Everyone wants to have his/her freedom, and expects others to accept it. Despite being a social being, man creates his own space in life and is entirely dependent upon this desire and need for freedom. Sometimes this demand for freedom (or privacy or independence) is claimed as a fundamental human right.
There is nothing wrong with such views, but when this desire for freedom (and its relatives) is demanded in the form of ‘individualism’, it clashes with human values.
Individualism can’t exist without relationship. While relationship accepts the contribution of the individual, but it is negatively affected when individualism creeps in. The best way to find smooth cooperation between personal freedom and relationship is the recognition of authority.
Individualism recognizes only personal authority. Such a person keeps himself at the center of life and views others from that center. ‘I’ and ‘My’ are most important for them. For example, to them ‘my’ (father, mother, wife, husband, children, brother, sister, etc.) is more important than recognizing the fact that they are also a child, husband, wife, parent, etc. Such people always think and demand their ‘space’ in others life, rather recognizing the equal rights and demands of others in their life.
When you visit a family, the man of the family generally introduces the family members, as “This is my wife, son, mother, etc.” On one hand, this is a tradition all of us follow. However, what is stopping us from introducing them by saying “I am her husband, their father, and her son”? Would this change our outlook on how others have demands on us?
I know a person who always abuses his in-laws in front of his wife. He doesn’t do his legitimate duty as a son-in-law to his in-laws’ family, yet expects them to consult with him on every important family matter, since he is the first son-in-law of that family (known as ‘maapillai’ = maa-great; pillai-son). In most Indian homes, the son-in-law is respected and treated with high dignity and honor — even if he doesn’t deserve it.
Once, when they fixed the marriage date for their son without consulting him, this ‘maapillai’ became very upset and began to abuse both his wife and her parents. He even threatened to not attend the function — at which the presence of the first son-in-law is very important. When this matter came to me, I told him, “Unless you behave like a son-in-law, you have no right to demand their respect which you expect.” Whether he deserves such respect is a different question. However, he was very adamant and only demanded his own right, because he has his own authority as a son-in-law to demand it from them.
We Indian criticize the individualism in the west without realizing how much more we too have similar problems. One way to overcome such problems is to accept and respect the authority of others over us rather than only our own authority.
Every objective authority (scripture, religion, family, tradition, etc.) creates a balance for one’s personal freedom. They also help us respect others in life without any grudge. For example, a selfish person serves others, keeping in mind some minimum service required to get others to serve her later. However, this kind of service quickly becomes a burden. On the other hand, if she does it for the smooth functioning of the family, community and society, we can all have a life of harmony.
Somone’s authority given because of a position (boss, husband, mother, etc.) is valid only when the personal responsibility of that position is shouldered. Otherwise, when the position is lost, no one will respect or wish to continue that relationship. Such people, in the end, are left alone. This is the cost of individualism, which loves to exercise personal authority rather than respecting others’ legitimate demands. Authority is not meant to enjoy a status but to serve others.
Mathigiri, March 2, 2007. 7.30 pm.