Edited by: Lasya Adiraj
Society is a reflection of the individuals. The ‘times’ are never bad; it is always the people who are. I believe that if over half of the people seek to live up to certain principles in their lives, we would have reformed society without much effort. However, personal discipline is a battle most of us never fight. Humans have proven repeatedly, by the sheer strength of their self-effort, that they can even bend forces of nature to their will.
Then, why do we not take our own lives seriously? All this talk of an organisation is useless if those who constitute it are not up to the task. A person who fails to make substantial changes in their own life is incapable of effecting change on a societal scale. This is why movements take up the form that the leaders provide by their example. The movement can transform, and a leader decides whether that transformation will be positive or negative. Any successful movement will most certainly trace its origins to a group of highly motivated individuals who are willing to go to any length for the cause. The larger group never matches the leaders’ sacrifices and dedication, and yet the movement succeeds. This is the power of real self effort.
Our society faces challenges on almost all fronts. Choosing a single isolated problem would perhaps lead to its resolution but may spawn other issues elsewhere. Thus, tackling a particular social issue would require action on all possible issues. For instance, attempts to reform education are futile if employment opportunities are not available. Society happens to be a knotted web with numerous stakeholders. Until and unless a change eludes the stakeholders, such knots are here to stay. Therefore, building better individuals should be the mandate of every step we take while reforming society. There is a Sanskrit proverb, “Yat pinde tat brahmande”, which means, ‘All that is outside you is within you.’ Some construe this to be a statement that equates the microcosm and macrocosm. However, in the present context, this reflects the idea of change on the individual scale translating to society’s level. Our political system of democracy intends to enshrine certain fundamental rights as being inviolable. However, these rights are often being violated, and there seems to be no end to this chaos. This disorder is due to the enforcement of rights with ignorance of duties. Imagining the existence of rights without any notion of duties is foolish. One guarantees the other; the loss of one will lead to the loss of the other.
Social change must not be agenda-driven. To support this statement, let us examine the narrative of modernity as championed by the colonising powers of post-enlightenment era Europe. For the past few centuries, the world has endeavoured to develop and embrace ‘modernity.’ It is established that this pursuit has backfired and threatens our existence as a species. Consequently, hasty attempts are being made by the very perpetrators of this crime to remedy this situation. This is evident from the sudden resurgence of green and sustainable alternatives to all conventional products and services.
There was an agenda behind promoting unbridled consumerism and growth. Such an agenda still receives credence and will eventually lead to catastrophes of unfathomable scales. Sadly, these catastrophes will come to pass, and it is this collective devastation that will force humanity to move on the right track again. Our history is a testament to this very fact. If only humankind learnt from its mistakes, it would not be condemned to repeat them. So, it is virtually impossible to remedy social issues until we correct the broader framework under which these issues exist. Our fixation with material progress and prosperity has caused all contemporary social problems to take root. If this fixation ceases, the social ills will also cease with it.
There is hope for change, but this hope should not inspire a false sense of security. The sooner we come to terms with our society’s state, the smoother our transition to a better tomorrow will be. If there is one idea one can take away from this article, it is the idea that change always starts small. Practising kindness and altruistic principles in our daily lives might seem trivial to some; however, these are some of the values that build a robust and ideal society. There is a reason why this article did not focus on a specific social issue. There is no dearth of them; it is just a question of what needs our attention, the problems or the system which created them? We, the stakeholders, must make this decision.
We ridiculed the people who led a life of harmony and preserved their relationship with nature; we called them savages. Behold! What our civilisation has done to us. We have turned into that which we abhorred and now seek to go back to the old ways. The only solution for the entire world is a society based on harmony and the greater good for all. This kind of society will not forego the future for the petty benefits of the present. It will not sacrifice morality and basic decency under the guise of empty liberalism. Naturally, the personal duties of all persons will be enforced. Exploitation, deceit and greed will find no place in this society. All persons will look out for one another and assume collective responsibility for all gains and all losses. Indeed then, will we be deemed civilised. No, this is not a utopia; this was a reality in India. The Vedic seers proclaimed:
May all be prosperous and happy
May all be free from illness
May all see what is spiritually uplifting
May no one suffer
Let us strive to achieve these ideals. Let us, for once, lead our lives for a more significant cause and make them successful.