SANDEEP DWIVEDI’S ENGAGING AND BY NOW widely read evaluation of the relative greatness of Sachin Tendulkar and Muhammad Ali (“SACHIN, UNLIKE ALI)” in the Indian Express of June 7, 2016 is important because it also raises, amongst other things, the not often discussed elephant in the room : the phenomenon of “following the omerta“, something that most of us indulge in, day in and day out ,as if it were our second nature.  I had vaguely heard of the term “omerta”  and when it surfaced this time round in Dwivedi’s incisive piece, I looked up the term in the Chambers lexicon.  I was embarrassed to the core. The entry for the term read as follows :

 noun : 1.The Mafia code of honour that requires silence about criminal activities and stresses   the disgrace of informing;  2.Criminal Conspiracy of silence (Origin: 19th Century Italian)

IT TOOK ME BACK TO SCHOOL AND COLLEGE days and soon to my tenure as a legal and compliance professional in shipping and financial services for nearly three decades.  I remembered  class/college mates who were nicknamed “tale-bearers” and “black legs” for simply violating the unwritten omerta code and much later in the senior echelons of management in the various organisations that I served, one witnessed omerta in full play. Omerta was indeed the safe harbour rule,  the mantra being “Conform ! Conform !” : no feathers to be ruffled, no tables to be turned. Only accept conventional wisdom. Belong. You don’t lose anything but you have everything to gain.  It was nothing but the earnest preservation of status quo.

WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME, while in a minority of one, we voiced a strongly felt opinion about something that was patently wrong and unjust ? Our reluctance to move out of our comfort zones consciously blinds us to uncomfortable truths or situations and we simply play along in the hope that the music will never stop. The fear of losing our privileges and reputation binds us to the unmentioned but ever present omerta pacts that we have tacitly entered into.  The pact gives us our perfect alibis and others who surround us (and who are similarly engaged) also nod in unision, so to speak.  Everything is seemingly hunky-dory. How long can we keep deceiving ourselves ?

IF ONE WERE TO EXAMINE BEHAVIOURS A LITTLE MORE CLOSELY, one doesn’t actually become a gadfly when the so called omerta code is broken. We only begin to live more truthfully. We are all individually endowed with a circle of influence – the circumference of the circle varies depending on our stations in life and includes our family, workplace, and the social circle we move in.  We can actually work magic when we are capable, with the influence that we wield, of proactively disallowing unfairness and wrongful conduct that keep raising their ugly heads, time and again.  The positive influence that such an attitude creates will have its impact, even if slowly – and we see the world gradually transforming itself.

THE NEED FOR BREAKING THE OMERTA PACTS may rather be herculean for those who are less privileged and live in the margins and hence the responsibility  of proactively breaching such pacts rests with the elites first who have nothing to lose but their pretences.  They only need to be childlike and proclaim fearlessly that “the Emperor has no clothes” as was done by the kid in Hans Christian Anderson’s famous tale.  This bias towards  the elites is not deliberate. It is a truism that for those to whom much is given, much is expected. As Burke said long ago, all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing !

ALTHOUGH SANDEEP DWIVEDI attempted an interesting  comparison between two great sportspersons, its subtext was indeed a much needed wake up call to modify our own behaviours that we can ill afford to ignore.