The increasing apathy towards others makes it apparent that there is a war against love and belonging in society. Disunity is being promoted on a grande scale in subtle ways — for what purpose? Disunity, destroying bonds, destroying love — they all serve the purpose of making us mindless drones, consuming endlessly. I try hard to not let this realization harden me, though it is a battle at times. I am aware that goodness still prevails in humanity. I’ve witness many people become jaded by the rampant trends of shallowness, but I remind them that wholesome goodness still remains in the margins. Like anything of true beauty, goodness is often a hidden gem and not apparent so easily.
It is said that the true mark of a person’s character is how they treat others. For me, I further evaluate ones goodness based on how they treat the most vulnerable people outside the public eye. Prostitutes get to see a spectrum of empathy and apathy in humanity in ways that, perhaps, the average woman does not see. We see how men behave when they are outside the surveillance of society -when they are anonymous.
Sadly, a lot of ‘nice’ people in public can be the exact opposite behind closed doors — especially when their identity is anonymous and they are situated in a setting where they cannot be touched by the law. A client, for instance, may behave very differently with a prostitute than with others in a public setting. He may disregard common decency and respect when dealing with prostitutes, because he knows he will face no backlash since his identity isn’t being exposed. Thus, it is often behind closed doors where ones’ true colors are exposed. All prostitutes have their own share of experiencing such a soulless character. Indeed, not all clients fit into this heartless persona. Thankfully, almost all of my clients personally are decent men. Indeed, a client who treats prostitutes with respect, kindness, and dignity is a wholesome being — such a persons kindness is genuine when they behave morally outside the public gaze.
What is worrisome is that the complete disregard of a woman’s soul and emotional well-being (a women’s mind and soul completely divorced from her body) is increasingly becoming MORE common in society — and not just towards sex workers. When apathy becomes the norm, how are people to trust others? When hatred and exploitation of certain peoples becomes the norm, how can there be hope?
There is hope, of course. Goodness still exists in a rampantly shallow society, though in the minority. And indeed, hard hearts can be softened..
For this post, I want to analyze and recommend a film that is dear to my heart, a film that inspires the softening of the heart. A very simple, yet deeply meaningful film by the talented Iranian director Majid Majidi, titled Baran. Though the film Baran has nothing to do with prostitution, it is a film that has brought me to tears in relation to my work as a prostitute. But beyond that, the film Baran has immensely valuable lessons of humanity that have become so foreign to many of us.
The story in Baran is situated in modern day Iran, in the context of neighbouring war-torn Afghanistan. Millions of Afghan refugees fled to Iran in recent decades to flee war, and what emerged were profound xenophobic views towards Afghans living in Iran. The xenophobic attitudes of Iranian society towards Afghans is common place, comparable to the bigoted American view of illegal Mexican immigrants, or bigoted Gulf Arabs attitudes towards their migrant workers. In Baran, the reality of Afghans in Iran is depicted by illustrating how they work in slave-like jobs, were severely underpaid compared to Iranian or Turkish workers, and had limited-to-zero access to government social welfare provisions.
What is compelling about this film is it addresses the topic of basic humanity: genuine love (which is selfless) and belonging, and most importantly, it addresses the societal conflict that PREVENTS genuine forms of love and belonging from taking place. Indeed, there are endless forces within modern society that attempt to seal our hearts and replace love with synthetic versions (or hate). One might ask: Why are certain vulnerable groups treated with such hostility and degradation? How does one become a apathetic person who commits injustice to the vulnerable?
Baran teaches the viewer that a hateful, apathetic person is often the product of the their respective societal norms. In other words, if one lives in a society that embraces hateful attitudes towards a certain group and constantly spews propaganda to continuously demonize them, then inevitably the majority of the populace will internalize this societal norm. In the case of Baran, the main character Lateef, a Turkish migrant worker (viewed as more ‘dignified than being a ‘lowly’ Afghan worker) epitomizes a young mind who has internalized the prevalent xenophobic attitude towards Afghans. He behaves incredibly cruel towards the Afghan characters in the film, initially. His hate is based off not his own observation and experience, but rather through xenophobic societal norms. Lateefs’ cruelty is far more grave given that the Afghan workers, in particular, had no social or legal protection in Iran. Thus, cruelty towards marginalized groups, generally, face no repercussions or backlash. Moreover, when someone internalizes xenophobic attitudes, their cruelty is perceived as nonproblematic and in some cases, justified.
Change is Possible – A Hard Heart can be Softened
What strikes me is the climax in this film, which occurs when the initially cruel character, Lateef, has an epiphany — a life changing realization. Lateef realizes he has made a grave immoral mistake by abusing and neglecting the vulnerable. He is filled with remorse. I view Lateefs’ epiphany and realization of his faults as his mark into manhood/adulthood — he, initially, had zero care or empathy for others. He was hot-headed and careless, thus demonstrating his immaturity and lack of empathy. Empathy is a quality that marks one into maturity — a child does not know empathy. For instance, a baby or child cries out to its Mother when it needs something. A child does not yet have the capacity to be considerate of the Mother’s well-being. But as adults, one of the most noble traits to acquire that breaks one away from childhood is empathy. Empathy requires the realization that ones own actions affect others. Lateef came to this realization when he was faced with the ugliness of his own behavior towards the voiceless Afghan workers, which haunted him. And how did he come to this conclusion?
Lateef went upon his own journey of realization by going outside his own circle to observe the life of downtrodden people — namely, the despised Afghan refugees working in Tehran. He was brought to tears by witnessing the the hardships faced by the Afghans (poverty, hopelessness, humiliation, loneliness). By witnessing the hardships they faced, Lateef realizes how blind he was to the xenophobia towards Afghans in Iranian society. Essentially, the lesson learnt here is this: it is easy to condemn, exploit and dismiss people or groups when you have not known them personally or have experienced life from their perspective.
Finally, the most serene aspect of this film, which usually brings me to tears is how Lateef seeks to redeem his morality by giving up his own comfort (he gives his entire years worth of salary and life savings to the vulnerable Afghans). Lateef is irreversibly changed by this epiphany into a wholesome, responsible and moral young man. Lateef, himself, is relatively poor, but considers his plight as an impoverished Turkish migrant worker as a paradise compared to the plight of Afghans. So, thus, he gives up everything he has, his money and even sells his own identity card — a card that will disrupt his own well-being if he is without it. Lateef hopes that by giving aid he will redeem not only his past immorality, but he is also performing his moral responsibility as a man towards the female protagonist, Baran. What is compelling is that not a single soul knows about Lateefs’ act of generosity — he sought no reward, no recognition, no recompense for giving his lifes’ savings away to the vulnerable. What is this gesture other than the expression of utmost selfless love? Finally, at the end of the film, the expression of content that Lateef expresses with his smile is the epitome of true love. I urge you to watch this gem of a film and witness the very subtle messages of humility yourself. SubhanAllah
My heart melts while viewing this film for the immense morality it portrays, which is something so rare and beautiful –something so deeply lacking in today’s modern society — selfless love. How many of us can say we love without expectation? How many of us can say we give altruistically towards others, anonymously perhaps, without any expectation? Indeed these are questions I have to ponder and understand myself. How many clients are kind and respectful to prostitutes without putting her comfort in jeopardy? How many clients can retain kindness to a prostitute despite not getting what they had hoped for? It is indeed a mark of strength and courage to retain selflessness in today’s world. Even if we desire to love others selflessly, it is immensely difficult in a climate that tells us to focus on inflating our own egos. But I still have hope– I still believe, and have seen at times, that there are beautiful souls among us. The degree of humanity expressed in the film Baran is something one can only dream of. I suppose I, personally, still have a child-like desire to be loved by another truly selflessly — we yearn for this feeling that we had as children (to be loved selflessly by our Mothers and Fathers, if we were blessed to have them both or at all). Indeed some people were not blessed to experience the selfless love of parents, so I hope that those people, in particular, are blessed with the most sincere love from others.
To readers, keep your hearts soft — Don’t feel down if you cannot attain the love/gratitude that you desire for yourself. Sometimes, one must forget about themselves and spread love for those who are lacking the most love in society today.
It is my hope that this post beckons one to ask themselves: How do you treat others when no one else is watching?