsIn February, two very different Oscars received almost obsessive global attention. And took up quite a bit of my own brain space.

The first was the Academy Awards, broadcast live to millions of people all over the world. I normally tape the ceremony and watch it the next day on fast-forward. It’s like double choc-chip ice-cream: you know you’ll regret it tomorrow, but you can’t stop.

The second, much less frivolous and a lot more heart-breaking, was the death of Reeva Steenkamp, the girlfriend of Paralympian Oscar Pistorius. When I got into work that Valentine’s Day, and my colleague told me of the shooting incident the night before, I was sure it was a hoax.

And along with my fellow South Africans, I went through a gamut of emotions: shock, horror, pity, anger, suspicion and despair. The media, both national and international, gave it so much coverage we all quickly “knew” all the “details” of the incident, of Oscar’s subsequent arrest and bail hearing. And we discussed them, ad nauseum. I don’t recall a single conversation, in the weeks afterwards, that didn’t at least touch on the Oscar case.

I tried to figure out why we were so interested – and more than that, invested – in the story of this particular fatal shooting, when there are so many other killings, every day, that are ignored. The most likely explanation, for me, is that Oscar was viewed by many as a role model, an icon and a symbol. He was the country’s favourite son. We had raised him to such heights that the fall seemed that much worse.

Which brought me back to thinking about the other Oscars. More than 40 million people watched a bunch of actors tell each other how great they are. I’m fairly certain that the Nobel prize ceremonies, or even the CNN Heroes broadcasts don’t get nearly the same viewership figures.

Our priorities are upside down: we should be celebrating servants of humanity, not manufactured celebrities. We should recognize the immense potential each human being has, and look to attain our own and help others reach theirs.

The Baha’i writings tell us to “regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value[1]”. The process of mining and polishing these “gems” – spiritual values and qualities – must be our top priority in life. Not the acquisition of material possessions or earthly distinctions.

Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, makes it clear that our ability to attain world peace is dependent on our getting this priority right. He said[2]: “This span of earth is but one homeland and one habitation. It behoveth you to abandon vainglory which causeth alienation and to set your hearts on whatever will ensure harmony. In the estimation of the people of Bahá man’s glory lieth in his knowledge, his upright conduct, his praiseworthy character, his wisdom, and not in his nationality or rank”.

Another central figure of the Baha’i Faith, Baha’u’llah’s son Abdul-Baha, clarifies this further:

“Consider carefully: all these highly varied phenomena, these concepts, this knowledge, these technical procedures and philosophical systems, these sciences, arts, industries and inventions—all are emanations of the human mind. Whatever people has ventured deeper into this shoreless sea, has come to excel the rest. The happiness and pride of a nation consist in this, that it should shine out like the sun in the high heaven of knowledge. …  And the honor and distinction of the individual consist in this, that he among all the world’s multitudes should become a source of social good.

Is any larger bounty conceivable than this, that an individual, looking within himself, should find that by the confirming grace of God he has become the cause of peace and well-being, of happiness and advantage to his fellow men? No, by the one true God, there is no greater bliss, no more complete delight.”[3]

[1] Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, Sec. 122, pp. 259–60|rich&action=highlight#gr1

[3] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Secrets of Divine Civilization:

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  1. Think about billions of productive hours wasted on the never ending barrage of “news” and entertainment. It transpires from your article that this guy Oscar P. has succeeded in mastering the attention and emotional energy of a whole nation for weeks. The American Oscars and their mostly trashy films take so many of our precious time on Earth. What a waste!

    Our only cure is to throw away the TV set, cut out the daily drug dose of news and to start living and thinking for ourselves and not through the lens or pen of some (often lazy or ignorant or outright deceitful) journalists and filmmakers. This is our only hope if we want to realize our true human potential.

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