My father had several little pieces of advice for me when I was growing up (and continues to have new words of wisdom for me) but one of his often repeated words were – “You are a product of society.” Being a hot headed kid at that point in time, I categorically disagreed with his statement. At the outset, the simple statement made me feel that I owed something to society even though I was “clearly” the one doing all the hardwork. Or so I thought. As I have grown older, I have come to appreciate the value and real meaning of those words. I realized that society plays a large part in shaping our lifestyles and thoughts, whether we like it or not.
It is only when I started to have my own responsibilities (aka married life) that I came to terms with the role of society in moulding the life of an individual. Regardless of how hard we work or how smart we think we are, our skills can prove useless without the right support system and suitable set of opportunities. The geographic location of birth is a really critical factor that you have zero control over and yet it defines your life in hundreds of ways. Not only the country of birth but also whether it is a village vs town vs city, a choice which would have been made by previous generations. I am fortunate to be living in a cosmopolitan city, with a great level of access to facilities and opportunities. Had I been born with the same parents but in a different part of the world, my life would have phenomenally different.
About 5 years ago, I wrote a blog post about how one stone changed three generations of my family. I find that story remarkable because I initially believed that the people who have the most influence in our lives are our parents. But turns out that it extends to multiple generations beyond them too. And I know that I am lucky to have had a comfortable upbringing, not having to worry about the next meal and the guarantee of a roof over my head – thanks to the hard work of my parents (and their parents). Parents tend to become our role models (either good or bad) and we set out to emulate them or conversely, do the opposite of what the say. Regardless, their value systems (which would have been shaped by their parents), education, and profession leave a permanent imprint in our lives and actions. Everything you do on a daily basis, especially in your younger years, affects your outlook in life.
Similarly, our friends also significantly affect the decisions we make. When I joined the Hyderabad Public School in ’98, I was allocated Nagarjuna (The Red House) but chose to join Nalanda (The Blue House) merely because my best friend was in that house and I wanted to be in the same football team as him. The small decision had undoubtedly changed my experience in school. At University in England, I got into student politics in a weird and wonderful way that I could have never predicted. In my first year, I happened to stay in the same flat as Chris (who ran for President in the year before me and became my mentor). Living in the same flat as him was sheer coincidence as the accommodation is randomly allocated by the university but that randomness ultimately led me to being elected President of the Students Union. Its like the butterfly effect where subtle things have major effects in life; without us realizing it or consciously connecting one outcome with a different activity a long time ago. The people who we spend time with shape our lives, for better or worse.
The larger message of this post is to accept that every person has a different life. Each with their own trials and tribulations, their own family background and respective opportunities. We can never compare ourselves to someone else in a fair and unbiased way. It is amazing how life is shaped by a multitude of unpredictable incidents and chance events. You are better off comparing yourself today to your past self – working to ensure that you have grown a little bit everyday. And there are conscious actions we can take to improve our lives, rather than assume that we have to follow a predetermined direction. A constant thirst to learn new things and an innate curiosity to further one’s knowledge will take you ahead of your peers. Taking the time to travel the world will give you a global perspective, and understand that your pains are not yours alone.
Cover photo by Fatik Khan.