So, the influencee is someone being influenced. When too many people are being influenced by bad social media or a bad person, they acted mindlessly to create sufferings for others and themselves.
Most people talk about ‘how to be an influencer?’ But not much is said on those being influenced. This itself, is a telling sign of craving, aversion and ignorance in our society; the celebration of possessing power over others had not changed much since the 80s, when songs such as “Everybody wants to rule the world” by Tears for fears top the charts. In fact, mankind is pretty much the same since Buddha’s time; we are still unhinged by craving, hatred and ignorance.
During Shakyamuni Buddha’s time, ancient India had many influencers in the form of religious scholars, ascetics, monks, gurus and such. Some proclaimed themselves to be messengers of god, while some proclaimed themselves enlightened. They travelled to different villages and towns to expound their views while trying to gain more converts.
Consequently, people were bewildered by the many conflicting messages from these influencers. Some opined an eternal soul, whereas some advised that life only exist when you are alive and becomes extinct upon death. Plus many other variations or combinations of such hypothesis about existence. In short, people were trying to figure out the mystery of life and its purpose. Naturally, each influencer would propose a correct way to live. Some celebrated YOLO and teach their influencees to exploit life. Some taught extreme penance to purify their eternal soul. Each of these influencer insisted that only their views are correct while disparaging those of others.
Influencees were confused and wondered, ‘who is spreading the right message’ and ‘who should we believe in?’
When Buddha reached the village of Kalama, they asked Buddha the question above. What Buddha taught is still useful for us today because influencers continue to impact the cohesiveness of our society. From bloggers to presidents; we either spread wisdom or ignorance; love or hatred.
Instead of shinning the spotlight on the influencer, Buddha point to a simple Truth;
The responsibility of the influencee!
Buddha taught the Kalama critical thinking. Instead of telling the Kalama what is right or wrong, Buddha asked them questions and their logical replies answered their doubt. Here’s an excerpt from the sutta as an example. (see, Kalama Sutta)
What do you think, Kalamas? When greed arises in a person, does it arise for welfare or for harm?”
“For harm, Buddha.”
“And this greedy/aversive/deluded person, overcome by greed/aversion/delusion, his mind possessed by greed/hatred/delusion , kills living beings, takes what is not given, goes after another person’s wife, tells lies, and induces others to do likewise, all of which is for long-term harm & suffering.”
In Summary, before we allow ourselves to be influenced by the messages of an influencer; we need to establish their character. Are they good or bad people. Are they greedy, full of hate or deluded? Before we even listen to someone, we need to exercise our intelligence and decide if he is worth listening to.
When we receive information, it is our responsibility to consider if it is beneficial to us and others. Will it cause harm and sufferings? What is the consequence of being influenced by those messages? One of our weaknesses as an influencee is laziness. Critical thinking can be tiresome and we prefer others to do it for us. Thus, if many people follow the influencer, then it should be right? But that is incorrect. We shouldn’t follow blindly.
So, as I said, Kalamas: ‘Don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, “This contemplative is our teacher.” When you know for yourselves that, “These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness” — then you should enter & remain in them.’ Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.
When we read the Kalama sutta, we tend to think that it is only applicable in the context of religious study. I think that is too myopic. If we allow someone on Tik-tok to influence us into pulling a stupid and dangerous prank on somebody, that influencer is actually our teacher. Because he/she is teaching us how to prank others.
In the same context, politicians can influence us to be aversive and aversion can turn into hatred. Hatred can result in social unrest. When we allow ourselves to be influenced by messages of hate. We are allowing them to teach us hatred. Therefore, a teacher need not be wearing saffron robe and sporting a shaven head.
The Truth expounded by Buddha is very scalable and applicable in various aspects of our modern life. Hopefully, more people will become conscious of their responsibilities as an INFLUENCEE.
May all be well and happy.