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Musings Personal Growth

To flourish, how much do we depend on the state of society?

Recently, I was reading a book – The Immortals of Meluha. Here is an interesting short excerpt from it  :

Any successful society needs stability. Stability allows a person the freedom of choice. People can pursue their dreams only when they are living in a society where survival is not a daily threat.

In a society without security and stability, there are no intellectuals or businessmen or artists or geniuses. Man is constantly in a fight or flight mode. Nothing better than an animal.

There appears to be some truth to these lines and they got me thinking.

We are the creamy layer. The simple fact that we have an internet connection on which we are reading and sharing this article makes us a part of a fortunate few on this planet. There are so many who are born into a life of extreme poverty, strife and a lack of opportunity. There life and dreams can be cut short by a single stray bullet or disease or any of a number of umpteen reasons that don’t bother us, the creamy layer, as much.

Srinivasa Ramanujan, the great Indian mathematician died at an early age of 32 due to tuberculosis, that did not have a cure then. He solved many mathematical problems at that young age. These problems had baffled many eminent mathematicians of his time and before. Some of his writings are still studied to help find meaning in other complex problems. Who knows what else he could have accomplished, had he lived longer. But he succumbed to something out of his control.

People as a collective

On a collective scale, people seem to flourish more in stable societies. We all know of a lot of famous entrepreneurs, geniuses from the developed Western world today. But how many such people do we know of from, say Afghanistan? Or The Congo? Or Somalia?…

It seems that as a collective, it is important we try to create such a society. A society that provides minimum survival for all, a society that allows people to follow their own calling, to express themselves in ways they want to.

The dilemma

In spite of all that I said above, I have also believed in a person’s control over his destiny.

This belief and attitude is best summed up in the last lines of a very popular and inspiring poem, Invictus :

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

The Law of Attraction, which I consider a very helpful perspective and which explains a lot of my experiences, states that a person fully creates his/her experience in this world. It says that, from the smallest events that happen in our lives, to the big and seemingly uncontrollable ones, everything is the mere manifestations of our repeated thoughts. Hence, it implies one’s life is absolutely and totally in one’s own control.

This dichotomy raises some questions in my mind –

Exactly how much of stability does one need, if any?

From what little I know of famous and successful people, it seems quite a few of them were not born in the most secure of conditions. Examples that come to my mind are Ramanujan himself, Dhirubhai Ambani, Dale Carnegie and Wilma Rudolph. They seemed to work against odds to get what they wanted. Even a lot of successful people, who were born in to a relatively stable life(Eg. Bertrand Russel, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Steve Jobs), embraced instability and insecurity often in pursuit of their calling.

It seems that insecurity could not keep them from achievement and progress. On the contrary, it some time seems to be the very thing that drives these people to achieve extra ordinary feats.

Looking from the other end, it also seems that too much of comfort spoils people. Obesity, which seems to be a big problem in the ‘secure’ Western world is only now coming up in India, that too only in the progressive and more ‘secure’ cities.

So what is the right mix of stability and uncertainty? Too little seems to make man an animal in a fight for survival. Too much seems to spoil him and leaves no reason to strive.

When I asked my wife whether she likes to have security in her life, she said Yes. When I asked her whether she would prefer the utmost form of security, where survival and all the things required for a comfortable life were guaranteed, she was not so sure.

She likes adventure, trying new things. And adventure always means a bit of uncertainty and insecurity. If things were to be made very easy, she might loose the drive to do anything.

It seems to me that struggle cannot be escaped, it should not be escaped. It is essential for growth, it is essential to find meaning and satisfaction. Only the type of struggle differs according to circumstance.

To what extent does a man’s fate depend on circumstance?

Ramanujan died of tuberculosis at the early age of 32. Society at that time did not have a cure for it. While Ramanujan’s end was probably out of his hands, the effort he made to come out of the anonymity of the remote reaches of India were his own. They probably came out of a will to reshape his destiny, a determination to do something, rather than out of a sense of helplessness at the lack of opportunities and bad luck.

So, does man depend on the state of society?

I suppose it boils down to which perspective an individual decides to believe in. To illustrate this point, I will recount a story here that a friend of mine told me, when I put the same question to him :

A man went to a learned sage and asked him – “O learned one, to what extent is my destiny determined by fate and how much depends on my own efforts?”

The learned one smiled and asked the man to stand on one leg. The man complied.

Next, the learned one asked him to lift up his other leg too. The man tried all he could but failed.

“How can I lift both my feet in the air Guru ji?” he asked.

“You are right my son, you cannot. You have both the legs at your disposal. The choice to lean on one rather than the other is all yours!”

The man understood the meaning of the wise man’s words and left satisfied.


Until next time…

Image: Vlado

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