Recently a friend confided her view on life with me. She said, “I am like an onion, made of all these layers. These layers represent my culture, family, education, occupation, etc.”
I couldn’t agree with her more. I, too, feel like an onion. That many of these layers represent everything about me. I also notice that I don’t like some of these layers, but they are mine, so I have to deal with them.
One of my friends pointed out to me that my beliefs have very little significance compared to my actions since that is what others observe. They can’t get into my head and recognise why I did what I did, they just know what I did and then the judgments follow.
Why do these Judgments matter?
I am sure you have heard Aristotle say “Man is a social Animal”. We are animals of society. It is evident in how we live. A human child is absolutely incapable of surviving if left in the forest; other animals will quickly learn to thrive as orphans.
The human body is largely incapable of any great feats without technology. We can’t jump the highest, swim the fastest or run the longest. The only organ in our physical form that is worthy of any praise, is our brain.
Our brain, as we now know, is a chunk of fat, responsible for every activity of our body – Voluntary as well as Involuntary. Voluntary activity is anything that we consciously do, for example, picking up a mug or seeing the number on the bus we are about to board. Involuntary activities are breathing, digesting, etc. activities that happen in our body without our attention.
Humans have the largest brain to body ratio; the blood vessels if stretched can cover the distance of a hundred thousand miles. That is a large network of cognitive functions. Most of this organ has to do with processing the information it registers through sensory organs. The brain is only 2% of the human body in weight but accounts for 20% of our energy consumption. It is also the first organ to receive oxygen and calories.
So the brain is the Master.
We can safely conclude that the involuntary functions have been designed to keep our brain healthy and according to Darwin, this means that we become fittest to survive if our brains outwit the rest. Our body in comparison with the other members of the animal kingdom may not be remarkable, but our brain definitely is.
It provides us with the facility for creativity and the means to communicate our ideas. The language center of the brain is 76% of the total organ. We can safely deduce that our brain evolved in this direction because of successful interactions with others. Their encounters with other human beings allowed them to develop the technology required to survive.
Hence, we are social; it is terribly difficult to live without other minds to collaborate with. There are very few activities in a day that we can perform in a complete vacuum (I can only think of taking a dump, even then I take Steve Jobs’ masterpiece with).
Coming Back to the Point.
We require other people in our lives to live well. Their experiences and the lessons they have learnt from them are invaluable. When we first come to life, it is our parents we depend on, later we find teachers, friends, partners, etc. They teach us hygiene, nutrition, values, manners, practical knowledge and love – trappings of a good life.
It becomes crucial to have a network of people around us. This is where the Individual Vs. Group phenomenon happens. Since we are linked to one member, let’s say our mother, we automatically are linked to her partner, our father/ stepfather. Our siblings make up the other half of this group and then we have the relatives.
They teach us language, religion, belief, celebration, culture, manners, food, etc. Our loyalty is also demanded by our group and we recognise our friend from foe.
Similarly, our school, the city or country we live in also puts pressure on us to conform to the supposed ideals of the group we are born in. When we are little, we don’t see why we shouldn’t conform but the older we get, the more we feel angst toward these groups. Teenagers lashing out against their families – is a universal phenomenon.
Why do we then Conform?
It is a catch-22 at best. The rules we were taught weren’t too bad while they lasted, we benefitted from them (we learned to read, swim, cook, etc.). However, as we encountered more people, (hence more groups) we discovered inconsistencies and that confounded us.
I have learnt from my dealings with the computer that I lash out if the computer poses a conundrum. I tap on keys violently until the computer retaliates by deleting my work and then I almost cry. It takes me a moment to realise that my lack of information is the problem, not the machine. Then I Google how to recover lost files and simultaneously my anxiety dissipates.
Our erratic moods during our adolescence are a direct result of our membership in new groups. The rules of this group sometimes are in conflict with the ones our family or school prescribes and hence, we act out – not because of the situation, but because of our confusion at the difference. So we choose one and offend the other.
We can’t leave the prior group, our survival depends on it. The new one, on the other hand, is exciting because of its novelty, (remember how we discussed curiosity?)
Therefore, we take our chances and experiment. Many times we realise that our new group is not in line with our integral values and other times we discover our lifelong friends in them.
We evolve ourselves to be more in line with people we love and feel loyalty toward our group. The smaller the group the deeper the loyalty.
So it all comes down to whom we choose as friends.
Birds of the same Feather, Flock together.
My class teacher once advised me on my friends. She pointed out that in order to get to know me – she only has to get to know my friends. Whom I choose as the people I learn from, gives her a pretty good idea of who I am. I retaliated by saying, “How can that be true? I only spend time with them for fun.”
She replied, “You are like a computer – your senses are your input devices, your brain the processing unit and your body the monitor or output device. What comes out of you is the direct result of what you put in. Hence, your friends, the people you spend so much time with, are a reliable indicator of your own merits.”
It is true, a duck who swims gracefully is a Swan, therefore, would hang out with swans. It would look out of place among the ducks unless it masters the duck way of life.
So the question should be, who am I?
I often observe in myself and others, a desire to be like someone else. We discussed in my previous post that it is impossible to do so, no other person has the same body as mine, and not one person in the world has the same set of experiences – in the same order as me. So it indeed is foolish to live like others.
At the same time, we must understand that the pressures are real. Conformity is practised by majority and Non-conformity is the journey of a select few.
It requires courage to admit that I am only behaving this way because I don’t want to be friendless. If I say what I believe, I will upset many. I know pretending to be like others is not satisfying but the terror of loneliness is harder to bear.
But isn’t it better to be lonely when you are alone than be with a group of people and still feel alone?
I chose the former and I started to like myself for who I was. Miraculously, I met people who were like me – in this very same respect, they wished, like me, to be themselves. By being who I am, I attracted others who liked what they observed of me, not what I pretended to be. It wasn’t the fault of my previous group that I felt uninvited, I was deceiving them and I got what I deserved – judgment.
By being with people who saw the real me, I finally learnt how to make friends.