Friday, 16 July 2010

Who we are and what we want to become...

We, the Homo sapiens, said to be the most developed species of this bio-diverse environment, are becoming ruthless predators, exterminating the members of our own species. Though growing economically, scientifically, educationally and materialistically, we are regressing morally. We are conquering the universe but ironically fail to control our own minds and thought processes.

We only want to be triumphant….we try to win over everything, making ourselves hypercompetitive and over ambitious. The increasing insensitivity and degenerating value system owe their existence to lack of moral development, which should begin from the childhood. To build a sense of self acceptance and moral virtues, the knowledge of our own ideal and real self is a preliminary requirement.

The ideal self is a cocktail of all the attributes which are considered to be "good" whereas real self portrays "who we actually are". The ideal self instructs us to be compassionate, kind, prudent, honest, helping, pure, virtuous and what not! But in reality the real self cannot possess all these characteristics into one single individual. The real self remains “human” and can’t be “humane” as perceived by our ideal self. There remains a chasm between the two. The greater the gap the greater is the risk of loss of self esteem and increased frustration in the individual. This incongruity can lead to development of symptoms of neurosis.

Ideal self persuades us to be exquisite human beings without any flaws and shortcomings. We are ruled by the tyranny of “shoulds” “musts” and “oughts”. Thoughts like “I should be altruistic”, or “I should be kind and giving”. But if the real self is able to be kind and giving only to the near ones and not to beggar sitting in the corner of the street, there is a mismatch between both the selves!! The problem arises when the standards of ideal self become unattainable and unachievable. The real self, when fails to come up to the expectations of the ideal self, there is a feeling of self hatred, tension and depression. All this can result in unhealthy minds and emotions. We then begin to question our own competencies.

For e.g. there is a natural tendency that parents dream of making their children what they themselves could not become. To achieve this objective they often create an ideal self in their children which is not only dangerous but sometimes stupid.

Some of us want to be perfect parents, perfect spouses or perfect siblings! While striving to do be “the perfect ones”, we often ignore the humanity or the human part in us i.e. our ideal self sometimes doesn’t comply with real self. But if we allow ourselves to be imperfect and make mistakes, the gap between real and ideal can be filled easily, making us mentally healthy.

If the ideal self is realistic and healthy then it becomes pertinent to train the real self to be compatible with it. Then the real self needs to practise identifying varied situations and act appropriately. If the ideal self says that we need to be strong and powerful, then the real should express itself physically in such a way that it does not harm others nor does it intrude into the lives of others. To gain strength we don’t have to be arrogant, abusive, or violent. Physical strength can be gained by exercising, sports etc. Real self just needs to adjust and make behavioural changes.

On the other way round, ideal self also needs to be based on reality. A vision needs to be developed. We need to learn to face criticism and establish a healthy code of conduct.

The aim is to prevent the real self from clashing with the ideal self…In other words we need to have an “idealized reality”. This would make us more sensitive to the needs of others and even our own needs, hopes and aspirations.

Monday, 5 July 2010


Few days back a close friend of mine was deeply perturbed and wailful when he heard the news of the murder of a young boy and there was other news of child molestation which again made him sink into melancholic mood the whole day. Its not that he had heard about such incidents for the first time but he wondered where we as a society are heading towards! And this also made me ponder on the subject.

Has anyone of us even tried to answer this simple question that why do such things happen? Why we the human beings though said to be civilized are now heading towards adopting basal and beastly instincts??”

The answer is simple. We lack “Empathy”. Lack of empathy can lead to violence, abuse, murders and what not! Relationships can be completely destroyed in the absence of it. We are not ready to hear the point of view of other person. We fail to understand their perspectives and feelings leading to a complete thwarting of bonds whether familial, marital or humanistic. It was only lack of empathy that utmost atrocities were committed on Jews by the Nazis and they were trampled like insects! Absence of empathy leads to perpetual committing of inhuman acts.

So now let us see what Empathy is! Unfortunately this is a term which is often underused and not even understood by many. The word empathy is derived from German word "einfuhlung" which means "in-feeling” i.e. appreciating emotionally someone else’s feelings. There is a Greek word “empatheia”, which means “physical affection, passion, partiality”. The present day word Empathy comes to mean that we try to understand another’s person feelings and experiences in a subjective way while observing that person. It is not only a communication tool but also a skill if developed properly. It is listening to not only the verbal content of the talk but also listening to what has not been said i.e. the non verbal part of the communication. Being empathic we are able to live the emotional lives of others…it takes us outside ourselves…making us more humane and understanding.

It is different from the feeling of sympathy or”sahaanubhooti” or “hamdardi” which is highly valued in our culture. Sympathy becomes shared suffering. Another term pity should also not be confused with empathy. Pity often makes the other person “bechaaraa” (one who does not have any option left). Pity can even result in contempt and rejection when someone says,” You poor thing!” Both these feelings are disempowering. The feeling of sympathy makes us stand apart from others…it tries to place us at a higher pedestal than the other person who is suffering…we are then portrayed as kind of rescuer and the other person is left as “a helpless victim”. But empathy brings “samaanubhooti” or a feeling of oneness or sameness with the other person..... By developing empathy we try to provide an opportunity to the other person to find the inherent strength to cope up with challenges coming his/her way. We need not be the rescuers. We need to make others strong enough to fight their battles; we need to understand how they feel! Then only can there be resolution of problems in a healthy and optimum way. This enhances the self esteem of both the giver and the taker.

Though present innately, empathy is also a part of our moral development. We need to practise it. We need not try to “fix things” for those in problems, instead we need to trust their inner resources. We need not cry for them. Let them shed their tears and feel their feelings. We just have to be with them with open heart. We need to develop listening skills,tolerance and understanding that people have their own values, beliefs, religions, sexual preferences etc and they have right to believe what they want. To have empathy for other we first need to develop empathy towards ourselves. We need to recognise our own pain. We need to stop blaming others and overreacting. Then only the actual process of healing would start.