We have all been raised with wholesome, daily doses of “What will people say?” The doses begin right after our infant-hood vaccinations end and intensify during puberty and post.
In fact, more fearful than the dreaded dialogue — “Sleep, beta, else Gabbar will come and get you” — would perhaps have been — “Do this, beta, else what will Gabbar think of you?”
Yes, our need for social approval sticks more terribly and irreversibly to us than dosa on a damaged Teflon-coated pan.
The first time I was caught in this social trap was when I decided to enrol for ‘Arts’ side of studies after Grade 10. The entire neighbourhood and their families, including distant relatives, were horrified! Why would a student who was good in studies not do Science?
Science-side! Science-side! Science-side! was the fretful wail around me. My parents are chilled-kind of folks. They did not bother. Instead , they chose to watch Chitrahaar while I happily enrolled for subjects that I loved — English Literature, Political Science, Psychology.
The rest is history. No, not the kind that will get written about in books. But, I certainly did carve out for a successful career. As a bonus, I have enjoyed every day of waking up and going to work. My work is like cannabis to me — inducing happiness and relaxation — without the bother of really having to smuggle in the weed and smoking it!
Somewhere in the middle of being driven by “what other people think”, the tension between the desire for approval and the fear of disapproval, are we missing what we really want? Do we ever pause and take stock of this phenomenon?
Take weddings, for instance. Several years ago, a wedding ceremony was a simple affair: a priest would light a fire to ensure people knew where to assemble, and mutter chants no one in particular would follow. They just trusted him when he said that the marriage had been solemnised and they could go home.
Now, over the years, the wedding has flourished into a commercial extravaganza, with over-the-top decorations, food fests, music and pomp that overshadow the main event, which is, the wedding itself.
“Shall we fly in orchids from Thailand?”
“No dear. The Mehtas did that. Let’s do something more exotic.”
“Hmmmm, tulips from Amsterdam?”
“Daaarling!” or, “you wretched idiot.”
“Ok, ok. Let me do one thing: get ISRO to grow us some customised flowers bearing our initials on the moon.”
“Daaarling!” or, “now you get it.”
We are not even realising that we have begun living for the images we think we are creating in other people’s minds. This is mostly unconscious, of course, because when we drag it up to the surface, and into the light, we can see clearly just how insane it really is.
Once the children come, we are anxious about how they are performing against socially-prescribed parameters.
We enrol them in after-school classes, hobby classes, mental maths classes and classes that promise to make their hair grow better. Our houses need an extra room just to store keyboards, guitars, golf kits, roller skates, and the piano teacher, occasionally. We are nervous when our kid does not show signs of any talent. Do we realise that we are sending strong signals of disapproval even as we nurse an unsaid, unstated hankering for social approval on behalf of our children?
Letting the need for approval determine your life has hugely stressful ramifications — look at the rate of celebrity-suicide. Did you know that there is a website called Kevo that tracks the approval rating of celebrities? Imagine the stress of perpetually living in fear that the ratings will go down!
Well, whatever said, it is not easy for us to live in such a networked world and not care for social approval. But, we need to be conscious of how much it lets it affect us. Dig deep inside to discover yourself — and celebrate who you are. People who really matter will love you for what you are. And, if you love yourself.