It’s a free world!!

Someone recently commented on how fortunate this generation was, in terms of the freedom they had. Just look at the clothes girls now wear. You would think they were all models right out of the pages of fashion magazines. For us to even wear conservative Western outfits, we had to put up with frowning faces and stifled sighs of dissent. You can lock yourself into a museum if you don’t smoke or drink these days. And you can call yourself a loser if you haven’t ever smooched or dated by the time you have stepped into adolescence; it doesn’t matter if you have never fallen in love.

‘Bold’ is in. As long as you can lash out and sound like you are breaking convention, you are a hero and will be celebrated. Manners and etiquette do not matter. It is perfectly alright to be very rude to an elderly individual, however grey his hair is, and however insightful his words are, as long as you manage to put up a practised air of intelligence and spell out your words with conviction, however hollow they may sound to your own ears. The whole point is to make noise so that everybody is looking at you. As long as the matter you have chosen has scope for controversy, you will succeed, for the media will take care of the rest.

In today’s world, we are all celebrities, thanks to social networking and media. We all look like models, we all write beautiful poetry and prose, we all have insightful perspectives on every issue that is of apparent significance, and we all lead glamorous and picture perfect lives. Just the number of ‘likes’ on our facebook wall will tell the world how big our celebrity status is.

Indeed, we have the luxury of unlimited freedom.We assume that unlimited freedom is synonymous with ultimate happiness. But that is far from the truth. Long-term happiness and contentment depend more on motivational drives than on the transient euphoria that accompanies our accomplishments and achievements. To lose motivation is to lose one’s very soul- a state labelled as ‘depression’ by medical science. As long as we are in the pursuit of realistic goals, we are driven towards a future. The harder the struggle to attain our goals, the more we cherish the accomplishment of these goals. From time immemorial, it has been emphasized that the pursuit of our goals is in itself, happiness.

With unlimited freedom, every goal is easily achievable, and a threat to our motivational drives. Our achievements lose value because they are easy to attain. We are forced to define more complex goals. We also move from one instant gratification to another, unable to connect to a deeper sense of motivation. A lifestyle based on instant gratification puts the mind into a more passive mode and is therefore detrimental to growth and maturity. This manifests as a variety of mental health issues and behavioral problems. We fail miserably at interpersonal relationships and are deficient in life skills.

A certain restriction of freedom is important, particularly at the level of an organization/community/society. A framework has to be defined- one that allows peaceful coexistence of all personality types, without room for hurting each other. The importance of such a framework is also to transform passive events into active experiences in the life of every individual within that community. There is scope for choosing one’s own path within this framework, but such a choice would be born out of a genuine drive, than out of impulsive thoughtlessness. To break out of this framework would mean thinking and questioning oneself- ‘Is this what I really need? And why?’

We have numerous examples from the past- of people who chose their own path, breaking out of the framework of convention. In the days when Indian women wore sarees, there were women who defied this conventional norm. But they didn’t break the norm just because they wanted to revolt and break free. They had their individual reasons and so, society did not regard these women as rebels or outcasts. Simply because they had personalities that matched their attire. And so, they coexisted peacefully within the umbrella of a society unified by a higher goal of humanitarian values.

The problem today is that many a time, the attire is discordant with the personality. External make-over without accompanying internal transformation can look comical and vulgar. Just because we wear more modern outfits does not necessarily make us modern in our outlook, and that is no sign of development or progress…no reason for pride.

In the past, it was not easy to convince parents that you were mature enough to fall in love and choose your life partner. I know of many friends who fell in love, but could not marry the person they fell in love with. Though there is a sadness to this thought, I still feel that if one really wants something, one would find the courage to go for it. I feel that rigidity, in small measure, is a tester of one’s drive and motivation. It helps us discriminate between what is impulsive desire and what our soul yearns for. Today, you can just go out with anybody on a casual affair. That degree of freedom robs you of your opportunity at experiencing a relationship that is truly meaningful and beautiful.

Take the case of the ‘kiss of love’ campaign. I remember how beautiful it was in the West, to see couples kissing. It made you feel that ‘love’ is in the air. But when it comes to the Indian context, I am forced to ask- ‘Is the Indian mindset moulded enough to perceive this act in its holistic sense?’ The answer is no. We have a long way to go. At this point, people have even lost the ability to differentiate between love and lust. A gradual transformation in mindset, perception, values and attitude are all vital before we relax our framework. If not, the wrong message would be conveyed to very young people who have been conditioned by a very conservative upbringing and who do not have the mental maturity to think for themselves.

There is yet another phenomenon which is significantly affected by freedom- that of creativity. I saw this discussion on the gradual decline of creativity in recent times. And why not. Creativity is an alternate, unexplored path that the mind takes when trapped in the real world. In the setting of unlimited freedom, creativity becomes an option, and not a necessity. And so, the mind will never venture as deep as it would, in the setting of entrapment.

Having said all this, I must emphasize that I am not vouching for overt rigidity, which is incompatible with leading a qualitative life. It is no doubt, detrimental to mental health. This explains the high incidence of mental illness/suicide in highly conservative societies such as Kerala. And that is why positions of power (the policy makers at the level of family, schools, offices and all institutions) need to be handled by people who have the sensitivity and humanity to relax the framework where necessary.

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