15 June 2009

Me and Mine: A Plurality of Forms

To Shefali Bhakuni
(Because a fascinating ass would never let me be and a silly ass would never believe me)
What is in a name? A name shapes one’s perception of the self, of identity and communal belonging. A name places one in a socio-cultural milieu, defining one’s roots and, more often than not, neatly docketing one in ethic and racial compartments.

There is something rotten about names…

I, like a majority of us, love my name, but even as one thinks of a name (of a person one knows) one conjures certain ideas and images which one’s subconscious consciously associates with him/her. This, of course, is but natural, for it is in us humans an inherent cognitive faculty which links names and faces with certain perceptions and ideas. These perceptions, which may be acquired or inherited, perform this self same task of definition and categorisation.

So far, so good. What irks me is that after forming an opinion, a majority of people restrict themselves to that single image, idea of a person. They allow their perceptions to ossify and think of people as only this or that, as a particular, distinct and more or less unchangeable form or personality. In trying to define and compartmentalise people as neatly and efficiently as possible, they tend to forget, or overlook, the basic mutability of individual human personality.

What we are is what we choose. There is no natural or primal state- except the nothingness of a babe that is. Exploiting the building blocks of examples and precepts made available by society we create ourselves upon the foundation of inherited genetic traits. Of course, these ‘creations’ are always influenced by society in certain more or less predictable forms. There are people who are shaped directly by their surroundings and social group of family, peers and colleagues and there are people who adopt the I-don’t-care attitude and feign independence from societal pressures- for the most these latter are remarkably sensitive and are greatly affected in subtle, often contradictory ways by societal input, doing and becoming the opposite of what others around them want/suggest.

Broadly speaking, childhood, teenage and young adulthood may be considered the most dynamic years of a person’s life, physically, emotionally and intellectually. It is during these impressionable ages that the human animal evolves the most and, under influence, plants various forms and designs into his/her persona till inspired experimentation sediments into the quasi-stasis of middle age. Of course, after settling into a personality form/type a majority of us rigidify to maintain the status quo for considerable stretches of time- often lifetimes. We then experience occasional bouts when the old urge for change materialises in ‘new looks’, those small periods of experimentation which are soon absorbed into the continuum of monolithic monotony.

In face of this near-complete universality exceptions inevitably suffer. Those of us who experiment or change have to face a barrage of unwelcome criticism, most of it odiously unkind. Our inherent subconscious cultural prejudices and suspicions against change lead us to consciously browbeat this difference into submissive absorption, so much so that even those of us relatively more receptive to change often fall into this trap of inflexibility. Doing so, we forget that what we perceive as natural and given in ourselves and others are in fact our own creations and can be altered at will. Indeed, such is the malleability of human nature that it will change marvellously under pressure and though each individual has his/her own breaking point-and the range varies-but each of us does give in at some point or the other.

In light of this, it will be pertinent to consider the common (mis)conception about natural state(s). One often comes across homilies or adjuncts advising us to ‘be ourselves’, to ‘top pretending’ and be our ‘natural selves’. Social networking sites are choking with testimonials and profiles of people who’re either acclaimed by their friends for ‘being themselves’ or who openly display their intense dislike of ‘hypocrites’ who ‘pretend to be something they’re not’. What ‘being oneself’ means is something which never crosses their narrow, blinkered minds.

After all, what one perceives as one’s ‘natural state’ is just one of the infinite possibilities which has been for some time past in favour. This misguided notion leads one and all to confuse it as natural and given and consequently view any change as an unnatural disturbance to be rectified at once. Indeed, we all get so involved in the idea of being ourselves that in the constant endeavour to live up to that image we forget that the self same idol can at any time be altered, or even altogether replaced. Many people suffer under this delusion, that they cannot change themselves for the better, and mistaking the temporality of existence for the permanence of Bhagvad truth fail to try hard enough to improve their lot.

Therefore, the demise of a quasi-permanent natural order of being makes the very idea of duplicity, so heavily demonised in our cultures, patently superfluous, for one’s changed form is not as much of a detachable mask or hat as a whole skin with accompanying blood and bones- a manifestation of our boundless nature and not some extraneous addition. Furthermore, the beliefs which make us punish differences of personality are really culturally imposed barriers which cloud our vision to the unending diversity of our race, the only thing ‘natural’ to the homo sapiens.

The discovery of change-for convenience’s sake ‘form’-is often startling and the resulting recourse to charges of duplicity and perversity understandable and, to an extent, justifiable. This is not a value judgement on the ends to which perceived duplicity, or change of form, is, and may be, put to. Instead, this is an iteration of the belief that we as a species need to wake up to the undeniable reality of our mutability and so move on-rather evolve-to a more advanced state of flexibility, understanding and acceptance.

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