What to do when people continuously rail you with impressions of righteousness? How tolerant can we be when dealing with those reacting purely by whim? Should we feel immoral when we don't invest in the same collective opinion, particularly on sensitive issues? To put this into perspective, I will share several of my recent experiences in dealing with an acquaintance of mine named Javad.
Javad has been in the US for almost 25 years. Although Javad has always liked the idea of traveling back to Iran one day since he hasn't been there for 28 years, he is an American citizen. He is highly educated and works for a well-know corporation. His family background is vibrant and colorful, so much so that he doesn't hesitate to show off on occasion. On so many levels Javad has embraced American culture, yet for outdated personal reasons; you won't find him drinking a cup of Starbucks coffee!
In a twisted way, I'm proud of Javad, as he has managed to keep both his pleasant and distasteful Iranian behaviors intact. On one hand he is the most loyal person there is. You can call him at 3:00am and ask for help — he will show up without needing the cause. On the other hand he slays you, should you ever feel the need to utter any criticism of Iran and Persian heritage. He has a tendency to form archaic opinions on issues that are too relevant to rely on the ways of old.
Last year when I wrote an article gently criticizing the way Googoosh conducts her art, I lost count of the rash emails received from diversified cultural backgrounds; not because they had reasonable arguments regarding my opinions, but emotional anger for the questions posed. Javad included his 2 cents as well. While all of this interaction was invigorating, I would have preferred a rational discussion of differing points of view.
When National Geographic (NG) named Persian Gulf, Arabic, Javad and I both agreed that they shouldn't have done so. He thought it was an “insulting act to Persian heritage and Iranians”. I thought it was unlawful. Javad fulfilled his patriotic duty by taking one day out of his busy schedule and purchase more than 200 NG maps from a Border's bookstore in downtown Seattle and then return them the same day. Javad was convinced that by doing so, he really proved to NG how offended Iranians were about the inaccuracy. His credit card company, however, only viewed his show of protest as an inconvenience, as they called him the next day asking why his credit card was over the limit!
On a boring and rainy afternoon in Seattle, Javad and I decided to go to a movie. I really wanted to see Alexander, but was sure that Javad would not go because he had heard that there would be talk against the Persian Empire of 2500 years ago. I thought since the subject of the movie has something to do with history, Javad would be the perfect choice to go with, considering the age of his mindset, yet his struggle to keep an open mind was proving a formidable opponent to the enjoyment of a simple afternoon.
To convince him, I began by mentioning a few things that Javad would like to hear. “You know Javad, the history of Iran has been destructive and consistent. Iran must be the most conquered and desired country in civilized history. Consider the fact that while our brown-skinned neighbors were performing surgery, the hairless whites were shivering in caves, dressed in fur skins. Four civilizations began in the fertile soil of the Persian/Turley/Iraq corner. Yet, because of geography, wealth of national resources, bordering of waterways, intersections of trade routes, the sea and mountain range — it makes for a desirable country, and so our poor Persia has always been under conflict. There is a lot of self-defense made in Persia. The invasion of the Arabs in the sixth century has neither been forgotten, nor forgiven. At least Alexander let Persians have their own religious practices and appointed Persian governors for different districts because his agenda had nothing to do with religion or race. Perhaps we should go and watch this movie Javad …”
It was here that Javad vehemently cut me off, his face was turning red, full of rage, shouting, “I knew it, I knew you were a liberal bastard with no pride for Iran and Persian values. There is no way I see this movie.”
Momentarily stunned, I was unsure how to respond. How I should feel about his outburst. Hurt or insulted?
I replied, “First of all, just because I have different views on things, doesn't mean I'm indifferent to Persian values. Secondly, I would really like to see this movie because Angelina Jolie looks so beautiful in the movie with the Greek outfit and all that … so let's go and enjoy!”
Javad, still angry, went on, “How could you say that? You're such an ignorant person. You just want to see a pretty girl without acknowledging that you're financially supporting this movement!”
Confused, I asked “What movement?” I struggled, trying to find some facts in his argument to understand what exactly had upset him so. I was casually talking about the entertainment value of seeing a beautiful woman on the silver screen on a dull and rainy afternoon. I decided to try again, “Have you read any book or watched any program about Alexander?”
Javad shook his head and said, “No, a friend of mine went to see the movie and said that there was quite a bit of bad mouthing against the Persian Empire.”
“Javad, there is no Persian Empire anymore. That country is now called Islamic Republic of Iran. Maybe you need to see the movie and judge for yourself. Besides, who says this movie tells the truth. Usually films dramatize history from filmmaker's point of view.” I uselessly tried to persuade him.
“Naaa, Kamran. There is no way I ever see this movie”, he was not going to change his mind. “Ok! But Why?” I asked, and then met with silence. He just glared at me, and then left without even saying goodbye.
This wasn't the first time Javad had disappointed me during a conversation. He has always been like that. But upon closer examination, it had not only been Javad, I realized. I have had conversations with many others, who without reasoning tend to enforce their ideas without explanation or logic. These people are monopolistic, dominative, and controlling in their dialogue styles. They tend to spread their umbrella in such way that everything else falls under their shadow.
In this situation, I as the audience, feel my understanding is heavily influenced by what the speaker is trying to impose. These types of conversations are general, at times imaginative, and often fact-less. Throwing out broad claims without any ability to substantiate the information attempting to be instilled, is about as meaningful as saying “I'm right because I said so”. Such dialogue does not invite those you are conversing with any opportunity for discussion. Influential views and claims should pass through four stages: listening, thinking, dialogue, and approval or disapproval.
Those of us who have been raised in traditional families are quite often accepting of this routine, as we have experienced them during our conversations with our parents. Some of us have been raised in an environment where respect was absolute, in regards to any communication, especially with parents. That's the beauty of our culture and we cherish that, but what about fairness and equality? What about exercising reasonable discourse? How do we control our impulse reactions?
The problem with spontaneity is that it is generally fueled by emotions, which can lead to rashness and misinformation. In case of fallacy, humongous amounts of energy could be spent to explain the reaction — that is if one cares to explain!
Javad has an incredible sense of nationality, pride and loyalty. He speaks with pride of our national heroes, even when he is distressed over the government of the country. I try to help him remain calm by reminding him that the heroes I recall were optimistic and patient — they adapted, waited, and learned — they indulged in conversations, ideas and stories. My Persian heroes were more gentle and passionate during the course of conversation. I think people should neither hide nor glamorize their heritage to the point of inanity.
A few weeks after that obnoxious interaction, Javad called me and with a conciliatory tone invited me to go out and see “Meet the Fockers”, in a theatre near his house. I accepted! The movie was funny and Javad really enjoyed it. After the movie we decided to talk over a coffee. I suggested going to the Starbucks next to the movie theatres. He said “No, let's go to Tully's”, which is located half mile away from where we were, and once again, it was raining. I reluctantly accepted.
It was in the coffee shop that I asked Javad to review the draft of this article on my laptop. I mentioned that I intended to put it on the Internet. I hesitated for a moment, as I was a little worried that he wouldn't invite me to his wedding, and I really wanted to attend. It is my only chance to see many glamorous ladies who look like Shahbanoo Farah.
After reviewing the draft, with a puckered brow as bitter as Andy Rooney's, he pointed at me and said with an accusatory and intimidating tone, “Should you ever put this article online, I will destroy you.” Out of fear of losing our friendship, I conceded at the time.
Well, I did put this article online, hopelessly thinking, Javad will read it in his quiet way and actually think about it. I wonder how this is going to affect my already-weakened relationship with Javad. I'm sure he won't be calm about this. So if you're thinking of condemning me in email, consider that Javad might have already beaten you to it, literally!