Friday, October 18, 2013

Let them be

(Statutory warning: This is one of the posts that I warned you about on the other page. Long and serious- so if you don't have the stomach for it, go eat a doughnut instead.)

The day I wrote this Today (I actually wrote this post a couple of months ago, but never got around to publishing it), I was reading an article about women and forced parenthood when I came across a line that sums up pretty much 90% of my beliefs. I suddenly realized I have never written about my core philosophy so I thought this is a good time to write it down. I am sorry if it ends up sounding like I am moralizing or advising- by the very nature of this philosophy, I can't be.

The idea is:
"People are different and need different things. Society (and we, as a part of it) should support this premise without judging them on it. But only as long as their 'needs' don't harm other human beings".

To me that much is obvious. But just to explain, think about what you would do in the following scenarios..


1. "I think everyone should strive to become a better person. But X (someone I know/love) does not want to change anything about himself/herself. If I try to change them for the better, how can I be wrong? Isn't it for their own good?"

My answer: No. You shouldn't.
I have heard this from many many women, some of them my closest friends who forced their boyfriend/husband to gym or diet or quit smoking or find a better job or some such thing. At the outset it seems like it's ok. After all, the guy concerned does get something out of it.  But then again, is a better paying job the measure of a person's worth? Hypothetically speaking, if the guy concerned died in an accident a week later (so he didn't live long enough to see if he got cholesterol or diabetes) but spent the last few weeks of life suffering from a diet he hated and didn't feel the need for, is it fair to him?
Nobody has any right to decide what's good or bad for others (except in the case of parents and children up to a certain age, obviously). A well-paying job at an investment bank might be paradise for you, but the low pay and better work-hours might be the best thing for your partner. Who gives anyone the right to decide for others? Why should you ruin their happiness?

2. "I enjoy activity A. X (my best friend/bf/gf/whoever) has never tried A and refuses to try it. They say they won't enjoy it. But I feel that they don't have the right to say so because they haven't even tried it. Why can't I force them to try it, just so they'll learn and be able to appreciate it?"

My answer: No you shouldn't.
This is another very common argument I have heard from too many people in too many contexts- from vegetarianism to religion. Most meat-eaters think that just because they eat meat (mostly because their parents do) they have a right to say "You are only vegetarian because your parents are. Don't blindly follow tradition" or "You have never tried it. So how do you know it's not good". My answer is: "I have every right to NOT do something ever in my life. It's a choice I am making. From your point of view, I might be losing some fun- but hell, let me suffer the consequences of my own choices."
This is also true of people who think that only certain activities are fun (eg. dancing or skydiving or whatever). They often forget that fun is a subjective thing. I have had a lot more fun reading Kant and listening to Oothukadu or plain stargazing than in parties. And still, people often try to make me attend parties or sit through excruciatingly boring social discourse because THEY thought it was fun. 
Honestly, if you love your friend/whoever-else-you-are-forcing, do them a favor by not wasting those many hours of their lives. They will thank you for it.

3. "Everyone should do good for the society. Our ultimate purpose is to be of some use to each other. So as a society we can force people to do a little good for others. How can that be wrong?"

My answer: Of course it's wrong.
What if I think that the ultimate purpose of everyone's life is to suffer? Then do I get to hurt or injure everyone around me? You say no?! Why not? If you can think of an ultimate purpose why can't I think of a different one?
My point is that different people believe in different "ultimate purpose"s and the only way we can have a civil society is if everyone agrees not to force other people in return for not being forced by them. So if you think something is good, go ahead and do it. And stop bothering others.

4. "Ok, fine. Now my best friend doesn't agree with me about pro-life. According to you, I should simply accept that that's her choice. Then how can I ever hope to spread my message?

My answer: You can try to convince her.
Many people who listen to the things I mentioned above start telling me I am too laissez faire*. If I go on like this I will never get anything done because I'll never get anyone to do things my way.
And then I clarify: CONVINCING is ok. FORCING is not. In this scenario, you can tell her why you believe in anti-abortion, and why you think others should believe in it too. List the reasons and leave it to the individual to decide. Just don't force them or use cheap emotional blackmail to get them to agree with you. 
Going one step further you can hear out her reasons for why she is pro-abortion and then think if it makes sense to you and if you want to change your mind. But even if you don't do that, don't force her. 
----

If you got up to this point, you might be thinking that I got very repetitive. Wasn't I saying essentially the same thing throughout? You are right. I was. It is the same thing that I mentioned at the beginning of the post. Then why did I give those examples? Because of this: When I simply outline my philosophy many people seem to agree with me. But when it comes to applying this idea to specific situations they somehow slip. It is easy to think of something at a high level (like always be true to yourself, or give others space or whatever). But when it comes to implementing the same thing, most people just can't.I was only reiterating my idea through the examples.

But I could just summarize and say- basically understand that each individual is different and don't force them about anything. In short, let them be.

Now think about how good the world would be if everyone adopted this. No religious leader would force another person to follow his religion. Ram Sena would not force guys and girls to marry/tie Rakhis on Valentine's day. Indian parents would not force their kids to opt for engineering. Parents/peers wouldn't force their sons/daughters to get married before 30 (or else it will be too late...shudder..). People wouldn't write stupid articles about why it is the social responsibility (or duty) of every married couple to have children. (No kidding, somebody ACTUALLY wrote this!). Governments would not try to ban homosexuality.. The list is almost endless. If there was one story-book style panacea for the world's problems it would be to adopt this idea...

Anyway, long story short- the next time you judge someone or try to force your opinion on someone, remember the 3 magic words:

Let them be.


P.S: *Clarification- I AM Laissez faire in the literal sense of the words. Just not "too" laissez faire, if that even means something.

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