Break the mould. Sounds like advice dished out to teenagers? Even so, there is a pervasive need for not just teenagers, but also for you and me to break out of a certain societal or familial mould. Not in the sense of an outer revolution, but for you to spark off an inner revolution by questioning your beliefs, thought processes and actions. Here’s why.
What defines your world?
What determines the way you define and interact with the world? How do you decide what is good or bad, desirable or undesirable? After all, your interpretations differ from that of others. Consider how you and a person from a dissimilar background, say your office boy or house help, react differently to situations and people.
Don’t baulk at the comparison; for now, just reflect on occasions when you observed the person make societal or familial decisions that seemed at odds with the way you would have made them. Did you find these decisions hard to comprehend or perhaps, even regressive?
But isn’t this difference expected? Because of the different backgrounds, your office boy’s or house help’s upbringing is entirely different than yours. S/he is also influenced by a people who in all probability, think [and advise] differently than people in your life. As a result, at times, you may pity the individual’s position and seeming inability to break out of a confining lifestyle.
What are the odds of a third person looking at you with similar pitiful thoughts? Is it possible that your social conditioning too has limited you to a set of responses, as a result of which you may not be getting as much as you could and would like to, out of life? There lies the crux.
Why should you question ‘Why?’
If you are happy with the way your life is progressing, you may reply self-defensively—so what if I am a product of social conditioning? Why should I question my beliefs? Why should I even think about why I have chosen to lead my life in a certain manner? It is natural for such thoughts to arise.
Indeed, we seem to be given to questioning the need to make any effort over and above what is essential to keep our lives on an even keel. But pause for a moment to reflect this: is social conditioning always innocent? Is it always conducive to your evolution?
Move beyond being influenced
Parental conditioning typically takes place during the first twenty years of your life but goes on to influence you over a lifetime. Like most of humanity, you have probably inherited or at least been deeply affected by your parents’ beliefs and outlook on life. Interestingly, parental conditioning is not always palpable.
An obvious example is when children of parents who are ostentatious by nature grow up believing that it is more important to appear happy than actually be happy. But some children grow up to adopt behavioural patterns opposite to their parents’. Now while this may present as a successful attempt to defeat social conditioning, it is actually nothing but a negative reaction to conditioning.
If you find yourself needing to distance yourself from your parents or family or societal influence, Byron Katie’s The Work suggests a useful method to investigate unconscious thoughts causing suffering. Katie suggests that you first state the issue concerning any problematic person in your life and then ask yourself these questions:
- Is it true?
- Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
- How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
- Who would you be without the thought?
Then turn around the concept [problem] you are questioning by experiencing the opposite of your original statement and see what you and the person you’ve judged have in common. For instance, if you said, “My husband should not try to control me with guilt,” it turns around to “I should not try to control my husband with guilt.”
Could you possibly have been doing this unconsciously? Alternatively, you could turn around the situation by saying “I should not try to control myself with guilt.” And this is possibly a more effective method of turning around a situation since ultimately, only you can free yourself from conditioning. Aim to allow nothing in yourself to reflect conditioning by others.
To go back to the example of a person who is economically less privileged than you, fact is, the individual would accomplish more in life, materially and in terms of happiness and peace of mind, if s/he could break out of the mould thrust upon her/him by society.
If this isn’t good enough reason to inspire you to do likewise, ask yourself—am I living my life on society’s or any particular individual’s terms [which you are if you have not questioned your beliefs]?
If so, are you not doing injustice to your primary purpose as a human being, which is, to lead yourself towards enlightenment? To add to that, consider the possibility of the societal norms you are mindlessly adhering to being outdated. Also, know that your decisions driven by your unquestioned beliefs are rendering your life devoid of creativity and spontaneity. Is that the kind of life you see for yourself? Most probably not! We all desire to get the most out of life, to live a joyous, rich and full life. Isn’t that our individual aim?
How to get rid of social influence?
You can easily get rid of social influence if you allow yourself to live life on your own terms, that is, you question your beliefs, set your expectations from life and do not allow your mental conditioning to dictate to you.
When you free yourself of conditioning, and no longer avoid or embrace situations and people because you believe it is your duty to do so, you open yourself to more opportunities. As long as you are influenced by conditioning, you interpret the people and situations coming your way in an unchanging manner. Consider the vast majority of the 60,000 thoughts flitting in and out of your mind today.
These thoughts will repeat tomorrow and the day after, simply because of your inability to break out of the mould. Your thoughts will follow a pattern dictated by the limited stimuli you pick up from the world. According to spiritual author Deepak Chopra, our senses absorb less than a billionth of the stimuli available to us, no thanks to our social programming.
Now does questioning your beliefs seem worthwhile? Indeed, it is the only means to go beyond your predictable self, to accept all the stimuli available to your senses with an open mind, and to do more in life. Just in case you still do not see the benefit, are you at least open to accepting the possibility of your upbringing [read ‘conditioning’] playing a role in your rejecting this suggestion? Over to you!