To put something into black and white often refers to the process of penning it down, of putting it to ink, of formalising and concretising it. Perhaps never, until last week, was it used to describe a brawl between two collectives of individuals from seemingly esteemed professions.

Years ago, my grandfather passed on in the Intensive Care Unit of the Punjab Institute of Cardiology. I remember vividly the stillness and heaviness perpetually present in the air in the hospital; if death had not visited any other patient in the ward one day, perhaps it would be visiting you? Attendants, sleeping on blankets on the floor in the waiting areas. Women, curled up in the adjacent seats, their fingers moving through their prayer beads with unwavering intensity. Of the people, you encounter in that hospital (or any hospital), some are barely hanging by their last available sliver of hope, as their loved ones lie beside them, hanging by their last sliver of life.

Hooligans. Goons. Crooks. What else do you call the individuals who entered the hospital, clutching sticks as makeshift batons, bashing, beating, and breaking everything in their path? Hospitals: inviolable for armies; fair game for anyone in a black tie?

No degree of excuses, shirking of responsibility, or abject denial will ever be able to justify the actions of the collective of lawyers. And, yet, once all this had happened, there may have been some hope to be found. Hope at too high a cost, but hope, nonetheless, for change. Hope that, if nothing else, this incident would awaken the collective dormant conscience. Hope that now, a week later, has been reduced to nothing.

Nothing changed. The black coats earlier violated the courts and members of the judiciary. Some had to be hosed down to contain them. We stayed silent in these moments because it seemed to be a whiff of their personal dirty laundry; it didn’t particularly affect us. We remained silent, but do we really not care even now?

A week may be too short to do much, but a week is long enough to do something. The political systems that hold up the dispassionate profession are still in place, and remain free of criticism. Those at the helm of the dispensation of justice seem to be too scared of poking the de facto Leviathan. Those in the explicitly political realm remain caught up in playing Government, rather than actually serving it. And those of us who stand witness to such a barbaric incident remain silent and point fingers. We, too, are culpable.

To approach something in a black-and-white manner alludes to being caught in the trap of binary thinking. To think there are only ever two solutions to the problem, of which one must be wrong, and one must be right. One good and one evil.

The legal profession assumes the quality of one’s legal education, and checks this assumption through a written test, and an interview. The interview is mostly a formality, while the written test is vocation-based. At no point along the way, either during the years in law school (except for certain five-year programs) or the months spent in ‘apprenticeship’ are lawyers introduced to the liberal arts; to philosophy and art, politics and economics, psychology and literature; to a challenge to their binary approach. The black and white runs deeper than the uniform, embedded in how most in the profession are trained to think—perhaps a key attribute they share with most of their white-coat counterparts.

David Foster Wallace, in his commencement address at Kenyon College in 2005, remarked, “I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.” The lawyers already have been; literally. The rest of us may not be too far behind.

While we wait on institutional reform from the grassroots level, we, as individuals, must breed and embody empathy, humility, self-awareness, tolerance, and respect—qualities and attributes one is introduced to, primarily, through the liberal arts. To do so is to take the first step towards our liberation from the black-and-white stripes of our self-inflicted imprisonment; towards enlightenment.

It is our responsibility to contribute to the formation of our communities, lest they be designed while we slumber away. Make no mistake: the individuals that make up these collectives are all of us. To separate ourselves from the fanaticism, though comfortable, is misguided at best, and an exercise in denial at worst.

Nothing changes, because we don’t.