The documentary ‘India’s daughter‘ created much uproar in social media particularly on subject that it was an attempt to defame India. This was not the first time that such claim was made. previously i had a discussion on facebook when Aasaram bapu were arrested on rape charges. in both cases and many more cases the issue raised was – how west is trying to defame Indian culture. whether or not such events were an attack on Indian culture, one must accept that such events sure call for introspection, and there is nothing ever wrong in introspection and own improvement. this is my attempt to introspect few aspects of such traditions, cultural norms and our evolution. How we got here from a glorious civilization to today into a globalized world.
Every story builds upon a context – a prologue. without understanding that background, that chronology of events it’s impossible to feel that story. without feeling the story we cannot entirely relate such story. Such context is crucial Especially when we talk about something profound and old as culture. Our culture represents accumulated wisdom of our ancestors and we need to understand events that lead to formation of those traditions and norms. without understanding and feeling the context of that time, when our ancestors adopted certain norms i.e. their context, we cannot understand if those norms are relevant today. we can follow them, but just as a burden from past which is certainly not fruitful to us.
The necessity for our time is to find and understand that ‘relevance’ aspect to our current life so as to focus our energy and find meaning in our life. However, as Culture is deeply related with pride, many oppose change to old traditions or even such discussion. my request is to read this article with an open mind, i am sure that you wont feel offended but at the end you will find some more meaning in creating new ones with own understanding and efforts.
The understanding of culture mainly comes from our society, our parents and our upbringing. since we learn and experience them in our daily life since our childhood we never question them and accept them as they are, which is infarct needed for any child. However with intellectual growth one needs to question and understand the roots of those norms so as to have relevance of those norms to own life. Much can be said about such traditions and norms, but here i want to point out few such aspects beginning with ‘the distances’ and its impact on our lives.
The collective culture of East Asia and Indian subcontinent is based on high power distance (HPD) while the western individualist culture is based on low power distance (LPD). In HPD we respect authority we don’t talk directly, we don’t confront elders, and we don’t challenge the norm. In HPD we don’t behave assertively and accommodate our opinion as per groups’ opinion – we care for stability and acceptability. We don’t even agree to disagree; we keep those things in mind. As personal liberty is limited it hurts creativity and new ideas, but that maintains stability and continuity.
On the other hand, the LPD is about personal liberty, here age doesn’t matter ideas and views matters more. People don’t fear authority they respect authority because they understand need of hierarchy. They openly disagree with their bosses and elder if they are wrong but they discuss their opinion assertively. In case of conflict they even ‘agree to disagree’ and leave the discussion. It supports creativity but the newness threatens stability.
Following these norms, the Indian society has developed these distances in its social relations – the hierarchies in society and thus caste system, patriarchy – status of wife vis-a-vis her husband, student teacher relation father son relation etc. these 2 features dominates many of the social norms. the distances and such norms have created a stable and in a way rigid society which is not really open to change or reluctant in accepting different cultural norms. (ofcourse, today in globalized world things are changing rapidly)
how does it impact our life today – The peculiar thing happening with our generation is our societies are changing faster than ever, thanks to science and technology. The changes are faster than progress of culture as it has been. We are shifting our habits towards more leisure without realizing it.
The ancient Indian collectivist culture is seriously clashing with the western culture based on individualism. The individualism brings with it qualities like rationality, scientific approach, liberty and with that it gives freedom to question the believe system. While our culture emphasizes on family over individual, our values are more irrational, based on norms, restricted freedom (with restrictions one is limited to explore and that gives security to established system)
the clashes begin when We try to accommodate the change in our habits at the speed of ideas as they are germinate in our mind. we see movies and we try to bring that lifestyle, internet is bringing diverse cultures even closer. The young generation has harnessed this adaptability. and this young dynamic generation has adapted this because they were exposed to this ‘change’ culture since their childhood. As a human being we like to explore new things and thus the young ones are good with this new ideas, but also more impatient. this new generation is more flexible than their parents but also less willing to work harder and persist. They get easily bored and change their moods rapidly.
This is much unlike with respect to our parents’ generation which is a status-qua generation, which loves stability, order and have patience to see things getting settle. Their habit for status qua comes from their upbringing – as when they were child they lived a life of scarcity and had to share what limited resources they had with their siblings which one can see by counting their aunts and uncles! such is not case with current young generation, where they belong to a culture of abundance. they get what they want well before even they desire it! so basically, out parents generation knew about their equilibrium, but what about current generation? what they know about where they are going? and why we care for that equilibrium?
culture evolving from need of stability –
Culture itself is a way to find stability in life. The cultural norms brings predictability and familiarity in life. this likeness for predictability comes from evolution. As law of nature every specie loves equilibrium or stability. We seek stability and loves to stay their till the situation becomes extreme. we do this to avoid uncertainty as stability brings familiarity which intern brings certainty and makes us secure which is must for survival, and survival is all that matters in nature. Thus based on this stability and basic understanding about its grammar we were able to use and develop our intelligence.
We end up becoming intelligent species since we were able to overcome the basic duties of gathering food and shelter, we also learned to use tools to get things going. Eventually we got time to explore the world, we started using our brains, that’s how it grew and we end up being human beings of today (the organs used more often tends to develop more or ‘evolve’). Of course while exploring one needs safety of other needs which was accomplished with above mentioned stability (i.e. food and shelter). That means stability and free time to explore is fundamental for thinking differently and grows. But no matter how much we grow we need social support to be happy; Love them, hate them but we can’t live without them!
Human being like most other animal is a social animal and loves to be in company of other people. Even the introverts need people to share their feelings. So to live with harmony and bring certainty in life (as mentioned earlier) few elders came up with spontaneous rules for society. Later those rules became laws and subsequently established norms. To remain in that society it became then ritual to accept those norms which later became identity of certain society – a learned behavior of certain society i.e. culture.
sadly, over a time people forgot why these laws where created to mitigate which uncertainty, and they kept following the norm as culture even when the uncertainty was gone! But since creativity was limited, people knew no other better way to replace existing one and besides it was ancient wisdom and we must respect our elders, who is going to challenge their authority? A dissident was threatened with ostracizing from society. It was against basics of stability instinct so they kept following it even when it was hurting. Such continuity was also in interest of then powerful few in the society who used those norms as a means of dominance.
when norms became problem –
It’s also worth noticing that a problem never appears as package of problem. It first exists as phenomenon, it keeps on happening until one fine day when we notice that phenomenon is hurting us and that there can be/ should be other way out. we then consult others (we need social support) and then with collective experience declare certain phenomenon as problem and look for solution. but still for some people it may not be problem because they don’t experience as we do or they fail to feel what or how we feel about a phenomenon. it’s all about perception and open mind.
As a human being we are supposed to be learned animal, it adds to our intelligence and growth. But history has shown this that many of us exhibits stubbornly unlearning traits. Another crucial surprising trait we show is, we are more ignorant towards the most fundamental things of life and we resist that fundamental thing. (ignoring mother’s advice and realizing its significance later!)
just like We often complain of weak memory but the fact about memory is neurons that fire together wire together – repetition and relating with previous experiences is the key here but we resist repetition and keep crying. Exercise is must for healthy life – we resist it. Infact we don’t even realize the sensation of breathing! The reason we do so is first, affinity for stability (if it’s not broken, it’s no problem) accept the things as they are. That is how we tend to accept the culture without doubting it – as if it’s in our genes.
But creativity is also hidden in these fundamental things we just need to find it.
Quite a lot evolutionary context! it was needed and it will all make sense in 2nd part here.