By Suma Varughese
There is more to one’s inner urge towards goodness than mere conformity with social and ethical conditioning
Many of us, particularly parents, worry about the morals and ethics of today’s society and wonder how to safeguard our children from the temptations of drugs, crime, promiscuity, etc. There is, of course, no foolproof way of doing so, but I think one of the strongest forces working in favor of virtue is every human being’s intense desire to be good. At the basic level, thanks to the conditioning we receive from our earliest age, this translates into a need for society’s approbation, to be seen as desirable role models. Maybe it encourages hypocrisy and the projection of appearances; on the other hand, how many times it must have stopped us from giving in to our lawless desires? Society’s disapproval is a powerful deterrent to bad behavior.
But there is more to the urge to be good than merely conformity to societal norms. All of us want nothing more than to be good. To win our own approval, to be at ease with our own selves, to satisfy our own ideals of behavior, to be in harmony with our conscience—all these are absolutely necessary for well being.
This need has its negative fallouts too. Often we prefer to live in illusions about our behavior and our motives rather than admit our fault. A psychiatrist friend mentioned the case of a homosexual who got married out of deference to his family’s wishes but has not consummated the marriage. In order to retain his reputation both in her eyes and his own, he blamed it on her lack of charm. Most of us do it all the time. We take a dislike to a stranger at first sight and attribute it to their appearance or their resemblance to the kindergarten bully.
Though we pervert this inner call to goodness in many ways, it is our closest ally in moving us towards a path of integration and inner righteousness. Perhaps it is the God within us, but something in us weeps and is distraught when we mess up time and again and fail to live up to our own highest self. By far the most moving image I have ever seen on TV was an interview with some peasants in West Bengal, India, on the subject of literacy. I think this was around the time Kerala (another Indian state) had just managed to achieve 100 per cent literacy and other states were revving up to follow suit. One middle-aged farmer simply wept when he was asked if he would like to learn to read and write. ‘I cannot do it, much as I would like to do it, for I have become an idiot,’ he lamented. What an inner urge this man must have had to read and write to regret his inability so much. What he may have been if someone had taken pity on the youth and taught him the alphabet before he became middle-aged? Here was a graphic example of the sorrow that afflicts us when we cannot live in accordance to the soul’s directives.
It is this soul power within us that gives me the greatest hope for the welfare of those who matter to us. One may be away from family, perhaps staying alone in a strange city, but I am convinced that the majority will never take to bad ways no matter what opportunities may besiege them simply because their inner soul will not let them. A friend has been through a number of unhappy relationships, but something in him stopped him from relapsing into promiscuity or despair. ‘I always acted on the side of caution and sanity,’ he says.
Even hardened criminals are not immune to the power of goodness. I honestly believe that it is their despair about their own inner rupture from their best selves that drives them further into infamy. Prostitutes, too, cannot often reconcile to their profession and develop a deep loathing for their bodies, which makes them vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases. They are driven by their own sense of what they owe to their bodies.
Although the times favor an easy, lax way of life, I think we can leave it to our inner goodness to see us safely through. And that’s a relief.
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