All of life is a choice between love and fear. We can choose to open our heart to new experiences, people and situations. Take each day as it comes, dig up opportunities to grow and learn and jump into the helm of action instead of spending all our time overthinking and pondering over the imponderables. We can muster courage to make our own choices as well as the gumption to live them down immaterial of the consequences. We can decide to embrace change as a way of life and look at each tricky situation as an opportunity to grow and learn. Not antagonizing over people who think differently than we do. Instead we can entertain their perspective to enrich our own. We can navigate through ups and downs by seizing the moment, by choosing to change what we don’t like and exploring the world for its diverse people, places, flavours, sights and sounds.
Or we can choose to be shrinking violets cower quietly in a corner, allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by people and situations. Walk through life with our eyes half closed and half engaged, dwelling in the zone of inactivity and endless speculation. Hoping if we shut or eyes to them or shove them under the carpet our troubles under the proverbial carpet; they will disappear. Magnifying and feeding of each other’s fears. Resisting and shunning change and shutting ourselves from new people and experiences. We can choose to stunt our personal growth, find solace in sameness and monotony. Lead an incestuous existence where we meet and accept only people who think and talk like us. Shun newer experiences, revel in the sameness. Crib and complain about our existing relationships, jobs and situations yet refuse to change. Because change is catastrophic and what is familiar is a solace even if we don’t quite like it. We learn to get comfortable with the discomfort because only the known is a safe choice.
The mind keeps waltzing between choosing love and faith and getting paralyzed by fear and inaction. We can choose to overcome our mental hurdles or to stall our lives fearing a catastrophe all the time. We’re forever fighting this battle at the back of our mind at each juncture of life. I personally have found myself swinging between the two extremes when faces with all of life’s major changes and choices. As the ancient fable goes, much of our life depends on which of these two we choose to feed and grow.
We’re brought up to believe patriarchy eulogizes men and downgrades women. It considers men superior to women! I’d grown up thinking our society is unfair to women alone. We are expected to be ideal wives and mothers, daughters-in law and doormats that don’t let out a whimper despite the demands made on us. Women aren’t given equal opportunity, nor pay parity. Ironically it is women who are not only the perpetrators of the myth of male superiority even as they are the biggest victims. But are men really meted out any preferential status? Even though they are raised with a sense of entitlement and are labeled as the preferred gender, they too are slotted in fixed moulds early on in life and are expected to toe the line.
Men really are in no better position in our country. They are pulled in diametrically opposite directions when they have to choose between giving up their dreams to meet societal and familial expectations. A patriarchal mind-set enslaves men just as it chains women to zany ideals and exacting standards of how they ought to behave and act. With time and experiences I am willing to believe that the masculine ideal is as exacting of men as it is denigrating of women. If women have to conform to ideals of beauty, men too are forced to fit into the ambiguous macho image. If society expects women to be soft, feminine and mild it encourages its men to fit into stereotypes of being the strong, resilient and silent ones sans emotions. If women are expected to put their career on the back-burner and meet familial responsibilities men are thought of as nothing but primary providers and are balked at if they ever display an instinct to nurture and care. Things are changing but most people still remain wedded to the ideas of traditional gender roles. The only legit emotional expression in a man is often anger and in a woman silent acceptance of her circumstances and calm even in the face of the biggest storms.
These gender stereotypes are thrust into our faces early in life. Gradually they seep through the layers of our skin and embed themselves in our impressionable minds and malleable little souls. We become clones of people in the generations before us. They start early on in life, when we dress our boys in blue and girls daintily in pink. When we give our daughters a Barbie to hold and tell her fairy tales that endorse the fact she needs to be pretty and her life’s sole purpose is to wait for her Prince Charming ( Who is more often than not a prince harming in the Indian context!) Or it stealthily creeps into our psyche when we give our sons cars and guns and overlook their rowdyism and aggression with the done to death and rather blanket ‘boys will be boys ‘expression. Or when an eyebrow is raised when our daughters and sisters are boisterous and all hell breaks loose at home if our sons are sensitive enough to express emotions or shed tears. They get crystallized when we praise our daughters for their beauty and our sons for their achievements.
Stereotypes perhaps came into being for us to slot people easily based on gender or race, because we can’t comprehend and are intimidated by anyone or anything that we can’t label or put in a box. But they are at their very root judgemental and burdensome. They dilute our individuality and compel us to subscribe to a set of pre-conceived notions and societal expectations.They are tied intricately with our complex social fabric’s need to maintain status quo.
Of course we have the odd rebels and the far and few thinking intellectuals who often break barriers and defy societal stereotypes. But such people are far and few. When we’ll stop judging and alpha female or a woman who is a go-getter at work and stop praising men for pitching in at home or participating in parenting is when we’ll truly overcome these traditional societal typecasts.
For people who mock feminism, it’s time to see it in a new light. Feminism isn’t the opposite of patriarchy, rather it is based on a balanced and healthy world view. It puts individual before gender, people before labels and demands equal opportunities immaterial of gender. Women’s liberation not only empowers women it also liberates men from bearing the cross of traditional gender roles. Unlike patriarchy feminism works with the assumption both men and women have equal rights and that they are humans before being ‘Men’ and ‘Women’.
Nothing drills in us a sense of inadequacy as does parenthood. Or rather motherhood. Especially in a country like ours where we’re always bothered about what will people think and we’re forever poking our nose in everyone’s business. As if in India we are programmed to play on people’s sense of insecurity and inadequacy. Relatives and ‘well-wishers’ hound you with comparisons of how XYZ’s kids is smarter, healthier, chubbier, quick to meet milestones! The list never ends. And as a first time parent you descend into a pall of gloom fearing you’re no good at this parenting jig.
But what is worse is when we as parents internalize these comparisons and start looking at what is missing in our children. When we allow these comparisons to get the better of us and we become exacting and demanding of the little beings that need nothing but unqualified love and acceptance from us. When we begin to view our children with society’s lenses, we dilute their sense of individuality and uniqueness. Constant comparison is the death of uniqueness. We begin to treat our kids as projects instead of individuals. We enforce our standards of judgement and success on them rather than allowing their individuality to flower and for them to discover their own path.
There is absolutely no harm in reveling in your child’s achievements but no point turning them into puppets and asking them to conform to societal expectations of success, beauty or achievement.
Children are the happiest and most successful when they are allowed the space to make mistakes and the courage to make their own choices. We as parents forget we don’t own them; they are their own little people. Loving them does not mean we control them or not let them fall. It means a safe space where we don’t judge them or compare them with someone else’s child.
More than a homily or rant, this is a reminder for me as a pre-schooler’s parent to allow him to grow at his own pace and set his own standards. I am hoping somewhere I don’t turn into a parent who expects her child to bear the burden of her unfulfilled dreams and half-baked desires. Sometimes hope is all we need.
As I touched the third decade last week, there was this incessant need to take stock, look back and reflect on all the foolish notions I held so dearly. I can’t help and laugh at how impressionable and wide-eyed I was.
If there is one thing I would want to tell my younger impetuous self it would be not to invest time in equations and relationships that are a one-way street. You can’t keep giving. Most relationships need to be mutual to last long enough. You can’t keep giving without expecting anything in return. We’re all human at the end of the day let us not try to be ascetics when we’re not.
I would also like to tell myself to be more discerning of people and situations. Don’t look after you’ve leap. It is better to take your steps slowly and steadily.
Go with the flow. Irrespective how well you treat others, you can’t accept the same in return. Know where to draw the line for yourself and for others.
Idealism is good, it might fade with the touch of time, but never let enthusiasm and zeal to try anything new fade with it.
Most of our limitations, all that holds us back looms large in our head. Half the battles we fight are the ones we fight with ourselves. We can be our own best allies and worst enemies. It all boils down to how we perceive ourselves and our circumstances.
Don’t waste your time being self-conscious and worrying about what other people will think of you. Immaterial and irrespective of how hard you try they will like you or detest you based on their own perceptions and prejudices. Don’t try too hard to win other people’s approval. Try instead to do what you love, be what you want. You can’t live a path someone else has charted out for you. It is a sure shot way to fall flat on one’s face.
Being sensitive doesn’t mean being thin-skinned for ourselves. It is being sensitive to other people’s needs to. The world doesn’t revolve around you. Speak to others as you would like to be spoken to.
I can rant on endlessly, for the sake of time I’ll pause for now and perhaps come back later to rant some more 🙂
Those turn insipid
With touches of time
Debris of despair
That loses its sheen
With ravages of age
Recreate the sense of wonder
Us in humdrum
Of the soul
You masked to face the world
Unearth the vulnerabilities
You concealed in
The confines of mental walls
Awaken the nomad within
Whose soul got chained to
Dredges of security
Break the chains
you tie your wary soul into
When the contours
of a dream melt
in realms of reality
to last an eternity
When the heart
in shadows of despair
things go wrong
looks beyond repair
eyes to see
people who still care
Outstretch your palms
and let hope
hold your hand
Dust the crevices
of your mind
to see possibilities galore
Open your heart
to find a new life
knocking at your door