The Paradox of Providing

The definitions of need and luxury, as everyone would agree, differ from person to person and also from time to time for the same individual. As the most clichéd example, for a middleclass person, mobile phone not long ago, was a luxury whereas it is a need today and all communication seem to have concentrated through this device. However, the intention of writing this piece is not the distinction between the need and luxury but the paradox of deciding the same for those dependent on you and by this I primarily mean children. How do parents decide whether something is a need for their children or just another way of equating them to their peers. For a person with limited resources, it is a trivial question, for obvious reasons. However, for a person with sufficient (again a relative term) resources, it becomes important. Growing up in a middle class family I always observed my own parents struggling with this dilemma and I believe it is the same for most families.

Human beings spend on an average approximately 20-30 % (a rough conservative estimate) of their life time in ensuring the success of their off-springs. In mammals the responsibility of parental care is primarily borne by females, but in humans with time and evolution of the society this responsibility is becoming more and more bi-parental with both the sexes getting involved in the task of gathering the resources (read earning money) and utilizing it for the benefit of the offsprings. Under the assumption that the parents desire the best outcome of the parental investment it becomes rather crucial to understand how much and in what way to invest. This is what leads to struggle in the lives of parents, children and essentially the entire family dynamics.

At the risk of paraphrasing too much I would just mention a point made by David O Hume in his seminal work ” A Treatise of Human Nature “, that a person’s ideas are a reflection of the sum total of the impressions or experiences gained by that person. Behaviour of parents towards their children is no different and is always biased based on the experiences they have gained during their life. This is a quintessential feature of human behaviour and no matter how hard a person tries not to let those around her get affected by  her experiences it is impossible not to let a few prejudices creep in. Now, this fact in terms of a parent’s decision regarding judging parental investment becomes a defining factor. A simple example would suffice here, consider a person who has been brought up in difficult circumstances, with only a limited amount of resources at her disposal, such a person, going by the parental instinct would try her best to provide everything to her children that was denied to her due to lack of resources. It is understandable, but what is important here is the fact that in this attempt of providing all the things that she has been denied somewhere she is denying her children the capability to earn those things themselves as she had learnt. This gives rise to the paradox of fulfilling one’s dreams of ensuring a better and successful life for her offspring leading to lack of development of the same qualities in the offspring.

There are examples of both kinds in the world, where a person was given every possible affluence and still developed qualities like adaptation, creativity, hard work etc and where a lack of means led to development of such qualities. Although I believe that every individual is different and this entire discussion can be driven based on more variables drawn from actual life, however I also believe that there are some common grounds on which one can define the extent of parental care and then keep revising it as time proceeds like a feedback loop. Ultimately the most important thing is not to let the experiences in your life become a guideline for shaping the future of your children.


The Celebration of Mediocrity

We live in strange times when mediocrity is celebrated and excellence is dubbed as special and self centered. This goes against everything that any living system evolved with, but somehow it is becoming more and more enticing to be “common” than be special.
Life began on earth in harsh circumstances and the environment played the role of great leveller. Anything that could adapt, showed resilience to the negatives, survived and then flourished. Humans are considered at the apex of evolution not because of their hunting capacity or their capacity to live at extreme temperature, but because they have strived to evolve a brain that invented guns for hunting and amazing technological advances to live in any environment. These advancements were the results of pursuit of excellence, to be better than most. Since times immemorial there have been people who have proven to be the paragon of human intelligence and they are the ones who drove the society where it stands today.
However, even in those times there was a larger mass of people who did not achieve that level of excellence but at least strived for it. The achievers became role models for the generations to emulate and understand that everything is possible if only one goes in the pursuit of excellence. And then, there was a feeling of pride that one gets from achieving that most can not. Our brain rewards itself when we achieve something and this gives motivation for doing better the next time.
This all made sense to me and I believed that the pursuit of excellence is the best way to live and that is what actually meant to “be human”, until recently. For the past two years or so I started observing rise of the phenomenon of “being ordinary”. At first I believed that there have always been people in society who have been critics of excellence in the name of equality but they have never been able to stop the people who strive for excellence and hence have remained on the fringes of the society. But, lately this phenomenon is taking over the mass and this is what scares me. The best way to stop people who you know are better than you is to make them believe that they are not, to make them feel guilty and ashamed of their achievements by calling it exclusive, self centered and unsocial. This was what Macaulay did to India long time back to make us feel ashamed of what we had achieved and this is what we are doing to ourselves now by motivating people to become ordinary.
There are people today wishing they were born in a caste that is included in the OBC list or SC list just because they are seeing people around them getting more than they could ever achieve with their intellectual merit and that too with a lot less effort. This however is not the worst of it. What is actually even worse is the fact that we are celebrating this as an achievement of our society.
Its election time and the largest number of people in human history will vote for their representatives who will go on to make significant changes in what the society is today by making laws and changing them. There has been a lot of campaigning by star candidates and several promises have been made. I just wish that at least some fraction of the voting class will think about who to choose in terms of who will let them achieve excellence rather than making them a herd of mediocre people striving to bring down who actually excel.