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The Commonly Accepted Notions, Herd Mentality and Us

Posted on June 21, 2010 in Society

Oviya Govindan:

Anybody born in a country like ours is bound to have faced the inevitable conflict of the Self versus the Society; a difference between the principles one stands for and the ones the society as a whole sets down as norms. Granted, every person is undeniably a product of the circumstances under which they are born and brought up. To that extent, their interests or ideas match that of the society.

But the mark of civilization is after all, to rethink the ideas one is presented with as a result of one’s birth; to reason them out, and develop one’s own independent thoughts as well, going beyond being limited by the time one lives in. Today however, one wonders if we as a people have really risen to this challenge of redefining oneself. It certainly looks like we haven’t…

In many aspects of our life, we still have thoughts fettered by the over reaching idea of ‘society’. Under the pretext of ‘tradition’ we find ourselves following obsolete customs and doing meaningless rituals without even questioning them.

Take the system of marriages. In a typical South Indian marriage for instance, the first thing done by the family is to put up speakers blaring forth movie songs for at least a week before the event. The only rationale behind this custom, I can find, is that they want to give the festive outlook to everybody around; in other words, announce to the world that somebody was getting married in that household.

It was probably a routine to put up speakers in those days when relatives would flock the house concerned weeks before the marriage; music was perhaps for them, friends and the kids to enjoy and have a gala time. In an age where we live in nuclear families and a marriage is no longer a mela that the whole family Jing-Bang puts up, we need to reconsider the need for such things.

Another custom common to marriage ceremonies in this part of the world is to make the poor bride and bridegroom stand in the stage and for elders to bless them. While blessing is a pleasant thing, these practices have been so ritualized that people flock to bless and be done; go mark the couple’s forehead with a dash of holy ash, posing for a photo in the meanwhile and rush down. Isn’t this demeaning the spirit of the practice itself? Can’t one get blessed by all in a better manner? One reason for the continuing of this practice, they say is that elders feel neglected and even insulted if each one of them isn’t honored by being asked to bless.

The ceremonies one follows in the name of custom in event of a death are far worse in my opinion. A set of complex rituals need to be performed by the family of the deceased. Both with regards to the burial of the corpse and with respect to managing the people who come to offer their condolences; as if losing a loved one weren’t enough of a pain.

These are but practices of one section of the society. Imagine the amount of rituals and practices a country as diverse as ours probably has. Each of them must have had a unique reason behind their inception. No doubt. But it is necessary to look at whether some of those are still relevant to the age we live in and necessary for us. Blind following of what we think is ‘Tradition’ while the actual essence of the practice is overlooked doesn’t serve anybody’s purpose.

Such an attitude to follow the routine and never to question the customs prevalent is reflected in many other aspects of the society as well. Even in the area of choosing a career, parents face immense tension if a child were to refuse to become the usual ‘Doctor’ or ‘Engineer’… Try telling your parent you want to become a ‘Social Scientist’, refusing an engineering seat. The sheer amount of pressure they burden one with trying to force us to somehow do a safe engineering degree is extraordinary. Of course parents are concerned for their children; in equal measure they’re bound by the conventional as set down by the society, at the back of their minds.

Again, the need of the hour is to think rationally and note that anybody can train themselves to be successful in the field given; but to have a flair for a thing, to believe passionately in it and then attain success is true achievement.

It is a joke that if there is a power cut in India, people don’t check the meter or get help. They first check if everybody around has a power cut as well…

Stereotypes such as these are often proved true by our herd mentality in following archaic customs today.

Society is but a social construct created in the primitive ages when the hunter-gatherer man felt the need for security and later realized that trade and socialization was mutually beneficial. This in mind, one must remember that following the norms of our culture must not be at the cost of one’s individuality.

One must necessarily question, rethink and redefine commonly accepted notions if we are to progress as a rational and free-thinking nation.