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Sample Section B Essay

“Good character is not formed in a week or a month. It is created little by little, day by day. Protracted and patient effort is needed to develop good character”.

I was protected from other people by a book which I used as a shield to defend myself from them as I sat in the airport departure lounge. The book was “The Selfish Gene”, which highlighted the fact of my separation from others, but not in a way I could take comfort from.  Finishing this, and the flight being delayed, I started another, a novel by F Scott Fitzgerald, and read of the main character that “he maintained his psychological health by completely ignoring the frailties of others”, or words to that effect, which caused me to reflect that I was much the same, and suddenly I was struck with the realisation that my attitudes were limiting and self-destructive, and as I went to stand in the queue at the departure gate I resolved to be more tolerant and understanding.

The next hour was a revelation.  I found myself engaged in watching people, but I became aware of my own conditioned reflexes. I realised that I was looking exclusively at women, for a start, and remembering “The Selfish Gene” I realised that this was an automatic habit built into the nervous systems of men.  Nevertheless, the author of that book insists that we have the power to rise above out genetic conditioning, and here I was, I thought, already cutting out half the human race from consideration.  Not a good start. 

Nevertheless it was a woman who next caught my attention, a young mother struggling to control a lively three year old while attending to the needs of a baby in arms.  I could relate to this, and so could most of the people in the queue that I stood in, except for the middle-aged man in front of me who fairly bristled with irritation at the noise which was distracting him from reading his newspaper.  I could feel a wave of disapproval for his attitude ripple through the queue, and I marvelled at the man’s complete oblivion to the mood of the people around him.  But then, I reflected, normally I too would be so self-involved that I would not have noticed either. 

As time passed I realised that I was tuning in to the life around me in a way that was quite new.  The more I empathised with other people the bigger the space I seemed to inhabit. People disembarking from a plane began to pass by.  Young men wearing suits and carrying laptops hurried past, and instead of feeling irritated at the spectacle of these men who worked in finance in the city (and who made a fairly minimal contribution to society in my opinion), I felt compassion instead, because I could see the stress beneath the energy, the fear of losing position in the rat race, and the lack of resources to deal with worldly failure.  Normally such an attitude would be beyond me.  Then the successful middle-aged men who the young men wanted to emulate came by and suddenly I ran out of empathetic power.  I felt myself relapse back into my usual hostility. 

I have been through the same process many times since then – an access of empathetic energy followed by a collapse back into conditioned reflexes, with a minimal gain over a long period of time.  Sivenanda was right.  It takes protracted and patient effort to develop good character. The weight of inertia is tremendous and the struggle to overcome it has to be continuous.  Real growth, I have become convinced, is very slow.  That isn’t a truth that is popular in our culture of instant gratification, but accepting it is probably the beginning of emotional maturity. 


(605 words)