Originally published in Spark-online, this article discusses what individuality really is and how society tries to crush the individual.
All over the world, the desires and individuality of people have been crushed for centuries. No, I do not allude to such anti-social desires as murder or burglary; I refer to simple, innocuous desires like using a spoon in place of a fork or wearing bright red sneakers with a black suit and the more serious ones like the desire to be honest. Most people whose desires are destroyed put the blame on the nebulous something called society but it is usually the individual or a small group of people who is responsible.
I remember the time when, as a boy of seven or eight, for the first time in my little life, I had the privilege to choose my own shirt. It was a lovely shirt, bright orange in colour. I was delighted. I would wear it to my friend's the next morning. I slept with the shirt under my pillow and dreamt the whole night how beautiful I would look in it. As soon as I got up, I took out my new shirt from under the pillow and excitedly removed its polythene cover. In a few minutes, I was off to my friend's house dressed in my new orange shirt and cute, black shorts. I could hardly wait for my friend to open the door. Excitedly, I started talking about things totally unrelated to my new acquisition, craving for a compliment but fearing the sharp 'new-pinch'. I could see he was envious. He had completely forgotten the 'new pinch'. He looked repeatedly at my shirt but said nothing for the first five minutes or so. It seemed like ages. At last, he conceded that it was a wonderful shirt. I was elated.
We must have played for an hour on the lawn outside his house when my friend got up and went in to drink some water. My friend's mom not only noticed the new shirt at once but was quick to comment:” Where've you got that 'girlish shirt' from? Boys don't wear such colours!” I was shattered. I never wore the shirt again but the incident set me thinking and, years later, I realised what had happened. The lady had very effectively used an 'anti-social myth' in an individualistic manner to hurt my ego and bloat that of her son in the shabby shirt. Neither school nor home had prepared me for it. This is what usually happens and in, what I term, a “mechanically un-understanding manner” we tend to blame society. Since the day I understood this fact I have never bothered much about what others say and have led a much happier and more satisfied life than most others. I now know that other individuals or groups are also parts of society and are no more important than me so I have stopped giving them undue importance.
Society, as a whole, tries to help people and not harm them--otherwise, it would be an anti-society! Laws are made by society so that everyone may have enough freedom. On the other hand, individuals misuse the laws and take undue advantage of their privileged position. Just as the myth of matching clothes was probably created by the tailors of Saville Row, each group of individuals with common interests tends to create a myth with an aim to try and exploit the rest of society. No law says that the policeman is free to misuse his authority but many a time he does so. India is known to be one of the most corrupt countries in the world but I have not come across a single person, in my forty years of life in this country, who is happy with this state of affairs.
It is the individual or a powerful group of individuals that holds the rest of society to ransom and tries to force its views on more and more people. Both the exploiter and the exploited are part of society and so it is incorrect to hold society as a whole responsible for the mistakes of a part. This attitude weakens us as we tend to imagine that we are alone in our views, likes and dislikes and so must follow the others. If we have the courage to air our views we generally find that many others in society share them but are too timid to speak. The loudmouth is taken to represent society while the reticent, perhaps more in number, feel alone and insecure.
The exploiter, like the bully, is basically a coward and tries to hide himself in various ways like those of profession, caste, race, religion, sex or even as the spokesperson of society. He tries to ridicule the other because, not having any individuality himself, he is afraid of losing his group identity. He, or the group with him, is not the whole of society for if it were so there would be no change and no progress in society. If one is to progress and be a part of the healthy growth of society one must learn not to bother about such people and, if necessary, deal with them firmly. One must learn to keep one's individuality.
Individuality does not imply rebelling against what is fashionable or simply following what is in fashion. It means thinking for one's own self and just being oneself. It means doing one's own thing as long as it does not harm anyone else. It is the losing of all fear and getting the confidence to face other individuals or groups. It is the ability to think and then to communicate freely, frankly and logically one's point of view. This can and must be developed through education. We must be consciously prepared both at school and home to think fearlessly and not to feel hurt if individuals or groups laugh at us.
Copyright © 2000 Deep Inder. All Rights Reserved.
Mr. Deep Inder is a writer of features and fiction whose work has appeared in 'The Statesman', 'The Indian Express', 'The Arrested Voice', 'TETE-A-TETE' and 'The Tribune'.