The brutal slaying of Bibek Luitel shows that man can stoop so low. Each of us has some degree of cruelty, including vices like selfishness, jealousy, lust and wealth. Nonetheless, as we are thinking beings we pay some regard to commonly-held moral values and social norms. But our tendency towards force and violence may manifest once a while despite our best efforts to the contrary.

In the course of our evolutionary development, we have not been programmed to keep in check our basic instincts. We have only learned to live with them through socialisation and adaptation. Not long ago I was walking on a pavement beside the Gaushala-Chabahil section when I chanced upon a horrifying sight. A well-built brute was beating up a frail middle-aged man. He did not show the slightest sense of mercy as he rained down blows and kicks on his weak adversary. Before I could reach the spot, the young fella was gone, leaving behind the victim sprawled on the ground, unconscious.

You might think I did my bit to help the victim. No, I didn’t. Like umpteen other uncaring people, I went past the victim. I saw that other people could be as uncaring as I was. But why didn’t I even stop and see the injured man? And why did others do what I did? And vice versa.

Have most of the youth, fed up with the mayhem in the country for the last 10 years, put a veil upon their sympathetic eyes? Our sense of outrage seems to have blunted, perhaps. This was not the first time I had seen people amble by when somebody in distress was crying out for help. What were we taught all these years if not an iota of humanity is left in us! What good is such an education?

Why we were never taught compassion? The most vivid memories of my school days are of my teachers breaking their canes over the palms of my classmates. When they entered the class, we would shudder with fear rather than be eager to learn something valuable. Instead of encouraging us to improve our scholastic performance and do homework better the next time, our teachers threatened us with lashings. They were supposed to enlighten us. Instead, they seem to have made us into uncaring and cynical folks. Or compassion can’t be taught?